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Dean Martin gets skewered on ‘The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast’
01:30 pm


Orson Welles
Dean Martin

The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast was a spin-off of The Dean Martin Show that allowed ol’ Dino to do a whole lot less work. Not a weekly series but “specials” numbering between seven and nine per year, the show came on the air officially in 1974, although the final season of its predecessor was when the roasts first started. The celeb roasts were incredibly popular with the American public because they were… hilarious and ever so slightly smutty. Virtually every one of them has been posted on YouTube, and I have to confess, I’ve been making my way through a lot of them.

The showbiz tradition of roasts began in the 1920s at the Friars Club in New York. The likes of Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Norm Crosby, Groucho Marx, George Burns and Don Rickles paid vicious and X-rated “tributes” to each other in the private setting of the club, whereas Martin’s televised celebrity roasts were a sanitised version of what went on behind closed doors. Sanitized, yes, but they were still fairly salty for something being piped directly into most American homes during the mid-1970s. Every once in a while a fairly ribald joke would slip through the NBC censors.

The first one I watched was the Johnny Carson roast, which is laugh-out-loud funny the entire way through. I did not intend to watch it (I was looking for something with Groucho Marx, when I stumbled across it) but I got so into it that I simply stopped working and watched the entire thing.

What hooked me was the opening credits. It was jaw-dropping, the star-studded cavalcade of Hollywood hambones taking their seats on the dais: George Burns, Truman Capote, Doc Severinsen, Joey Bishop, Ruth Buzzi, Dom DeLuise, Bob Newhart, Jonathan Winters, Foster Brooks, Dionne Warwick, Rich Little, Senator Barry Goldwater, Bette Davis, Redd Foxx, Jack Benny and naturally roastmaster general Dean Martin himself. From the first two minutes I knew I was in for an intravenous injection of pure unadulterated nuclear-powered CAMPY FUN.

And it was. I can assure you that it did not disappoint. I now watch one of these things on the treadmill practically daily, they’re completely addictive. Where else can you find the likes of Bob Hope, Hubert Humphrey, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Mama Cass, Gene Kelly, Kirk Douglas, Paul Lynde, Nipsey Russell, Vincent Price, Ted Knight, Mort Sahl, Phyllis Diller, Don Rickles, Carol Channing, Slappy White, LaWanda Page, John Wayne, Billy Graham, Flip Wilson, transsexual tennis player Renée Richards, Evel Knievel, Muhammad Ali, Lucille Ball, Charo, Ronald Reagan (as both a roaster and as an “honoree”) Yogi Berra, Jackie Gleason,  Wayland Flowers & Madam, Sherman Hemsley, Billy Crystal, Frank Sinatra, Betty White, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Angie Dickinson and Orson fucking Welles insulting each other?

Mull that over for a moment when you’re deciding what to watch tonight. Mix and match those folks into fifty plus configurations (it was always more or less the same crew, with certain characters like Jackie Gayle, Joey Bishop and the incomparable comic drunk Foster Brooks showing up slightly more often than others) with the star quality always being quite high, featuring as they did, the greatest comedic talent of the 20th century. (The great Jack Benny can slay an entire audience with naught but a well-placed sigh. When he opens his mouth, even with so-so material, you experience the stand-up comedy equivalent of a concert violinist like Jascha Heifetz. George Burns also kills every time he’s on.). There’s hours of this stuff to wade through. Be warned that some are better than others. Often the participants weren’t even in the same room (let alone the same city!). Sometimes certain speakers were taped in an empty studio, with canned laughter added later.

Watch Dean Martin himself get roasted after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Andy Warhol interviews Frank Zappa (whom he hated) without uttering a word
11:36 am


Andy Warhol
Frank Zappa

In this brief clip from Andy Warhol’s public access TV show from the early 1980s, Andy Warhol’s TV, Warhol sits silently by while Richard Berlin assumes the duties of interviewing Frank Zappa. Zappa discusses the ins and outs of being a public gadfly; for a few moments we glimpse a few seconds of the video for “You Are What You Is,” which had been banned from MTV for its use of a racial slur but also, just as plausibly, because of the way it poked fun at Ronald Reagan.

