CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “The Jackie Robinson Story”

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.
 

 Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances. 

For as great a baseball player and tremendous all-around athlete as he was, Jackie Robinson more than held his own on the silver screen portraying himself in the classic film, “The Jackie Robinson Story

Robinson became the first African-American to break the color barrier by playing professional baseball as a second baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

The movie, filmed and released during the peak of his baseball career in 1950, outlined his life and focused on his struggles against racial prejudices and social injustices he faced to first play…and then excel…as a major league baseball player.

The racism Robinson endured started well before his professional playing days.  After graduating from college he was denied an opportunity to be a baseball coach, before he was even offered his first pro baseball contract. The film also connects with his education, home life and his tour of duty fighting for the United States Army in World War II.

Some of the best moments of this film are the inspirational messages he receives throughout his life, from various sources and from people of different races and economic levels.  One of the best speeches comes from Robinson himself when he delivers a message to the House of Representatives reflecting on his struggles for equality.  He also humbly addresses the inequalities of baseball, eloquently telling of its incredible prejudices and of the malicious acts he had to endure – even initially from within his own clubhouse.

The courage and class that Jackie shows throughout all these ordeals made the emotional impact of the scenes even more real and palatable for viewers to get a sense of what he went through.  The impact of these scenes hits home even more when you realize that it was Robinson himself reliving (and acting through) these real life events.

In 2006, the film was recognized by the American Film Institute’s top 100 films in the “100 Cheers” category.

“The Jackie Robinson Story” also features equally emotional and courageous scenes from Ruby Dee, playing the role of Jackie’s wife, Rae, along with stellar performances by Louise Beavers (portraying Jackie’s mother) and veteran character actor Minor Watson, who signed Robinson to his professional baseball contract.

Alfred E. Green, who was no stranger to great biopic films, also did a credible job mixing in realistic baseball scenes while also framing and highlighting the key personal moments and private conversations in the movie that were so integral in the retelling of Jackie’s journey.

Years later, the movie “42” took a more modern view of Robinson’s tremendous accomplishments and epic struggles.  Although that, too, is a great film, both baseball supporters and non-athletic fans alike really must see the original version of Robinson’s life story, featuring the man who transcended sports in multiple ways, complete with his brilliant acting performance in his own film. 

You can see “The Jackie Robinson Story” this Thursday, August 13, at 9 am on RCN-TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Classic Concert in the Park by Catherine Neelon

Enjoy this guest blog from Catherine Neelon of the RCN TV production team. Chris Michael will be back next week. 

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company. 

September 17, 1908. West Park. Allentown, PA.

It must have been a glorious late-summer evening.

Though the park’s founder, General Harry C. Trexler, avoided the limelight and did not attend this opening night, plenty of eager music-loving residents from all across the city crowded around the newly minted bandshell to see the Allentown Band in concert. In the weeks and years that followed, many of the other Allentown-area community bands would also come to West Park to perform for the public in the warm summer air.

♪♫   ♪♫   ♪♫            ♪♫   ♪♫   ♪♫            ♪♫   ♪♫   ♪♫

For several years, starting in the mid-to-late 1990s, RCN (and earlier incarnations of its TV studio) worked with the City of Allentown and the members of American Federation of Musicians Local 45 to share many of these summertime concerts with its subscribers – many of whom might not otherwise get to experience them. In this way, the program “Concert in the Park” was born.

I remember working as part of the TV crew on our “Concert in the Park” days – arriving hours ahead of time to set up cameras and lights and microphones and cables under the leafy canopy provided by West Park’s many majestic trees. I can’t recall a time that we weren’t the first ones to arrive for the concert – but, guaranteed, as the shadows grew and the park lights started to glow, the people would start to trickle in. Some took advantage of the wooden benches right up front, while others brought their fold-up chairs and settled further back from the stage. Though the faces would change, and the crowd size might vary from night to night, there was always great music and it always had a grateful audience.

