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Boomer-Era Variety Shows: the 1960s (Part 2)

The old saying goes that if you want to succeed at something, copy someone who was already successful at it. The immense popularity of TV variety shows in the 1950s spawned a whole new crop in the 1960s, with the formula for variety left relatively intact. One sea change was that rock ‘n roll acts, which had started to appear in ’50s variety shows, became a larger part of the mix of traditional acts such as jugglers, comedians, pop singers and opera singers.

Here are some of the popular TV variety shows of the 1960s:

The Andy Williams Show (1962-67, then 1969-71)
Starting off as a summer replacement show from 1959-62, Williams was finally given his own fall-season slot. For the most part, the program stuck to the variety format, though it did weigh heavily on musical acts. Andy Williams would open each show with his signature song, Moon River, and would often have another number. Williams was a pretty conservative guy and wasn’t interested in booking rock acts. Instead, he favored pop crooners with wholesome images like himself: Johnny Mathis, Engelbert Humperdinck, Dionne Warwick and Petula Clark, for instance. His namesake program is best remembered for introducing the world to The Osmond Brothers.

When his show was brought back in 1969, the world had radically changed. The program was rebranded with a hipper image for Andy Williams (check out his neckerchiefs!) and along with it, popular rock ‘n roll acts were booked.

The Hollywood Palace (1964-70)
This show took its name from the theater where it was filmed in Los Angeles. Like so many other variety programs, Palace had a rotating series of guest hosts. However, chief among them — the host with the most appearances — was Bing Crosby. This was a testament to its attempt to appeal to an older demographic. Mister Boomer remembers the show as tremendously popular with his parents. It was on every Saturday night, in glorious black & white on the Boomer household’s TV. To Mister Boomer, it was on par with watching Lawrence Welk at his grandmother’s house. Watching a guy keep plates spinning on sticks was pretty much squaresville as far as Mister B was concerned. At least Ed Sullivan was a weird character a kid could imitate at school. Despite old-people leanings, the show featured the first U.S. TV appearance of The Rolling Stones in 1964.

The Dean Martin Show (1965-74)
Dean Martin had been a host of TV variety shows with his comedian stage partner, Jerry Lewis, since the 1940s. In the 1960s, Martin hosted various variety shows alone many times until he was given a show of his own. There were different incarnations of names and a couple of different TV networks involved, but his Rat Pack, drink-in-hand, cigarette-smoking, tuxedo-wearing persona was always front and center.

In 1968, he introduced a female group of singers and dancers called The Golddiggers. They quickly became TV audience favorites and Martin made them the official dancers for the show. The group opened each episode, dressed in sparkly Folies-style leotards, introducing Dean Martin. The troupe was made up entirely of young women. They could sing and dance, but were also used as actors in sketches, often interacting with celebrity guests. While Mister Boomer’s mother enjoyed Dean Martin’s singing, his father especially liked The Golddiggers. That meant the show was always going to be viewed on the Boomer family TV.

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967-69)
While one variety show leaned toward music, others leaned toward comedy. Seeming to be, on the surface, a folk-singing comedy duo, the Smothers Brothers — Tom and Dick — used their show as a platform for topical, biting satire. They fearlessly bashed the Vietnam war, politics, sexuality and religion — all the taboo subjects that TV had for the most part avoided during the tumultuous decade up to that point.

Though the program was big on satirical comedy, and introduced the world to comedian Pat Paulsen, top musical acts of the decade were also featured. Included in the list of luminaries were The Who, Buffalo Springfield, The Doors, Simon and Garfunkel, the Hollies, the Temptations, Glen Campbell and many more. Where Hollywood Palace and The Andy Williams Show catered to boomers’ parents, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour became a TV variety show voice of a new generation.

It is commonly thought that the brothers’ show was cancelled because of their political leanings, but that is not entirely the case. In fact, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour had been renewed for the 1970 season. The brothers fought constant battles with CBS over censoring acts, sketches or parts of sketches, but it wasn’t until Tommy Smothers began lobbying against censorship to the FCC that CBS executives fired them. The brothers filed a breach of contract lawsuit and won compensation for the year of programs that never were.

The changing cultural scene that exploded in the late 1960s made its presence known on TV in several ways, including comedy and music. Perhaps chief among them was the rising influence and importance of rock ‘n roll in the culture. When acts appeared on TV variety shows, slowly but surely, the previous generation was put on notice that the Boomer Generation was shaking their windows and rattling their walls.

