inventing late night

The Book of the Week is “inventing late night (sic), Steve Allen and the original tonight show (sic)” by ben alba, published in 2005.  This slightly sloppily edited book tells how Steve Allen created the format for late night talk shows on American television, starting in the early 1950’s.

When television was in its infancy, Allen’s original ad-libbing and off-the-wall physical comedy made audiences laugh through the 1950’s.  However, since history is written by the most prolific propagandists, and Allen was modest and less than aggressive at self-promotion, other entertainment-industry moguls such as Johnny Carson and his ilk, bragged that they were the ones amusing Americans in an unprecedented way on their late-night talk shows. David Letterman was one of the few who attributed his show’s stunts to Allen’s ideas.

In autumn 1954, Pat Weaver, president of NBC, gave Allen free rein to do whatever he wanted on his new, unrehearsed, live (!) program, “Tonight!” What resulted was an unscripted variety show featuring insane stunts, a band, singers, celebrity guests, news and theater reviews. In planning each weeknight’s episode, Allen would loosely specify the number of minutes of each segment– but continue with a segment if it got a great audience response, and cut the next act on the spot. If the show was a bit slow, he would go into the audience to converse with them.  Every minute of airtime was unpredictable. The only segment that was usually predictable, was the music.

Unfortunately, episodes of the taped, live shows were later incinerated due to lack of storage space at the network. Shortly after the airing of the show, the only way for the general public and cast and crew to get a recording was to buy one– a kinescope for $160. The singers made about $300 a week.

Eydie Gorme had this to say: “All of us working singers would go the Brill Building [in Manhattan] and get all the new sheet music, which they gave you free in those days.” Other celebrities who appeared on the show and were interviewed for this book, lamented that of late, performers of recent decades have resorted to obscenity and vulgarity to elicit cheap laughs from the audience, because they lack talent and creativity. Sadly, most audience members are unaware that their intelligence is being insulted. Even so, the younger ones are unaware of how high Steve Allen set the bar for quality entertainment.

Even more impressive– Allen’s show had TWO writers and twenty band members, while nowadays, late-night shows have TWENTY writers and five or six band members.

Read the book to learn the specifics of Allen’s stunts, antics, routines and style, and what changed when he started a second talk show simultaneously with what became “The Tonight Show.”

Francis Bacon

The Book of the Week is “Francis Bacon, The Temper of A Man” by Catherine Drinker Bowen, published in 1963. This biography describes the life and times of an English aristocrat born in 1561.

When Bacon was in his late teens, his father died. His older brother got the lion’s share of the estate. Bacon was an arrogant debtor, always blaming others for his debt. Nevertheless, he continued to maintain the standard of living to which he was accustomed, thanks in part to his uncle– who was immensely wealthy with a global network of contacts and a collection of mansions with hundreds of rooms.

England in the 1570’s was a nation of four million fronted by Queen Elizabeth. It was still seen as a primitive backwater, “…her native tongue rude, her food and wines execrable… No less than eight hundred men, women and children were hanged each year… maybe for picking a pocket or stealing a sheep.” Deaths from disease were rampant.

The church elders at Trinity College, Cambridge– where Bacon started his higher education at thirteen years of age (not uncommon for his generation)– thought more truth could be found in faith than in knowledge.  Bacon, an extremely intellectually curious lad, a budding grand thinker and passionate, prolific writer, disagreed. “Beyond the first row of the House of Commons were men unlike Bacon, nonintellectuals who knew more of hounds, horses and crops than of Latin and philosophy.”

During Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the custom was to arrange a marriage between next door neighbors so as to enlarge the families’ estates and wealth. Bacon finally wed in 1606 to a fourteen year old girl. He was 45.

In 1620, Bacon published a fictional story whose plot mentioned many of the advances in humanity he anticipated, such as the existence of institutions of higher learning that would perform empirical research in the “hard” sicences. It was written in Latin so that all of Europe could read it.

Read the book to learn about the ups and downs of Bacon’s legal career, and how he became one of the first victims of the beginning of reform for England’s political system in the 1620’s.

Rebel Without Applause

The Book of the Week is “Rebel Without Applause” by Jay Landesman, published in 1987. This ebook-autobiography has a few slightly distracting misspellings, but reveals the zeitgeist of Landesman’s generation.

Landesman was born in 1920. The talents of the author and his two brothers and sister differed considerably. Thus, he and his siblings got along well, as they weren’t in competition. However, his mother had control issues, so his parents opened separate antique shops; his mother in St Louis, and his father in Houston.

Landesman became distracted from the family business, and got into magazine publishing in New York. He co-founded “Neurotica”– launched in March 1948.  The publication contained articles of famous writers’ anxieties to which readers could relate. Sex was a taboo topic of discussion but violence was all the rage.

