Oh, my God, I can't believe this exists.
This is the first-ever nationally televised broadcast of the Tony Awards, from 1967 -- in its entirety.
The quality of the video is lousy. Everything else makes you not care. To start with, the hosts are Mary Martin and Robert Preston, who were starring at that time in the musical, I Do! I Do! (written by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, who had written The Fanstasticks.) And the range of performers who appear, whether as presenters or winners or in musical numbers is a joy.
One example: rather than have "up-and-coming" total unknowns be in charge of bringing out the awards, instead they have two "up-and-coming" actresses who were then starring in shows on Broadway do the duty. One is Jill Haworth,then starring as 'Sally Bowles' in Cabaret, and the other, Lynn Redgrave, starring in Black Comedy. (And these are just the people bringing out the awards.) It's also a treat to see a very young Ian Holm about 35 years before you saw him as a very old 'Bilbo Baggins' in The Lord of the Rings.
(I'll also fill in the gap of one glitch in the video. When they announce Gower Champion as a present, the video hiccups at the mention of his co-presenter. It's his wife, and former dance partner, Marge Champion.)
All but one the commercials are cut out, so this zips by in just an hour. But that likely means the original broadcast was probably only 90 minutes -- not only fast, but an odd time-slot. What helps makes it fast is that they do someone I've been yammering about for years with the Tonys -- they only present on the air the very few awards that anyone in the audience might care about. And also there's almost no emoting by the winners, with "Thank you" being the extent of many of the recipients. Plus the show is producer by Broadway producer Alexander H. Cohen and written by his wife, Hildy Parks, who put on the very best of the Tony Awards shows, until they parted ways with the powers-that-be. They simply knew how to put on an entertainment. This is wonderful though it's odd to say almost a little barebones. The following years added more structure and a bit more meat. Here's the good news -- there are a few more of these Tony broadcasts to come. Watch this space.
But what makes this broadcast such a special treat are the performances of the four nominated shows. Impressively, even in a show this short, they let the numbers run full -- in some cases around six minutes.
The four shows are --
Cabaret, from Kander and Ebb, where we get to see Joel Grey perform an enthusiastic "Wilkommen." Most people have seen him do it several times, but this is him while the show was still running on Broadway.
The Apple Tree, by Harnick and Bock, where one of my favorite, unsung and rarely seen Broadway performers Barbara Harris (from Second City) gives a virtuosic performance in his big number, "Oh, to Be a Movie Star." Helping out in the number is co-star Larry Blyden. Interestingly, the third lead, who was nominated for Best Actor in a Musical, doesn't appear in the scene. The fellow's name is Alan Alda.
I Do! I Do! features the two stars -- and only performers in the show -- Mary Martin and Robert Preston, and it doesn't get much better than that. The scene is one of the best that features both performers, a terrific song, "Nobody's Perfect," where the husband and wife decide that the other should improve their annoying habits.
And finally, Walking Happy, a little-known show by reasonable successful thanks to a vibrant star turn by the British comedian Norman Wisdom. You can see here in the title number why he was so popular in the role, as he throws himself into it.
(One thing to keep in mind when you listen to this song. The score was written by Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen, best known for their movie songs and songs for Frank Sinatra, like "All the Way," "My Kind of Town," "Call Me Irresponsible," Come Fly with Me." Sammy Cahn has said that one of his goals in life was to write a song for Fred Astaire, and he came close, but it didn't pan out. Astaire was supposed to star in the movie, "Papa's Delicate Condition," for which Cahn and Van Heusen wrote two songs. But Astaire dropped out, and he was replaced by Jackie Gleason. So much like Fred Astair, yes, I know. One of the songs was "Call Me Irresponsible," which ended up winning the Oscar. The other song got dropped, when Astaire left the movie, but he'd loved it so much that he called it "The best Fred Astaire song ever written." The song was -- "Walking Happy"! See, I knew I'd get around to the point. Well, Cahn and Van Heusen kept the song in their trunk, and here's where it showed up.)
One of the remarkable things about the broadcast is the opening, where we see a montage of Broadway marquees. You have to remind yourself that this isn't a montage of Great Shows Throughout Broadway History, but rather the shows that were playing on Broadway at that very moment!
One last truly miniscule tidbit. In the closing credits, you'll see "production supervisor Jerry Adler." Quite a few years later, when he was past middle age, Jerry Adler decided to pursue acting, and ended up having a very successful career as a character actor, perhaps best known as the building superintendent Mr. Wicker on Mad About You, and then Herman "Hesh" Rabkin on The Sopranos.
But enough of history. Now, it's time to see some history. The first-ever broadcast of the Tony Awards from 1967.