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CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Ernest Borgnine’s Early Years

January 20, 2022 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.
Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on ATVN with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

As we approach the birth date anniversary of one of television and films great actors, we salute the talented career of Ernest Borgnine.

Born Ermes Effron Borgnino, Ernest on January 24th, 1917 in Harriden, Connecticut to the son of immigrant parents. When he was two years old, his parents divorced and Ernest went to live with his mother in Italy.
Four years later his parents reconciled and he grew up in Hartford, Connecticut. According to the book Real To Reel: 25 Years Of Celebrity Interviews, Borgnine (it was his father that changed the family name when the couple reunited) showed only interest in sports and had no thought whatsoever about working in the entertainment industry. Upon graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Navy. While he was honorably discharged in 1941, he quickly reenlisted when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

He was honorably discharged again after the conclusion of World War II and received a hero’s welcome when he returned home to his parents house in Connecticut. But after a few weeks his mother was strongly suggesting he move on with his life. He applied for a job as a factory worker but his heart wasn’t into his work and his mother suggested he try something more “glamorous.”

According to an interview with the British Film Institute conducted on October 7th, 2007, Borgnine outlines the path that led him to a successful career in acting and his mother’s role in making that happen: “She said, ‘You always like getting in front of people and making a fool of yourself, why don’t you give it a try?’ I was sitting at the kitchen table and I saw this light. No kidding. It sounds crazy. And 10 years later, I had Grace Kelly handing me an Academy Award.”

Just some of his early career highlights between his kitchen table and Grace Kelly, include the following….
He went to actors in Connecticut and then in Virginia, early small roles in State of the Union and The Glass Menagerie before playing the role of the Nurse in the Broadway runaway hit, Harvey. After one TV appearance in Captain Video and a handful of small films, Borgnine landed a major role in the film classic, From Here To Eternity.

In 1955, the actor starred as a warmhearted butcher in Marty, the film version of the television play of the same title. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor over fellow nominees Frank Sinatra, James Dean (who had died by the time of the ceremony), and former Best Actor winners Spencer Tracy and James Cagney.
For the same role, he also captured the following awards: BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor, Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a drama motion picture, New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor and the National Board of Review Award for Best Actor.

But his stellar career and success on the stage, in television and in films was just getting started. We’ll continue our look at Borgnine’s career, next week here at The Showplace. In the meantime, you can see Ernest Borgnine in films like Laser Mission and other classic performances on ATVN.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on ATVN, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Astound Broadband or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

Betty White

January 12, 2022 By Artie Freeman Leave a Comment

The world recently lost one of the greatest entertainers in our history. ATVN’s own Artie Freeman was not only one of Betty White’s biggest fans but knew more about this legendary entertainer than any other person I know. Artie wanted to share his insights and opinions on this eight-decade star, in memoriam to her, with this week’s edition of The Showplace blog!

