CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “Mr. Television” (Part 2)

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 Showplace we took a look at the early career of Milton Berle. Today we look at the “second act” of this legendary entertainer’s career.

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Despite success on the silver screen, nightclubs, live performances and popular guest stints on radio, Milton Berle languished for nearly 20 years in mediocrity with inconsistent gigs as a regular radio show host (none of his own shows lasted more than 14 months). While struggling on an audio-only medium, Berle believed that the invention of television would be the perfect place for his “physical comedy heavy” brand of humor.
He was right!
Milton became the first megastar of the medium (predating Lucille Ball’s I Love Lucy by three years) and was one of the most successful TV programs–comedy or otherwise–from 1948 to 1952.
Berle and his show each won two Emmy Awards after the first season (he added two more Emmys in 1950) and NBC signed him to a whopping 30-year, one million dollars per year contract! Television set sales more than doubled after Texaco Star Theatre’s debut, reaching two million in 1949. Berle’s stature as the medium’s first superstar earned him the nickname “Mr. Television.”
He also earned another nickname, “Uncle Miltie,” after ending a 1949 broadcast with a brief ad-libbed remark to children watching the show: “Listen to your Uncle Miltie and go to bed.”
Despite his popularity, NBC made a tragic and extremely costly mistake early during the show’s run. Berle asked the network to film the live show (which would have allowed many of his episodes to be saved in a high video quality and therefore available for full syndication), but NBC declined. This resulted in most of his show’s episodes being lost or saved only on poorer-quality kinescopes.
By 1953 his ratings started to decline and his sponsor, “Texaco” pulled out. Buick quickly became the program’s sponsor before they too dropped out. The show’s ratings continued to slide for two years, leading to the its cancellation.
According to the Encyclopedia of Television, “Berle’s persona had shifted from the impetuous and aggressive style of the Texaco Star Theater days to a more cultivated, but less distinctive personality, leaving many fans somehow unsatisfied.”
Berle followed that program with four failed attempts at his own television shows with none lasting more than a year, much to the dismay of NBC, who was obligated to keep paying him until 1980. In 1966, he opted out of the contract to try his own variety show again on ABC, but that too didn’t last a year. The most sustained success he had as a regular TV host for the rest of his career was as the emcee of bowling shows in which he would throw in jokes in between interviews with the sports’ competitors.
However, he still remained extremely popular in movies, television guest spots and performing in person in Las Vegas, Hollywood and around the world for the next five decades.
He starred in five made-for-television movies and 14 television specials and was featured in additional 14 movies between 1960 and 1995.
Berle was named to the Guinness Book of World Records for the greatest number of charity performances made by a show-business performer. Unlike the high-profile shows done by Bob Hope to entertain the troops, Berle did more shows, over a period of 50 years, on a lower-profile basis. Berle received an award for entertaining at stateside military bases in World War I as a child performer, in addition to traveling to foreign bases during World War II and the Vietnam War. The first charity telethon (for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation) was hosted by Berle. A permanent fixture at charity benefits in the Hollywood area, he was instrumental in raising millions for charitable causes.
In April 2001, Berle was diagnosed with colon cancer but was advised by his doctors not to undergo surgery as they estimated the growth was not serious nor would negatively affect his health for another 10-12 years.
Eleven months later, Berle died from that same cancer. He was 93.

Be on the lookout for “Uncle MIltie’s” unusual brand of comedy on the surviving episodes of his own television show that airs Sunday afternoons at 2pm. You can also spot his many guest appearances on other programs you can see on RCN-TV.
To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

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.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “Mr. Television”

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.

