Icon Restoration: Hazel Scott

Written By: Greg Howell - Jan• 17•20

Hazel Scott was an early pioneer in entertainment. She not only fought for equality in the industry, but demanded it. Her vocal and celebrated fight against segregation and unfair treatment of black entertainers established her as a leading civil rights trailblazer from New York to Hollywood.

The early 1950s were a unique time in the development of television history and the presence of actors of color on network TV. Most often referenced, of course, is the controversial Amos ‘n Andy show, which was a big hit on CBS, and the show was a giant in syndication until its removal from television in 1966. The all-black cast, which included Alvin Childress, Spencer Williams, Jr. Johnny Lee, and Ernestine Wade, delivered a bigger weekly national audience than I Love Lucy‘s early broadcasts in the fall of 1951.

But that was only several of the African-American actors making an impression on television in those early years. Ethel Waters and Butterfly McQueen gave ABC one of the network’s few hits, with Beulah. Hattie McDaniel filled in for a time in the title role, as well.

Also on CBS, The Jack Benny Program co-starred Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. His role became the second most popular character on the Benny show, behind Jack Benny himself.

And there was Hazel Scott, the iconic powerhouse and civil rights leader that forged a dynamic path through the entertainment industry. She could not be bullied nor persuaded by money to capitulate to racial stereotypes or unfair treatment. She remarkably stood her ground, and she won her battles.

Prior to coming to television, Miss Scott was one of the most significant entertainers in the business. Considered amongst the greatest jazz entertainers of the era, including Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra. She famously refused to play any arena that was segregated. Upon arrival to discover that a venue was separated by the color of their skin, she turned on her heels and walked away. And her legendary performances led to a long and successful recording career, and ultimately landed her in Hollywood.

By the early 1940s, Hazel Scott had her own radio show, appeared at every top club in New York and beyond, and appeared on Broadway too. She then appeared in 5 motion pictures, always insisting that she was never portrayed as a subservient, and never playing a stereotype. During her final film, with Mae West, she again stood her ground with the director over racial stereotypes. Upon discovering all other African-American women were being forced to wear dirty aprons for a musical number, she famously said to the director, “No black woman would see her man off to war wearing a dirty apron.” Hazel went on strike. Finally, the director capitulated, after three days, and dressed the women in bright floral patterns; however, studio head Harry Cohn was furious over the additional costs due to the 3-day delay during the project, and promised that Hazel would not work in films again. And she didn’t.

Nothing stopped Hazel, and she returned to New York and continued her successful concert hall performances and recording career. It was during this time she met and married Adam Clayton Powell, the first black NY state congressman, fierce civil rights activist, and, from 1945 – 1971, the United States congressman (D) for New York. Scott also landed by on radio, hosting again her own radio program.

In 1950, buoyed by the success of her radio show, the unflappable Scott premiered The Hazel Scott Show on TV in early April, the very first national television show hosted by an African-American. On the DuMont network, the show was so popular it quickly graduated from 1 night a week to 3 nights a week. With her greater national fame, however, came the inevitable resistance, and she was named a communist by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC). Against many’s concerns and requests for her to ignore, she voluntarily appeared before the committee, chastising them for destroying innocent lives and careers. A week later in late September, her show was cancelled after a 6 month run and excellent ratings. Hazel Scott had to move to Paris as an expatriate. Fortunately, she found renewed success, hosting and entertaining in Paris concert halls, as well as a growing group of entertainers also ruined by the HUAC.

In 1953, both Beulah and Amos n’ Andy were cancelled, with both still enjoying very high ratings. The long drought of no black entertainers or actors on television would last well into the sixties, with the occasional exception of guest appearances on white hosted variety shows, and the short run of Nat King Cole in 1956. Rochester from The Jack Benny Show would be the sole African-American on national TV until the mid-1960s.

