Friday, December 31, 2010

Guy Lombardo and New Year's Eve

There was a time when Canadian-born Guy Lombardo’s name was synonymous with television on New Year’s Eve.  Born Gaetano Alberto Lombardo on June 19, 1902 in London, Ontario, Guy Lombardo was the eldest of seven children.  His father, Gaetano Sr., an Italian immigrant to Canada, was a tailor and an amateur singer.  All of the Lombardo children were encouraged to play musical instruments.  Since Guy was the eldest, he was given violin lessons because it was customary for a bandleader to be a violinist.  In 1917, Guy and two of his brothers, Carmen and Lebert, formed a dance band along with pianist Freddie Kretizer.  The quartet became popular in the London, Ontario area. 

The young Lombardo eventually put together a nine-member orchestra consisting of his brothers and other musicians from his hometown.  In November of 1923, the group travelled to Cleveland, Ohio in an attempt to make a breakthrough in the United States.  In March of 1924, the Lombardo band's first recording session took place in Indiana, under the Garnett label.  The band finally had its big break in 1927 when Guy paid a Chicago radio station to broadcast a segment of their performance at the Granada Cafe.  They were a big hit and the radio station was barraged with phone calls.  Guy traded in his violin for a baton and became an orchestra leader.

Although their agent wanted to dress the Lombardo band in Mountie uniforms, Guy rejected the idea.  As an alternative, the band was named the Royal Canadians and promoted itself as playing the “the Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven.”  By 1929, Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians were performing at the Roosevelt Grill at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City.  The Roosevelt Hotel became the home of the band’s live New Year's Eve broadcasts on CBS until 1959.  They then moved to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where they remained until 1976.
Guy Lombardo will always be remembered as Mr. New Year's Eve.  His broadcasts from New York were a major part of celebrations across North America.  Every year, at the stroke of midnight, millions would tune in on their radios, and later their television sets, to hear Lombardo and His Royal Canadians play their signature song, “Auld Lang Syne.”
Guy Lombardo died of a heart attack on November 5, 1977 in Houston, Texas.  He was 75 years old.  Even after his death, the New Year's Eve specials continued on CBS for two years.  His brother Victor Lombardo was brought in for the 1977 New Year's broadcast and became the band's leader.  Unfortunately, Victor lacked stage presence and his leadership created tensions.  Finally, in March of 1978, trumpet player Lebert Lombardo called upon his 31-year-old son Bill to take command of the band.

In 1979, Bill Lombardo opened the band's New Year's Eve telecast with a disco arrangement of "Auld Lang Syne."  Older and more traditional fans were outraged.  Some younger viewers thought it was extremely funny.  CBS was not amused, however, and promptly declined to renew the band's broadcasting contract.  The Royal Canadians also lost their plum spot at the Waldorf-Astoria.  Bill resigned and Lebert retired from the band.  Lebert Lombardo died on June 16, 1993.  (By the way, here is some interesting trivia about Lebert.  His playing style on the trumpet was hampered by a childhood hockey accident.  He lost a front tooth after being hit by an errant puck.)

When Lebert Lombardo severed his ties with the Royal Canadians in 1979, the band was dissolved.  It was revived a decade later in 1989 by musician and bandleader Al Pierson.  It is now billed as Guy Lombardo's Royal Canadians with Al Pierson.

Thirty-three years after his death, the music of Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians lives on!  Their recording of "Auld Lang Syne" remains the first song of the New Year at Times Square in New York.  This is the legacy of the man from London, Ontario.

To watch a video of Guy Lombardo and New Year’s Eve 1957, click on the link below.

To watch  a tribute to Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians, click on the link below.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Here's to you, Mary Tyler Moore!

One of my favourite television stars, the incomparable Mary Tyler Moore, turns 74 years old today.  She was born on December 29, 1936 in Brooklyn New York.  Her father, George Tyler Moore was a clerk for a utilities company.  Her family moved to Los Angeles when she was eight years old.

