News from the Archive

Leslie Uggams: Breaking Barriers

January 19th, 2017
Leslie Uggams
Whenever one of us is on, "Oh my God, quick turn on the television." With me being on [Sing Along with] Mitch every day, it gave my people a chance to see somebody that looked like them. Because back then there weren’t even commercials that you could see us in.

She was one of the first African-American women to be a regular on a hit music show (the aforementioned Sing Along with Mitch.) She was THE first African-American woman to host her own network variety show. And she was one of the stars of Roots, the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries based on Alex Haley’s book of the same title. She’s Leslie Uggams: actress, singer, host, and pioneer. 

Leslie started her television career early, appearing on Beulah in 1950 as the lead character’s niece. Two years later, in 1952, Leslie began her winning streak on the talent show TV Teen Club, consistently singing her way into the top spot. But weeks of placing first soon ended with sabotage:

Before I was on, there had been another African-American boy tap dancing who had won the contest. So the sponsors decided that they did not want to give a car to another African-American kid. It was me and a trumpet player and the trumpet player won, but I watched from the stage - they had the [applause] meters where they put the hands up and they had tied the clock when it was my turn so the clock couldn’t move.

(Image of applause meter from J. Fred MacDonald's "AV Highlights Leslie Uggams" from Blacks and White TV.)

In 1961, Leslie became a regular on the popular music program Sing Along with Mitch. She stayed with the show for three years, much to the chagrin of certain sponsors and network executives - controversy Leslie was unaware of at the time: 

I didn’t know until years later that the sponsors and the network were trying to get rid of me, because the show wasn’t being shown in the South. They had blacked it out, no pun intended. Naturally, they wanted it to be a nationwide show, so they would come to him [Mitch] every week with a different scenario, "Well, maybe if you put her in her own thing and then we could do like they did with Lena in the movies." They would cut her out in the South, and then mix it. And Mitch said, "No." Then they would come up with, "Well okay, so do the sing along but do you have to touch her?" Because we did some great numbers together. And he said, "We’re a family." They kept saying this and finally he said, “If there’s no me [Leslie], there’s no show.”

In 1969, Leslie hosted a variety series bearing her name, The Leslie Uggams Show. The program lasted only ten episodes. Why just ten? According to Leslie, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour played a role in her show’s short-lived run:

Then in 1977, Leslie starred in the ABC miniseries Roots, delivering a powerful performance as the only daughter of Kunta Kinte. It was love at first script for Leslie Uggams and Kizzy Reynolds: 

In her Archive interview Leslie also tells us about her many stage performances (she sang at the Apollo when she was little and won a Tony Award in 1968 for her role in “Hallelujah, Baby!”), discusses her run as co-host of the game show Fantasy, and talks of her appearances on the hit show Empire. Prepare yourself for an in-depth conversation with a woman who paved the way for those who came after, gave us some of television’s most memorable moments (the Roots wagon scene AND Kizzy and Missy Anne’s late-in-life reunion!), and has one of the most beautiful voices in the business. She can croon like no other, and history's proven that she's done a whole lot more than just sing with that voice.

Watch Leslie Uggams’ full Archive interview.


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Golden Girl Betty White Turns 95!

January 17th, 2017
Betty White

Betty White celebrates her 95th birthday today! She's been in the business for over 70 years, and we can't get enough of her!

Born January 17, 1922 in Oak Park, Illinois, White got her start in television when the medium first emerged onto the American landscape back in 1939, appearing in a closed circuit presentation of "The Merry Widow" in the Los Angeles Packard Building. A natural from the start, she loved the rush of live television, and when regular programming began she was quickly tapped to be Al Jarvis' right-hand woman on 1949's Hollywood on Television, a 5.5 hour/day broadcast for KCLA TV that was largely a televised version of Jarvis' radio program. White and Jarvis ad-libbed for over 30 hours of airtime/week:

In 1951 she starred in the first of what would be three Betty White Shows - this one a short-lived, half hour daytime program. She soon moved on to producing and starring in the 1952 sitcom Life with Elizabeth, and to hosting the second Betty White Show in 1954, a national network show for NBC that aired at noon.

From there, White hosted her first of 20 Rose Parades in 1955. She also spent 10 years hosting the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with Lorne Greene.

In 1955 White began appearing on television game shows, a pastime dear to her heart. A lover of games since childhood, she enjoyed playing What's My Line?, Make the Connection, and many other Goodson/Todman games. As fate would have it, she made quite the connection when she appeared on Password and met future husband Allen Ludden, who hosted the program:

The third Betty White Show came along in 1957, a short-lived sitcom produced by and starring White, and in the 1960's White made over 70 appearances on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar - one of her favorite programs. She then got to showcase her love of animals on The Pet Set, a 1971 show in which she interviewed celebrities and their pets. She appeared on The Carol Burnett Show in the mid-1970s (which led to her later role as "Ellen Harper Jackson" on Mama's Family) and in 1973, got a call from casting director Ethel Winant to play the role of "Sue Ann Nivens," the "neighborhood nymphomaniac" on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. White won two Emmys for the role and reminisced about the show's famous series finale in her 1997 Archive interview:

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was both a critical and popular darling, and yet another hit comedy was in White's future. She was up for the role of "Blanche Devereaux" on a new series called Golden Girls, which would make its debut in 1985. White explains how director Jay Sandrich (who directed many episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show) was instrumental in her winning the role of "Rose Nylund" instead:

White was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1995, and in recent years has continued to bring laughter to millions as an ensemble player in projects for both the big and small screen - stealing scenes from Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, starring in TV Land's Hot in Cleveland, and hosting NBC's Saturday Night Live, to name a few.

Happy birthday, Betty! Here's to many, many more!

Watch Betty White's full Archive interview here.

- by Adrienne Faillace

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Happy Birthday to Mister Rogers' King Friday XIII!

January 13th, 2017
King Friday XIII

A very special someone celebrates a birthday today. The honorable King Friday XIII, ruler of Calendarland in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, is the birthday boy not only today, but every Friday the 13th! King Friday paid us a visit during our 1999 interview with Mr. Rogers and we learned how the King got his name:

Happy birthday, King Friday!!

Watch Fred Rogers' full Archive interview for more in-depth looks at some of your favorite childhood puppets.

- by Adrienne Faillace

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If Hips Could Kill: Elvis' Lower Half is Censored on "The Ed Sullivan Show"

January 6th, 2017

60 years ago today, on January 6, 1957, Elvis Presley's hips were deemed too hot for TV by The Ed Sullivan Show. Elvis had already appeared on the program twice before, in all of his hip-shaking glory, but on his third appearance he was shot only from the waist up. Of course, just by listening to his screaming fans, you can (thankfully) still tell when he gyrates:

John Moffitt was a Production Assistant and later an Assistant Director on The Ed Sullivan Show and recalls Elvis' appearances on the program:

More memorable moments from The Ed Sullivan Show here.

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Remembering Jeffrey Hayden

January 3rd, 2017
Jeffrey Hayden

We’re sad to learn that director Jeffrey Hayden passed away on Saturday, December 24 at the age of 90. He began his career in television in the 1940s as an associate director at ABC and married his wife, actress Eva Marie Saint, in 1951. Hayden directed dozens of television shows from the 1950s through the 1980s, including The Donna Reed Show, The Andy Griffith Show, 77 Sunset Strip, and Peyton Place.

Below are some selections from his 2010 interview:

On working with Walt Disney (and wishing he could have done so more than once):

On "camera directors" vs. "actor directors":

On his proudest career achievements:

Watch Jeffrey Hayden's full Archive interview and read his obituary in The Hollywood Reporter.

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