In 1949, Landesman dared to ask for a divorce from his first wife. Describing himself as a “respectable Jewish boy” he later met someone new, who had looked up his family in “Dun & Bradstreet”– the  keeper of the data in those days.

Landesman had two sons with his second wife, Fran. Their wealth allowed them to hire a nanny. “We were like any other ordinary American family enjoying the Ed Sullivan Show. Instead of a six-pack, we shared a couple of joints.”

Read the book to learn of what later transpired with the author’s second wife, about their collaboration on theater productions, his relationship with Lenny Bruce, and where the family moved to and why.

Frank & Charli

The Book of the Week is “Frank & Charli” by Frank Yandolino, published in 2016. This is the (imperfectly edited) double biography of a married couple, or rather a name-dropping bragfest recounted mostly by the husband (Frank), who was a project manager for artistic and musical celebrities from the 1960’s to date.

Frank believed the secret to his success has been his opportunism, ability to be innovative, be himself and trusted by his clients. His wife Charli, the love of his life, served as his loyal and competent assistant during most of his endeavors, some of which were failures.

Frank thought that “Woodstock” was a major event in American cultural history . “The Woodstock Nation was supposed to be the birth of a new generation, a generation of Green Peace (sic), Save the Whales, and No More War.” Sadly, a few attempts were made to re-enact the event on anniversaries, but two of its major organizers had a falling out after the original, and were not on speaking terms.

Frank feels that unhappiness stems from phoniness– “Facebook is a place that narcissists use to post how they want to be seen.” Read the book to learn how Frank and Charli stayed happy together through the decades.

Jerry Orbach, Prince of the City

The Book of the Week is “Jerry Orbach, Prince of the City” by John Anthony Gilvey, published in 2011. This is a biography of multi-genre actor Jerry Orbach.

In 1985, at 50 years old, Orbach chose to pursue roles in the fickle world of TV and movies to achieve fortune and fame, instead of a secure income on Broadway, where he would have much less fame. Luckily, he hit it big with the surprisingly successful 1987 movie Dirty Dancing. He received 1% of the gross revenue of the movie. After that, he started to play a slew of bit parts on TV. Thus, people recognized his face on the street, but did not know his name. That is, until he became a major character on “Law and Order” in autumn of 1992. Unfortunately, cancer cut his career short.

Read the book to learn more about Orbach’s fabulous career and personal relationships.

David Spade is Almost Interesting

The Book of the Week is “David Spade is Almost Interesting, the Memoir” by David Spade, published in 2015. This ebook is about the life of the actor and stand-up comedian.

Born in the mid-1960’s, Spade is the youngest of three brothers. His father abandoned the family when he was little.

The comedian wrote about how he started his career in stand-up comedy, and achieved sufficient success to become a writer on the TV show “Saturday Night Live” for a few seasons in the early 1990’s. The show’s content-generators and performers were fiercely competitive because extra money and a big ego boost went to the writers who got a sketch on the air, or did more acting than others. When Spade’s sketches were rejected, his fellow cast members were “… quietly doing mental cartwheels because of the schadenfreude festival around the seventeenth floor [of Rockefeller Center in Manhattan].” He summed up his situation thusly: “I had such a massive chip on my shoulder about being an underdog from Arizona with no show business connections.”

According to Spade, the movie and television studios encourage actors to use social media to interact with their fans. He revealed that the studios might cast an actor for a certain role based on the number of followers he has on Twitter or Instagram.

In addition to describing the making of movies with fellow comedian Chris Farley, the author also included a chapter on his love life. He apparently believes all the male and female stereotypes and that is perhaps why is still a bachelor, as of this writing.

Read the book to learn of Spade’s antics and traumas.

Serling, the Rise and Twilight…

The Book of the Week is “Serling, the Rise and Twilight of Television’s Last Angry Man” by Gordon F. Sander, published in 1992. This is a biography of Rodman Serling, the television writer best known for “The Twilight Zone.”

Serling, born in December 1924, had traumatic experiences as a soldier in WWII. Prior to creating “The Twilight Zone” he penned “Requiem For a Heavyweight,” a drama about a professional boxer aired on the TV show, “Playhouse 90” in October1956. By early 1957, Serling had moved his wife and daughter from Westport, Connecticut to a mansion with a swimming pool in Beverly Hills, California.

Serling was a chain smoker. emotionally troubled for various reasons. One reason was that once the TV industry got its financial sea legs, it began churning out a high volume of lowbrow entertainment. That is why, during his writing career, Serling, an intellectual idea man, switched back and forth between television and movies.