Mary’s ambition was to be a dancer.  She wound up becoming “Happy Hotpoint”, a tiny, dancing pixie who advertised Hotpoint Appliances during commercial segments on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.  As Happy Hotpoint, Mary was required to wear a heavy corset, heavy makeup and a grey leotard from head to toe.  She had a cute curl on her forehead.
Mary earned about $6,000 for appearing in 39 segments of Happy Hotpoint beginning in 1955.   It all came to an end when she became pregnant and was unable to continue in the role of a slender little elf.  She wrote the following in her 1995 autobiography After All.
Fitting into that Happy's elf costume for the next block of commercials proved to be a challenge.  I was now 3 months pregnant and my breasts reflected that fact.
To view a video of Mary Tyler Moore in a Happy Hotpoint commercial, click on the link below.  (Please note: Although this video is labelled 1954, the sources I have checked say that Mary began her Happy Hotpoint commercials in 1955.)
On July 3, 1956, Mary Tyler Moore gave birth to her only child, by her first husband Richard Meeker.  The child was named Richard Meeker, Jr. and was known as Richie, coincidentally the same name as her fictional son on The Dick Van Dyke Show.  Sadly, Mary’s son died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound in October of 1980.  He was only 24 years old.
After the birth of Richie, Mary put her career on hold for a few years.  In 1959, she landed her first regular television role as a telephone receptionist on Richard Diamond, Private Detective.  Her face was never shown.  Viewers only heard her voice and saw her legs.
In 1961, Mary secured the role of Dick Van Dyke’s television wife, Laura Petrie, on The Dick Van Dyke Show.  There was great comedic chemistry between Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore.  They were magic together and the show became a classic.

Unlike June Cleaver in the 1950s, Laura Petrie did not wear pearls and an apron.  Often seen in her trademark Capri pants, she represented the ideal suburban housewife of the Kennedy/Johnson era.
After The Dick Van Dyke Show ended in 1966, Mary tried to cultivate a film career.  She appeared in the 1967 musical Thoroughly Modern Millie with Julie Andrews and Carol Channing. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and made money at the box office. 
Mary also starred opposite Elvis Presley in the 1969 musical drama Change of Habit.  It was Elvis’s last screen role and MTM played a an incognito nun in the film, forced to choose between a doctor (played by Presley) and the church.  The movie received disappointing reviews.

After Change of Habit, Mary returned to television.  She stayed away from the big screen until her acclaimed Oscar-nominated performance in the 1980 film Ordinary People, directed by Robert Redford.  In Ordinary People, Mary was electrifying as a repressed wife and mother.  She surprised many by playing a character so unlike Laura Petrie and the other women she had previously played.  Here's how Mary explained her decision to portray a different type of character role in the July 25, 1995 edition of the New York Daily News.

I love comedy and I hope always to have it a true part of my life.  But I decided that I was not going to play any more characters with whom I was totally familiar   It doesn’t interest me to play a very nice, very likeable, somewhat naive, vulnerable . . .  you know, all those adorable features of the two lades I’ve played.  
In 1969, Mary Tyler Moore and her then-husband, Grant Tinker, formed a production company called MTM Enterprises.  Its first project was The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977), one of the most memorable and successful situation comedies in television history.  Mary was cast as Mary Richards, a single career woman who was the assistant producer of a Minneapolis television news show. 
Mary Richards is often cited as the first real independent woman on a television comedy.  A case can also be made for the character played by Marlo Thomas in That Girl from 1966 to 1971.  Marlo portrayed Ann Marie, an aspiring actress who lived on her own in New York City.  

Remember too that there was Julia (1968-1971), a groundbreaking show in which Diahann Carroll became the first black female to play the lead role in a televison comedy who was not a domestic.  In the series, Julia Baker was a widowed nurse raising a young son on her own.
One of the most unforgettable TV images of all time is that of Mary Richards tossing her hat in the air as the theme song to the Mary Tyler Moore Show proclaims, “You’re gonna make it after all.”  A bronze statue of Mary’s famous hat toss has been erected near the intersection in Minneapolis where the scene was filmed.
As I mentioned in my November 4, 2010 posting, Mary’s fans will be delighted to know that she will be a guest star on the second-season premiere of Hot in Cleveland on January 19, 2011.  Here’s to you, MTM, on your birthday!  You will always turn the world on with your smile.

