Wednesday, 17 July 2019

John Harlan Speaking

If you yelled out John Harlan’s name at me, I’d probably respond “Password.” Harlan did an awful lot more than that show during his announcing career. Where I heard him first, I don’t know. It might have been on “Queen For a Day.” He actually appeared on camera on that show, as you can see in the frame grab to the right.

Trying to track down biographical information on people who really weren’t huge stars can be challenging. There are bits here and bits there. In peering through old issues of Variety, Broadcasting, the SAG/AFTRA site and various contemporary newspapers, I can tell you Harlan spent his teen years in Fresno. He was in the Boy Scouts, an officer of his DeMolay Chapter and in a high school drama club which put on a play that aired on KMJ in 1942. Harlan ended up at the other local station (KARM) the following year, and returned after his wartime military service. He was hired at KGO in San Francisco in 1949, and then wound up in May 1950 at KECA in Los Angeles which was just about to put a TV station on the air.

The most interesting aspect of Harlan’s career may have been his jump into all-news television in 1973. KMEX-TV decided to broadcast 8½ hours of news during the day; Harlan was one of the anchors. This early effort at a news channel died after three months and three weeks. A lack of money and being primarily a Spanish-language station on UHF killed it. Harlan told the Los Angeles Times that people would come up to him and say “I didn’t know you spoke Spanish” (the news was in English). He also remarked one of the 110,000 people who tuned in was Flip Wilson.

Harlan was the announcer on Wilson’s variety show. Announcers don’t tend to get much publicity but someone—connected with the Wilson show, it seems—sent out one of those publicity/biography news releases and a number of newspapers put it in their weekend TV section. I first spotted it in a paper published January 15, 1972.
He Makes Career Of Being' Unseen'
"The George Wyle Orchestra Plays 'Flip Flop", a lighting effect spelling out F-L-I-P comes to life, and a voice seemingly from nowhere announces: "The Flip Wilson Show".
The voice belongs to announcer John Harlan.
Harlan confides, not at all remorseful, "Last week I had 17 words." Seventeen or so words on several shows over a period of years have made quite a career for him.
In 1963, Harlan joined Ralph Andrews Productions and has worked in television production and announcing ever since. His announcing credits include such series as "You Don't Say", "It Takes Two", "The Judy Garland Show", "The Brighter Day" and countless specials starring such personalities as Carol Channing, Julie Andrews, Jimmy Durante and Danny Thomas.
He is the announcer of the annual Grammy Awards presentations; president of Professional Arts, Inc., a company that produces educational films; and announcer for "Password" and the syndicated series "It's Your Bet" in addition to "The Flip Wilson Show".
On Flip's show, however, announcing is only one facet of Harlan's job.
"The most interesting part is chatting with the studio audience," he says. "I do what is commonly called the 'warm-ups' just before the show and between scenes.
"The real stars in the audience," according to Harlan, "are the children. I ask them to come on stage and tell their favorite jokes. One little boy came up, told his joke, and I continued to talk to him. Finally, he looked up in despair and asked, 'Would it be all right if I sat down, my knees are trembling?'"
Waiting in the wings to be introduced, Flip Wilson, amused at the boy, remarked, "Heck, my knees are the ones that are trembling. That kid's trying to steal my show!"
Harlan was more than a guy introducing Tom Kennedy. He was also involved in the production end of game shows, including “Get the Picture,” “It Takes Two” and a rebooted version of “Name That Tune” where he was involved in picking contestants. Here’s a neat story from the San Francisco Examiner of April 2, 1976 about how the show’s staff hit the road to find people to appear.
It's all uphill
Going straight to the top with TV's 'Name That Tune