January 17th is a special day, as one hundred years ago the “First Lady of Television”, Betty White was born. Sadly, she passed away just seventeen days before her 100th birthday. Betty White was a fascinating pioneer whose career has spanned over ninety years; she remained relevant for as long as anyone can remember. Betty worked in the television industry longer than anyone else in history, earning her a Guinness World Record in 2018. In 1930, when she was only eight years old, she appeared on a radio show entitled Empire Builders. In 1949, she co-hosted variety show Hollywood on Television, first with Al Jarvis and then Eddie Albert. In 1951, she was nominated for her first Emmy Award as “Best Actress” on television. Neither man stayed onboard for the show’s duration. In 1952 she began hosting the show alone, making her the first female television talk show host.
That same year White co-founded Bandy Productions with George Tibbles and Don Fedderson. They created new shows using existing characters from sketches shown on Hollywood on Television. They also created the television sitcom, Life with Elizabeth, starring Betty, for which she won her first Emmy Award in 1952. Life with Elizabeth is an important show in television history because it’s the first sitcom to be produced by a woman.
In 1954, Betty hosted and produced her own daily talk/variety show, The Betty White Show. As was the case with her sitcom, she had creative control which allowed her to hire a female director. The show faced criticism from southern stations for the inclusion of Arthur Duncan, a black tap dancer, who was hired as a regular cast member. The stations threatened to boycott unless Duncan was removed from the series. Betty’s response was, “He stays; live with it”. Not only did she keep Duncan, she gave him more airtime. NBC repeatedly changed the show’s time slot which led to the show being cancelled after one season.
Following the end of Life with Elizabeth, she starred as Vicki Angel on the sitcom Date with the Angels from 1957 to 1958. Betty met Lucille Ball while working on this show, which was filmed on the same studio lot where “I Love Lucy” was filmed. The two became friends based on their successful commonalities in a male-dominated industry.
From the mid 1950s to early 1980s Betty was a constant presence on network game shows and talk shows. These shows included: The Tonight Show, all four versions of Password, What’s My Line?, I’ve Got a Secret, Match Game, To Tell the Truth, and Pyramid. She married Password’s host, Allen Ludden, in 1963. Betty made so many game show appearances she was the nicknamed “First Lady of Game Shows“. Let’s flash forward for a moment to 1983, Betty became the first woman to receive the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game Show Host for the show, Just Men! With her extensive game show experience, it seemed natural for her to become a host.
In 1973, Betty joined the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and won her second and third Emmy Awards back-to-back. The year 2021 was a melancholy year for this show. We lost Cloris Leachman, Gavin MacLeod, Ed Asner, and Betty White, who was the last surviving cast member, even though she was the oldest.
From 1983 to 1984, Betty had a recurring role on the series Mama’s Family, with future Golden Girls co-star Rue McClanahan. In 1985, Betty starred as Rose Nylund, the funniest “dumb blonde” of all time in The Golden Girls. She won another Emmy Award for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series in the first season of the show and was nominated in that category every year of the show’s run. Betty White was the oldest, and last surviving, cast member.
After Playing Rose Nylund, Betty spent the next ten years making guest appearances on television shows. In 2010, White starred as Elka Ostrovsky in the comedy, Hot in Cleveland, she was originally only meant to be in the pilot but was asked to stay on for the entire series. She also launched her own clothing line in 2010, that featured shirts with her face on them. All of the proceeds went to various animal charities she supported.
Betty was the only woman to receive an Emmy Award in all performing comedic categories and she holds the record for longest span between Emmy nominations for performances. She received her first nomination in 1951 and her last was in 2014. In 2015, she received the Lifetime Achievement Daytime Emmy which if fitting, because her entire life was filled with incredible achievements.
In the near future, we will have a Betty White Night hosted by me, celebrating her life and airing a few episodes from two of her sitcoms, Life with Elizabeth and Date with the Angels.

You can see Betty White in featured and guest starring roles on ATVN, including her first ever show, Life With Elizabeth. To view the complete rundown of classic programming on ATVN, check out the weekly listings here on our website.
Be on the lookout for more contributions and insights from Artie Freeman in future blog posts. Artie provides great introductions to many of the classic movies airing weekly on ATVN and also hosts our “Take 5” interviews featuring unique people in our viewing area.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Astound Broadband or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Winter ‘22 Trivia Edition

January 5, 2022 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows, key names in the “Golden Age” of entertainment history and legendary cinematic performances.

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I hope all our readers had a wonderful holiday season and everyone has been enjoying reading background insights and little known information about our classic programs while watching them on RCN TV.

Now it’s time to test your knowledge by taking our Classic Video Showplace “winter 2022” edition of our quiz.

See how you do answering the following questions and then check out the answers listed below.

Have fun!

1. Which classic character actor from Wizard of Oz, also scored a hit in the 1946 film People Are Funny?

2. Who is credited with the first successful comedy television show in the medium’s history?

3. Which early television dramatic program frequently featured storylines taken directly from classic literary giants like Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, Edgar Allen Poe and others?

4. Name the actor who portrayed Dracula who also starred in classic films like Ghosts on the Loose, The Veiled Woman and White Zombie.

5. Which Gale Storm-led TV show excelled in the ratings on TWO networks during the program’s initial run?

6. Name the actor who starred in original versions of Moulin Rouge and Cyrano de Burgerac.

7. Which Bonanza star also had a hit movie and a Top 10 single on the charts during the classic television’s shows run?

8. What was the original name of The Mickey Rooney Show?

9. Which star of classic Charlie Chaplin films like Modern Times and The Great Dictator was also lauded by critics for her performance in the film, Second Chorus?

10. Name one of the earliest successful television shows on ABC that gained a wide audience because of its realistic science fiction elements, unique marketing approach, extensive (for its time) production elements and was one of the first dramas to break television’s “fourth wall.”