- Joanne

EDITOR'S UPDATE (January 25, 2017):  Beloved actress and TV icon Mary Tyler Moore passed away today at the age of 80.  

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Villains of Batman

The campy Batman series starring Adam West and Burt Ward made its debut in January of 1966, at a time when colour television was still a novelty.  It was orignially shown twice a week, in half hour segments on Wednesday and Thursday nights.  The first segment always ended with Batman and Robin in dire trouble.  Everything was resolved the next night.  After the first segment, the announcer implored you to "tune in tomorrow, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel”.
Based on the comic strip created by Bob Kane, Batman was an instant hit with a different guest villain every week.  The guest villains were big name actors and entertainers such as Caesar Romero as The Joker, Burgess Meredith as The Penguin and Roddy McDowall as Bookworm.  The Riddler was played by Frank Gorshin (except for one episode when John Astin played the part).
Three different actors took on the role of Mr. Freeze.  They were George Sanders, Otto Preminger and Eli Wallach.  The unfortunate Mr. Freeze was forced to wear a cryogenic suit to survive.  He had to wear the suit at all times, unless inside one of his sub-zero lairs.  His condition was due to an accident that occurred in a laboratory during a fight with Batman.

To watch a video clip in which Adam West as Batman discusses Mr. Freeze's condition, click on the link below.

Vincent Price appeared as Egghead.  Egghead had a pale bald head and a habit of using egg puns in his speech.  For example, he always said “egg- cellent” rather than “excellent" or egg-actly instead of exactly.
Art Carney played The Archer in an episode entitled “Shoot a Crooked Arrow”.  His character, The Archer, was a newly introduced villain dressed in medieval garb. 
Liberace appeared on the show in a dual role.  He played concert pianist Chandell and his evil twin brother Harry.  The two Liberace episodes, entitled "The Devil's Fingers", were the highest rated episodes of the series.
To watch a video of Liberace on as Chandell, click on the link below.
During the series’ run, three women played the role of the villainous Catwoman.  They were Lee Meriwether, Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt.  I will never forget the episode in which Julie Newmar’s Catwoman and Batman share a kiss.  Robin, played by Burt Ward declares, “Holy Mush!”
To watch an video highlighting the romance between Batman and Catwoman, click on the link below. 
Eartha Kitt was the third and final Catwoman on the series.  She replaced Julie Newmar who was  doing a movie at the time.  Once Eartha took over the role, the attraction between Batman and Catwoman ceased.  Eartha was African-American and Adam West was Caucasion.  Athough Eartha was flirtatious and kittenish, a romance between the two was not considered acceptable on television in the 1960s.  By the way Eartha KItt died two years ago, on Christmas Day in 2008.
Some other big names who appeared as villains on Batman are
* Shelley Winters as Ma Parker
* Ethel Merman as Lola Lasagna
* Milton Berle as Louis the Lilac
* Anne Baxter in two different roles (She played Zelda the Great and Olga, Egghead’s partner in crime)
* Van Johnson as Minstrel
* Carolyn Jones as Marsha, Queen of Diamonds
* Tallulah Bankhead as Black Widow
* Rudy Vallee as Lord Flogg
* Glynis Johns as Lady Penelope Peasoup
* Joan Collins as Siren
* Zsa Zsa Gabor as Minerva
* Cliff Robertson as Shame
* Maurice Evans as The Puzzler
Many celebrities made small cameo appearances on Batman.  They would stick their head out of a window and make comments as the Dynamic Duo climbed up a building using the Bat Rope.  One celebrity I remember peaking out of a window was Art Linkletter.
By the fall of 1967, the series had lost its lustre and ratings began to fall.  The show was cut back to one half-hour episode a week and a new character, Batgirl, was added (Batgirl is the alter ego of Commissioner Gordon’s librarian daughter, Barbara).  The character was portrayed by Yvonne Craig.  Hmmm . . . Whatever happened to her?  I will have to investigate that and report back to you.
Batman may have been the first series to have a “Fonzie jumps the shark” moment.  In the final season of the show, Batman and The Joker compete in a surfing contest and they are seen wearing bathing suits over their costumes.  By that time, The Joker had lost his edge and seemed almost benign. He was more silly than villainous. 