Sources: https://www.wnyc.org/people/hazel-scott/ and https://blackthen.com/hazel-scott-first-african-american-woman-to-host-u-s-network-television-series/ and an excellent YouTube documentary:

Great Iconography! Schoolhouse Rock!

Written By: Greg Howell - Apr• 28•18

There are many people today, upon hearing someone speak of the Boston Tea Party, immediately visualize a giant, animated cup filled with tea, setting on a saucer, floating around the Boston Harbor! Schoolhouse Rock!, the brainchild of jazz musician and Miles Davis sideman, Bob Dorough, offered up three minute blocks of educational animation with some of Saturday morning’s all-time best sonic and visual treats. Airing on ABC, each season Schoolhouse Rock! featured themed segments of approximately 9-12 episodes. Season one was subtitled “Mathematics Rock,” season two featured “Grammar Rock,” and season three featured “America Rock” and so on through each of its seven seasons.

With emphasis on the songwriting, the tunes became classic, well-loved symbols of Americana and dabbled in such popular genres as jazz, funk, and rock. Bob Dorough created the songs upon seeing his son struggle with his multiplication tables, yet seemingly having no problems remembering the lines to his favorite rock songs. His first song, Three is a Magic Number, was released as a children’s record in 1972, and landed into the hands of ABC’s ad agency, McCaffrey and McCall. This was the perfect solution for the recent FCC requirement for networks to improve their children’s programming!

Soon, McCaffrey and McCall established a stable of talent that included their then-unknown guitar strumming secretary, Lynn Ahrens. Besides her addition of such classics as “Figure Eight” and “The Preamble,” Miss Ahrens would go on to win many accolades for her theater work, including a Tony award.

Singer and cast member Jack Sheldon, famous as Merv Griffin’s sidekick, was also brought aboard, and was the voice of classic segments such as “I’m Just a Bill” and “Conjunction Junction.”

Popular jazz singer and pianist Blossom Dearie performed episodes for the show, including “Figure Eight” and “Unpack Your Adjectives.”

While the iconic imaging is well remembered, it is the cleverly written song lyrics that are the essential elements of Schoolhouse Rock! Lyrics like

Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?
Hooking up words and phrases and clauses
In complex sentences like:
[spoken] In the mornings, when I’m usually wide awake, I love to take a walk through the gardens and down by the lake, where I often see a duck and a drake, and I wonder, as I walk by, just what they’d say if they could speak, although I know that’s an absurd thought.

From “Elbow Room”

One thing you will discover
When you get next to one another
Is everybody needs some elbow room, elbow room.

It’s nice when you’re kinda cozy, but
Not when you’re tangled nose to nosey, oh,
Everybody needs some elbow, needs a little elbow room.

And this eyebrow raising classic, “Verb,” which writer Dorough thought wouldn’t pass ABC censors; but, it did!

I get my thing in action >> Verb!
To be, to sing, to feel, to live… >> Verb! That’s what’s
>> happenin’!
I put my heart in action >> Verb!
To run, to go, to get, to give… >> Verb! You’re what’s
>> happenin’!

Schoolhouse Rock premiered January 13, 1973 and ran from 1973-1985, and returned with new segments from 1994-1996, and another 11 episode batch in 2009; ultimately, the show produced 64 episodes. These are available by DVD and the songs are available on Itunes and on CD by Rhino. A tribute album was released in the 1996, and included artists such as Deluxe Folk Implosion, Better Than Ezra, Pavement, Ween, The Lemonheads, Moby and Blind Melon.

Bob Dorough passed away last week, April 23, 2018 at the age of 94!

View several of the most-beloved segments from the shows first three seasons on our Facebook page.