What variety shows did your family watch on TV in the 1960s, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,TV and have No Comments

Boomer-Era Variety Shows: the 1950s (Part 1)

World War II ended and by 1947, television caught on in a big way as individual stations appeared in the largest cities. Within four years, a couple of dozen stations had grown to hundreds. The adaptation of TV by the public is still on record as the quickest rise of any technology — faster than indoor plumbing, home electricity, radio, the telephone and even the smartphone. There were just over 100,000 TV sets in the country by 1947, but by 1950, 8 million sets had been purchased — a rise from less than one percent to 88 percent of homes owning a TV.

Of course, the correlation to the Baby Boom was no accident as more couples were married, started families, bought homes and moved to the suburbs. As TV stations began to broadcast 20 hours per day, the race was on to capture the most viewers, especially in the post-dinner hours, the prime time when parents and their children might gather around the household TV.

Networks and local stations turned to Vaudeville traditions for programming inspiration. Vaudeville was a form of live variety entertainment that began in the 1880s. Vaudeville shows mixed singing, dancing, comedy, magic, acrobatics and sketch performances live on stage. By the 1930s, it saw a precipitous decline in attendance due to the Depression, the spread of movies and widespread embrace of radio in the home. As the public taste for entertainment shifted, many Vaudeville performers made the transition first to radio programs, then on to TV.

The first hour-long musical variety show broadcast regularly on network TV was Hour Glass, airing from 1947 to 1948. It pioneered the live commercial that became the standard for variety shows that followed. The show featured performers — many of whom had been Vaudeville performers — that included Dennis Day, Bert Lahr and Peggy Lee, among others. It also marked the first time a radio performer — ventriloquist Edgar Bergen — appeared on TV.

It seemed like various forces were all in alignment for variety shows on TV: expanding audience, at-the-ready supply of performers and willing sponsors. Yet there was another important factor to the explosion of TV variety shows in the late 1940s and into the ’50s, and that was: the music. The American Federation of Musicians controlled the market for live musicians, and TV was a live performance venue in the early days. At the dawn of television broadcasting, the question of what and how to pay performers was brought to the forefront, as it had when silent movies transitioned into “talkies.” Various music unions had contracts in place for film appearances of musicians, but TV was a whole new — and potentially lucrative — landscape. Consequently, as music publishers sought license fees for their music and musicians, the AFM banned live music on TV until 1948. The TV industry acquiesced to the demands of the music unions as ASCAP, the company known for managing music licensing fees, charged three times the fee for a TV appearance than was charged for a film appearance.

There were other ways the TV industry struggled with how to present music. The burgeoning industry was struggling with what role it should play in the culture at large, a debate that was very much in the public realm and even on the minds of Congressional legislators. As a result, operas and classical concerts were broadcast in the 1940s and early ’50s. Variety shows took their cue from these early broadcasts, and regularly included operatic and classical music stars in their programming, alongside pop music and jazz. To further control the “live” appearance of singers, lip-synching was heavily employed to avoid any variations in the performance of a singer from the expectations of the audience. At the same time, if a show could avoid paying for live musicians, all the better for their bottom line.

Here are a few of the influential variety shows that appeared along with the Baby Boom:

Toast of the Town / The Ed Sullivan Show (1948-71)
The longest-running variety show in the history of television, Toast of the Town was renamed The Ed Sullivan Show in its ninth season. Initially, Ed Sullivan was not the show’s host as guest hosts acted as emcee, and introduced the acts. The first show was hosted by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

There is probably not a boomer who was over the age of 7 by the early ’60s who doesn’t remember The Beatles appearing on Ed Sullivan. The man had an uncanny knack for picking acts that were on the verge of breaking out. Famous (or infamous) icons of the Boomer Era who appeared on Ed Sullivan’s show included Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five, The Righteous Brothers, Peter and Gordon, The Byrds, The Mama and the Papas, The Doors, James Brown, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Herman’s Hermits, The Beach Boys, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Tom Jones, Janis Joplin, The Jackson 5 and many, many more.

Unlike a lot of the variety shows on TV, Sullivan wanted his musical acts to perform live, not just lip-synch. That led to some interesting disagreements with lyrics deemed questionable for TV when the Rolling Stones and The Doors appeared, as most boomers recall. Sullivan also featured classical music, opera, jazz, dance, jugglers, comedians and a crazy little puppet mouse, Topo Gigio, that was a favorite of Mister Boomer’s grandmother … And that is the story of The Ed Sullivan Show in a nutshell, that the show was popular with every member of the family because Sullivan booked acts that could please everyone.

