Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Carol's Centrefold Man

“I was so bad, you can’t believe it,” he once admitted. And because of that, he ended up getting a regular TV job for seven years.

The interviewee was former state high school wrestling champ Lyle Waggoner. He was terrible at an audition in 1965 for the role of Batman. Yes, the Adam West Batman.

But that left him available when Carol Burnett wanted him as the male sex object for her new variety show in 1967, albeit he was technically playing the part of the show’s announcer.

Waggoner was bashed in some quarters for his acting range—he left Burnett to show he was more than a face that made middle-aged women giddy—but he was enough in demand that he spent four seasons co-starring opposite Lynda Carter on Wonder Woman.

Here’s a feature story from the Sioux City Sun of March 17, 1968.
Waggoner ‘Overnight Success’ After Four Years

Journal Staff Writer
It took four years in Hollywood but Lyle Waggoner has finally become an “overnight success.”
The big break for the tall (6-4), handsome actor came last summer when he tried for the role of announcer on the Carol Burnett Show.
He got the role and now viewers of the show recognize Lyle as the announcer Miss Burnett swoons over every week.
Waggoner also feels, he said in a telephone interview, that he's getting a chance to act in the role.
The St. Louis native decided four years ago that acting was what he wanted to do. So he left his own seasonal business in St. Louis to try to get into the film industry.
He was in Hollywood about a week before he took a salesman's job. A couple months later he got a contract with Metro Goldwyn Mayer and was taking lessons in all facets of show business singing, dancing, acting.
“Things didn't go too well at MGM,” he says, “but I thought I might like to do commercial acting.”
He tried that but things were “pretty slim” for awhile. He went a year without a commercial acting job. After he got the first one, Waggoner found that things went a little better but he still was seeking an acting job.
He finally got an acting contract—seven-year one from 20th Century Fox. It was the school at Fox which helped him get the TV job. He now has an arrangement with 20th to go back with them after the Burnett show has run its course.
Lyle, who wasn't necessarily an announcer, heard from his agent that a person of his type (a leading man) was being sought for the job. Waggoner, a longtime fan of Miss Burnett's, had an interview and after a few weeks he started the show.
He feels now that he has gotten valuable experience in the announcing role. And he doesn't regret the decision to take the job. He was offered a role in Land of the Giants, a series scheduled next fall, but he turned it down.
The reason he didn't take it was that in the Burnett show he's playing himself and getting the opportunity to play a variety of characters in the skits. “I feel I'm identified with my own name,” he said, “rather than with a character's name.”
Since joining the show Waggoner has found that working with "pros" like Miss Burnett, Harvey Korman and others has been a great aid. “The members of the cast get along well,” Lyle says, “and the ‘pros’ help me a lot.”
Shooting winds up in April after the cast has shot three episodes for next season. “You really can't take anything for granted in this business,” Waggoner says, “but I think we'll be picked up for next fall.”
For Waggoner the hiatus period will probably be spent making some commercials and possibly doing some guest shots as an actor. He may also do some summer stock and movies.
Explaining that he has never regretted the decision to pass on a series, Waggoner says he “couldn't have asked for a better break than I'm getting. I feel that producers might feel that I have a good image for a movie leading man and I get to show my versatility.”
He thinks that in movies or stage plays he would be cast in light comedy and says “That's pretty much my type of role.”
Away from the set Waggoner says he's the “world's greatest game (sports) player. Right now I'm hung up on golf, billiards and handball.”
He also rides a unicycle some and says he likes any kind of game—“I'm a real nut for that kind of thing.” “That kind of thing” would include game shows on TV and he says he'd like to get on some of them.
Waggoner also does quite a bit of sculpting and cabinet making “when I'm inspired.”
Looking back (and ahead) Lyle Waggoner gives much of the credit to his wife (sorry, girls) of five years, Sharon, who's a former beauty contest winner.
“I have a gorgeous little wife who has encouraged me in this business,” Waggoner says, “and she hasn't ever expressed any jealousy. If anybody asked me the major factor for me in this business, I'd have to say it's my little wife, Sharon.”
Waggoner’s other main accomplishment, if you want to call it that, was his picture-spread in the first edition on Playgirl magazine. According to this story by syndicated writer Tom Donnelly previewing the issue, he was one of two centrefolds. This was published June 10, 1973.
Girls, are you ready for this?