To watch a video clip of Batman and The Joker surfing, click on the link below.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Odds and ends at Christmas

A Merry Christmas to all from TV Banter.  Hope your are enjoying the holiday season.  The banter will return with a new entry tomorrow.

I see that Betty White has been named Entertainer of the Year by the Associated Press.  Congratulations to Betty.  Click on the link below to watch a video about her award.

- Joanne

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bobby Darin

During the late 1950s and early '60s, the ideal age was sweet 16 and it was the right time to be a teenager in love.  There were some popular singers named Bobby back then too.  There was Bobby Rydell, Bobby Vinton, and of course, Bobby Darin.  Bobby Darin was born Walden Robert Perciville Cassato in The Bronx, New York on May 14, 1936 to a poor family of Italian heritage during the Depression.  His career took off in 1958 with the song "Splish Splash".  "Splish Splash" sold over a million copies. He also hit it big with "Dream Lover" and "Mack the Knife".

In 1960, Bobby Darin married actress Sandra Dee whom he met while making the movie Come September. They had one son, Dodd Mitchell Darin, born in 1961.  The couple divorced in 1967.  Bobby married for the second time in June of 1973, to a legal secretary named Andrea Joy Yaeger.  The two were divorced in October of that same year, shortly before Bobby's death.

In 1968, at the age of 32, Bobby discovered that his "mother" Polly was actually his grandmother and that his "sister" Nina was really his biological mother.  He was stunned by this revelation and it affected him the rest of his days.

Bobby Darin was plagued with health problems all his life.  As a child, he had rheumatic fever which weakened his heart.  He died 37 years ago today, on December 20, 1973.  He was only 37 at the time of his death.  He passed away after undergoing open heart surgery at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Although Bobby Darin is not known primarily as a television performer, he does have a history of numerous TV appearances.  In the summer of 1957, Bobby appeared on The Big Beat, a New York-based program hosted by Alan Freed, the disc jockey who coined the term rock and roll. (According to The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows 1946- present, The Big Beat aired from July 12, 1957 until August 2, 1957).  Bobby filled in for Alan Freed, introducing dance numbers, doing a Coke commercial and interviewing contestants for "The Miss April Showers" beauty pageant.  The pageant was held to promote a shampoo for the teeny bopper set called April Showers.
To watch videos of Bobby Darin hosting The Big Beat, click on the link below.

Bobby shot to stardom after singing “Splish Splash” on Dick Clark’s Bandstand in 1958.   In 1961, he hosted a special entitled Bobby Darin and Friends. Bob Hope and Joanie Sommers were among the guests who appeared on that show.  It’s interesting to note that Bobby’s special was directed by Bud York and written by Norman Lear, the two men who were largely responsible for the success of All in the Family.  Bobby Darin and Friends was a pilot for a possible series but was not picked up.  To view a video of Bobby Darin and Friends, click below.

Click on the link below to watch Bobby Darin sing "Dream Lover" in 1963.

In 1964, Bobby Darin appeared on The Jack Benny Program.  To watch Bobby Darin on The Jack Benny Program (Parts 1, 2 and 3), click on the links below.

To view Bobby on the television game show What's My Line? in 1965, click on the link below.

In 1973, just months before his death, he hosted a short-lived musical variety show entitled The Bobby Darin Show.  It ran from January 19, 1973 until April 27, 1973.  Bobby appeared as both a singer and a sketch comedian on the show.  His musical numbers were backed by a full orchestra.  An ongoing theme of the show was to pay tribute to a different city each weak through song and comedy sketches.

- Joanne

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Television Quiz


So you think you know your Yuletide television trivia.  Why not put yourself to the test with this 10-question Christmas television quiz?  Good luck. 

