Variety Shows

Danny Kaye Show, The

Danny Kaye was one of those entertainers who was almost universally loved by audiences when he was performing, and despised by those around him when he wasn’t. His 1963-1967 variety show was pretty wonderful, as I recall — kind of a mid-point between the Sid Caesar and Carol Burnett shows. Half his writing staff had worked for Sid. Most of the others would work for Carol, as would co-star Harvey Korman. Burnett, whose show went on just as Kaye’s was going off, would even tape in the same studio. Of interest on the above ticket is the rubber-stamped proclamation, “Special — No Seats Reserved.” You see that on a lot of tickets and it’s sometimes pretty meaningless. They stamp “special” on your free tickets and you think you’re somehow privileged and will get V.I.P. treatment if you use them. What you don’t know of course is that everyone else also has a “special” ticket. It can also be a way of composing the audience with preferred types. For example, they want to limit the number of senior citizens in the house so they pass out the “special” tickets via means that they know are likely to reach a younger crowd and make a point of seating them first and in the front.

Red Skelton Show, The

Tickets to TV tapings are free, of course. But they could have made a fortune charging to see Red Skelton rehearse; that is, if they raised the minimum age to 21. As I explained in this article, Mr. Skelton’s dress rehearsals consisted of ignoring that week’s scripts and telling dirty jokes to the crew and a contingent of CBS secretaries and employees who filled the audience. And here are the key questions: If you were the maker of Pet Evaporated Milk, would you really want to publicize that you also made Johnson’s Wax? Just how do you benefit from connecting those two products in the minds of the American public? And what the heck ever happened to Brian Donlevy?

There’s some odd terminology on two of the above tickets. Skelton, when he did his show at CBS, would do a “preview” performance on Monday night for a live audience — not to be confused with his ribald dress rehearsals, for which there were no tickets. Then the script would be revised and rehearsed for a Tuesday evening taping. But in most cases, a ticket that says “a special preview” is a ticket to watch a tape or film of a show that was shot without a live audience. Some shows have done that — shot without the public present, then brought an audience in, shown them the program and recorded their laughter and applause to dub into the show. That doesn’t seem to have been the case with the second and third tickets above, especially the one that says “preview performance.” Both were probably tickets to watch Red Skelton and his guests do the entire show live…but they don’t look it.

Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, The

These tickets aren’t from my collection but I actually went to see them tape The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour around this time. My first memory is of an excruciatingly long wait to get in. Well past the hour given for Seating Time, we were still standing outside, and in the hot sun and in an area without anywhere to sit. (CBS soon rearranged their audience areas so this is no longer true.) A lot of folks gave up waiting and left and we were about to when we were suddenly admitted…whereupon we got to wait a very long time inside Studio 33, a legendary place in television history, but still not a place you’d want to sit and wait for too long.

Finally, the producer welcomed us, and Sonny Bono and his then-wife came out and did the opening spot of the show, including a song. Then they taped the closing spot and exited to great applause that could continue under the credits. During all of this, the producer, Sonny and Cher kept talking about the great guest stars they had this week, and we kinda assumed we’d be seeing some of them. As it turned out, all the comedy sketches had already been taped without an audience. (They’d be sweetened with canned laughter, but of course the home viewers would see us, the live audience, at the beginning and end of the show, and would probably assume we’d been there throughout and that that was us howling with glee.) The producer explained that the sketches had to be taped without an audience “for technical reasons,” but I later worked with that producer and found that he just preferred to do it that way.

The only other thing we got to see was a musical number by that evening’s musical guests, The Grass Roots. The song was “Sooner or Later,” and one of the reasons I can recall that title is because they sang it — actually, lip-synched to what I think was their record — about eight times so that the cameras could get it from a wide array of angles. At least, I think it was eight. We left about the time it started to seem like eight. On the way out, we ran into a young lady — a devout Sonny/Cher fan we’d been chatting with in line. The lady was almost in tears. She’d brought something she hoped to get Cher to sign, and had left the taping after the fifth take of “Sooner or Later” to get outside the Artists’ Entrance in the hope of an encounter. A guard there told her that Cher and Sonny had both left twenty minutes earlier. In other words, we’d stayed at the taping of The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour longer than either Sonny or Cher.

Telly – Who Loves Ya, Baby?

This isn’t a very good scan but then, it wasn’t a very good show. In the midst of his success as Kojak, Telly Savalas somehow decided he wanted to be Frank Sinatra. One year, he got the producers of the Academy Awards to let him sing one of the nominated songs, which he attempted to do while smoking a cigarette, a la Sinatra. Unfortunately, he also decided to pre-record his vocal and hadn’t quite mastered the knack of taking a puff between lines of the song and getting his mouth clear to lip-sync the next line. For weeks after, Johnny Carson did jokes about Telly not being able to smoke and lip-sync at the same time. Since Savalas was a CBS star, they had to let him do his own variety special, which went much the same way. Note the line which says, “Audience will be seen on camera. Please dress accordingly.” What that usually means is that the pages get instructed to seat the best-dressed folks up front, or in the section on which the cameras will be trained…and everyone from about the third row back will be dressed like they’re shopping at Target.