Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What's on Television?

The Lone Ranger starring Clayton Moore.

June’s father loved to be on the cutting-edge of technology and was very handy with electronics.  Therefore it’s no surprise that the Andersons were the first on their block to buy a television.  There’s nothing in the letters to indicate that the family had a television by this April 1950 date, but the purchase probably came around this time.

It would still be a couple of years before the Prices bought their first set.  In early 1950, Art watched most of his television at bars and restaurants.

Milton Berle on the
cover of Time (1949).
The top-rated show of 1950 was the Texaco Star Theater which made a superstar of Milton Berle.  He even appeared on the cover of Time in 1949, less than a year after he assumed host responsibilities on the long-running show (which started on radio in 1938 and starred Fred Allen from 1940 to 1944).  Milton Berle’s routines went out to the world every Tuesday night from 8 to 9.

The second biggest show was Toast of the Town with host Ed Sullivan, a former Daily News entertainment columnist.  It became a long-running staple of Sunday night television, always running from 8 to 9.  Known as Toast of the Town in 1950, the show would continue to gain in popularity and is now much better known by its title from 1955 onward, the Ed Sullivan Show.

Variety shows were the most popular, but there were also critically-acclaimed shows that offered hour-long self-contained dramas often featuring Broadway stars.  These included Philco Television Playhouse, Fireside Theatre, and Ford Theatre.

A new generation of entertainers was starting to emerge through the new medium.  Milton Berle was the biggest, but there were others.  Jackie Gleason rose to prominence on television in 1949 with The Life of Riley, a situation comedy adapted from a popular radio show.  In early 1950, Gleason moved to serve as host of a major variety show, Cavalcade of Stars, where he started to develop a variety of comic characters.  His most famous character, the bus driver Ralph Kramden, was introduced in October 1951.  Another rising star, Sid Caesar, launched his variety show Your Show of Shows on February 25, 1950, bringing with him a very talented cast including Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, and Howard Morris.

Kukla Fran and Ollie.
Here are some of the other shows that were on the air, and probably familiar to June and Art, in March 1950:  Kukla, Fran and Ollie;  Howdy Doody;  The Original Amateur Hour;  Candid Camera;  the CBS Evening News with Douglas Edwards;  and The Lone Ranger.

But there was much still to come in the fast-changing world of television.  Here are some of the things that June and Art probably wouldn’t have predicted:  Lucille Ball was still just a b-movie star in 1950 – the premiere of I Love Lucy was still a year and a half away (October 15, 1951).  There were no soap operas on television yet.  The first TV soap operas, Love of Life and Search for Tomorrow, wouldn’t appear until fall 1951.  Within the year, Your Hit Parade, Truth or Consequences, the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, and the Jack Benny Show would all move to television – but not quite yet.

June and Art grew up with radio as the center of home entertainment, but times were changing fast in 1950.  Art, in particular, seemed very aware of the television offerings that he and the boys would catch in the bars that they frequented.  It was quickly becoming a normal part of their lives.

With apologies to my wife (who prefers it when I work with more reputable sources), most of the information in this entry comes from Wikipedia.

(For Friday – celebrating Easter Sunday.)

 © 2011 Lee Price

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