December 20,1938…Vladimir Zworykin Patented The Iconoscope
Although there was controversy over a lot of patents and inventions in electronic television between Philo Farnsworth and Zworykin and RCA, there is no contention over the development of the Iconoscope.
Zworykin had built one as early at October 1931. At the 1936 Berlin Olympic games, two of the three cameras there were using Iconoscope tubes and one used the Farnsworth Image Dissector tube.
Below we see Zworykin with some of his earliest Iconoscope models. Next is a rare photo of one of NBC’s first cameramen, Don Pike operating one of the three prototype Iconoscope cameras in NBC Studio 3H around 1936. For good measure, I’ve also included at photo of Philo Farnsworth with one of his early Image Dissector cameras. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
Picture Parade #5…It’s A Wonderful “Snowy” Life
This Frank Capra classic was shot from April 15 – July 27, 1946. The Bedford Falls Main Street sets were at the RKO Encino Ranch and for the Winter scenes, 3000 tons of shaved ice was for the snow pack on the ground.
Films made prior to this used white cornflakes for the falling snow effect, but because the cornflakes were so loud, dialogue had to be dubbed in later. Frank Capra wanted to record the sound live, so a new snow effect was developed using foamite (a fire-fighting chemical) and soap and water. This mixture was then pumped at high pressure through a wind machine to create the silent, falling snow. 6000 gallons of the new snow were used in the film. The RKO Effects Department received a Class III Scientific or Technical Award from the Motion Picture Academy for the development of the new film snow. Happy Holidays! Enjoy and Share! -Bobby Ellerbee
On the New Orleans location shoot for ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, Vivian Leigh relaxes in the chair preparing to become her character, Blanche DuBois in 1951. Leigh had a bi polar disorder and is said to have had trouble distinguishing her real life from Blanche’s. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
Picture Parade #3…First Sideline Camera Used, October 1957
From the October 1957 edition of “Radio Age” magazine, here’s a shot of the first use of a portable camera on the sidelines. RCA and NBC had these cameras since 1952 and why it took so long for this to happen is a mystery. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
Picture Parade #2…Two Ultra Rare Sights In One Photo
I think this photo is from 1945 when Norma Jeane Mortenson was becoming one of Blue Book Modeling Agency’s top models in Los Angeles. In 1946, she (yes, Marilyn Monroe) would bleach her hair blonde to look more like her favorites Gene Harlow and Lana Turner.
The camera is an RCA Orthicon model which came out around 1943 and is owned by Don Lee’s LA station, KTSL. This is the only picture of this camera I have seen that was not owned by either the NBC or CBS networks. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
Picture Parade #1…’Let’s Make A Deal’ ABC 1968 – 1976
Here’s a photo I just got from Chuck Pharis. This was in ABC Hollywood Studio 54 and that’s Jan Lowery on Camera 1, which is a Norelco PC60. This looks a lot like it did when it was on NBC from Burbank before the move to ABC. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
We’ve seen a similar film in the past, but this seems to be a new addition to the AT&T archives. In the beginning, we meet the people in the studio, but at 6:00, we get a couple of minutes behind the scenes and see how the program is distributed on the nation wide NBC network by AT&T. Remember, back then, everything had to go through Ma Bell, including television.
Notice how well lit this is. When 6A and 6B were built around 1947, they were built with TV in mind. I’ll have more on the early TV broadcasts from these radio studios soon. Thanks to Steve Finkelmeyer for sharing this. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
The series began as a television movie entitled ‘The Homecoming: A Christmas Story’ and was broadcast on December 19, 1971 and is included here without any commercials, either web or broadcast.
There is a scene here with the family gathered around the radio listening to Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy…notice that Edgar Bergen is playing the role of Grandpa Walton.
The TV movie did well and plans were made to develop it into a series. CBS thought that a big star in the John Walton role would be good, and Henry Fonda was asked to audition, but after reading the script, he said, “What do you need me for? The kids and family are the stars.”