1. What was the name of the song that Fred Flintstone sang on The Flintstones 1964 Christmas episode?

A.  Jingle Bells

B.  Merry Christmas is My Favorite Time of Year

C.  Santa Claus is Coming to Town

D.  Have a Holly Jolly Christmas

E.  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

2.  Who provided the voice of both the narrator and The Grinch in the animated television special of Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas?

A.  Vincent Price

B.  Orson Welles

C.  Boris Karloff

D. Christopher Plummer

E.  James Earl Jones

3.  In The Brady Bunch Christmas episode, what affliction overcame Carol Brady (Florence Henderson)?

A.  She lost her voice

B.  She was allergic to the Christmas tree.

C.  She had a terrible cough.

D.  She became ill after drinking too much eggnog.

E.  She had a serious case of halitosis.

4.  In the 1964 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer animated special with Burl Ives, a North Pole elf named Hermey wanted to pursue another occupation.  What did "misfit" Hermey want to do?

A.  He wanted to be an actor.

B.  He wanted to be a basketball player.

C.  He wanted to be a gourmet chef.

D.  He wanted to be a lawyer.

E.  He wanted to be a dentist.

5.  Who provided the voice of the narrator and sang the title song in the 1969 animated special Frosty the Snowman?

A.  Bing Crosby

B.  Danny Kaye

C.  Jimmy Durante

D.  Louis Armstrong

E.  Robert Goulet

6.  Who appeared as a guest on a 1977 Bing Crosby Christmas special and sang The Little Drummer Boy with Bingo.

A.  Bob Hope

B.  Elton John

C.  Rod Stewart

D.  David Bowie

E. Mick Jagger

7.  In A Charlie Brown Christmas, which character denies sending Charlie Brown a Christmas card after he sarcastically thanks her.

A.  Violet

B.  Lucy

C.  Pepperment Patty

D.  The Little Red-Headed Girl

E. Marcie

8.  In a 1955 Honeymooners episode entitled "Twas the Night Before Christmas," what does Alice buy Ralph for Christmas?

A.  A pool cue

B.  A bowling bag

C.  A fishing rod

D.  A hat

E.  A red and white tie

9.  Who appeared in a guest role in a 1958 episode of The Donna Reed Show entitled "A Very Merry Christmas?" (This is a tough one.  Give yourself a bonus point if you answer it correctly).

A.  Buster Keaton

B.  Buddy Ebsen

C.  Robert Young

D.  Danny Thomas

E.  Art Carney

10.  What was the name of the drummer boy's lamb in the 1968 animated television special The Little Drummer Boy?

A.  Fleece

B.  Lamby

C.  Baabaa

D.  Ali

E.  Sheba


1.  B

Fred Flintstone replaced an ill Santa Claus one Christmas.  As he delivered the gifts to the children, he sang, Merry Christmas is My Favorite Time of Year.

2.  C

To watch a video clip of Boris Karloff narrating How the Grinch Stole Christmas, click the link below.

3.  A

Carol Brady had laryngitis and was concerned that she would be unable to sing in the church choir at Christmas.

4.  E

Hermey the Elf wanted to be a dentist.  To view a video clip of Hermey expressing his aspirations to be a dentist, click on the link below.

5.  C

Jimmy Durante narrated Frosty the Snowman and sang the title song.

To watch a clip of  "da old schnozzola" singing Frosty the Snowman, click on the link below.

6.  D

David Bowie joined Bing Crosby in a rendition of Little Drummer Boy.  To view a video clip of the Crosby-Bowie duet, click on the link below.

7.  A

Violet denied buying Charlie Brown a Christmas card.

8.  B

Alice bought Ralph a bowling bag not knowing that Ralph had sold his bowling ball in order to buy her a Christmas present.

9.  A

Buster Keaton dressed up as Santa Claus for the children at a hospital.  To watch video clips of the episode, click on the link below.

10.  C

The Little Drummer Boy's lamb was named Baabaa.  To watch a video clip of The Little Drummer Boy and his injured lamb, click below.