Answers:

1. Jack Haley / “The Tin Man”
2. Milton Berle
3. Suspense
4. Bela Lugosi
5. My Little Margie
6. Jose Ferrar
7. Michael Landon
8. Hey Mulligan
9. Paulette Goddard
10. Space Patrol

You can see many of the above mentioned classic films and television shows during this winter’s programming lineup on RCN-TV. To see the full listing of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings on our website.

Don’t forget to keep checking back to the Showplace for more classic trivia and little-known bits of information about some of the greatest shows and movies of all time.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Danny Kaye

December 15, 2021 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

It’s hard to get through the Christmas holiday season without seeing the annual classic White Christmas or humming a few bars from one of the unforgettable Irving Berlin penned songs from that film.

A large part of that movie’s success came from the outstanding song and dance talents of Danny Kaye, whose career spanned 54 years working in film, television, radio, theater, voice acting work and as a humanitarian.

David Daniel Kaminsky was born in Brooklyn, New York, on January 18, 1911 (though he would later claim to be born in 1913).

According to Jack Benny’s autobiography “Sunday Nights at 7,” Benny saw Kaye performing stand-up in a small club in New York City and instantly found a kinship with him, citing the need to “help out a fellow Jew” in the entertainment business.

Benny ended up being a mentor for Kaye, helping him further his career in movies, paving the way for Danny to star in 17 films overall. Among his best include The Kid From Brooklyn, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Inspector General and Hans Christian Anderson.

Kaye’s movie success lent him to have his own successful radio program for two years in the mid-1940s, which did affect the performer’s ego.

Famed Hollywood biographer Arthur Marx (son of “Groucho”), retells a story in which Kaye gave his writers a tongue-lashing after a first-read of their script for his show, complaining that they gave all the best laughs to his guest stars and had too few funny lines for him.

Marx reports that Kaye ended his rant by sarcasting asking his writers if they thought he should become the highest paid straight man in the entertainment industry. After an extended, awkward silence fell over the room, one of his writers spoke up and quipped, “no, you’ll never be Jack Benny.”

One of Kaye’s biggest objectives in the early 1950s was to co-star with legendary actor/crooner Bing Crosby.

Kaye finally got his chance with White Christmas when Fred Astaire bowed out of the production. Astaire, who had previously retired but was considering a comeback before the film went into full production, said he couldn’t recreate his role as Crosby’s partner from Holiday Inn. He also said the scheduled dance routines were now too far beyond his abilities and would be able to star in the film. Then Donald O’Connor was cast but also had to drop out to do illness, opening up the door for Kaye to step in.

Although both the film and Kaye’s performances as both a singer and dancer were lauded, co-star Rosemary Clooney indicated that Kaye was overall saddened by one aspect of the holiday classic. On the film’s DVD in-movie commentaries, Clooney states that Kaye was extremely disappointed that he couldn’t strike up a long-standing friendship with Crosby and the two never worked together again.

Despite that personal setback, Kaye would continue to have great success in television, winning Emmy and Peabody awards for his own TV show in the mid-1960s and had a number of stellar performances on the silver screen until 1969.

He continued making guest appearances on television specials throughout the 1970s in addition to having success as a pilot, a chef and in several business ventures. He also endeared himself to a new generation by providing the voices for three different characters in the holiday cartoon, Peter Cottontail.

Kaye gave numerous performances for soldiers overseas during war time in the 1940s and 1950s and was very giving of his time through charitable efforts over the last three decades of his life. He was the first ambassador-at-large of UNICEF in 1954 and years later received the French Legion of Honour for his years of work with the organization.

Kaye still showed great comedic timing in his final acting performance when he made a guest appearance on the nation’s number-one television show at that time, The Cosby Show, in 1986.

Kaye died less than a year later after complications from hepatitis C. He was 76.

Before you watch White Christmas this holiday season, be on the lookout for Kaye’s starring role in the 1949 film, The Inspector General, along with his guest starring roles on classic television shows on RCN-TV. To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN-TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN-TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Sheldon Leonard

December 2, 2021 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

“That’s it! Out you two pixies go… through the door, or out the window!”

“Get me. I’m givin’ out wings!”
–Nick the Bartender

Those are just two of the memorable lines from the great holiday traditional film you will no doubt see on your television listings this time of year, It’s A Wonderful Life.