In an earlier “Showplace” blog entry, we focused on the success of the Milton Berle Television Show.
Today we focus on the man, the myth and the legend.
Milton Berle‘s career is one of the longest and most varied in show business, spanning silent film, vaudeville, radio, motion pictures, and television.
Mendel Berlinger was born on July 12, 1908 in Harlem, New York.
Berle entered show business in 1913 at the age of five when he won a children’s Charlie Chaplin contest. He also worked as a child model and was the first “Buster Brown” for “Buster Brown” shoes and as a child actor in many silent films. According to his own autobiography, his first pictures were in The Perils of Pauline, The Mask of Zorro (starring Douglas Fairbacks, Sr.) and Tillie’s Punctured Romance (starring Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand), although there is no formal record of him actually being a part of those pictures.
At the age of 16 he changed his name to Milton Berle (when he became famous, his mother, who was frequently in the audience and would help “inspire” the audience with her laughter, also changed her last name to “Berle.”)
Through the 1920s, Berle moved up through the vaudeville circuit, finding his niche in the role of a brash comic known for stealing the material of fellow comedians. He also became a popular master of ceremonies in vaudeville, achieving top billing in the largest cities and theaters. During the 1930s, Berle appeared in a variety of Hollywood films and stage musicals, wrote and performed comedic records and further polished his comedy routines in night clubs.
In radio, he never had the success that he would later achieve in television. His longest running gig was as a regular joke teller on The Rudy Vallee Show from 1934 to 1936. He attempted a number of different programs with himself in the lead–all with different formats and utilizing various different types of comedy, but none was renewed after its initial seasons.
In 1940, in an attempt to gain more popularity on radio, he cancelled all his personal appearances and scheduled entertainment shows in order to spend more time working on his radio program. While his last attempt as his own radio show did prove to be extremely successful in building the skills necessary to sustain a physical audience, The Milton Berle Show on radio never caught on with audiences and was cancelled after just a little over a year on the air.
The lack of radio success and the decline of movie offers left Berle questioning if his career and popularity as an entertainer was burning out in 1947.
But in reality, it was just getting started.
Join us next week to find out what historic event took place in 1948 and took Berle to heights he had never seen before courtesy of a brand new medium…one that would be linked to Berle for the rest of his life.
In the meantime, check out The Milton Berle Show every Sunday afternoon this fall at 2pm on RCN-TV.
To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

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.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Bela Lugosi’s Later Years

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 time here at “The Showplace,” we took a look at the early career of Bela Lugosi. This week, we continue our look at the horror cinema legend.
While most people in 1929 were suffering from the initial hit of the Great Depression, actor Bela Lugosi was lobbying hard for what he believed was the role of a lifetime…HIS lifetime.
Lugosi was a natural playing Dracula on stage…his voice, delivery, mannerisms…even his face looked eerily similar to Bram Stoker’s undead creature (when he previously performed the role on the silver screen, they barely needed any makeup to enhance his features.)
Dracula was a commercial and critical success upon release, and led to several sequels and spin-offs. It has had a notable influence on popular culture, and Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula established the character as a cultural icon, as well as the archetypal vampire in later works of fiction. The film has since been selected by the United States Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” With most copies of the silent Dracula classic Nosferatu destroyed because of a contract dispute, Lugosi’s film became the definitive image for this (and subsequent) generation(s).
Bela, however, was not so thrilled.
Upon its release, Lugosi realized that he was becoming increasingly typecast as Dracula and was finding it near impossible to secure any other roles due to the popularity of his alter ego. Many reports claimed that he swore he would never again don the cape and play the role. He also tried to lobby film executives to hire him as something other than villains but after finding himself out of work and drowning in debt, he reluctantly agreed to take on antagonistic roles in popular sequels like Son of Frankenstein and as Dracula in parodies like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
However, the side effects of his popularity caused irreparable damage to his career. Lugosi would have very few job offers other than those associated with evil villains, monsters or, during World War II, Nazis. His better films during the 1930s included The Black Cat, The Raven, Son of Frankenstein and Black Friday.
Furthermore, Lugosi was under contract with Universal Studios, who would frequently pair him with fellow horror legend Boris Karloff. Karloff always demanded top billing and got more money than Lugosi throughout their pairing, even in films where Bela was the main star and Karloff had little more than a few lines.
Two more things worked against the Hungarian actor.
In 1936, England placed a ban on horror movies and refused to show any films resembling anything from that genre.
Also, the increasing pain that Lugosi was experiencing from injuries suffered in World War I led to an increasing dependence on morphine. As word spread among Hollywood producers of Lugosi’s drug use, his job opportunities became virtually nonexistent and he found himself once again out of work and destitute.
He made one final attempt at a film career years later in 1955 by approaching Bel-Air Pictures in cooperation with the “actor friendly” film distributor, United Artists. He did receive a role in the financially successful film, The Black Sheep, which included fellow horror film legend Lon Chaney Jr., along with major motion picture stars Basil Rathbone and John Carradine. However, Lugosi’s character in the movie did not have any lines and his appearance was largely overshadowed.
Bela Lugosi died of a heart attack in 1956. He was 73.
To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