♪♫   ♪♫   ♪♫            ♪♫   ♪♫   ♪♫            ♪♫   ♪♫   ♪♫

Then came 2020 and the threat of COVID-19.

All of the anticipation, all of the preparation was no proof against the pandemic, and Allentown’s summer concert season at West Park had to be cancelled.

However, the members of AFM Local 45, who make up the rosters of the local community bands, still wanted to share their music with the Lehigh Valley – and to remind us all that their bands are still here and will play again once this crisis has passed. To this end, representatives contacted RCN-TV to see if we would be interested in re-televising some of our “Concert in the Park” programs from the past.

And in this way, “Classic Concert in the Park” was born. Starting in the beginning of August, over the course of several weeks, RCN-TV will be spotlighting a specially selected performance by each of six community bands.

  • Tuesday, August 4 (repeat Sat., Aug. 8) – Pioneer Band of Allentown concert from July 3, 2007, with former conductor Jay Durner.
  • Tuesday, August 11 (repeat Sat., Aug. 15) – Macungie Band concert from August 7, 2010, with conductor Mike Moran. (This concert was actually held at Macungie Memorial Park for Das Awkscht Fescht.)
  • Tuesday, August 18 (repeat Sat., Aug. 22) – Marine Band of Allentown concert from June 9, 2004 with the late Ray Becker as conductor.
  • Tuesday, September 8 (repeat Wed., Sept. 9) – Royalaires concert from July 19, 2003 with the late Richard Hinkle (my HS band director!) conducting.
  • And just shy of West Park’s 112th anniversary, on Tuesday, September 15 (repeat Wed., 16) – Allentown Band concert from July 2, 2010 with long-time conductor Ron Demkee.

All concert airings begin 7:00pm on RCN-TV. Enjoy and stay safe!

 

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “Robert Livingston & The Three Mesquiteers”

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

 For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

 Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

Robert Livingston (born Robert Edward Randall) may not be a household name today when you think of classic motion pictures but he carved out a star-studded career for himself in some of cinemas’ most iconic roles and popular film series in the 1930s and 1940s.

Billed in these films as Bob Livingston, he was one of the original members of “The Three Mesquiteers” and starred in a whopping 27 movies as “Stony Brook,” starting with the first movie in 1936.

The films would focus on a trio of friends/cowboys–true to each other a la Alexandre Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers.” They would participate in various “western-themed” adventures–always triumphant in the end. Their name was a combination of the “musketeers” and mesquite, a popular plant found in the western part of the United States.

In 1938’s “Outlaws of Sonora,” the trio’s loyalty is put to the test as a villain, who looks similar to one of the heroes, goes on a crime wave and it’s up to the Mesquiteers to discover the truth, vindicate their friend and stop the bad guys.

In “Hit The Saddle” (which featured a very young Rita Hayworth, nine years before her turn as “Gilda”), the protagonists seek vengeance for the wrongful death of a young boy’s father but a love interest adds complexity to their battle for justice. 

Most of their movies followed similar plot lines, with the cowboys pitted against criminals and outlaws from the old west.  However, after the United States entered World War II, the Mesquiteers would also fight Nazis in a few of their adventures.

The films were very popular throughout the series’ run that lasted until 1943.  The Motion Picture Herald records that these films were consistently ranked in the top 10 westerns of each year, even after Livingston left the franchise.

Livingston’s last role as Stony Brook was in the 1941 movie “Saddlemates,” but he also starred as the titular character in other famous western characters like Don Diego / Zorro and “The Lone Ranger,” before, during and after his run with “The Three Mesquite” film series.

In all, the Quincy, Illinois native would appear in 136 total movies in a career that began as a silent film actor in 1921. Livingston would end up appearing in over half of the 51 “Mesquiteers” films.

His final acting role was in the 1975 comedy “Blazing Stewardesses” — a film that made references to and tried to build on the success of Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” that came out the year prior.  The original intent of the “Stewardesses” picture was to pay homage to the “B Film Westerns” that Livingston had made so popular in the 1930s and ’40s.