The interview made a significant impression on Warhol. Here’s the entry from The Andy Warhol Diaries for June 26, 1983:

Frank Zappa came to be interviewed for our TV show and I think that after the interview I hated Zappa even more than when it started. I remember when he was so mean to us when the Mothers of Invention played with the Velvet Underground— I think both at the Trip, in L.A., and at the Fillmore in San Francisco. I hated him then and I still don’t like him. And he was awfully strange about Moon. I said how great she was, and he said, “Listen, I created her. I invented her.” Like, “She’s nothing, it’s all me.” And I mean, if it were my daughter I would be saying, “Gee, she’s so smart,” but he’s taking all the credit. It was peculiar.

Warhol’s memory was rather good—the Mothers did indeed open for the Velvets at the Trip on May 3, 1966. In late May 1966, both bands played the Fillmore in S.F. for a three-day stint.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘The Riddlers’: Watch David Letterman host 1977 game show pilot
08:01 am


David Letterman

Dave on The Tonight Show
David Letterman on ‘The Tonight Show,’ c. 1978

As everyone knows, David Letterman is retiring. On May 20th, after 33 years on late night TV, Dave will host his the final Late Show with David Letterman on CBS. When its previous incarnation, Late Night with David Letterman, debuted on February 1st, 1982, on NBC, it may have seemed to some viewers that he appeared out of thin air, but Dave had already worked a number of jobs in the entertainment industry, including stints as a TV weatherman; a joke writer for Good Times star Jimmie “J.J.” (“Dyn-O-Mite!”) Walker; and as a cast member on Mary Tyler Moore’s short-lived comedy-variety series, Mary. After several high profile appearances on The Tonight Show, NBC gave him his own morning talk show in 1980. Though The David Letterman Show crashed and burned that same year, the network gave Dave another chance, and, thus, Late Night was born.
Dave on Mork & Mindy
Looking sharp on ‘Mork & Mindy’,1979

Letterman also appeared on a few game shows in the 1970s, including one called The Riddlers, which he hosted. In 1977, a pilot episode was produced, but the networks passed on it, so the show went unaired. The pilot did eventually see the light of day, though, when it appeared on the Game Show Network’s Halloween special in 2000.
The Riddlers
The celebrity panelists assembled for The Riddlers all made the rounds back in the day and will be recognizable to anyone who digs ‘70s game shows (including Michael McKean, then known as one-half of Lenny & Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley). On this episode of The Riddlers (they’re all pretending like it’s not the first), the familiar are facing off against a group of unknown dance instructors…Huh? Don’t ask me. I can tell you that the show revolves around riddles (duh), which alternate between clever and Match Game-style bawdiness.

As for Letterman, this is the Dave we would come to know and love—repeatedly insulting the panelists, and biting the hand that feeds (right out of the gate, he makes fun of the game show format), inducing quite a few laugh-out-loud laughs with his now-patented dry wit and heavy-on-the-sarcastic tone. The celebs ain’t half-bad either (unsurprisingly, McKean is the funniest), and neither is The Riddlers, but it’s just as well it didn’t get picked up. Dave just might have become the next Wink Martindale, and the world would have been deprived of “Stupid Pet Tricks” and Larry “Bud” Melman. I shudder to think.

For our purposes, there’s no need to explain the rules of The Riddlers, so if you really want an outline before you watch the thing, go here. Otherwise, follow along at home and enjoy this rarely seen side trip on David Letterman’s road to a career in what he has mockingly called “show bidness.”

Late Night-era

Be sure to check out WFMU’s excellent—and thorough—2010 blog post on Dave’s pre-Late Night years.