Texaco Star Theater (1948-56)
This comedy-variety show started out as a radio show in 1938. Like Ed Sullivan, the show had a series of guest hosts, but when Milton Berle hosted, the show’s ratings skyrocketed and he was made the permanent emcee. Texaco Star Theater is best remembered as the show that earned Berle his “Mr. Television” nickname.

The Colgate Comedy Hour (1950-55)
A show with “comedy” in its name should have the best comedians of the day, and this show did. Hosts included Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Bob Hope, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, among others. As a musical-variety show, hosts also included Donald O’Conner, Jimmy Durante, Eddie Cantor, and a bevy of stars our parents remember better than boomers do. Like Texaco Star Theater, a single sponsor — Colgate — commanded the commercials throughout the program. Commercials were performed live like other shows, often by the stars themselves.

Your Show of Shows (1950-54)
More than just another variety show, some say this one was the most influential of them all. Featuring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, the show had a writing pool of Neil Simon, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, among others. It was the first show to feature an ongoing comedy sketch, “The Hickenloopers.” Some say every comedy show that followed owed a debt to Your Show of Shows. Carl Reiner stated that The Dick Van Dyke Show was inspired by the show.

The Nat King Cole Show (1956-57)
Featuring the first African-American TV series host, the show aired without a sponsor. Advertisers feared they would upset their customers in the South, so NBC aired it anyway, footing the bill. Nat King Cole was an immensely popular singer, but 1950s white America wasn’t at all sure they wanted to see a black man host a TV show. The star ended the show himself in its second season, when no sponsor could be found.

Mister Boomer remembers his family tuning in as Mr. Cole opened each show at his piano, singing a song.

Of course, there were many other variety shows aired in the first complete decade of the Baby Boom. Families gathered around the TV each week to laugh, be entertained and maybe get a little highbrow culture as the flickering black and white images of our boomer youth appeared on a tiny screen.

Were you old enough to watch variety shows in the 1950s, boomers? Which were your family’s favorites?

Next up: Variety Shows in the 1960s

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,TV and have No Comments

Hey Boomers, Was It Better Before?

Thanks to the Internet, it seems like we are all obsessed with Top 5s, best of lists, who wore it better comparisons, etc. In the spirit of Internet modernity, Mister Boomer offers this collection of The Way We Were to The Way It Is Now. So, boomers, YOU make the call. Which is better?

Video tape … or … video streaming?
Muscle cars … or … electric cars?
Rotary phone … or … smartphone?
Vinyl records … or … music streaming?
FM radio … or … satellite radio?
Mr. Coffee … or … espresso machine?
Books .… or … e-books?
Polaroid film .… or … digital camera?

Eyeglasses … or … Lasik surgery?
Pac Man … or … Grand Theft Auto?
Twiggy .… or … Gigi Hadid?
Schoolyard bully … or … cyber bully?
Passbook savings .… or … ATM?
Boone’s Farm Apple … or … Smirnoff ICE Green Apple?
Kite .… or … drone?
Penny candy … or … organic, gluten-free candy
Pocket change … or … debit card?
Rearview mirror … or … back-up assist camera?
Bobby Sherman … or … Justin Bieber?
Father Knows Best … or … Keeping Up with the Kardashians?
Roger Marris … or … Aaron Judge?
Map … or … GPS?

Our world is rapidly changing, and surely there are more comparisons we can make. Will we embrace the change or prefer what we had? YOU make the call.

Care to add to the list, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Getting Older,Pop Culture History and have No Comments

Time for a Boomer Education Comeback?

Mister Boomer recently heard an interview with an author who wrote about the differences between the Chinese education system and that of the U.S. in an effort to discover why our country continually lags behind in elementary education surveys.

The author said that in China, children must obey their parents as the ultimate authority figures, and when they went to school, the teachers were the ultimate authority. Not even parents are allowed to question teachers’ methods or course study. While this cultural imperative imparts a strict discipline that is evidently conducive to prepping students for higher education, it sounds far more rigid that anything we have had in this country … or does it? Mister Boomer was struck by the similarities to our Boomer-era education.

Granted, things may never have been as disciplined as required in a Chinese classroom, but the way we rose through the school ranks is far different than what transpires today. First off, we were also taught to respect and listen to our parents, which, for the most part, we did. When we went to school, the teachers were thought of as an extension of the parents. That meant what the teacher said, went. If you came home and said, “The teacher hit me,” a parent might have responded with, “Good, what did you do to make her hit you?” Our parents would take the side of the teacher every time.

Yes, there was that corporal punishment aspect of classroom discipline that causes litigation today. Mister Boomer stayed along the straight and narrow, but he saw classroom beat-downs that would horrify today’s supermarket tabloids. It is doubtful that many people would want to return to that aspect of “education,” but it is a part of our shared history. Despite the threat of bodily harm, kids accepted teachers as authority figures.