You can see a marathon of films (including all the ones listed in today’s blog) starring Livingston’s Stony Brooks character, starting with 1938’s “The Purple Vigilantes” on Monday, August 3rd starting at 9 a.m. on RCN TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “The Lunch Counter Murders”

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company. 

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation. 

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances. 

From 1939 through the late 1960s, the comedy quartet of George Balzer, John Tackaberry, Milt Josefsberg and Sam Perrin were responsible for some of the funniest bits and comedic sketches on the radio and television mediums.

The four writers not only developed some great sketch comedy routines but also found a way to develop a winning program formula and have success repeating that same episode, literally for decades.

Wait…they repeated the same episode and continue to get new laughs every time?

Let me give you some examples.

On “The Jack Benny Program” alone, the writers developed annual shows like the popular Christmas Shopping and New Year’s Eve programs, which followed the same basic pattern, but would add increasingly funny jokes and added comedic bits with each episode.

For the former, the entire episode each year was Benny looking to buy Christmas gifts for his staff. Utilizing his well-known “skin flint-ness” as a backdrop, Benny would find new ways to save money with increasing cheapness as each show went on.  Every year the cheapness would reach new “highs,” and would culminate with Benny frustrating a salesperson beyond reason, with great comedic results (many would say the 1955 version with Mel Blanc portraying the salesman — ultimately blowing his brains out — was the best/funniest version of this type of episode).

The New Year’s Eve show would feature Benny as the current year’s Father Time, waxing poetic about the highs and lows of the previous year.  While mixing in jokes about the biggest stars and events of the completed year, the climax would be his handing off the role to a young boy portraying the following year’s Baby New Year and a wish of hope and prosperity for the 12 months to come.

Another popular reoccurring episode was the “Lunch Counter Murders.”

Originating as a radio play, the show would focus on Benny running a small-town diner with different members of his cast popping in and for a quick bite while portraying quirky characters.  The show’s second half would feature a guest star heading a group of “dangerous villains” who were on the run from the police and holding Benny hostage at his late night eatery.

Without question, the 1953-version of this skit, with Dan Duryea (who was very popular in films around this time) as the main guest star and cast regular Dennis Day as his sidekick, was the best version of this particular skit.  This edition built on the best comedic gags from the radio version and mixed in humorous visual jokes (complete with a hand-grabbing cash register for people foolish enough to ask Benny for change).

The jokes in this version were fast and furious and featured a surprise, additional guest star at the very end of the skit to top off one of the most popular episodes during the TV program’s early years.

You can catch the laughs for yourself of this specific version of the “Lunch Counter Murder” featured this Wednesday, July 30, at 10:30 am on RCN TV.

Also, see one of the best versions of the “New Year’s” shows, this Tuesday, July 28, at 8pm.

Be on the lookout for more of the annual Benny shows scribed by Perrin, Josefsberg, Balzer and Tackaberry as part of RCN TV’s annual holiday marathon programming.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “Ozzie and Harriet” Origins

The views expressed in this blog arethose of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

 Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances. 

When one talks about the show that’s the typical, quintessential 1950s “TV family,” you need to look no further than “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” program.

But do you know how this television show came to fruition?

Ozzie Nelson was an orchestra leader who sometimes teamed with Harriet (born Peggy Lou Snyder) for events before both were asked to appear at the same time on a national radio show called “The Baker’s Broadcast” in the early 1930s.  One of the initial hosts of the show was Robert Ripley (remember “Ripley’s ‘Believe It or Not?’ “)

Ozzie and Harriet married in 1935 and decided, as opposed to continuing to work independently, they would see more of each other by working the same gigs.

Featured appearances on some of the top radio programs in the 1940s included “The Red Skelton Show,” “The Fred Allen Show” and “Suspense,” which led to their own radio vehicle.

When Skeleton was drafted in 1944, Ozzie was left to create his own family situation comedy on Red’s program, giving him valuable experience he would need a couple years later to develop his own television show.