The Walton House was actually located in the northern section of the Jungle area of Warner Brothers studios in Burbank. Walton’s Mountain, which could be seen from the house’s front porch, was actually a slope of the Hollywood Hills directly south of the Warner Bros. Studios. Interiors of the house were filmed on Stage 26.
When the show premiered on CBS at the beginning of the 1972-73 season, most media pundits felt it didn’t have a chance, airing as it did opposite two longtime ratings powerhouses, ‘The Flip Wilson Show’ on NBC, had been the number one show in America for the previous two seasons, and ABC’s ‘Mod Squad’ was a long-standing favorite, as well.
Surprisingly, ‘The Waltons’ out-performed both shows in the ratings by a wide margin. ‘Mod Squad’ was canceled by the end of the season, and Flip Wilson, rather than have the same thing happen to his show, announced that the 1973-74 season would be his last. All this happened just a year after CBS felt that rural shows were “out,” and set out to prove it, in a highly controversial move, as Fred Silverman canceled several long-running series, like ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ and ‘Green Acres’ which were still very popular and doing well on televisions weekly ratings. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
December 19, 1973…Johnny Carson Sparks Toilet Paper Shortage
Really! Remember this? You can read the whole story at the link below, but here’s the short version. 1973 was a hard economic year in the US with a recession, the Arab oil embargo and shortages of a few items.
Carson took a news paper report of possible toilet paper shortages to a whole new level when he made a joke about it in his monologue. Seems his 20 million viewers spread the word and went out and stocked up. For three months, the rush and hording kept store shelves hard to keep full. A little potty humor goes a long way, which is more than you can say for a roll of toilet paper. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
‘The Late Show With David Letterman’…Final Christmas Picture
Taken last night, here’s the “class” picture of the staff and crew, complete with Darlene Love who appears tonight for the 28th year in a row.
I understand she told Dave that she wouldn’t perform “Baby Please Come Home” on TV again. Hopefully, this leaves the door open for her to appear on the show when Colbert takes over and sing what I think is her best Christmas song, “Winter Wonderland” produced by Phil Spector. Thanks to Rick Scheckman for the photo and to all the Letter-men and women for so many years of great television! Happy Holidays to ALL! Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
‘The Colbert Report’…How’s This For A Parting Shot?
There were A LOT MORE than we see here…see the new video I just posted!
What a line up for the grand finale! To name just a few, I see John Stewart, Barry Manilow, Sam Waterson, Willie Nelson, Big Bird, Ben Affleck, Charlie Rose, REM lead Michael Stipe, James Franco, Patrick Stewart, Henry Kissinger and Bob Costas. Can you name the rest?
This pix and more in the article below. Thanks to Stephen and the great staff and crews for these last 10 years! Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
December 17, 1947…Cleveland’s WEWS Becomes 11th TV Station In US
The first seven or eight minutes of this 1977 Anniversary special are packed with shots of the station’s early Dumont and later, RCA equipment. This was Ohio’s first station and for those that grew up in the area, this is a treasure trove. For the rest of us, it’s an interesting time capsule. Thanks to Eric Braun for sending it. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
One Of A Kind In Every Way…Shooting ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ Open
Yesterday was the first time I had seen this rare shot and wanted to share it with you. It is the only one I have ever seen of the title sequence of the show being filmed. I can hear the theme playing now.
Later Today…Some Letterman Christmas Traditions Come To An End
If the usual “twofer Thursday” taping schedule holds true today, Dave’s Friday show will be taped this afternoon, a couple of hours after they tape the episode for tonight. On tomorrow night’s show, we’ll see Darlene Love, Jay Thomas and the Christmas tree target practice traditions for the last time.
