The experience that turned me into a radio ne’er-do-well happened when I was about 7 years old. Sony Walkmans were the hottest electronics item anyone could have. For my birthday, my grandparents … didn’t get me one. (A real Walkman wouldn’t have been an appropriate gift for a 7 year old anyway.)
Instead, they got me a tiny AM radio disguised as a Walkman, complete with headphones. My grandmother probably got it from Murphy’s Mart or Woolworth for $10 or $15.
I say it was probably from one of those stores, because if I remember correctly, it didn’t even have a brand-name. If it did, it was something like “Randix” or “Yorx.” (Amazon didn’t invent the practice of making up brand names from random combination of letters.)
The first night I had the radio, I tuned around the dial and to my astonishment, picked up CKLW in Windsor, Ontario. A radio that could tune Canada! From Pittsburgh! Then, I picked up KMOX in St. Louis! Another miracle! And WLS in Chicago!
More than you ever cared to think about late-night TV during the era depicted in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
(SPOILER ALERT: Mild spoilers for Season 5 of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”)
On Friday, I wrote about historical anachronisms that bother me in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” including a “mic drop” last season and a Johnny Carson-clone this season called “The Gordon Ford Show.”
An alert reader messaged me on Facebook to say, “‘Mrs. Maisel’ also (used the term) ‘Friend of Dorothy,’ which wasn’t really used until the 1980s, and even if it were used in queer spaces, would (Midge) Maisel know it?”
In fairness, the writers of “Mrs. Maisel” couldn’t have used any of the actual 1960s euphemisms for being gay, because there would have been riots, not Emmy awards.
As a sidenote: I’ve been on a little bit of a kick lately looking up old 1970s episodes of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and the amount of casual homophobia in the monologues is astonishing. Carson frequently used gay and lesbian stereotypes as a punchline, often insinuating that targets of his jokes— including his bandleader “Doc” Severinsen — were gay.
(The Credibility Gap — the comedy troupe led by Richard Beebe, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and the late David L. Lander — did a memorable and scathing parody of “The Tonight Show” called “Where’s Johnny?” that focused on Carson’s frequent use of gay jokes. It’s painful, but funny, and very close to the truth.)
My wife and I enjoying the current — and final — season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” I’m sure we’re not alone. The series, which follows the life of a fictional comedian in the late 1950s and early 1960s, has won more than 20 Emmy awards and at one point (2020) was being watched each week by more than 3 million people, according to a service that researches streaming TV shows.
But there are some things that bug me. Namely, the historical anachronisms.
“Mrs. Maisel” seems to do a good job with costumes, sets and cars. But what jolts me out of an episode are attempts to impose 21st Century attitudes and lingo on the Kennedy-era setting.
(Spoiler alerts for Seasons 4 and 5 ahead. You have been warned.)
I’ve made it no secret that I was a big fan of the late Tom Snyder, long-time talk show host. I enjoyed his radio and TV shows, as well as his early attempts at blogging at his website, Colortini. (The name was a homage to his recommendation, before the first commercial break on The Late, Late Show, to “fire up a colortini and watch the pictures as they fly through the air.”)
I wasn’t any particular fan of Robert Blake, who died this past Thursday. Blake was the star of In Cold Blood and the TV show Baretta, and he was a favorite talk-show guest for many hosts (including Snyder) in the 1970s.
After Blake’s TV career ended, he began a long, sad decline that more or less hit rock bottom in 2001 after his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, was found dead in a parked car shortly after the two had dinner in a nearby restaurant. Blake was charged with the murder and his bodyguard was charged with conspiracy to commit murder.
Although Blake was found not guilty, a civil jury eventually held him liable for Bakley’s death and ordered him to pay $30 million. (The judgment was reduced to “only” $15 million on appeal.) Blake filed for bankruptcy and slipped into obscurity, emerging for an interview in 2012 with Piers Moron … er, Morgan … and another on ABC’s 20/20 in 2019.
Anyway. That’s the background. While spelunking in the Internet Archive today, I ran across this blog post by Tom Snyder, written in 2003—after Blake was charged with Bakley’s murder, but before the trial.
If Snyder hadn’t been a great broadcaster, he would have been a great writer:
I watched the rebooted “Night Court.” I chuckled a few times. I had one actual laugh. Otherwise, I fear it’s destined for the same fate as the “Murphy Brown” reboot and “The New WKRP in Cincinnati.”
I realize this is nitpicking, but I’m not sure I buy the premise — Abby Stone (Melissa Rauch) has been appointed to the seat formerly held by her father, Judge Harry Stone (Harry Anderson in the original “Night Court”). When she finds herself in need of a public defender, she brings back Dan Fielding (John Larroquette), who was an assistant district attorney on the original show.
If you’re going to bring back Fielding, by now he would logically be the judge — and without Harry Anderson, Markie Post, Charles Robinson, Marsha Warfield and Richard Moll, I’m a little “meh” on the idea anyway.
(Trivia question: What two veterans of old-time radio played the woman bailiff on “Night Court” before Marsha Warfield? Hint: Both of them had ties to “Duffy’s Tavern” and both died, sadly, of lung cancer after years of chain-smoking. Answer at the end.)
I suppose the fact that my real name isn’t “Jay Thurber” isn’t a surprise to a lot of folks. I picked the DJ name more than 20 years ago as a tribute to my favorite writer and cartoonist, and it just kind of “stuck.” But I use my real name everywhere else (including the talk show I produce for WEDO and WZUM), and on the cartoons I draw each month for CQ Amateur Radio Magazine.
I’ve been drawing ever since I could hold a crayon, and took some summer art classes in high school, but I’m more or less untrained, and it sometimes shows. I didn’t learn how to use a lightbox until very recently, and I stuck to an old-fashioned metal pin and inkwell for much too long. I still haven’t learned to use a digital tablet and stylus.
I did editorial cartoons for the college paper, as well as a weekly comic strip, but after graduation, I more or less went back into the art closet, so to speak, for about 10 years, rarely drawing anything. (For a short time in the 2000s, I was freelancing editorial cartoons for a small chain of weekly papers in New England, but the editor who was buying them had … shall we say … a difference of opinion with the owners, so that ended that.)
Every so often, something from the early days of television pops up on YouTube and I’m gobsmacked, wondering: Where did someone find this? This video clip qualifies as one of those. What we have here, from Dec. 31, 1965, is the first 30 minutes of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”
This is rare for two reasons: First, although Carson hosted “The Tonight Show” from 1962 to 1972, very few video recordings exist.
Second, this clip also includes the seldom-seen first 15 minutes of “Tonight,” which happened before 11:30 p.m. and was hosted by Carson’s long-time sidekick, Ed McMahon, and one-time “Tonight Show” bandleader Skitch Henderson.