Great Iconography! Schoolhouse Rock! Premiere January 13, 1973

Great Iconography! Schoolhouse Rock! Premiere January 13, 1973There are many people today, upon hearing someone speak of the Boston Tea Party, immediately visualize a giant, animated cup filled with tea, setting on a saucer, floating around the Boston Harbor! Schoolhouse Rock!, the brainchild of jazz musician and Miles Davis sideman, Bob Dorough, offered up three minute blocks of educational animation with some of Saturday morning’s all-time best sonic and visual treats. Airing on ABC, each season Schoolhouse Rock! featured themed segments of approximately 9-12 episodes. Season one was subtitled “Mathematics Rock,” season two featured “Grammar Rock,” and season three featured “America Rock” and so on through each of its seven seasons.With emphasis on the songwriting, the tunes became classic, well-loved symbols of Americana and dabbled in such popular genres as jazz, funk, and rock. Bob Dorough created the songs upon seeing his son struggle with his multiplication tables, yet seemingly having no problems remembering the lines to his favorite rock songs. His first song, Three is a Magic Number, was released as a children’s record in 1972, and landed into the hands of ABC’s ad agency, McCaffrey and McCall. This was the perfect solution for the recent FCC requirement for networks to improve their children’s programming!Soon, McCaffrey and McCall established a stable of talent that included their then-unknown guitar strumming secretary, Lynn Ahrens. Besides her addition of such classics as “Figure Eight” and “The Preamble,” Miss Ahrens would go on to win many accolades for her theater work, including a Tony award.Singer and cast member Jack Sheldon, famous as Merv Griffin’s sidekick, was also brought aboard, and was the voice of classic segments such as “I’m Just a Bill” and “Conjunction Junction.”Popular jazz singer and pianist Blossom Dearie performed episodes for the show, including “Figure Eight” and “Unpack Your Adjectives.”While the iconic imaging is well remembered, it is the cleverly written song lyrics that are the essential elements of Schoolhouse Rock! Lyrics like:Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?Hooking up words and phrases and clausesIn complex sentences like:[spoken] In the mornings, when I’m usually wide awake, I love to take a walk through the gardens and down by the lake, where I often see a duck and a drake, and I wonder, as I walk by, just what they’d say if they could speak, although I know that’s an absurd thought.From “Elbow Room”One thing you will discoverWhen you get next to one anotherIs everybody needs some elbow room, elbow room.It’s nice when you’re kinda cozy, butNot when you’re tangled nose to nosey, oh,Everybody needs some elbow, needs a little elbow room.And this eyebrow raising classic, “Verb,” which writer Dorough thought wouldn’t pass ABC censors; but, it did!I get my thing in action >> Verb!To be, to sing, to feel, to live… >> Verb! That’s what’s>> happenin’!I put my heart in action >> Verb!To run, to go, to get, to give… >> Verb! You’re what’s>> happenin’!Schoolhouse Rock premiered January 13, 1973 and ran from 1973-1985, and returned with new segments from 1994-1996, and another 11 episode batch in 2009; ultimately, the show produced 64 episodes. These are available by DVD and the songs are available on Itunes and on CD by Rhino. A tribute album was released in the 1996, and included artists such as Deluxe Folk Implosion, Better Than Ezra, Pavement, Ween, The Lemonheads, Moby and Blind Melon.Bob Dorough passed away last week, April 23, 2018 at the age of 94!Bob Dorough passed away last week, April 23, 2018 at the age of 94!Read the Greg Howell article here… http://greghowelldesign.com/iconservation/great-iconography-schoolhouse-rock-premiere-january-13-1973/

Posted by Television's Greatest Events & Iconography on Saturday, April 28, 2018

 

 

 

GREATEST TV NETWORK FAILS! Mork & Mindy, ABC, 1979

Written By: Greg Howell - Mar• 27•18

GREATEST TV NETWORK FAILS! Mork & Mindy, ABC, 1979

Every so often, television network executives get so high on success they begin to believe they are creative geniuses. Suddenly, they know more about creating TV shows than the talented people that actually create the programs. Such is the case with 1978-1979’s breakout smash, Mork & Mindy.