WASHINGTON – “He’s the stuff of which sexual fantasies are made, a 6-feet-4 hunk of gorgeous beefcake. He's ‘The Carol Burnett Show’s’ big turnon, Lyle Waggoner.”
So begins a profile, or, to be more precise about it, a paean of praise accompanying a four-page foldout of Waggoner in the nude, presumably the big come-on in the first issue of Playgirl, a publication billed as "the entertainment magazine for women.”
Playgirl isn’t the only new sex magazine aimed at women, by the way. California Girl, a San Francisco-based magazine that went national this month, offers nude male models capering about on the greensward and bold editorial statements to the effect that. “Today’s woman is entitled to a sex life.”
A spokeswoman for Viva, which debuts in September and is published by the people who brought us Penthouse, said that the new magazine “recognizes that women have heads and want to know about more than homemaking and kids; they want to know what's really happening in the world around them. We’ll tell them.’’ There won’t be any beefcake per se in Viva; the emphasis will be on “male-female nude sex.”
Playgirl is published in Los Angeles and whereas it boldly, some might say brazenly, exploits the Playboy formula for a distaff audience. Hugh Hefner has nothing to do with it. Editor Marian Scott Milam said the publisher, Douglas Lambert, is “a businessman of varied interests” who has owned and operated a nightclub called The Playgirl Club in Orange County for 10 years or so.
“That nude picture of Burt Reynolds in Cosmopolitan really triggered the birth of Playgirl,” Mrs. Milam said. “Mr. Lambert decided women were ready for this.”
By “this” Mrs. Milam presumably means the graphic aspect of Playgirl.
The editorial content of the first issue is, by and large, rehash of themes from Cosmopolitan. “Hong Kong — Playgirl’s Paradise” says a girl can have a simply divine time dating and dining and shopping in that exotic port; and if she “has qualms about sitting alone in a bar and looking like a pick-up,” why she can sit over a drink in a hotel lobby and, with any luck, get picked up there. “In Hong Kong this is not considered in the least bit unchic.”
The “Playgirl Philosophy” (“a playgirl is independent, self-confident, sensuous, aware, involved, adventurous, daring, curious, vital ...”) is so vapid as to make the boyishly lecherous musings of Hugh Hefner seem the work of a sage from Olympus of sex. Pictorially speaking, Playgirl goes far beyond the published fantasies of Helen Gurley Brown. Quantitatively, at least. Naked young men appear, here, there, everywhere. Twelve of them illustrate Playgirl’s astrology chart.
In the fashion section, a nude male cuddles up to a blonde modeling Mr. Blackwell’s latest gowns; she leans against pillars and posts, her flowing draperies concealing his vital parts whenever his hands aren't. The male vital parts are concealed in every instance in this first issue of Playgirl: the men clutch footballs, or guitars, or the backs of chairs or arrange their legs so as to shield the “ultimate vision.”
There are two celebrity nudes in the collection.
The centerfold shows a TV actor named Ryan MacDonald, formerly of the serial “Days of Our Lives,” stretched out in the Burt Reynolds attitude on a towel beside a swimming pool. It seems that Hollywood columnist Joyce Haber asked her readers to vote for the man they’d most like to see in the bare, and MacDonald won out over such more famous names as Tom Jones, George C. Scott, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, etc.
Lyle Waggoner may not have topped any polls, but Playgirl goes all out on him, with stripped-to-the-waist pictures, a bikini brief picture, and that possibly historic four-fold section which, when detached from the magazine, is approximately 204 inches by 164 inches. The nude Waggoner lolls in a chair, one arm resting on a nearby desk, his right leg discreetly crossed over his left.
Editor Milam is elated.
"Our first issue was a sellout,” she said. “Six thousand copies! In just a few days! For the July issue we’ve ordered 700,000; and we’re going up to a million for the third. We got 1,000 answers to our questionnaire in the Los Angeles area and (most) wanted more male nudes. Their only complaint was they thought we were too conservative. They want to see more!
“I suppose we can’t have any full frontal shots, but I think our subjects can be presented in movement — so there won’t be the connotation of posed pictures. Along with better nudes we’re going after better content. You see, I came in as editor quite late, so a lot of the material in that first issue isn’t what I would have chosen. I didn't, for instance, have anything to do with the ‘Playgirl philosophy.’ I’m going after serious authors, like Tennessee Williams and Vincent Price.”
Does she anticipate running out of men willing to pose in the nude? “Heavens no!” said Mrs. Milam. “That’s no problem. We can always get them from modeling agencies if we have to, but I think we can get them from just everywhere. We’re going to continue having two nude centerfolds, a celebrity and an unknown.
For the next issue George Maharis is the celebrity and a young college student is the unknown.”
Waggoner semi-retired from acting after Wonder Woman and opened his own successful company leasing trailers to stars on movie sets. He was 84 when he died.

Just think how different things would be if he had been a better Batman.


  1. Brings back memories of the 1974 Hampton-Newport News Christmas Parade. Our trombone line was just behind the car carrying Lyle. He was Grand Marshal of the parade that year. But, I think his all time best moment was trying to keep a straight face as Tim Conway playing an S.S. Officer tries to " make him talk " with his Hitler hand puppet singing " I've been working on the railroad ". Classic.

  2. Hans Christian Brando19 March 2020 at 18:18

    A smart man. His fleet of portable dressing rooms for location filming, Star Waggons (get it?), became the standard. More than a pretty face, but like Cary Grant he kept his looks right up to the end.