While the owner of those lines, “Nick,” played a small part in that movie, the actor who played him, Sheldon Leonard, played a major role in shaping classic television comedies while also acting in and producing other great shows and movies from Hollywood’s Golden Era.

Born Sheldon Leonard Bershad on February 22nd, 1907 in Manhattan, New York, he quickly learned to utilize his heavy New York accent to play “gangster-type” bad guys or hard-nosed police detectives in various films throughout the 1940s. Successful movies featuring Leonard this decade included Guys and Dolls, The Gangster, Open Secret, Somewhere In The Night and Take One False Step.

Leonard parodied his own characterization on both radio and television versions of The Jack Benny Program, playing “the Tout.” He would open his appearances by asking Benny to “come here” to get him away from the rest of his cast and proceed to give him inside information–first on horse betting–with seemingly contradicting insights that always drew laughs. His later sketches had him “informing” the comedian of tips increasing outlandish inside information, like telling him what types of eggs he should order for breakfast.

His success with this character set the stage for Leonard to star as a “nice guy” in the popular radio show, The Damon Runyan Theatre. He also played against type in the 1950 movie adaption of The Iroquois Trail.

But Leonard would carve out a brand new career by creating some of the most successful television shows in the 1950 and 1960s.

As producer of The Danny Thomas Show / Make Room For Daddy, he created the role of Sheriff Andy Taylor and cast Andy Griffin in that role, in which Thomas is arrested for speeding while driving through the small town of Mayberry.

The episode was so successful that it spawned one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time with Griffith in the lead in The Andy Griffith Show The show also sparked the often-used idea of using a successful TV show to create a “backdoor pilot” for another –a technique used again by Leonard three years leader by sending Jim Nabors’ Gomer Pyle character off to join the Marines, which later became Gomer Pyle, USMC.

Among the other successful Leonard-produced (or “executive produced”) shows include The Dick Van Dyke Show, Lassie and the action-adventure series I, Spy.

Leonard, along with star Robert Culp, had difficulty in convincing network executives in having a mixed-raced co-star pairing, with both Leonard and Culp insisting on Bill Cosby for the show. The role of the tennis player was actually originally written for an older, caucasian character, but Leonard caught Cosby’s stand-up act. He then insisted on rewriting the role and wanted Cosby to play the part, despite extreme dissenting opinions by executives. (Cosby later paid tribute to his former boss at his passing by dedicating an episode of his “Cosby” TV show to his memory.)

Leonard’s name actually preceded the show’s main title for that series. He also played a gangster-villain role in two I, Spy episodes and poked fun at his own acting persona in a third episode in which he portrayed himself. In addition, he directed one episode and served as occasional second-unit director throughout the series.

Although he never reached the same level of success with any future acting or producing programs again after 1970, Leonard’s legacy was frequently tributed by more contemporary show creators who admired his work. One of the most recent examples was The Big Bang Theory, whose creators named their two lead characters, “Sheldon” and “Leonard.”

You can see Sheldon Leonard’s recurring appearances on The Jack Benny Program seen on RCN TV as well as his various guest starring roles and behind the scenes efforts on other classic programs and films.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “Mr. Television” (Part 2)

November 18, 2021 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.
Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

Last week here at the Showplace we took a look at the early career of Milton Berle. Today we look at the “second act” of this legendary entertainer’s career.

