Sunday, May 29, 2016

Book Review: Who Was On First?

I've been researching, and reading about, television history, for a good many years. I know who played Mrs. Trumbull on I Love Lucy, who taught the lessons in Ding Dong School, and which CBS soap opera was interrupted when Walter Cronkite went on the air live in 1963 to tell us our president had been shot. But I still learned plenty -- and enjoyed doing it -- from Garry Berman's new book For the First Time on Television (BearManor Media).

This concise, thoroughly researched, and readable volume devotes itself to answering practically any question you could have about pioneering shows, stars, and technical innovations in broadcast history. Topics include sports, news, soap operas, and pretty much everything else the tube has to offer. Events both in front of, and behind, the cameras are covered. Berman is a meticulous researcher who sorts out the facts from the fallacies. Thought I Love Lucy was the first sitcom ever shot using a multi-camera technique? Not so. When the answer to a "first" question is open to debate, or difficult to clarify many years later, the author gives us all the available data and lets the reader draw his own conclusions.

Years ago, the great Groucho Marx (who had quite a successful video career himself) cracked that he found television very educational -- whenever someone turned it on, he went into the other room and opened a book. If you follow his example, you might try reading For the First Time on Television. There won't even be any commercial interruptions -- but you will learn about the first-ever TV commercial.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Goodbye, Mr. Young

RIP to the multi-talented Alan Young, who died this week at the age of 96. For all his considerable success as a film player (1960's The Time Machine), a voice actor, and star of a critically acclaimed early TV variety show, there's no escaping the fact that he will be best-remembered for his popular 1961-66 sitcom Mister Ed. By some accounts he was initially reluctant to star opposite a talking horse, but with the passage of time he seemed to embrace the show, recognize that it showcased him well, and take pleasure in how much viewers loved it. And if it's not the sort of role, or series, that typically took home the Emmy gold, it surely took a special gift as a performer to believably carry on conversations with a horse -- especially when the horse answers back.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Papal Birthday

Wishing a very happy 87th birthday to the marvelous character actress Peggy Pope, born May 15, 1929. Ms. Pope has always had her own distinctive comic style, and has enjoyed a lengthy career in movies and TV. She was memorably featured as a tippling office worker in Nine to Five (1980), and has played guest roles in more shows than you can shake a stick at. She was evidently a favorite at the Witt - Thomas - Harris production company, playing a recurring role in Soap, as well as making appearances in The Golden Girls and Empty Nest.

I just learned she's published a memoir, Atta Girl: Tales from a Life in the Trenches of Show Business. That's one I want to read!

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Proof is in the Pages

They're called "page proofs," and I recently received a whole bundle of them from my publisher. Once upon a time, page proofs came in a cardboard box that landed on my doorstep; now, I get an email, directing me to where I can download the images from an FTP server. They represent the last chance to correct any errors or typos in a book being readied for publication.

So if they're "proofs," what do they prove, exactly? In this case, they represent pretty compelling evidence that my book on Martha Raye should be out shortly. It's available for pre-order on Amazon and elsewhere. I hope you'll check it out.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Hollywood Chatting

Many thanks to the fine folks at Facebook's Hollywood Book Chat page, especially my fellow McFarland author James Zeruk, for recently recognizing me as "Author of the Day." I'm grateful for their support.

If you're either a reader who appreciates books about show business history, or an author who writes them, you should definitely join this community of like-minded folk. Just don't be surprised if visiting the page sends you directly to the nearest bookstore, or library.