Read the book to learn how. through the decades, Serling coped with radical changes in the profit-making structures and popularity of different genres of television.

The Crusader

The Book of the Week is “The Crusader, The Life and Tumultuous Times of Pat Buchanan” by Timothy Stanley, published in 2012.

Born in 1938, Buchanan, a journalist, commentator, conservative-Republican political aide and presidential candidate with sometimes unexpectedly radical, contrarian views, was the third oldest in an eight-child family of Irish descent. They lived in the Catholic Georgetown section of Washington, D.C.

In the 1950’s, the American economy was so good that a man could support a ten-person household, and afford to hire a maid. Buchanan and his brothers would crash keg parties. “The Buchanan boys respected the cops who busted up their parties and chased them into the trees, and the next morning the gang lined up outside the confessional to lay it all before God.” Joe McCarthy was Buchanan’s hero.

Buchanan attended Columbia University School of Journalism in the late 1960’s when there was cultural snobbery– the school didn’t deign to teach TV journalism. He thought the civil rights movement was a Commie front. In 1972, he was horrified when Nixon had the U.S. reopen diplomatic relations with China to contain Soviet expansion, and signed an agreement with Mao Tse Tung saying China included the territory of Taiwan.

There is nothing new under the sun. In the presidential campaign of 1972, “The [media] made a genuine attempt in open democracy look like a freak show.” By the late 1970’s, Buchanan co-hosted political talk radio and TV shows. He specialized in ad-libs and putdowns — the kind where he loudly and obnoxiously interrupted callers and guests if he didn’t like what they were saying, or if he was losing an argument.

 In early 1990, Buchanan was a panelist at a forum of The National Interest magazine, which consisted of neoconservatives– people who felt that all countries of the world should adopt the American way– politically, economically, culturally and socially, etc. Buchanan disagreed with doing this, opining that democracy was right for the United States, but not for all nations of the world.

Buchanan wanted to help form a political group to protest the First Gulf War. It was theorized that three different groups conspired to push for war in the Middle East: the military industrial complex, neoconservatives, and the religious right.

 When Buchanan ran for president in 1996, he had changed his stand on certain issues. “Buchanan once saw public enemy number one as the socialists in Washington. Now, it was the corporations on Wall Street.” He asserted that America faced moral, social, economic and spiritual problems, and not only an income tax issue, as 1996 presidential candidate Steve Forbes contended. In Louisiana, Buchanan assumed an anti-vice stance, denouncing gambling, prostitution, drugs and the corruption they caused. He also wanted to blur the lines of separation of Church and State, and was pro-NRA. He was accused of palling around with racists. His communications method to achieve maximum voter reach was doing interviews on radio shows. Candidate Bob Dole went to shopping malls.

In late 1999, Buchanan switched to the Reform Party and traded fighting words with Donald Trump. The former appealed to the far left and the far right who agreed on “… war, trade, the slow decline of American capitalism into a kind of Walmart communism– materialist, greedy, heartless.” The Reform party attracted voters who were neo-hippies, people who believed in meditation, aliens and religious fundamentalism (took the Christian Bible literally) and gun enthusiasts. Buchanan “shot himself in the foot” by choosing a black female running mate.

In 2003, Buchanan opposed the war against Iraq and said the 9/11 attack on America was due to the nation’s meddling in the Middle East.

Read the book to learn more details of Buchanan’s decades-long political consulting, publishing and commentating activities, and their historical backdrop.

Foxcatcher

The Book of the Week is “Foxcatcher” by Mark Schultz with David Thomas, published in 2014. This autobiography discusses the author’s experiences in high school, college and professional wrestling in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, and his association with John du Pont.

Wrestling is comprised of technique, conditioning and luck. The season runs from November through March, and fans can be loud, obnoxious and profane. Schultz and his older brother, Dave, were passionate wrestlers. In 1983, they competed in the World Championships in Kiev, Russia. In 1984, they were the first brothers in United States wrestling history to win Olympic gold medals. During a time in his career when he struggled to make a living, Schultz put on wrestling clinics. He was employable in this capacity because he had been a global wrestling celebrity, hired by high school wrestling coaches. Wrestling is a nonrevenue sport. On the other hand, Russian wrestlers are paid to train and compete on the Olympic team.

John du Pont was an eccentric, super-rich donor to Villanova University who decided to start a wrestling program there in the mid 1980’s. Schultz assisted with that effort. John du Pont broke the NCAA rules in various ways because he could, just to be controlling. He produced awards ceremonies for himself. “John got a kick out of manipulating people to see if they would go against their principles in exchange for money.”

Read the book to learn the details of Schultz’s wrestling life, and du Pont’s actions in connection therewith.