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Despite success on the silver screen, nightclubs, live performances and popular guest stints on radio, Milton Berle languished for nearly 20 years in mediocrity with inconsistent gigs as a regular radio show host (none of his own shows lasted more than 14 months). While struggling on an audio-only medium, Berle believed that the invention of television would be the perfect place for his “physical comedy heavy” brand of humor.
He was right!
Milton became the first megastar of the medium (predating Lucille Ball’s I Love Lucy by three years) and was one of the most successful TV programs–comedy or otherwise–from 1948 to 1952.
Berle and his show each won two Emmy Awards after the first season (he added two more Emmys in 1950) and NBC signed him to a whopping 30-year, one million dollars per year contract! Television set sales more than doubled after Texaco Star Theatre’s debut, reaching two million in 1949. Berle’s stature as the medium’s first superstar earned him the nickname “Mr. Television.”
He also earned another nickname, “Uncle Miltie,” after ending a 1949 broadcast with a brief ad-libbed remark to children watching the show: “Listen to your Uncle Miltie and go to bed.”
Despite his popularity, NBC made a tragic and extremely costly mistake early during the show’s run. Berle asked the network to film the live show (which would have allowed many of his episodes to be saved in a high video quality and therefore available for full syndication), but NBC declined. This resulted in most of his show’s episodes being lost or saved only on poorer-quality kinescopes.
By 1953 his ratings started to decline and his sponsor, “Texaco” pulled out. Buick quickly became the program’s sponsor before they too dropped out. The show’s ratings continued to slide for two years, leading to the its cancellation.
According to the Encyclopedia of Television, “Berle’s persona had shifted from the impetuous and aggressive style of the Texaco Star Theater days to a more cultivated, but less distinctive personality, leaving many fans somehow unsatisfied.”
Berle followed that program with four failed attempts at his own television shows with none lasting more than a year, much to the dismay of NBC, who was obligated to keep paying him until 1980. In 1966, he opted out of the contract to try his own variety show again on ABC, but that too didn’t last a year. The most sustained success he had as a regular TV host for the rest of his career was as the emcee of bowling shows in which he would throw in jokes in between interviews with the sports’ competitors.
However, he still remained extremely popular in movies, television guest spots and performing in person in Las Vegas, Hollywood and around the world for the next five decades.
He starred in five made-for-television movies and 14 television specials and was featured in additional 14 movies between 1960 and 1995.
Berle was named to the Guinness Book of World Records for the greatest number of charity performances made by a show-business performer. Unlike the high-profile shows done by Bob Hope to entertain the troops, Berle did more shows, over a period of 50 years, on a lower-profile basis. Berle received an award for entertaining at stateside military bases in World War I as a child performer, in addition to traveling to foreign bases during World War II and the Vietnam War. The first charity telethon (for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation) was hosted by Berle. A permanent fixture at charity benefits in the Hollywood area, he was instrumental in raising millions for charitable causes.
In April 2001, Berle was diagnosed with colon cancer but was advised by his doctors not to undergo surgery as they estimated the growth was not serious nor would negatively affect his health for another 10-12 years.
Eleven months later, Berle died from that same cancer. He was 93.

Be on the lookout for “Uncle MIltie’s” unusual brand of comedy on the surviving episodes of his own television show that airs Sunday afternoons at 2pm. You can also spot his many guest appearances on other programs you can see on RCN-TV.
To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “Mr. Television”

November 11, 2021 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

In an earlier “Showplace” blog entry, we focused on the success of the Milton Berle Television Show.
Today we focus on the man, the myth and the legend.
Milton Berle‘s career is one of the longest and most varied in show business, spanning silent film, vaudeville, radio, motion pictures, and television.
Mendel Berlinger was born on July 12, 1908 in Harlem, New York.
Berle entered show business in 1913 at the age of five when he won a children’s Charlie Chaplin contest. He also worked as a child model and was the first “Buster Brown” for “Buster Brown” shoes and as a child actor in many silent films. According to his own autobiography, his first pictures were in The Perils of Pauline, The Mask of Zorro (starring Douglas Fairbacks, Sr.) and Tillie’s Punctured Romance (starring Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand), although there is no formal record of him actually being a part of those pictures.
At the age of 16 he changed his name to Milton Berle (when he became famous, his mother, who was frequently in the audience and would help “inspire” the audience with her laughter, also changed her last name to “Berle.”)
Through the 1920s, Berle moved up through the vaudeville circuit, finding his niche in the role of a brash comic known for stealing the material of fellow comedians. He also became a popular master of ceremonies in vaudeville, achieving top billing in the largest cities and theaters. During the 1930s, Berle appeared in a variety of Hollywood films and stage musicals, wrote and performed comedic records and further polished his comedy routines in night clubs.
In radio, he never had the success that he would later achieve in television. His longest running gig was as a regular joke teller on The Rudy Vallee Show from 1934 to 1936. He attempted a number of different programs with himself in the lead–all with different formats and utilizing various different types of comedy, but none was renewed after its initial seasons.
In 1940, in an attempt to gain more popularity on radio, he cancelled all his personal appearances and scheduled entertainment shows in order to spend more time working on his radio program. While his last attempt as his own radio show did prove to be extremely successful in building the skills necessary to sustain a physical audience, The Milton Berle Show on radio never caught on with audiences and was cancelled after just a little over a year on the air.
The lack of radio success and the decline of movie offers left Berle questioning if his career and popularity as an entertainer was burning out in 1947.
But in reality, it was just getting started.
Join us next week to find out what historic event took place in 1948 and took Berle to heights he had never seen before courtesy of a brand new medium…one that would be linked to Berle for the rest of his life.
In the meantime, check out The Milton Berle Show every Sunday afternoon this fall at 2pm on RCN-TV.
To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Bela Lugosi’s Later Years