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.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Bela Lugosi’s Early Years

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.

We are counting down to RCN-TV’s Halloween Marathon here at The Showplace. 
It’s hard to have a comprehensive look at Halloween-themed movie classics without a discussion on the intriguing career of one Bela Lugosi.
Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó was born on October 20, 1882 in Lugos, Austria-Hungary. He dropped out of school at the age of 12, and at 18 began his acting career. Like the fictional Vito Corleone, Bela used his hometown in formulating his stage name.
Bela spent the next 20 years performing in foreign silent films and stage productions in various countries. He also fought in World War I and suffered injuries that would later come back to impact his acting career.
Lugosi arrived in America in October 1920 and worked odd jobs before forming a stock company comprised of fellow immigrants performing in various Eastern United States cities.
His first American film role was that of a villain in the silent movie, The Silent Command. Other film opportunities–all from New York City film companies–followed with Lugosi almost always cast in an antagonist or villainous role.
Bela was first approached about his signature role as Dracula for a Broadway production in the summer of 1927. The play was a hit and ran for 261 productions over a two-year span. The success earned Lugosi two starring movie jobs (Prisoners, The Veiled Woman). His two films were also successful, causing Lugosi to stay in Hollywood, but he failed to find any additional work in films.
He returned to his role as Dracula on the stage to continued critical acclaim. Despite this, when Universal Studios decided to produce the film version of Dracula, Lugosi was not initially cast in the titular role.
Throughout 1929 Bela continued to lobby for the part, constantly contacting Universal’s executives asking for the part. Dracula producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. also was not interested in Lugosi, in spite of the good reviews for his stage portrayal. Laemmle instead considered other actors, including Paul Muni, Chester Morris, Ian Keith, John Wray, Joseph Schildkraut, Arthur Edmund Carewe, and William Courtenay.
Lugosi happened to be in Los Angeles with a touring company of the play when the film was being cast.
Against the mounting swell of studio opinion, Lugosi ultimately won the executives over. One of the deciding factors was him accepting a paltry $500 per week salary for seven weeks of work, amounting to $3,500 for the entire production. (By comparison, supporting actress Helen Chandler was paid $750 per week and had less than half the amount of lines as the titular character had).
Bela had now captured the starring cinematic role he had long coveted. The film, along with Lugosi’s starring performance, were both major successes, but the Hungarian born actor would so begin to regret these turn of events.
We’ll have more on Lugosi’s life and career coming up next week here at “The Showplace.”
In the meantime, be on the lookout for Bela Lugosi in various horror flicks on RCN-TV like White Zombie, Ghosts on the Loose and other classics often seen this time of year. To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

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.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Suspense

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.

“Be prepared for an episode that will keep you in…suspense!”

This was the opening line to one of the greatest radio dramas of all-time, along with one of the earliest successful shows on television.

The radio version of Suspense was a perennial ratings favorite for nearly 20 years. In fact, it was one of the very last original programs to survive well beyond radio’s “Golden Age” until it was finally cancelled in 1962.