The show was a classic “fish out of water” tale with one very special difference. That, of course, was the genius of Robin Williams. His manic, zany physical humor took the show to astronomical heights. The show, that first season, became instantly ingrained into popular culture. Robin, and co-star Pam Dawber as Mindy, landed magazine cover after cover, headline after headline, and was one of the most exciting debuts in decades!

Robin Williams genius and acting chops were so remarkable, and so natural, people began to assume he simply was ad-libbing his way through each episode. However, this was not the case, as reported by Charlie Jane Anders for a wonderful expose´about the show, with interviews from Mork & Mindy‘s writers.

“There was a pervasive myth at the time that Williams ad-libbed all his lines on Mork & Mindy. This drove the writers nuts, because Williams always followed the script. Misch says their standard response was, “We’re up until four in the morning, writing Robin’s ad-libs.”

While Williams offered up improv, action, and jokes in rehearsal, come time to film, he was letter perfect with the script. He was the hyperkinetic male Lucille Ball. Mork & Mindy bounced around the top three of the national Nielsen ratings that first season, often landing well ahead of the pack. The show averaged a high enough rating that first season as the #3 program in all of TV, even though by season’s end, it was most often at #1. The show was poised to be one of the great all-time hits, and Williams to become one of the top TV clowns ever, ranking with Lucy, Gleason, Berle, Skelton and Carol Burnett.

Then, the ABC networks intervened! After decades of being the distant 3rd rated network, ABC destroyed the other networks in the ratings beginning in the mid-1970’s. The network had so many hit shows they began to toss them around like salads, and aside, like they were two day old popcorn. The executives were cancelling top hits like The Bionic Woman and Wonder Woman without a second thought. The network basically owned 4 of the 7 nights of programming.

Egos swelling, those executives became high on power. They suddenly knew everything about TV and creating great programs. Thus, they insisted the production team at Mork & Mindy fire the supporting cast, and add younger characters, and re-focus the direction of the show! Then, ABC moved the show from Thursday to Sunday, believing they could finally end CBS’s ownership of the night.

The entire affair was a mess, a disaster on the highest scale! The show plummeted in the ratings, and even worse, hardly anyone even spoke about the show any longer, except to remark how bad it had become. Desperately, the network attempted to return the show to its first season glory, but it was too late. People tuned out and never came back. The show continued to collapse in the ratings until cancellation was a necessity just two years later.  The magic was over.

As for ABC, their constant tinkering and re-scheduling of hit shows, such as What’s Happening, Angie, Charlie’s Angels, Too Close for Comfort, Soap and Taxi, ended their tidal wave reign and place as the nation’s top network.

For a more complete read about the show, check out https://io9.gizmodo.com/mork-and-mindy-was-one-of-the-most-unlikely-miracles-in-1745289352

 

GREAT TV QUOTE OF THE DAY: I Love Lucy, 1954

Written By: Greg Howell - Mar• 24•18

ICONIC COLLECTIBLES! Vintage TV-Themed Lunch Boxes

Written By: Greg Howell - Mar• 24•18

Launched in the early 1950’s, TV-themed lunch boxes trickled slowly into school lunchrooms for a few years. Early boxes featured Tom Corbett – Space Cadet, Howdy Doody, Disney, Roy Rogers, and Hopalong Cassidy. By the 1960’s, however, going to school carrying your lunch AND your favorite TV show in the same hand was exceptionally cool. Lunch boxes during these decades sum up the most popular kids shows on TV.

These days, a well cared for lunch box can fetch top dollars. The average collectible lunch box will run $25 -$50. Many are priced in the $100-$500 range, and some, run in the thousands of dollars. At first glance, there seems to be little rhyme or reason regarding the highest-priced collectible boxes. Ultimately, collecting comes down to supply and demand. Boxes, such as the Bullwinkle series, The Waltons, Star Trek, and the earliest themed boxes from the 1950’s bring the most money at auctions and in antique stores.

A comprehensive collection like represented in this video would cost a buyer $20,000 or more!