By Art Harris

Grinning Glenn Ford and frowning Broderick Crawford have gone silent on the screen in room 247 of the Americana Motel, where "Name That Tune" contestant coordinator Judi Barlowe has turned down the volume on the morning ' matinee to answer the phone. Another local hopeful has seen the ad ("You can win $100,000 on TV, etc."), started fantasizing about microwave ovens, freezers, shiny new cars and dialed up for an audition.
The motel switchboard has been flashing every five seconds—1,000 calls a day—since "Name That Tune" came recruiting this week in San Francisco. The callers all remember last year when 78 personable, Ipana-smiling middle Americans got to harvest the Money Tree; 9 lucky winners on the 39 taped shows walked off with $15,000 in cash and prizes.
And this year three people will defeat all comers, win the honor of sitting in a special glass booth, get zapped by a blinding light (so they can't see the audience), quiet flapping butterflies, name the tune and waltz off with the one hundred thousand big ones to be doled out in annual $10,000 increments "Look," says Miss Barlowe, a slinky, 27-year-old ex-airline stewardess who landed her TV job after winning $19,285 on "Name That Tune" two years ago, "I can't promise that you'll make it. I didn't think I'd make it. I was just coming down to meet a friend who was going to try out, and when he didn't show up, the TV-people said, 'Why don't you give it a try. Two weeks later, I was $20,000 richer. If I can do it, anyone can do it."
Not really. Even if you make the first cut by passing the "Name That Tune" cassette test (10 second fragments from 20 songs), make the second cut a month later when producer Ray Horl, in person, comes to town to check you out and finally get an invitation to Hollywood next summer (at your own expense), you have no guarantee of getting on the air.
"We won't ever guarantee they'll be a contestant," says smooth, baritone-voiced John Harlan, the show's announcer and chief recruiter. "But it's rare that once we ask them to come to L.A., we won't use them." It has happened, though.
"We had a guy once who had the interview and then he got to L.A. and said, 'Where's my dressing room, where's my makeup man?' He had stars in his eyes. So we, said, 'You're not the same person. We can't use you.'"
Harlan explains all this to one room of hopefuls—Hillsborough housewives, a policewoman, an unemployed waterbed salesman, bartenders, insurance men, mechanics, nurses, computer programmers, lawyers—but no one really hears him. They have stars in their eyes. In three days of testing, Harlan has interviewed some 600 people out of 4,000 Californians expected to try out in the next month. They watch the show every Friday night at home and overflow with confidence. They always guess the tunes; their children have urged them to come down and bring honor to the family name. They know they have what it takes.
But they don't. Harlan knows his boss, Ralph Edwards, who owns the syndicated game show, only wants certain types. "He wants 'up' kinds of nice people," confides Harlan. "He wants 78 good, happy people with vim, vigor and vitality who like to have fun." He doesn't want any dullards.
"They may be the greatest namer of tunes in the world." says Harlan, "but if they're dull, the show is dull." And that means people in TV land change the channel, the ratings drop, the ad billings fall, Ralph Edwards gets fuming mad and John Harlan may be pounding the pavement. "He hires us to find good contestants."
Bill Silva, a 35-year-old singing bartender from Oakland, is just right. He appears articulate and manly and' he has an "interesting" job. Silva and his customers at the Bella Napoli bar play "Name That Tune" every afternoon with the jukebox. It has prepared him well—he makes the first cut. This will make a neat story on the air. Harlan writes it down.
But Silva, whose stage presence has been smoothed from past TV work, is a ringer. Last year, he won $25,000 on High Rollers as the undefeated five-day champ. To boot, he walked away with two trips to Mexico, a houseboat vacation at Lake Shasta, ovens, freezers, a $2,000 diamond-studded gold watch and a gleaming $300 ring made from a $5 gold piece."
A friend pointed out the ad for "Name That Tune" tryouts, says Silva, and he hoofed it on down. "I've always been a ham."
Two past game show appearances would have disqualified Silva. NBC rules.
"Please don't say, 'Oh, God,' or anything that might distract people," instructs Harlan as the room throbs with silent anticipation. The test is about to begin. He asks everyone to fold over their paper "so eyes don't wander" and reminds them of the $100,000 at the end of the rainbow.
"OMIGOD!" says San Carlo housewife Susan Kauk, taking a deep breath. "Do you nave a tranquilizer?" No one does.
The test begins.
A mix of pop, rock and big band tunes wafts over the tape. Everybody chews on pencils, scratches heads, pulls hair. And then it is over. The room is in shock. "I thought I knew music," grumbles a minister. Everyone looks down and shakes their heads as Harlan retires to Miss Barlowe's room to grade papers.
"First the good news," says Harlan, returning with a big smile on his face. "A lot of you don't have to worry about traveling all the way to L.A." He announces the first cut. Susan Kauk is one of the six lucky ones. She can't believe it.
"My adrenalin started racing and my palms were sweating," she says, recalling her panic during the test. "I could remember the words, but not the titles." Harlan reminds everyone "not to wait by your phones. If we don't call you within four weeks, you probably won't hear from us."
Mrs. Kauk sighs. "I've gone through three cans of deodorant."
Harlan announced on American Gladiators and the last of the Bob Hope specials in the mid-‘90s but when he retired, I’m not certain. He was on the local AFTRA board in the mid-2000s and active with the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters. He died in 2017.

1 comment:

  1. Nice to put a face with the name. Had been listening to Harlan's voice on various shows for years. Also, interesting process for weeding out contestants on " Name That Tune ". Ah yes... George Wyle ....I can only think of " It's the most wonderful time of the year ", and " The Ballad Of Gilligan's Island ". Wyle once said, if you write a song with catchy lyrics, people will pick it up fast and be able to sing it with the drop of a hat.