The television version of the program launched in 1949 incorporating many similarly written episodes from radio, which “borrowed” ideas from literary greats Edgar Allen Poe, Agatha Christie, Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens and others.

As the name suggests, the program would always present many twists and turns, building tension throughout each episode to a thrilling and dramatic climax. While not always straying into the bizarre world of a show like The Twilight Zone, each episode’s spine-tingling finales were surprisingly fresh throughout the show’s entire run.

Each show featured different guest stars, who always seemed to get caught up in a web of mystery and did a great job of quickly allowing its audience to identify with them to bring viewers into the potential dangers.

Adding to the excitement of these programs was that the shows were originally broadcast live–meaning no retakes and anything could happen!

Another reason to revisit this early TV classic? You’d be surprised how many future television “regulars” and cinematic stars made early career appearances on this television program. In fact, it’s hard to go more than one or two episodes without seeing a recognizable face. Among them include:

Cloris Leachman (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Phyllis, Young Frankenstein)
Lloyd Bridges (High Noon, Airplane, Hot Shots)
Bela Lugosi (Dracula, The Raven)
Boris Karloff (Frankenstein, How The Grinch Stole Christmas)
Conrad Janis (Mork and Mindy, The Buddy Holly Story, The Cable Guy)
Brian Keith (Family Affair, The Parent Trap)
Robert Emhardt (The Andy Griffith Show)
Royal Dano (Twin Peaks, Bonanza, Gunsmoke)
Richard H. Harris (Peyton Place, Valley of the Dolls)
Academy Award Winning Eileen Heckart (The First Wives Club, Lou Grant)

…and others.

For most seasons, the program was run under the watchful eyes of Richard Mulligan. Mulligan would later win an Emmy for directing The Moon and the Sixpence, in which Lawrence Olivier made his TV debut. Later, he would go on to direct film classics To Kill A Mockingbird, Fear Strikes Out and The Others as well as 1991’s The Man In The Moon, which launched the career of Reese Witherspoon.

Tune in for Suspense, every Wednesday at 12 noon and Fridays at 1 pm on RCN-TV. You may also want to DVR episodes and binge-watch your favorites leading up to RCN’s annual Halloween Marathon (check back to our website soon for more details on this great annual tradition!)

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

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.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Desi Arnaz

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.

In celebration and appreciation of Hispanic Heritage Month, we here at the Showplace are honoring the tremendous achievements and accomplishments of trailblazing entertainers of Latin origin.
This week…Desi Arnaz.
To most people, he’s known as the straight man and real-life (as well as the fictional) first wife of I Love Lucy’s Lucille Ball.
However, Desi Arnaz is one of the most innovative television pioneers in the industry and created techniques that are still used to this day.
Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III was born in Santiago, Cuba in 1917 — the son of the town’s mayor and grandson of the popular Bacardi Rum Company.
Forced from his home due to civil unrest, Desi worked numerous jobs in Florida before forming his own band and getting a major boost from established Hispanic bandleader Xavier Cugat.
According to his autobiography entitled, “A Book,” Arnaz claims to have sparked the line-dancing craze in America, out of desperation when his late-arriving band proved to be less than capable to perform at a famous nightclub in Miami.
Arnaz’s popularity would grow as a bandleader around the country–performing in person and on the radio until he started getting roles in films. While occasionally landing a role in a major picture, most of his movies, by his own admission, were so poorly produced and then received, that he referred to them in his autobiography as “D films.”
However, it was on the set of the film, Too Many Girls, where he met, and subsequently married, Ball. He also began studying film techniques and, without any formal training, used his on the job learning when CBS pitched a television show idea to his wife.
Determined to spend more time with her husband, Ball insisted that Desi star and produce the show himself. While CBS and the show’s sponsor, Phillip Morris, balked at Arnaz playing Lucy’s on-screen husband (claiming now one would believe they were married), the couple toured across the country performing acts which proved that United States citizens would “buy in” to the comedy created by the real-life married duo.
Because of various production issues, Arnaz soon realized that the best possible way of shooting the “Lucy” show would be to record the program on film and to use three cameras, later editing together the best shots. This revolutionary idea paved the way for programs–previously recorded live on one or, at most, two cameras–to be preserved and later rebroadcast again. Thus, syndication was born!
These techniques also allowed mistakes by camera to be deleted and gave directors time to pick and choose the best shots instead of having to pick one on the fly.
Despite this practice later being used by nearly every situation comedy to this day, CBS also rejected this technical theory as ridiculous and implausible. So convinced that it would work, Desi and Lucy sent out to prove this theory by forming their own production company, called “Desilu Productions”, and making these shooting techniques a reality.
Arnaz’s brilliant business savvy and behind-the-scenes work ideas continued to grow Desilu and produced many successful early television series. In addition to I Love Lucy, Arnaz oversaw the productions of The Untouchables, The Ann Sothern Show, Our Miss Brooks, Westinghouse Playhouse, The Lucy Show and many others.
At its popularity’s peak, Desilu (the name derived from a combination of “Desi” and “Lucy) was the second most successful TV production company in the world.
Three years after Lucy divorced Desi, Arnaz slowly began to cut back on his television work, selling his half of Desilu to his now ex-wife. His contributions to the industry should not be overlooked. One could argue that his ideas and the tenacity he showed to prove that his theories would work changed the landscape of television forever.
You can see The Lucy Show, which Arnaz helped create and develop and on which he as executive producer, on RCN TV. To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.
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.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Jose Ferrer