Whether we see it on camera or not, there will be a lot of emotions flowing in Studio 50 today. All our best wishes to the many that make this show, and to the many that, since day one, have helped make it a landmark. There’s more in this ABC News article. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
With the curtain soon to fall on David Letterman’s late-night television career, the end comes Friday for an odd and emotional holiday tradition that involves comic Jay Thomas, the Lone Ranger, a giant meatball and, most indelibly, singer Darlene Love. Love will sing “Christmas (Baby Please…
Later Today…Stephen Colbert’s Final Report On Comedy Central
Over these last nine years, there has been a lot of water under the comedy bridge at 512 West 54th Street at NEP’s Studio 54. Stephen Colbert’s time there ends today with their last live to tape show. Speculation is he will take over for David Letterman in the fall. Here’s an interesting story from The New York Times on the persona Colbert leaves behind. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
December 18, 1956…’To Tell The Truth’ Debuts On CBS…Rare Pilot Episode
AMAZING! Here is the pilot for the show and you won’t believe the host and panel! The host was Mike Wallace. On the panel…Dick Van Dyke, John Cameron Swayze, Polly Bergen and actress Hildy Park.
The show was created by Bob Stewart and produced by Goodson-Todman Productions and was to have premiered on Tuesday, December 18, 1956, in CBS prime time as ‘Nothing But The Truth’, but the program title was changed to ‘To Tell The Truth’ the day before the show’s debut. The show originated from CBS Studio 52, moving to Studio 50 late in its run.
After CBS bought the show, but before it debuted, Bud Collier was chosen to host as Wallace had begun to feel he had rather rather become a news man and needed to get away from entertainment and commercial roles.
Mark Goodson and Bill Todman were seeking to replicate the success of their ‘What’s My Line’ show, but ‘To Tell the Truth’ was unique in that this was one of the few shows where the home audience didn’t know the answer as the panel asked questions. We at home could play right along.
An odd “vibe” must have been present on the set for some years there. Host Collyer was one of the more outspoken pro-blacklisting voices in AFTRA, the TV performers’ union. He was all for purging TV of performers and staffers with “pinko” connections…but a lot of those folks worked on TTTT. Mark Goodson was among the few producers willing to stand up to demands that he drop performers who’d been fingered as unAmerican by Red Channels or other such institutions. He’d resisted demands that he fire Henry Morgan off ‘I’ve Got a Secret’ and he often hired panelists like Orson Bean and John Henry Faulk who’d crossed Red Channels or AWARE. Bean and Faulk won a union election over a Collyer-backed slate on these issues and Faulk later won a major lawsuit over his blacklisting. Still, from all reports, Collyer was a professional and a gentleman to all on ‘To Tell the Truth’.
The original TTTT ended its prime-time run on May 22, 1967. A daytime version which had started in June of ’62 continued on until September of ’68. That was the end of the Collyer version but others would follow. You must see some of this video! Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
December 18, 1953…First Color Commercial Airs On WPTZ, Philadelphia
In yesterday’s post, we learned of the FCC’s December 17, 1953 decision adopting RCA’s Compatible Color System. On Friday, December 18, 1953 at about 11:15 am, the FCC issued to WPTZ, Channel 3, its official color experimental license which authorized the transmission of color video on the station.
Three hours later, color television hit the airwaves in Philadelphia with a color commercial made up of slides. George Skinner hosted a show there weekdays between 2 pm and 2:30 called ‘Skinner’s Spotlight’…it was during this time that WPTZ’s first color telecast under an official FCC license took place. It was the first color commercial broadcast in the nation and it was on Channel 3 at about 2:20 pm. At the time, there were only about 100 color sets in Philadelphia.
The day before, the NBC Network had broadcast the first color image under the new NTSC standards when at 5:31 PM, it broadcast a color slide of the NBC chimes logo. At the time, only a few stations had any color equipment and it was all telecine. Only NBC had live color cameras which were the four RCA TK40 prototypes at The Colonial Theater.
The first shipment of the TK40 production model cameras was made on March 4, 1954. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
December 17, 1976…WTCG Atlanta Becomes First US Satellite TV Station
At 1:00 Eastern Time the afternoon of December 17, 1976, WTCG’s signal was beamed via the Satcom 1 satellite to four cable systems in Grand Island, Nebraska; Newport News, Virginia; Troy, Alabama and Newton, Kansas. The first broadcast was the 1948 film ‘Deep Waters’, which had been in progress for 30 minutes on channel 17 in Atlanta.