November 4, 2021 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

Last time here at “The Showplace,” we took a look at the early career of Bela Lugosi. This week, we continue our look at the horror cinema legend.
While most people in 1929 were suffering from the initial hit of the Great Depression, actor Bela Lugosi was lobbying hard for what he believed was the role of a lifetime…HIS lifetime.
Lugosi was a natural playing Dracula on stage…his voice, delivery, mannerisms…even his face looked eerily similar to Bram Stoker’s undead creature (when he previously performed the role on the silver screen, they barely needed any makeup to enhance his features.)
Dracula was a commercial and critical success upon release, and led to several sequels and spin-offs. It has had a notable influence on popular culture, and Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula established the character as a cultural icon, as well as the archetypal vampire in later works of fiction. The film has since been selected by the United States Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” With most copies of the silent Dracula classic Nosferatu destroyed because of a contract dispute, Lugosi’s film became the definitive image for this (and subsequent) generation(s).
Bela, however, was not so thrilled.
Upon its release, Lugosi realized that he was becoming increasingly typecast as Dracula and was finding it near impossible to secure any other roles due to the popularity of his alter ego. Many reports claimed that he swore he would never again don the cape and play the role. He also tried to lobby film executives to hire him as something other than villains but after finding himself out of work and drowning in debt, he reluctantly agreed to take on antagonistic roles in popular sequels like Son of Frankenstein and as Dracula in parodies like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
However, the side effects of his popularity caused irreparable damage to his career. Lugosi would have very few job offers other than those associated with evil villains, monsters or, during World War II, Nazis. His better films during the 1930s included The Black Cat, The Raven, Son of Frankenstein and Black Friday.
Furthermore, Lugosi was under contract with Universal Studios, who would frequently pair him with fellow horror legend Boris Karloff. Karloff always demanded top billing and got more money than Lugosi throughout their pairing, even in films where Bela was the main star and Karloff had little more than a few lines.
Two more things worked against the Hungarian actor.
In 1936, England placed a ban on horror movies and refused to show any films resembling anything from that genre.
Also, the increasing pain that Lugosi was experiencing from injuries suffered in World War I led to an increasing dependence on morphine. As word spread among Hollywood producers of Lugosi’s drug use, his job opportunities became virtually nonexistent and he found himself once again out of work and destitute.
He made one final attempt at a film career years later in 1955 by approaching Bel-Air Pictures in cooperation with the “actor friendly” film distributor, United Artists. He did receive a role in the financially successful film, The Black Sheep, which included fellow horror film legend Lon Chaney Jr., along with major motion picture stars Basil Rathbone and John Carradine. However, Lugosi’s character in the movie did not have any lines and his appearance was largely overshadowed.
Bela Lugosi died of a heart attack in 1956. He was 73.
To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Bela Lugosi’s Early Years

October 21, 2021 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.
Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