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Leave a comment
‘Movin’ with Nancy’: Go-go boots, miniskirts, eyeliner and Nancy Sinatra

Although it certainly can’t hurt when your father owns the record company, Nancy Sinatra wouldn’t have sold millions of records in the 1960s if she wasn’t putting out great pop music. In fact, had Sinatra not met songwriter/producer Lee Hazlewood, she might’ve been dropped, even by Reprise. Nepotism only goes so far (just ask her brother) and Sinatra’s early attempts at the pop charts went nowhere. Hazlewood had her sing in a lower key and tailored her material for a straight-talkin’ sassy “hip” image that was closely associated with go-go boots, eyeliner and miniskirts. Together they had a long string of chart-topping hit records, most sung by Nancy, but still some were duets they recorded together.

1967’s NBC TV special Movin’ With Nancy was produced at the height of Sinatra’s career and featured guest appearances from her father, his pals Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., as well as an onscreen appearance by Hazlewood. Written by Tom Mankiewicz (who’d go on to the James Bond films and the Superman franchise of the 70s) and directed by Jack Haley Jr. (son of the “Tin Man” actor, one-time husband to Liza Minnelli and future producer of That’s Entertainment!), as far as variety specials went, Movin’ With Nancy was considered quite “different” for its time. For one thing, it’s not shot in a studio, but mostly outdoors, on various locations like a travelogue. The set pieces simply drift from one to the next and each is like a music video. Haley won an Emmy for his directing.

The show was sponsored in its entirety by the Royal Crown Cola company (“It’s the mad, mad, mad, mad cola!” as you will be reminded over and over and over again) and their commercials are in the video below, so we get to see Movin’ With Nancy exactly the way it aired on December 11, 1967. Of special note is the premiere of that classic oddball psych number “Some Velvet Morning,” which made about as much sense then as it does today. If that doesn’t send a special thrill up your leg, I don’t know what would. Also, at the very end of her bit with Sammy? That innocent peck on the cheek was apparently the very first (non-scripted) interracial kiss on network television. This proved to be controversial, but was done spontaneously as Davis was actually saying goodbye to Sinatra in that shot and leaving the set for another job. There wasn’t a second take.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Welcome to the Witch House: Occult rock pioneers Black Widow live on Germany’s ‘Beat-Club,’ 1970

Black Widow, formed in Leicester, England, in 1969, were both more prog and more authentically occult than Black Sabbath (who formed a year earlier) but lacked that ineffably heavy quality (as well as the righteous hooks of Tony Iommi) that would make their Birmingham rivals a rock band for the ages.

Black Widow was probably best known for their collaborations with Alex Sanders, who was known as “King of the Witches,” and his wife Maxine Sanders, who was sort of the poster girl for black magic back in the early 1970s. It is said that Alex warned them that they were in danger of evoking a “she devil” with their rock.

I thought that perhaps it was a skyclad Maxine Sanders who joins them around the start of “Seduction,” about halfway through the set, but it was, in fact, a local Leicester lass named “Katie,” according to an article from the time.

In this 55-minute video that appeared on the terrific rock show Beat-Club in 1970 on the German TV channel ARD, Black Widow plays their latest album Sacrifice in full. As befits any proper black magic prog performance, it ends with a 15-minute sacrifice.

Singer Kip Trevor engaging in the show-stopping “Sacrifice” at the end of the program
In an interview a while back, Clive Jones, the band’s resident woodwind guy (he plays sax, clarinet, and flute on the Beat-Club show) who unfortunately passed away in 2014, spoke with some bitterness about Black Sabbath (“I just wish they would stop blocking us in books”) and also dropped an interesting tidbit:

Q: How black was Black Widow?

A: Black Widow was the real thing we learnt about the occult and all the words and rituals are correct. Alex Sanders always warned us we could invoke the Devil, and I have met the devil twice, once when i was alone in the daytime and once when I was with another band at night and most of us saw him (a long story).

Wouldn’t mind hearing more about that!

One of the Satanic high points of the show surely comes around the 21st minute, during “Come to the Sabbat,” when the chorus intones, “Come, come, come to the Sabbat / Come to the Sabbat, Satan’s there” over and over again—it’s actually quite catchy.