- Joanne

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Note to a Reader about Coronation Street

Once again, it's time to engage in some friendly banter.   I would like to address the reader who asked me about Coronation Street's connection to the CBC.  The reader is under the impression that Coronation Street is a BBC series.  That is not correct.  Coronation Street is shown in the UK on the private British network called ITV.  ITV stands for Independent Television.  The CBC purchased the rights from ITV to broadcast the show in Canada.

Thank you to the reader and I hope this answers your question satisfactorily. 

- Joanne

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Last Thursday, Coronation Street celebrated its 50th anniversary on the air.  It was first broadcast on December 9, 1960.  Its creator, Tony Warren, originally named the show Florizel Street and thank goodness that didn't last!  Legend has it that the name was changed because Agnes, a tea lady (a British term for a woman who serves tea and refreshments at an office) at Granada Television, remarked that "Florizel" sounds like the name of a disinfectant.  I, for one, can't argue with that.  By the way Granada Television is the ITV franchise for North West England and it has produced Coronation Street since 1960.

I have to admit that I have never been a follower of Coronation Street.  It's not that I don't like it.  It's just that I have never been able to fit it into my daily routine.  However, the venerable British drama (I understand that serious fans become annoyed when it is referred to as a "soap") is hugely popular in Canada.  So if you are a reader from the UK and don't already know this, I'd like you to be aware that Canadians love Coronation Street and that it has a huge following in this country.

The CBC has broadcast the show in Canada for over 40 years.  The network estimates that 6.55 million Canadians have viewed a weeknight airing of Coronation Street this year.  That works out to be about one in five of us.  Last Thursday, to mark the 50th anniversary of Coronation Street, the CBC aired a one-hour special entitled "Corrie Crazy: Canada Loves Coronation Street."


In my November 27, 2010 posting on Shelly Fabares, I mentioned that I've been watching DVDs of the early episodes of The Donna Reed Show.  In a 1959 episode entitled "Have Fun," the Shelley Fabares character, Mary Stone, dates a teenage boy named Harvey Shields.  I noticed that Harvey was played by a very young George Hamilton - yes, he of the eternal tan.  Hamilton was born in August of 1939, so he must have been 19 years old at the time as the episode would have aired before his 20th birthday on August 12, 1959.

- Joanne

Monday, December 6, 2010


Many of the most popular television shows, including I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show,The Beverly Hillbillies and The Flintstones, were sponsored by tobacco companies.  In fact, I Love Lucy was originally sponsored by the Philip Morris tobacco company.  Lucy and Ricky Ricardo were often shown smoking.  Yes, even caveman Fred Flintstone and his friend Barney Rubble were seen puffing away in an ad for Winston cigarettes.   To view the ad, click on the link below.

In 1969, the United States Congress proposed a ban on all cigarette advertising on television and radio.  It was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970.  In the United Kingdom, all television commercials for cigarettes were banned on August 1, 1965.  However, commercials for loose tobacco and cigars continued in Britain until 1991.
The last television commercial for cigarettes in the United States was broadcast on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson at exactly one minute before midnight (11:59 p.m.) on January 1, 1971, just before the federal ban came into effect.  The ban took effect on January 2, 1971 in order to allow the cigarette companies one last opportunity to advertise during the New Year's bowl games.  By the way, the final U.S. tobacco ad on television featured model/actress Veronica Hamel.  Hamel went on to star in Hill Street Blues
Mad Men, the hit television series about an advertising agency in the 1960s, has created a stir with its depiction of characters chain-smoking as was common in the '60s (actors actually puff on foul-tasting vegetable cigarettes during the smoking scenes). Some have accused Mad Men of promoting smoking.  Recently, the central character of the show, Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) has begun an anti-smoking campaign, much to the dismay of his advertising agency. 
U.S. President Barack Obama has stated that he is a big fan of Mad Men.  According to a cover story in the New York Times Magazine, the president had a Mad Men DVD in his campaign plane.  Obama, as we know, is struggling to break the nicotine habit.

NOTE : During my years as a researcher at the library of the Toronto Star, I often chatted with former Star television critic Jim Bawden about TV and movies.  Jim is retired from the Star now, but he writes a blog.  I highly recommend that you read it at

- Joanne