The Ozzie and Harriet radio program actually switched networks, from CBS to NBC and finally to ABC, who was significantly behind the other two networks in the Hooper ratings that were used at that time. In the late 1940s, all three networks started looking at existing radio shows that could successfully make the transition to television.  Because ABC was desperate to hold on to their talent and not lose them to the other two networks, they pretty much offered the Nelsons carte blanche when it came to creating their own television program.

First of all, Ozzie and Harriet never had to produce a pilot episode for ABC. Instead, the couple’s successful movie, “Here Comes the Nelsons,” was used to convince the network that America would fall in love with this real-life family.

Also, before a single episode aired, Ozzie convinced ABC to guarantee them a 10-year contract.  This meant that regardless of whether or not the series would ever be canceled, the entire family would still get paid for a decade–a virtually unheard of television contract concession, even to this day.

The contract actually turned out to be a godsend for the network and not as much for the Nelsons as the show became an instant hit and easily surpassed the 10-year contract, making it the first weekly prime-time scripted television program ever to last for more than a decade.

In all, the series would go on for a record-setting 14-year sojourn on television alone.

We’ll have more on this program’s legacy coming up in a future blog post.

In the meantime, you can visit with the Nelsons yourself.  “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” airs weekly on Sunday afternoons at 1 p.m. on RCN-TV.

Plus…we’re hosting an “Ozzie and Harriet” mini-marathon this Monday evening starting at 9 pm on RCN-TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Victory At Sea

The views expressed in this blog arethose of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances. 

For the many people who will be staying home for this year’s Fourth of July or for people who have RCN’s TiVo and DVR products, a tremendous way to spend the holiday would be to watch the documentary series marathon, “Victory at Sea” (followed by an encore performance of the 2019 Allentown Fireworks Spectacular).

This Emmy-Award Winning, limited-run series on NBC recounts historic battles and key moments in the United States victory over the Axis powers in World War II.

The idea for the show came from United States Navy Lieutenant Commander Harry Salomon.  While working on writing a historical review of World War II, Solomon uncovered millions of feet of actual newsreel footage, covering the wars’ darkest moments and the Allied Forces’s greatest victories.

After leaving the Navy in 1948 Solomon and fellow Harvard grad Robert Sarnoff, who was the son of NBC President David Sarnoff, approached the network about making a documentary series based on this footage.

The series was green-lighted by NBC for a whopping $500,000 budget (one of the largest of the time period) and was an instant hit.

The scenes were accompanied by legendary songwriter / composer Richard Rodgers, who was coming off several huge Broadway hits and is one of just two people ever to win an Emmy, a Tony, a Grammy, an Academy Award and a Pulitzer prize.

Excerpts from this soundtrack have been used for many movies, television shows and special events ever since.

After its network run, the footage was re-edited again with a brand new narration and was released as a self-contained hour and a half long featured film.  A few years later, NBC re-edited the footage a third time for a television movie showing. Its success had also included a successful spin-off show called, “Project Twenty.”

See the best moments of the “Victory at Sea” saga as part of a special Independence Day marathon on RCN-TV, followed by the Allentown Fireworks Show.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

 

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “The Lucy Show” Legacy

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

Last week here at the Classic Video Showplace, we took a look at the origins and beginning of “The Lucy Show,” the first series starring Lucille Ball after her record-setting role in her nine-year run as Lucy Ricardo with real-life husband, Desi Arnaz.

(The cast of “The Lucy Show” through the first three seasons)

Like her initial TV series, “The Lucy Show” was well-received by critics and fans alike and quickly became a top 20 staple in the Nielsen television ratings.

By the end of the show’s first season on the air, Arnaz, tired of the business aspect of the entertainment industry, asked Ball to buy him out as co-president of the show’s production company, Desilu.

Lucille took full control of the show’s direction from season two onward, and later named her new husband, Gary Morton, as co-executive producer.

After its first three, rather smooth years on television, this series was in for a rocky, yet equally successful run during the rest of its years on TV.

During the summer hiatus between the series’ third and fourth seasons (back when television seasons actually lasted nearly an entire year), Vance decided to step away from the project (more on that in a moment.)

