David Bruce: The Funniest People in Television and Radio: 250 Anecdotes — Talk Shows, Telephones, Tobacco, Voices

Talk Shows

• An appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson could lead to fame and fortune and great success, and so of course many guests were understandably nervous before their first appearance on the TV program. The first time that movie critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel appeared on The Tonight Show, one of Johnny’s writers stopped by their dressing room to say that Johnny would be asking them which current movies they liked. It’s a good thing that the writer stopped by, for Mr. Ebert and Mr. Siskel were so nervous that they couldn’t think of the titles of any current movies they liked, although several were playing that they had given thumbs-up to. With their minds completely blank, they brainstormed to come up with the title of a good movie. The only one they could think of was Gone With the Wind, so Mr. Siskel ended up calling their office back in Chicago and asking an assistant to tell them the titles of some movies they liked. (Of course, when they actually went on the show, Mr. Carson, always a master interviewer, put them at ease and everything went very smoothly.)

• Before Mike Douglas’ talk show was nationally syndicated, it was a locally produced show in Cleveland, Ohio. Once, Mr. Douglas decided to bring in a new, very talented singer named Barbra Streisand to appear on his show for a week. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to pay her enough money to live on. Therefore, he found her a singing job for a week in Cleveland, and she was able to make enough money to afford to appear on his talk show.

• Comedian George Carlin once appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and did an entire routine about the Vietnam War and other socially relevant issues. When he sat down, Mr. Carson said, “Wow! Pretty serious stuff.” Mr. Carlin then explained that he could have spoken about innocuous stuff such as puppies and kittens, but since 5 million people were watching him, he had decided to say something important.

• TV’s Mister Rogers was Fred Rogers, who spoke in real life in the same slow way that he talked on the TV series. Once, Mister Rogers appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and Mr. Carson was so surprised that Mister Rogers spoke that way in real life that he found it difficult to keep from laughing. Mister Rogers told him, “You want to laugh, don’t you? It’s OK.” And Johnny laughed.

Telephones

• One of the most famous gimmicks in the 1960s TV series Get Smart is the shoe phone worn by Control agent Maxwell Smart. Years after Get Smart went off the air, Don Adams, the actor who played Maxwell Smart, would sometimes stop at a red light, and someone in the car next to his would roll down a window, hand him a shoe, and say, “It’s for you.”

• As the wild-and-crazy character known as The Ghoul, Ron Sweed used to host mostly bad horror movies on a television station in Cleveland, Ohio. The show’s set included a telephone. Whenever The Ghoul had an incoming call, viewers at home heard the telephone emit a loud knock.

Tobacco

• When TV was just becoming popular, cigarette companies sometimes sponsored shows and censored them. For example, when Camel, a cigarette brand, was the sponsor of a news program, it would not allow any “No Smoking” signs to be seen in the program’s news footage, and it would not allow anyone to be seen smoking a cigar — with the exception of Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

• W.C. Fields once was on a radio program sponsored by Lucky Strike cigarettes when he told a series of very funny stories about his nephew, Chester. The sponsors were not amused when they realized that Chester’s full name — Chester Fields — was the name of a rival cigarette.

Voices

• Ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his partner, Charlie McCarthy (sometimes called a dummy, especially by W.C. Fields), wanted to be guests on the radio show starring Rudy Valle. However, an executive scoffed at the idea of a ventriloquist appearing on radio. During the audition, Mr. Bergen forgot his lines and asked for a look at the script. A young man showed Mr. Bergen the script, then started walking away. Suddenly, Charlie McCarthy’s voice rang out: “Let me look at that.” Without hesitation, the young man allowed Charlie McCarthy to “read” the script. The executive’s jaw dropped, and he gave Mr. Bergen his start on radio.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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