Instantly, WTCG went from being a small independent television station that was available only in Georgia and neighboring states to a major coast-to-coast operation. WTCG became a so-called “superstation” and set a precedent for today’s basic cable television. By 1978, WTCG was carried on cable providers in all 50 states.
WTCG became only the second US cable channel to transmit its programming via satellite; HBO was the first, on September 30, 1975 but cable subscribers were required to pay extra to receive that service. Ted Turner’s innovation signaled the start of the basic cable revolution. WTCG (for Turner Communications Group) changed its call sign to WTBS (Turner Broadcasting System) on August 27, 1979.
Below, Atlanta legend, and later national legend Bill Tush talks about those early days and the infamously insane news casts he hosted back then. What a Hoot! Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
December 17, 1989…’The Simpsons’ Debuts On Fox..D’OH!
Here are two great short videos that cover a lot of the history and creation of the show with not much overlap. The embedded video below features the creators and how ‘The Simpsons’ grew from bumper shorts on ‘The Tracy Ulman Show’ into it’s own dynasty.
December 17, 1969…Tiny Tim Marries Miss Vicki On ‘Tonight’
Remember this? I was a senior in high school and although it was a Wednesday night, I got permission to stay up and watch, along with about 40 million others. Probably one of the greatest publicity stunts of all time. I met him a few times and yes…he’s just as odd off stage as on. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
December 17, 1953…FCC Approves RCA Color, A First Hand Account
Thursday afternoon on the 17th, the FCC approved the RCA Dot Sequential color system as the national standard. Our friend and former NBC engineer Frank Merklein was actually the one that broke the news to David Sarnoff. Below is part of an email from Frank to me on these subjects.
“General Sarnoff was the force behind trashing the CBS mechanical wheel and to forming the NTSC color committee of all the US manufacturers. NBC had been doing daily closed circuit color test shows (the same show every day for 2 1/2 years) from 3H and the Colonial Theater. I was part of that testing and Sarnoff had made me a member of one of the committees”
“When the FCC chose the RCA system, the General was in our studio, 3H. I was on the phone with the FCC, I turned to the General and gave him a prepared message. “General Sarnoff, the FCC informs you that they have unanimously approved of the NTSC system for color.” He grinned, blew smoke from those over-sized cigars he inhaled and thanked everyone… Great memory.”
The next day RCA had full page ads in several major newspapers and rumor has it, there was a color slide that Friday just before ‘The Howdy Doody Show’ (see the slide in comments below). More than likely, John Cameron Swayze also made mention of it in Friday’s ‘Camel News Caravan’ broadcast.
The next day was Saturday and NBC’s biggest audience of the week would gather around their sets for ‘Your Show Of Shows’ and that’s when the big announcement was made as seen in this video clip of the occasion. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
A Salute To The Rockettes And Radio City…Two Rare Videos
At the link above is some great archival footage with a few surprises! Who knew they practiced on the roof of Radio City? Looking at the cars, this appears to be from the late 1940s. The audio comes in at :28 and color footage comes in at 2:00.
In this second video, we get a brief 75 year overview with vintage footage that seems to start in the mid 1930s. Without The Rockettes and Radio City, it just wouldn’t be Christmas, but as you’ll see…that almost happened in the ’70s. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
December 16, 1951…’Dragent’ Debuts On NBC Television
At this link is the very first episode of ‘Dragnet’. Be ready for a surprise at 2:40 as we see a young actor (made up to look older) that will become one of TV’s biggest stars. Playing the role of Chief Of Detectives, Thad Brown is none other than Raymond Burr.
The original ‘Dragnet’ starring Jack Webb as Sgt. Friday, actually began on NBC Radio on June 3, 1949 and ran till February 26, 1957. The television series began on television December 16, 1951 and ran till August 23, 1959.