We are counting down to RCN-TV’s Halloween Marathon here at The Showplace. 
It’s hard to have a comprehensive look at Halloween-themed movie classics without a discussion on the intriguing career of one Bela Lugosi.
Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó was born on October 20, 1882 in Lugos, Austria-Hungary. He dropped out of school at the age of 12, and at 18 began his acting career. Like the fictional Vito Corleone, Bela used his hometown in formulating his stage name.
Bela spent the next 20 years performing in foreign silent films and stage productions in various countries. He also fought in World War I and suffered injuries that would later come back to impact his acting career.
Lugosi arrived in America in October 1920 and worked odd jobs before forming a stock company comprised of fellow immigrants performing in various Eastern United States cities.
His first American film role was that of a villain in the silent movie, The Silent Command. Other film opportunities–all from New York City film companies–followed with Lugosi almost always cast in an antagonist or villainous role.
Bela was first approached about his signature role as Dracula for a Broadway production in the summer of 1927. The play was a hit and ran for 261 productions over a two-year span. The success earned Lugosi two starring movie jobs (Prisoners, The Veiled Woman). His two films were also successful, causing Lugosi to stay in Hollywood, but he failed to find any additional work in films.
He returned to his role as Dracula on the stage to continued critical acclaim. Despite this, when Universal Studios decided to produce the film version of Dracula, Lugosi was not initially cast in the titular role.
Throughout 1929 Bela continued to lobby for the part, constantly contacting Universal’s executives asking for the part. Dracula producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. also was not interested in Lugosi, in spite of the good reviews for his stage portrayal. Laemmle instead considered other actors, including Paul Muni, Chester Morris, Ian Keith, John Wray, Joseph Schildkraut, Arthur Edmund Carewe, and William Courtenay.
Lugosi happened to be in Los Angeles with a touring company of the play when the film was being cast.
Against the mounting swell of studio opinion, Lugosi ultimately won the executives over. One of the deciding factors was him accepting a paltry $500 per week salary for seven weeks of work, amounting to $3,500 for the entire production. (By comparison, supporting actress Helen Chandler was paid $750 per week and had less than half the amount of lines as the titular character had).
Bela had now captured the starring cinematic role he had long coveted. The film, along with Lugosi’s starring performance, were both major successes, but the Hungarian born actor would so begin to regret these turn of events.
We’ll have more on Lugosi’s life and career coming up next week here at “The Showplace.”
In the meantime, be on the lookout for Bela Lugosi in various horror flicks on RCN-TV like White Zombie, Ghosts on the Loose and other classics often seen this time of year. To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Suspense

October 12, 2021 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

“Be prepared for an episode that will keep you in…suspense!”

This was the opening line to one of the greatest radio dramas of all-time, along with one of the earliest successful shows on television.

The radio version of Suspense was a perennial ratings favorite for nearly 20 years. In fact, it was one of the very last original programs to survive well beyond radio’s “Golden Age” until it was finally cancelled in 1962.

The television version of the program launched in 1949 incorporating many similarly written episodes from radio, which “borrowed” ideas from literary greats Edgar Allen Poe, Agatha Christie, Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens and others.

As the name suggests, the program would always present many twists and turns, building tension throughout each episode to a thrilling and dramatic climax. While not always straying into the bizarre world of a show like The Twilight Zone, each episode’s spine-tingling finales were surprisingly fresh throughout the show’s entire run.

Each show featured different guest stars, who always seemed to get caught up in a web of mystery and did a great job of quickly allowing its audience to identify with them to bring viewers into the potential dangers.

Adding to the excitement of these programs was that the shows were originally broadcast live–meaning no retakes and anything could happen!

Another reason to revisit this early TV classic? You’d be surprised how many future television “regulars” and cinematic stars made early career appearances on this television program. In fact, it’s hard to go more than one or two episodes without seeing a recognizable face. Among them include:

Cloris Leachman (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Phyllis, Young Frankenstein)
Lloyd Bridges (High Noon, Airplane, Hot Shots)
Bela Lugosi (Dracula, The Raven)
Boris Karloff (Frankenstein, How The Grinch Stole Christmas)
Conrad Janis (Mork and Mindy, The Buddy Holly Story, The Cable Guy)
Brian Keith (Family Affair, The Parent Trap)
Robert Emhardt (The Andy Griffith Show)
Royal Dano (Twin Peaks, Bonanza, Gunsmoke)
Richard H. Harris (Peyton Place, Valley of the Dolls)
Academy Award Winning Eileen Heckart (The First Wives Club, Lou Grant)

…and others.

For most seasons, the program was run under the watchful eyes of Richard Mulligan. Mulligan would later win an Emmy for directing The Moon and the Sixpence, in which Lawrence Olivier made his TV debut. Later, he would go on to direct film classics To Kill A Mockingbird, Fear Strikes Out and The Others as well as 1991’s The Man In The Moon, which launched the career of Reese Witherspoon.

Tune in for Suspense, every Wednesday at 12 noon and Fridays at 1 pm on RCN-TV. You may also want to DVR episodes and binge-watch your favorites leading up to RCN’s annual Halloween Marathon (check back to our website soon for more details on this great annual tradition!)

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

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