Got to hand it to ARD, they gave zero fucks, presenting without the slightest tinge of irony or judgment the most Satanic musical performance I have ever seen on television.

via {feuilleton}

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
The Rolling Stones take over ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’ 1965-66

“The weekend starts here!” was the opening catchphrase for Ready, Steady, Go!—the preferred pop show of choice for millions of British youth between 1963 and 1966. Filmed in a small studio in central London, Ready, Steady, Go! was the first pop show (from 1965 onwards) to present bands playing live—unlike its rival Top of the Pops that continued with predominantly mimed performances until the late 1990s.

Though it may not seem it now, Ready, Steady, Go! was revolutionary television when first broadcast, leading one TV historian to see the program as “a line of demarcation drawn between one kind of Britain and another.”

The “Queen of Mods,” Cathy McGowan was the program’s best known host, who had originally been hired as a production advisor after replying to an advert looking for “a typical teenager.” Other presenters included the (middle-aged) Keith Fordyce and (briefly) singer Sandie Shaw. Unlike most music shows at the time, Ready, Steady, Go! brought in a live audience that could be seen dancing, cavorting and occasionally mobbing the acts.

The show also benefited from allowing artists to play full versions of their songs, and one of the highlights was the specials featuring bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Animals showcasing recent hits.  Between ‘65 and ‘66, The Rolling Stones made two showcases performing a variety of tracks including “Under My Thumb,” “Paint It Black” and “Satisfaction.” These sets have since been edited together as a Ready, Steady Go!: Rolling Stones Special which was aired on Channel 4 some thirty-odd years after first broadcast.

Watch the Rolling Stones on ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Joey Ramone and his proud mom on ‘Geraldo’
06:30 pm


Joey Ramone
Geraldo Rivera

Birthday boy Joey towers center, mother Charlotte Lesher is on the right.
Geraldo Rivera is an idiot, and The Geraldo Rivera Show was Oprah on crack, minus the nuance, double the audience manipulation. But—and this is a big “but” here—there is some quality entertainment to be had in the trashy daytime TV of yesteryear. There was the trend of the day, of course—drumming up the public panic on Satanism, but Geraldo also liked to run features on famous people’s moms—a surprisingly interesting subject, especially when guests actually seemed to get along with their parents.

The clip here is from an episode titled “Heavy Metal Moms”—I can’t pinpoint the date, but the density of hair bands should tip you off. Apparently Geraldo wasn’t clear on the genre of Heavy Metal, because the line-up included Steve West of Danger Danger, Joe Leste of Bang Tango, Kristy Majors of Pretty Boy Floyd, and Mark Craney of Jethro Tull and… Joey Ramone (plus all their moms)! I gotta’ say, Jeffrey Ross Hyman (Joey’s real name) and his darling mother Charlotte Lesher are really sweet together—she’s incredibly supportive, even singing a little of “Beat on the Brat” and “I Wanna Be Sedated!” Joey’s sister-in-law also pops up in the crowd. What a happy family!

Thanks to Kenzo Shibata

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Ray Davies stars in ‘The Long Distance Piano Player,’ 1970
08:33 am


Ray Davies

In 1970 Ray Davies took a break from the Kinks to work on the first entry for a new anthology drama show for the BBC called Play for Today. The show was to take over from a program called The Wednesday Play that had run since 1964. The premiere of a new drama show generated some interest, as seen in the Radio Times cover above.

The play was called “The Long Distance Piano Player,” and it’s a kind of mashup between They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, the Sydney Pollack movie of a year earlier about a marathon dancing contest during the Depression, and any number of treacly kitchen-sink dramas of the early to mid-1960s. The idea of the play is that Pete (Davies) plays a guy who will execute, in the words of his unscrupulous manager Jack, “one of the greatest feats of human endurance ever attempted…. the marathon, non-stop piano playing championships of the world—four days and four nights of continuous, I repeat continuous non-stop piano playing!”