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.

In celebration and appreciation of Hispanic Heritage Month, we here at the Showplace are honoring the tremendous achievements and accomplishments of trailblazing entertainers of Latin origin.

This week…Jose Ferrer.

José Vicente Ferrer de Otero y Cintrón was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico on January, 8, 1912. In 1924, his family moved to New York and he was raised at a Swiss boarding school before earning his bachelor’s degree in architecture from Princeton University.

While attending graduate school for Romance Languages at Columbia University in the mid-1930s, Ferrer began performing in stage productions in Long Island. Over the next ten years, Ferrer not only starred in a number of increasingly larger stage productions–ultimately appearing on Broadwayin the early 1940s–but also began producing and directing.

Three of his most notable stage roles include the title role in the critically acclaimed Charlie’s Aunt, Iago in the Broadway production of Othello, and taking over the starring role from Danny Kaye in Let’s Face It!

Ferrer earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in his first-ever film role playing opposite Ingrid Bergman in the 1948 epic, Joan of Arc. Ferrer continued to star in (and often direct) a number of successful films, radio plays and stage productions for several years.

Ferrer’s biggest film contribution came playing the titular character in 1950’s Cyrano de Burgerac directed by Stanley Kramer. Ferrer had won a Tony Award by playing the same character on Broadway and won the Oscar playing Cyrano on the big screen. In doing so, Ferrer became the first Hispanic to win a Best Actor Academy Award.

Ferrer continued to star in and direct high profile films and plays for the next several years. Highlights include the original Moulin Rouge, Miss Sadie Thompson (along with Rita Hayworth), Anything Can Happen and The Caine Mutiny, co-starring with Humphrey Bogart and Van Johnson.

Between 1952-53, Ferrer also directed the highly successful Stalag 17 along with directing fellow legends Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy in The Fourposter. Those two plays earned over 1100 performances!

1953 was also the year Ferrer married Rosemary Clooney (just before she reached stardom with White Christmas)–the first of two times the pair were married.

Ferrer made his film directorial debut in 1955’s The Strike and added screenwriting to his resume with The Great Man a year later.

He continued to act, direct, produce and write plays and films throughout the rest of his life. In 1991, he was cast in a Broadway play, Conversations with My Father, but withdrew due to poor health. He passed on a few months later.

Ferrer’s contributions to American theatre were recognized in 1981, when he was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. In 1985, he became the first actor ever to receive the newly created National Medal of Arts.