This system sometimes broke down when there was a substitute teacher. Kids enjoyed giving her (teachers were mostly female) a hard time on occasion, though it was usually light-hearted mischievousness. Take, for example, one day Mister Boomer remembers: He was probably in fourth grade when the school principal came into his class and introduced a woman who was to be the sub for a few days. Immediately after the principal left, the substitute passed around a pad of paper and asked the kids to write their names so she could take attendance and get to associate the names with faces.

Almost immediately, muffled snickering could be heard as the list passed down one row and up the next. When it reached Mister B, he could see what the snickering was about. Enterprising youth as they were, most wrote their own names, but also added another fictitious one to the list. Naturally, at the top of the list a pre-teen boy had written above his own name,“Jack MeHoff.” Almost every student had joined in the fun, adding “Chuck Wagon,” “Luke Warm,” “Willie Makit,” and, in a rare bit of solidarity, a girl penned “Helen Bach” after her name. Mister B, feeling the peer pressure, added “Pete Moss.”

The payoff would come when the teacher called each name. Was she in on the joke or just clueless? Sure enough, she started at the top of the list, much to the delight of the class: “Jack … Mee-Huff, is that how you pronounce it? … Jack, where are you,” she continued as the class burst into laughter. She caught on pretty quickly after that and navigated the name land mines to conduct a regular class. There were no further incidents for the duration of her substitute days.

Is it time to return to a level of classroom respect that we experienced as boomers? Who can say, especially since so much has changed. Kids today are far more advanced in their course studies than we were, not to mention the influence of technology. Yet the U.S. lags down the list for education quality on the world stage.

What do you think, boomers? Are there aspects of our own Age of Innocence that can be applied today, or has that ship sailed into the annals of history?

posted by Mister B in Education and have Comment (1)

Boomer Boys Learned How to Dress Like Gentlemen

The cultural break between the early sixties and the latter part of the decade has been written about many times, including here at misterboomer.com. Yet Mister Boomer, as a mid-generation boomer, recalls the late 1950s and early ’60s as a time of set fashion social mores that fathers would teach sons, and mothers would teach daughters.

One of these fashion social mores — how to be a gentlemen — was, as far as Mister B was concerned, a minefield filled with potential faux pas. It was a time when there was a definite difference in the way people dressed for formal occasions and casual ones. Dress clothes for the proper gentleman meant a suit and tie, and in the early part of the Boomer Generation, a hat. Situations that called for dress clothes were weddings and funerals, to be sure, but also for weekly church attendance, going to the theater, holiday parties, and travel by train, ship or plane. Men usually dressed for any business situation, too, such as applying for a bank loan or attending a house closing.

As a boy, Mister Boomer’s clothes, like other boomers his age, were selected and purchased by his parents. Consequently, he and Brother Boomer had a set of dress clothes and casual clothes. (Mister B and his brother also had a third set that was school clothes to match the required dress code). For Mister B and Brother Boomer, it also meant a hat. Their father was part of a growing trend of post-war men who did not wear hats, yet he raised his boys with the fashion and showed them how and when to take the hat off, and how to correctly store it. In the Boomer family’s church, men took their hats off when entering, while women covered their heads at the same time. Once seated in a pew, the church had a clip installed every yard on the back of each pew that was designed to hold a man’s hat. Mister B’s father demonstrated this for his boys until they understood what the clip was for and how to use it.

There was another thing Mister B’s dad showed his boys in church: how to correctly move the pant crease from their suit pants when sitting down. A sharp-dressed man’s dress pants were pressed with a crease that ran down the front of the leg that was sharp enough to cut titanium. The only possible reason to move the crease away from the front-center of the leg that Mister Boomer can think of is, in an age before the proliferation of permanent press and no-iron fabrics, the crease might hold longer if protected when sitting down. A gentleman would need to keep his crease lest he be thought less of — a faux pas no father wanted for his boys since their appearance reflected on his status as a parent.

Mister Boomer’s father would get the attention of his two boys and, as he sat down, grabbed the front creases of both pant legs with the thumbs and index fingers of his hands. In one motion, his hands had gracefully pulled the creases to the outer side of each leg. Sometimes he demonstrated the process again, since the boys must have displayed quizzical looks. Brother Boomer caught on to this seemingly simple process fairly early on, but it flummoxed Mister Boomer into the 1960s. His father let him be as each week, Mister B grabbed the creases of his pant legs and frantically pulled them, only to end up with the creases remaining where they started. Mister Boomer waded that minefield each week, and failed. He never was able to get the creases pointing in the “correct” direction.

By the late sixties, the casualization of America had begun, and, along with the availability of permanent press and no-iron pants, made the whole process obsolete. That was not a moment too soon for Mister Boomer, who did not understand to begin with why society felt a gentleman had to do that.

Do you remember shifting your dress pant creases, boomer men? And boomer women, what fashion quirks did your mothers show you?

posted by Mister B in Fashion,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Boomers Did Not Question School Starting Times

Kids are back in school just about everywhere this week, prompting fresh controversy in the news about starting times. School start times vary from state to state and in some cases are local school district decisions. Every few years, a new report surfaces that says middle and high school start times are too early. This latest round of news is courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, which stated that the average national start time is 8 a.m. According to the American Academy of Pediatricians, the National Sleep Foundation and others, the recommended start time for adolescents would be 8:30 a.m. or later.

Though Mister Boomer could uncover no corroborating evidence, it seems logical to him that school start times were based on when parents of a particular region felt they could get their children to school. Consequently, the average start time has not changed much since the 1930s.

Contrary to the sitcoms of the boomer era, the majority of fathers in the country worked in manufacturing jobs in the 1950s and ’60s. Work start times were 7 a.m. or earlier, so dads would often be gone before the children got out of bed. Nonetheless, it was considered a woman’s job to get the kids off to school. Since it was also the woman’s job to get her husband a breakfast before he went off to work, presumably she would have time when her husband walked out the door to wake the kids, prepare their breakfast and see them off to school between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m. At least this train of thought fits Mister Boomer’s experience, and every family of the kids he knew at the time.

Of course, by the very early sixties, his mother revolted and refused to get up to cook Mister B’s father a breakfast. Soon after, she announced she wasn’t getting up to see her kids off to school, either. No matter to Mister Boomer and his siblings, as they ate a bowl of cereal (and later, Carnation Instant Breakfast and Pop Tarts) and learned to pack their own lunches before walking two miles in a snowstorm to get to school before the 8 a.m. start time. But we digress.

Several scientific experts are stating that kids need at least 8 hours of sleep, and later start times in some counties is supporting evidence that students are more alert, ready to learn, and are more productive. Coaches are saying they notice the later start times are contributing to better performance in sports as well.

Then again, there is a report that says two out of every three teens get less than the recommended eight hours of sleep. Of course, the question immediately arises that, if kids need eight hours of sleep, why aren’t they going to bed earlier? Mister Boomer recalls an expanding bedtime schedule as he grew; in his younger years, it was 9 p.m. but by the time he was a teen, he often stayed up to 10:30 or 11 p.m. Since his alarm went off at 7 a.m., presumably he and his siblings got the requisite eight hours. That was then. Nowadays, kids have so many more distractions than boomers did, first among them the smart phone. There is one report that says on average kids spend the first hour when they go to bed on their phones, texting, watching videos and updating social media posts.

In boomer days, if a peep was heard from the bedrooms down the hall, parents might shout out, “shut up and go to sleep!” It seems these days that parents do not command that level of authority. Mister Boomer works with one Gen-Xer who was so frustrated by his early-teen kids’ nightly behavior that he impounded their cell phones at bedtime.


Oh, that George Jetson, dropping his kids off to school in the morning on his way to work. It seems in boomer times we could not envision a time when school would start later in the morning.

Science, however, is saying it’s not only the eight hours that are required, but the disruption of the circadian rhythm at the earlier hour that is coming into play. Certainly many a boomer recalls dozing off in an early class. And many boomers — including Mister B — can attest to napping in a 7:30 a.m. college course. In Mister Boomer’s case, it was a Humanities course. No sooner did the professor shut the lights and turn on the slide projector than he was fighting to keep his eyes open.

From Mister Boomer’s perspective on our shared boomer upbringing, there were things that just were, and that was that. School start time was never a question, it just was the time you had to be there. For the most part, he does not recall a lot of kids dozing off in class early on, either. At that time, teachers would hardly have stood for it, and might give a kid a swift whack with a ruler if a kid was discovered dozing.

Mister B is no expert on the subject, and doesn’t play one in his blog. He is just pointing out another of the growing list of differences between the generations of when boomers yawned at the dawn’s early light and today’s generation that wakes up to a blinking screen.

What time did your school start, boomers? Did you ever fall asleep in an early class?

posted by Mister B in Education,Pop Culture History and have Comments Off on Boomers Did Not Question School Starting Times