It quickly becomes apparent that Pete is being manipulated by Jack and that the whole thing (similar to They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?) is meant to be a metaphor for the rapacious and predatory entertainment world or something. Meanwhile, Pete’s wife Ruth (Lois Daine) importunes him to stop this stupid marathon and get as far away from Jack as possible—it all doesn’t end well, but that much is clear pretty early on in the story. (For those wanting to learn more about the show, this article can’t be beat.)

“The Long Distance Piano Player” was written by Alan Sharp, who wrote many movies in his long career, the best of which is probably Night Moves, a distinctive thriller directed by Arthur Penn and starring Gene Hackman and Melanie Griffith, who was still a teenager at the time. Sharp also wrote Sam Peckinpah’s final movie The Osterman Weekend as well as the 1995 Scottish epic Rob Roy starring Liam Neeson.

Pete’s manager, Jack, is played by Norman Rossington, who also played the Beatles’ manager in A Hard Day’s Night. Typecasting!

“The Long Distance Piano Player” aired on October 15, 1970. (Amusingly, according to the essential Kinks resource All Day and All of the Night, written by Doug Hinman, Davies is said to have booked studio time that evening for his bandmates so that they would be unable to watch it.) The movie isn’t good (and isn’t helped by the literally incessant piano tinkling that never goes away), but Davies is a natural actor and the problems with it have nothing to do with him.

Over the closing credits the as-yet-unreleased song “Got to Be Free” is played; it would appear on Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One, which was released a few weeks after the television special.

The movie is unfortunately broken up into ten parts on YouTube. If you want to hear “Got to Be Free,” it starts at the end of part 9.


Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘Blackstar Warrior’ the truth behind the riddle of the myth of TV’s legendary black sci-fi hero

No one I know was ever really sure they had seen Blackstar Warrior, the legendary (emphasis on the “legend” part there) “Blaxploitation Star Wars” series made sometime in the 1980s, but most claimed to have heard of it. What they had heard proved equally elusive—rumors, half truths, strange clues, on-line interviews, comments seeded on forums, long conversations at sci-fi cons that mulled over dreams of half-remembered episodes that may or may not have been seen.

Then the evidence started to arrive.

One day, clips from a documentary appeared on YouTube that told the tale of writer/producer Frederic Jackson Jr. and his attempts to make the first blaxploitation science-fiction movie in the 1970s—Blackstar Warrior—about a hip African-American spaceman Tyson Roderick who has been described as “James T. Kirk’s evil twin… a ruthless and daring sexual egomaniac,” who was “unapologetic, tough as nails yet tender-hearted.” A man who mixed the coolness of Shaft and Superfly with the leadership of Captain Kirk.

To produce his dream movie, Jackson Jr. sold his car wash business, but just as he was about start filming everything fell apart when police raided the BSW studio set and arrested Jackson Jr. and his crew for allegedly stealing costumes from the Star Wars set. It has been claimed that to avoid prosecution Jackson Jr. sold his movie script to George Lucas. Though there is no proof this ever happened, some Blackstar Warrior conspiracy theorists claim parts of Jackson Jr.‘s script ended up in The Empire Strikes Back—citing the inclusion of black character Lando Calrissian as proof. But still no one was ever really sure

From such inauspicious beginnings, Blackstar Warrior morphed from a potential blockbuster movie into a cult TV series, which first aired at 10am on a Saturday morning, September 29th 1979. Leonard Roberts starred as Tyson Roderick, with Mindie Machen as his blonde-haired pneumatic robotic partner, Alphie.

The ‘truth’ about ‘Blackstar Warrior,’ after the jump….

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Groucho Marx roasts Johnny Carson, 1968
08:25 am


Johnny Carson
Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx “honors” Johnny Carson at his Friars’ Club roast, broadcast on The Kraft Music Hall program on October 23, 1968. Six years prior (October 1, 1962), Marx introduced Carson on his very first Tonight Show.

Others there to “honor” the talk show king were Don Rickles, New York’s then-mayor John Lindsay, Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen, Dick Cavett and host Alan King.

Carson gets roasted by Dean Martin, Redd Foxx, Truman Capote and many others after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
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