Posthumously, the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA) renamed its Tespis Award to the HOLA José Ferrer Tespis Award. The United States Postal Service issued a stamp in Ferrer’s honor in its Distinguished Americans series.

Be on the lockout for Jose Ferrer in the groundbreaking, award-winning title role film version of Cyrano de Burgerac on RCN TV. To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

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.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Michael Landon’s Later Years

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 we took a look at the early highs and lows in the life of classic TV star Michael Landon, who broke on to the entertainment scene with his breakout performance in “Bonanza.” This week, we will take a look at his “second act.”

After failing with the first series entrusted to him by the NBC Network, Michael Landon was approached to be the writer and director for an unusual new program–one that was based on a series of books revolving around a little girl growing up in the midwest in the 1870s.

Landon read the show’s synopsis and agreed to take the role, but with one provision…he would also portray the lead male/father character on the show. NBC initially wasn’t convinced the program would ever make it to air.

The television network’s initiative to limit or cancel virtually all “rural” programming in the early 1970s backfired. While some new programs like All In The Family, Good Times, Maude, The Jeffersons and a few others had great success, NBC and CBS came under critical fire for their decisions to cancel other popular programming based on their belief that people no longer wanted to see non-urban based shows. But with Landon agreeing to take responsibility for this new project, NBC relented and green-lighted the project.

Little House on the Prairie launched in 1973 as a two-hour movie and was an immediate hit, finishing 13th overall in the Nielsen ratings in its first year, and climbed as high as seventh overall a few years later.

When the show’s featured actress, Melissa Gilbert, lost her own father early during the show’s production, Gilbert said Landon stepped in and provided a much-needed patriarchal figure in her life–both personally and professionally.

Landon would go on to create, write and direct three additional shows — Highway To Heaven, (a Top 30 ratings show its first three seasons), the two-time Emmy nominated Where Pigeons Go To Die and the less popular Father Murphy in the 1980s, a vehicle for athlete-turned-actor Merlin Olsen, which ran for two full seasons.

Landon remained loyal throughout his projects, frequently using the same production people on all of his shows. Additionally for “Highway,“ he not only brought attention to previously discussed medical issues people were facing but also brought real-life cancer patients and disabled people to the set. His decision to work with disabled people led him to hire a couple of adults with disabilities to write episodes for him.

Tragedy struck again in 1991. CBS green-lighted a new Landon show called, Us, but before it got into full production, Michael was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April. He called a press conference revealing his condition was terminal and answered all the media’s questions. However, various media outlets and tabloid “journalists” printed outrageous stories about Michael, his wife and his family and his ordeal.

Landon succumbed to the cancer less than three months after the diagnosis. He was 54.

During his life and also posthumously, he was honored with various awards, from touching on his skills as a producer, writer, director and actor to his contributions to youth, people in need and the entertainment industry.

Keep checking back to The Showplace for interesting stories and unique accomplishments in the early years of the television and movie industries. To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

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.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Michael Landon’s Early Years

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.

Michael Landon was born Eugene Maurice Orowitz on October 31, 1936 in Forest Hills, a neighborhood of Queens, New York.

He was placed under a tremendous amount of stress as a youth. His mother suffered from deep emotional problems and frequently attempted suicide, with Michael as the lone person there to try to save her. Because of the stress, Landon had issues with excessive vomiting and bedwetting. According to an unauthorized biography, Michael Landon: His Triumph and Tragedy, his mother would often hand the stained sheets outside on their front porch, and Michael would have to run home to try to remove them before his friends would see it.

Landon excelled at track and field, earning a college athletic scholarship before a torn shoulder ended his experience at the University of Southern California. He turned his attention towards acting and worked at a gas station to pay his bills. While working there, he came across a talent agent. He decided to change his name and found his nom de plume in the phone book.