Vance was initially replaced by Ann Southern (who then left because she demanded, but was denied, sharing top-billing with Lucy).  Joan Blondell, who was also a friend of Ball’s, was then brought in as her sidekick.  Despite the friendship, Lucille realized the on-camera chemistry was not working between the two and quickly replaced her with Mary Jane Croft, appearing in a different role than she had performed earlier in the series.  (Croft also played several characters on the original show, including the role of Lucy’s neighbor during “I Love Lucy’s” sixth season – the last of the 30-minute editions of this program.)

Vance’s departure from the show evolved from a continuing rift between her and Ball–one that started over miscommunication between both actors’ agents, studio executives and the show’s producers.  Vance would later return to appear on the show on a part-time basis and, eventually, the long-standing friendship between the two was renewed.

An argument between Ball and her longtime “Lucy” writing staff (two of which had worked with Lucy since her radio show, “My Favorite Husband”, in the 1940s) led to their dismissal. Lucille’s on-camera children were also fired from the show (despite Candy Moore becoming a very popular teen idol at that time) and the setting for the program shifted to a new location, with no mention of her children again for the rest of the show’s run.

One of the reasons for the show’s move to California: to make it more realistic when special guest stars would happen to cross paths with Lucy in her adventures.

Ball made another shrewd business decision as executive producer:  despite less than 5% of Americans having color television sets in 1963, she insisted on filming the episodes in color, pointing out they could make more money in syndication with colorized episodes.  Even so, CBS rejected that idea and continued to broadcast these shows in black-and-white for two more seasons, even though they were filmed in color.

Also, unlike most shows that were being produced in the early 1960s, “The Lucy Show” was filmed in front of a live audience (with a laugh track added only for jokes that did not get a good response).  The studio audience became a staple for many sitcoms in the decade that followed.

While Ball rarely ad-libbed lines during this production, there were several episodes in which mishaps occurred during filming that made it to the final cut.

One example included Lucy getting trapped in a shower filled with rapidly rising water, and Vance, without breaking character, was left to improv and create lines in order to buy time for Ball to recover from her unintentional misadventure. The scene, with a mistake and all, made it to the final version of the episode.

Another famous experience included fellow legendary comedians Bob Hope and Jack Benny trying to outdo each other with one liners while the cameras continue to roll without interruption.  While the live audience never seemed to catch on to these unexpected lines and occurrences, it’s fun to go back and watch an episode like this to see how these talented actors responded when things went off script.

The show itself was never canceled. Instead, Ball, tired of running the large Desilu Productions, sold the company to Paramount, and with it the rights to this incarnation of her show. The very next year she formed a new, smaller production unit (with herself as the creative head) and launched the equally popular “Here’s Lucy” sitcom, which ran for six additional seasons. 

You can see “The Lucy Show,” every Wednesday morning at 11am on RCN-TV.

To see the full listing of classic programming on RCN, check out the weekly listings here on our website. 

 

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “The Lucy Show” Origins

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

 Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

According to legend (aka, “The ‘I Love Lucy‘ Book” by Bart Andrews) when “The Lucy Show” pilot was being filmed, co-star Vivian Vance and Executive Producer (and Lucille Ball’s former husband) Desi Arnaz were watching high above the stage on the catwalk, both in tears with Vance proclaiming, “It isn’t the same, is it?”

This, of course, was a reference to the impossible task of trying to repeat the amazing success of one of television’s all-time greatest comedies, “I Love Lucy,” which share ratings numbers that have rarely ever been matched, even to this day.

Still, the follow-up to the initial Lucille Ball-starred TV show had a tremendous run in its own right, packed with trend-setting elements and interesting storylines – both on and off screen.

First of all, it was one of the first shows to feature two divorced women living without their husbands while successfully raising young children.

The show was successful both in terms of popularity and critical acclaim, capturing several Emmy awards and nominations throughout its six-year run.  This, despite numerous cast, setting and show format changes, including its controversial switching from black-and-white to color photography.

According to “The Lucy Book” by Geoffrey Mark Fidelman, the show was never meant to last beyond one season and was a tool by Desilu Productions (owned by Arnaz and Ball) to try to reverse the production company’s trend of producing struggling television shows. The idea was to try to force CBS to buy a bundle of failing Desilu shows in order to have “The Lucy Show” on their schedule. (This technique is now employed by most major networks, forcing outlets to carry smaller, less-watched channels while holding highly successful network(s) as bait.)  

Ironically, Ball first balked at the idea of such a ploy, only to use this strategy in renewing this series in its later years.

Ball was initially hesitant to get back into television and only would do so after insisting that the original “I Love Lucy” writers, co-star Vance and other regular guest stars (Mary Jane Croft, Gale Gordon) would be involved in this production.

The show’s airing network, CBS, had some reservations before green-lighting the show. The TV executives felt that Ball would have trouble carrying the series without her husband on screen with her, like on “I Love Lucy.”  In another ironic twist, back in 1949, the same network wouldn’t believe that Arnaz could carry off the role of being Lucy’s husband – even though they were married in real life. It took Lucille’s ultimatum that Desi would play her husband or she wouldn’t do the show before CBS gave its approval for the original series.

Vance also needed persuasion to return to the small screen to become Lucy’s sidekick.  Tired of being called “Ethel” in public, she insisted on using her real name on the show and also demanded more glamorous clothes as opposed to the ones Lucille forced her to wear repeatedly on the original series.

With some of her most trusted friends, long-time colleagues – both on and off screen – and even her former husband serving as the show’s executive producer, Ball’s “The Lucy Show” was primed to be a major hit on CBS. 

However, this was just the beginning of a tumultuous relationship for many of the people involved, including ripping apart one of television’s best loved friendships.

More on this show in next week’s blog entry….

You can see “The Lucy Show,” every Wednesday morning at 11am on RCN-TV.

To see the full listing of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Roy Rogers- “The Movies”

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

Roy Rogers starred in a television show which successfully ran for several years and had some unique stories of its own (which we will address in another blog entry).

But this week, we’ll focus on his early career and successful cinematic performances, many of which are airing this month on Monday mornings on RCN-TV.

Contrary to what you may think, one of the most popular cowboys of all time, Rogers was born in the non-western town of Cincinnati, Ohio. He traveled to different cities and toiled in several jobs before eventually starting his entertaining career as a musician in Inglewood, California.  His first gig was as a member of a short-lived musical group called “The Rocky Mountaineers” in 1931.

It took three more years (and participating in several additional failing musical groups) before Rogers, now a part of a group called “The Sons of the Pioneers,” recorded his first successful song, “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.”  More musical successes soon followed which gave Rogers the start of his movie career in 1935.  However, once again, it took Rogers several years before he found success on the big screen.

In 1938, Republic Pictures held a contest looking for a singing cowboy; the contest included several established movie actors of the time. However, Rogers, still relatively unknown in the film industry, won the contest and soon hit it big with several successful movies.

(Rogers with Lynne Roberts in “Billy the Kid Returns“)

Two of his first big movie hits were the 1938 films “Billy The Kid Returns” (starring alongside the popular Smiley Burnette) and “Shine On, Harvest Moon” (co-starring with Mary Hart).

(Rogers and Hart in “Harvest Moon”)

Both of these films will be shown in the “RCN Movie Vault,’ airing on Monday, June 15, starting at 9 a.m.

By 1940 his surging popularity allowed him to rewrite his contract and included owning the rights to his likeness, leading to the sale of the popular Roy Rogers action figures.

Along with Gene Autry, Rogers became one of the most popular “B movies” Western stars in the 1940s and early 1950s.

He supported John Wayne in the 1940s classic, “Dark Command”, and for 16 consecutive years won the ‘Motion Picture Herald Top 10 Money Making Western Stars’ poll.