In 1967, Webb revived the series for NBC which ran from January 12 of that year till April 16, 1970. NBC’s radio network carried it as well. Below are some shots from the radio and television series with more details on each. Enjoy and share! Dun Da Dum Dum! -Bobby Ellerbee
FANTASTIC! One Show, Start To Finish…Rare 1949 CBS Picture Book
This is the entire 1949 picture book “Close Up” that was written and published by CBS. It is the real time story of how this primetime drama came from an idea to a sixty minute live television play. This will also show us some rare photos of the old CBS facility at Grand Central Terminal, including Studio 42 and the telecine room. I have a hard cover copy given to me by Jodie Peeler, but have seen pictures from the book for years and some will be quite familiar.
On of many things we’ll learn here is that CBS was the first to use florescent lights in the studio to cool them off. Temperatures of over 100 degrees were not uncommon in those early days.
The ‘Studio One’ production depicted here is a sixty minute live drama called ‘The Glass Key’ and we start with the story and the sets, but the studio pix come along in the last third of these 30 or so pages. Thanks to David Gleason at American Radio History for his massive archive efforts and to Jerry Clegg for sharing this with us. Enjoy and SHARE! -Bobby Ellerbee
Another Great Article From Richard Wirth…’Cameras In The Sky’
Hello again Everybody! I thought it would be interesting to take a look back to some of the people who designed the processes and invented the equipment that gave us aerial cinematography. The article examines the history of shooting film and television from the air and also covers the evolution of some of those mechanisms and the aircraft that got us to where we are today.
This was a particularly fun piece for me as it combines two of my favorite things – flying and cinematography. I was also fortunate to have a knowledgeable guide through the process who was able to provide insight almost from the beginning. For that, I owe Richard Hart, Jr., my thanks. Mr. Hart is president of National Helicopter and Engineering Company. His father, Richard Hart, Sr., started the company in the early 50’s. Since then, National Helicopter has been a leader (if not THE leader) in aerial motion picture and television production. They have served up aerial action and drama in front of the camera and provided aircraft, pilots and platforms behind the camera. A link to their long list of credits is included in the article.
As always, I attempt to include illustrations of shots from television programs and movies that made a mark on history of the industry. This article is no exception. Hopefully they’ll bring some memories to many of you.
“Man must rise above the Earth—to the top of the atmosphere and beyond—for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.” — Socrates If Socrates were alive today, he would probably own a drone.
In Case You Missed It…Funniest SNL Christmas Bit In Years!
Kenan “What’s Up With That” Thomson is at it again. This was part of a very good show this past Saturday. I haven’t laughed this hard at an SNL holiday skit since ‘Schwetty Balls’. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
Behind The Scenes Of…’The God Father’, Little Known Facts
Did you know Marlon Brando, James Caan, and Robert Duvall amused themselves between takes by attempting to out-moon one another? Brando stopped the competition dead by dropping his pants during a massive wedding-reception scene. The rest agreed this couldn’t be topped and awarded the victor a belt buckle with the words ‘Mighty Moon King’ engraved on it. Well done, Marlon!
There’s much more at this link. Thanks to Jim De Franciso for the share. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
December 14, 1934… Laurel And Hardy’s ‘Babes In Toyland’ Debuts
80 years ago yesterday, a classic was born. As kids, a lot of saw this on our local stations around the holidays and knew it as ‘March Of the Wooden Soldiers’ which was the title of the 1948 re-release. The original title was ‘Babes In Toyland’.
WPIX in New York still runs this every Thanksgiving and Christmas day. Here’s the trailer and notice the special effects insert shot of Stan and Oliver watching the toy soldiers march by. Thanks to Rick Scheckman for bringing this to our attention. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
Making ‘Gone With The Wind’…Linda Ellerbee & Ray Gandolf, ABC
To celebrate the debut, here is a most excellent ABC ‘Our World’ special on the making of ‘Gone With The Wind’ from 1987. There is a lot of rare film and many little known facts in this 5 part presentation. For example, did you know Lucile Ball was one of the actress screen tested for the role of Scarlett O’Hara? When Vivian Leigh did her screen test, she said the dress was still warm from the last actress to audition for the part of Scarlett. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee