Happy Ollie Days!!
I posted this in 2021 for the first time, and loved the video so much that I thought it deserves repeating on this anniversary day and being made a bonus posting this year. I've posted a lot of Kukla, Fran & Ollie videos (and will post some more this holiday season), but this is unique for them, and offers an absolutely fascinating (and very funny) look into the early days of television.
A big thanks to fellow Kukla, Fran & Ollie afficionado Nell Minow for passing along this wonderful and offbeat, very early episode from the show than ran 74 years ago today, December 5, 1949.
Kukla, Fran & Ollie went on the air nationally earlier that year – it premiered locally a few months before that -- and TV was in such an very early stage that every time a new station joined the network the show saluted them. But so many new stations had begun joining that the show hadn’t been able to salute them all. So, they decided to do a full pageant in their honor. It wasn’t just to salute the stations, though, but also fill them in about who all the Kuklapolitan characters are and how this television thing works, including the operation of cameras and the commercial possibilities (sponsored as it is by RCA Victor). The whole thing is funny, charming, odd and a fascinating look at the early days of TV. Especially as each of the characters sings a different song about television. (Also, though intended for viewers at the time, it’s also a great way for people today to learn who each of the Kuklapolitans are.)
For all the character introductions, I was sorry that they didn’t have my fave, Cecil Bill on. Though that’s sort of fitting, because he only appeared occasionally, which was much of his charm. Also, a little Cecil Bill goes a long way. That’s because Cecil Bill was sort of nuts and spoke in a “ta toi toi toi” language that only Fran Allison and the Kuklapolitans can understand. However, you do hear Cecil Bill at the 10:20 mark, and they reference him later (at 22:00), acknowledging the challenge some people might have with him.
The songs are a joy. Nell notes particularly loving Beulah Witch’s where she gives the phone number for stations to call if they have a problem with the signal. It all builds to a joyous finale led by Ollie that includes a very funny self-referential joke about puppet shows and Fran being as goofy as I’ve seen her on the show.
What also bears repeating from earlier posts about Kukla, Fran & Ollie is that the show is almost-fully ad-libbed. Burr Tillstrom, its creator (doing all the puppetry and voices), would go through a general run-down with Fran Allison of what was planned and the musical numbers (which of course had to be written…), but that was largely it. (How ad-libbed was it? And one point in a sequence with Beulah Witch, if you listen closely you’ll hear Tillstrom crack himself up before quickly catching himself. And Fran plays right along without skipping a beat – including moments later when Beulah screws up saying “Indianapolis” and Fran again just plays along without skipping a beat) And the show was 30 minutes long – and daily. And also, this wasn’t a daytime show just for the kiddies, but ran at night. (The time and schedule fluctuated over the many years they were on.)
I should note that Ms. Minow’s appreciation of Kukla, Frank & Ollie comes from a well-grounded foundation. The show was done in Chicago, and as I mentioned the other day, her father Newton Minow (later the FCC Chairman under JFK) was Burr Tillstrom’s attorney. Further, when she and her dad were visiting the show’s set one day, a newspaper reporter happened to be there doing a story on it. Seeing a little girl around, the reporter asked Nell what she wanted to be when she grew up. To which she answered, “A Kuklapolitan.” That made it into the article. And the happy news is that it’s my contention that Nell achieved her goal.
As I mentioned earlier, our Holiday Music Fest also includes a few little-seen TV specials from the past. This one tonight wasn't a standalone special per se, but instead was the Christmas special episode for the weekly Julie Andrews Hour, and they went all out to make it stand out. This is from December 20, 1972, and the cast includes Jimmy Stewart, Joel Grey, Mama Cass Elliot, Carl Reiner, Steve Lawrence, Sergio Franchi, Dan Dailey, Alice Ghostley and Rich Little.
(Side note: For those who don't know his name, Dan Dailey had a successful movie career in the 1940s and 1950s, including many musicals, and even got an Oscar nomination as Best Actor for When My Baby Smiles at Me. I saw him on stage at the Blackstone Theater in Chicago as 'Oscar' in a 1966 production of The Odd Couple, which also starred Richard Benjamin as 'Felix,' who so often played nervous, neurotic characters and was memorably picture-perfect for the role. And years later I got to tell him that when I met him and his wife Paula Prentis at a Northwestern alumni party which was held before the football team played in the Rose Bowl in 1995. And yes, he was stunned. And pleased.)
(But I digress.)
The special is very well done. Carl Reiner even has a solo song, and does a nice job on "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." Jimmy Stewart is the main guest, and travels around with Julie Andrews – and just when you think that that's pretty much all he'll get to do, later in the show he actually gets a solo number with "Away in the Manger" -- then sings a bit on two duets, including one with Julie Andrews, which in the singing world is the definition of courageous.
What's also fun is that Alice Ghostley sings one of the little-known Christmas songs I've posted here the past few years from the TV musical The Stingiest Man in Town. For that matter, they also perform yet another little-known song I post here every year -- “A Christmas Carol” from the movie Scrooge. And are a couple of fun short sketches between Jimmy Stewart and Rich Little. The special also includes the original commercials which adds some whimsy.
(Note: for some reason, this may open at the 1:48 mark, but I think I've finally gotten it to begin at the start. If not, though, you can just click on the scroll bar at the bottom of the video to get it all the way back to the beginning.)
I can’t believe for all the years of The Holiday Music Fest posting wonderful, little-known holiday material that I didn't included this. Fortunately, that oversight was finally corrected last year. Growing up, I used to like the comic strip Pogo by Walt Kelly, and every holiday season I would always especially love his inclusion of the characters’ version of “Deck Us All with Boston Charlie” in the strip -- a song that actually got recorded, and the classical music station WFMT would play at Christmastime on their Midnight Special show. But when my pal Mark Evanier posted this video in 2022, it reminded me of it, and after slapping my head and thinking, “How in the world could I have forgotten this??!” I’m so glad to include it here where it rightly belongs, as a wonderful, little-known and adorably lunatic holiday song.
Mark is one of the world’s great experts on Pogo – quite literally, he’s helped edit and put out eight seriously-impressive volumes of the collected Pogo strips. As for the song itself, he noted that “Every year around Christmas in his strip, his lovely characters would debate the correct lyrics to their favorite carol.” This particular video does a wonderful job setting the apparently-correct lyrics (according to one of the characters) set to panels from the strip.
On this week’s Naked Lunch podcast, hosts Phil Rosenthal and David Wild take a slight detour. As they write, “Phil & David reveal their favorite movies ever with you and with each other. Who's still in love with Mary Poppins and hyperventilated when they actually met Julie Andrews? Who secretly dreams of Local Hero -- the ultimate movie about the romance of travel? Who was so profoundly scared of Jaws that he was afraid not just to go to the beach, but also go to the bathroom? How did The Graduate seduce both Phil & David? And who's a bigger believer in Pulp Fiction -- Phil or David? Find out all these answers and more right here --- and get ready for the inevitable sequel coming soon!”
This is fun, offbeat ‘Mystery Guest’ segment of What’s My Line? -- especially if you lived in the era or watch the Game Show Network. The contestants are Bud Collyer, Allen Ludden, Gene Rayburn and Ed McMahon, who were then all hosts of TV game shows produced by the Goodson-Todman company, which also produced What’s My Line? But what makes it all the more fun is that one of the panelists is Mark Goodson.
If you want to jump to the “Mystery Guest” segment, it starts around the 17:15 mark.
This is an absolutely wonderful, even joyous segment from the TV show Penn & Teller: Fool Us, where magicians try to fool Penn & Teller with a trick, and if they do, they get an appearance at a Penn & Teller show. What makes this so special is that the surprise magician is Penn’s daughter, Moxie Jillette. And not only did he have no idea that she’d be performing, but he thought she was in Scotland with her mother, and she’d been fooling him as she prepared for her appearance.
But it’s even better than that because he’s clearly shocked by her being there and being fooled that she’s not in Scotland – and further, it’s so clear how proud he is of her and adores her – and she him. And equally clear how nervous she is – in fact, at one point you can see her hands shaking, which is never a good thing for a magician. And lovely too is how clear it is how close Teller is to the family and to her. And everything all together here is just absolutely wonderful.
Whether she actually fool them, well, of course that’s a separate matter – but secondary to the joy of the piece. But it’s nonetheless important, since it’s the point of the show and handled well by everyone.
I should add that I found another, longer video of this, but it's now private, and I can't embed it. But this below is still the bulk of the appearance and wonderful. (Though the other version was longer, that extra length was mostly before she appeared on stage, and viewers got a bit of background on her efforts to make sure her dad didn't know what she was up to.)
Two things to add -- the first is that a brief passage in this shorter version is edited out after the trick when Penn & Teller go back to their chairs, Moxie is interviewed on stage and mentions that, as part of her preparation to convince her dad that she was not in town, she lied to him about her video camera being broken -- at which point, he looks up from his consultation with Teller and shouts, "Wait, your camera isn't broken?!!" And the second is that, near the end, in order to promote another video, the person posting this superimposed that promotion over the middle of the screen, so you annoyingly miss a lot of the final reaction between father and daughter. But use your imagination and know that you'll likely be right.
But all that aside, this is almost entirely the full appearance. And it's a joy.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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