While his trademark song, “Happy Trails”, did not come along for several more years (the song was written by his future wife, Dale Evans), Rogers continued to cross-market his movie and music successes throughout the 1940s, resulting in a number of popular Western films still reviewed by film students to this day.

A unique aspect of Rogers’ films was that it would often spill out of the atypical Western genre. For example, sometimes his trustee horse, Trigger, would go off for several minutes on an animal adventure. It was a rarity in many Hollywood films to go several minutes without a single bit of dialogue nor hardly any musical accomplishments.

You can see the many different elements of Roy Rogers’ classic films on Monday mornings over the next several weeks on RCN-TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: You Bet Your Life

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company. 

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances. 

Over the last few years there’s been a resurgence of interest in game shows with popular 24-hour channels devoted to the genre like “Buzzr” and “GSN.”

Even major networks have brought back forms of old format game shows–some dating back to the early 1950s but with new guests and hosts–back to prime-time television.

But one of the most unique and popular game show formats that’s been impossible to reproduce is the Groucho Marx piloted vehicle, “You Bet Your Life.

Following a string of popular movies with his famous Marx Brothers in the 1930s and early 1940s, Groucho hit a lull from an entertainment production standpoint around the World War II era.

His later movies failed to equal his earlier success and Groucho also longed to find his niche as a solo act.

However, very few media vehicles provided the format for what his style was best suited – the art of ad-libbing. He struggled as a scripted actor and also did not have much success as a pure stand-up comedian.

According to Groucho’s son, Arthur Marx, in his book, “Life with Groucho,” it was John Guedel, producer of the Bob Hope radio show, who envisioned a new project for Groucho.

During a guest spot on Hope’s show, the audience was in an uproar over a nearly completely ad-libbed comedy bit by Groucho, who was angry that the host kept him waiting so long before bringing him out for his appearance.

Guedel speculated that Groucho would flourish playing off different guests on each program and, in between comedy bits, asking contestants questions from which they could win money. And “You Bet Your Life” was born.

An even more forward-thinking idea for this program – they recorded over an hour worth of programming for each individual episode, enabling them to edit out less funny bits or improv jokes that did not go over too well.

Editing the show was also a must in order to get by radio and television network sensors.  Groucho frequently used risque humor and double entendres that would often test sensors’ approval.  The ability to cut out any jokes that went over the line allowed Marx to push the envelope more than other TV shows of that era without upsetting any sponsors.

“You Bet Your Life” became one of the first early television successes as its format easily transferred from radio to television in 1950. In fact, the program became so popular that it was simulcast on both mediums – one of the very few programs ever to accomplish this.

The show was a great success with an original run that spanned 14 years.  Because of the show’s simple format and the fact that so much of the program was based on Groucho’s comedy bits, “You Bet Your Life” was one of the few game shows that survived the quiz show scandal in the late 1950s.

Groucho’s popularity also soared to new heights during the show’s run although most people at the time didn’t know that his trademark mustache, thick eyebrows and round glasses were fake during his early years.

In his book, “The Secret Life of Bob Hope,” his son Arthur recounts a story where his father was on a train with other celebrities. When they all got off at the train station, no one paid attention to the makeup-less Groucho — with fans mobbing all the other famous movie stars. Feeling rejected, Groucho quickly slipped back on the train, put on his makeup and then exited the train in grand fashion — drawing most of the fans’ attention to him and away from the other celebrities.

The show also had a successful syndication run and was repackaged as “The Best of Groucho” and continued to broadcast many years later.

According to the Los Angeles Times, in 1973 NBC mistakenly felt the show had become too slow for a modern audience.  They sold the rights to Guedel and Marx, who immediately put the show back into syndication and it once again became a popular program for stations to run for several more years.

It also went down in television history as the medium’s first ever show produced in front of a live audience.

The format has been repeated several times over the last few decades, featuring several popular comedians as the show’s star.  None of them has ever reached the success of the original and not a single one of the remakes lasted more than a single year. 

A “You Bet Your Life” marathon starring Groucho Marx will be featured on Monday evening, June 8, starting at 9 pm on RCN TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.