1957 was a big year for Landon. After getting a job as an off-screen voice actor, he quickly received offers to be the lead on both a television show (Telephone Time: The Mystery of Casper Hauser), and a film, I Was A Teenage Werewolf. In the same year, he recorded singles that were issued because of Landon’s success in the movie. More of his songs were released a few years later as part of a Bonanza soundtrack.

Michael was kept busy the next two years appearing in various films and TV guest spots. In 1959 at the age of 22, he landed the role of Little Joe Cartwright as part of an ensemble cast on the long-running western Bonanza.

The show and Landon’s popularity gained momentum throughout the 1960s. The program finished several years rated as the number one television show in the Nielsen Ratings, and Landon wrote and directed a number of episodes during its run.

In 1972, he penned what was planned as a two-part episode that would see his longtime television brother, Hoss, played by the gregarious Dan Blocker. However, Blocker died unexpectedly just weeks before the new season was set to start filming.

Bonanza never recovered from the loss of its popular cast member, and the program’s ratings slowly declined throughout its final season. Upon its cancellation, Landon was asked to write and direct an ambitious new romantic anthology series, Love Story for NBC.

However, that show never found an audience. At 37, the one time heartthrob who hada near 20-year run of successes in films, television and in song, found himself out of work.

But a man by the name of Ed Friendly had an idea, and wanted Landon to play a major role in it.

We’ll examine the second half of Michael’s career–one filled with more triumphs…and tragedies…next week, here at The Showplace.

In the meantime, tune in for Michael Landon’s breakout role on Bonanza this Sunday at 9:00 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.

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.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE:  My Little Margie

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.

My Little Margie was a quality sit-com that sometimes gets lost amongst the bigger “names” in 1950s television.  But it’s also a show that has seen new life over the decades in syndication.

The show centers around a widowed father and his adventures with his 21-year old daughter, Margie, in their New York City apartment.

The show starred Gale Storm in the title role.  Storm was featured in a number of successful film vehicles, including the holiday classic, It Happened On 5th Avenue, the western Stampede, the romantic-comedy G.I. Honeymoon and the film noir The Underworld StoryGale was also a hit on several radio programs during the 1940s.

Charles Ferrell starred as her father.  Ferrell appeared in various films from the 1920s through the 1940s, including 7th Heaven, The Man Who Came Back, Street Angel, The Plumber and the PrincessHe would also guest star in several popular episodes of The Jack Benny Show during “Margie’s” run.

The program began as a 1952 summer replacement for I Love Lucy and had similar characteristics.  

First, Storm copied Lucille Ball’s popular “Spider” expression and sound effect by making a strange noise when she got into trouble.  Also, Gertrude Hoffmann co-starred as Margie’s next door neighbor.  She possessed more than a striking resemblance to Vivian Vance’s “Ethel” character, and would frequently be Storm’s foil and sidekick on her various hijinks that often went awry.

My Little Margie was able to sustain its initial success by taking over the I Love Lucy timeslot and posted consistent ratings despite time slot changes.  The program also withstood not one, but TWO network changes…from CBS to NBC, and then back again to the Columbia Broadcasting System.

In fact, the show actually gained in popularity throughout its initial four-year run, reaching the 29th position in its second last year.  The final season saw its’ viewership climb all the way up to the sixth most-watched episodic program on TV, according to the 1956 final Nielsen Ratings.  

Strangely, CBS decided to cancel this show at its zenith, although the network quickly presented a new program, The Gale Storm Show, and used a different format. That new show would go on for another four years and produce 143 episodes until it changed networks and then was cancelled one year later by ABC.

Storm was one of the early television stars to participate in conventions featuring “old time TV” personalities and would frequently appear at events to sign autographs, do “Q & A-s” with fans and speak at convention centers about her days as “Margie.”

She was also a frequent guest star on television shows from 1960 through the later 1980s…her last major television appearance was on Murder, She Wrote.

Tune in or set your DVRs to see My Little Margie every Sunday at 2pm and Wednesday mornings at 10:30am on RCN-TV.

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