News from the Archive

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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Producer's Pointers: How to Turn Your Holiday into Family History 101

December 19th, 2016
Great-Grandpa John and Great-Grandma Livia

The holidays are often occasions when families gather together to share a meal, to catch up, and at times, to argue. Instead of the latter, if you are lucky enough to be surrounded by family members, consider taking advantage of having them all together by starting a conversation about your family's history. Ask your relatives about their most vivid childhood memories. Ask them what they know about your family's roots. Ask about birthdays, marriages, and family traditions. Start to gather the pieces of your family's past as you pass the potatoes (or your favorite dish on your family's table), and be grateful that you have loved ones around to share their stories with you. And I highly suggest recording these interviews with your relatives. Imagine watching a video now of your holidays from 1996, when you learned that Great-Grandma Livia (pictured with Great-Grandpa John in 1959) was a matchmaker: at an opportune moment back in 1949, she arranged for a boy with a crush (Uncle Pete) to return a borrowed silver platter to the girl on whom he was crushing (Aunt Jennie), and it resulted in a 66-year marriage. What stories could you have captured twenty years ago that may now be lost to history? Who was around then that isn't around today? Holidays are natural opportunities to get to know your family members, so seize the chance to interview them and preserve their treasured tales. 


If You Merely Have Minutes:

If you have only a few minutes to ask your relatives questions while you're eating dinner, your interviews are likely going to be fairly informal. That's great - these are your interviews - they can be as long or short, as formal or informal as you like. You may already have a sense of what you’d like to ask your family members, but if you’re looking for some resources to help you put together your questions, here are a few:

If You Happily Have Hours:

If your family members are willing, see if you can do long-form, in-depth video interviews with them. If you’re familiar with our Archive of American Television interviews, you know that we follow a life history format, which is a great way to explore someone’s story. We start with questions about the interviewee’s early years and influences: name at birth, when and where s/he was born, parents’ names and occupations, early interests, hobbies, family and school life, etc. If you’re interviewing a family member, there are lots of opportunities to learn interesting tidbits here! I learned that my dad didn’t have a middle name at birth. I always assumed his full name was on his birth certificate, but his middle name came along when he was seven. The things you learn when you actually ask questions.

For Archive interviews, we then move into how the interviewee got started in his/her career. We talk about early jobs, learning a trade, co-workers, and memorable moments. We have a craft section, and at the conclusion of the interview we talk about lessons learned and advice for future generations. It’s a nice model for hitting on different events and emotions in someone’s life.

When I interviewed my own parents, I started by asking the first set of questions about my great-grandparents, the earliest generation that my parents knew personally (and the generation that emigrated to the United States). “What was your grandfather’s name at birth? When and where was he born?” My goal was to get as much information about the generations that came before as possible. (Full disclosure: my interviews with my parents were quite long, 4-7 hours each. But if your scope is not multi-generational, just scale back your questions accordingly.) 

I got rich answers from my parents' interviews that told me stories I had never heard before. My mother’s Grandpa Louis loved Chiclets and sunflower seeds. My father’s Grandpa John fought constantly with his own father, and never spoke to him again after leaving Italy. My Grandpop Moishe was a volunteer air raid warden during World War II. Those people whom you’ve heard of in passing, or whose name you knew only from a label penciled onto the back of a crimped photograph, come alive when you know their likes and dislikes, their grudges, their passions. I love that these people from my past are now part of my present.

Here are some examples of various types of family oral histories:

  • Talk to MeThe Huffington Post’s series in which children interview parents. Here's their How-To Guide for making your own "Talk to Me" video.
  • Family Film School: Our friends at The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences have a series in which families with multiple generations in the business sit down for a chat.
  • StoryCorps: Audio interviews between generations (some between colleagues, friends, peers, too.)


If you're at a relative's house for the holidays, ask to see family photos. Maybe you'll discover albums full of old black and white photographs. Maybe you'll get to see '60's slides in a Kodak Carousel and your grandparents' vacation to Las Vegas will spring to life. Maybe you'll get a peek at 8mm films of your father's 16th birthday. (Those are priceless. And my dad was HANDSOME.) Ask your relatives if they have family members' diaries or letters (correspondence during war years, love letters, letters between pen pals), birth/death/marriage/naturalization records, newspaper clippings, photos, home videos (many of mine contain headless bodies if Grandpop Phil was the videographer), etc. These are the primary source materials of a family historian's dreams - the eyewitness accounts/documents created from the time your ancestors were alive. I was a history major in college, so I'm trained to look for primary sources when conducting research and I LOVE when I actually find them. You will, too.

Here at the Archive, when doing research for an interview, I look to primary sources as much as possible. I watch the actual television show/episode I’m going to talk about in the interview. This gets tricky with some early material (thank you Paley Center for Media), but I like to go to the original source if I can. I read autobiographies and watch other interviews that the interviewee has given during different points in his/her life. I’ll look at secondary materials, too - I read period newspaper and magazine articles, and sometimes the obituaries of the interviewee’s parents (to learn more about the people who shaped the interviewee’s life). I read critiques of shows, television history books, etc., and then I make a packet full of all the materials that I’ve gathered, usually 50-150 pages or so: a chronological guide to the person’s life. It’s my bible for the interview.

We spend weeks researching the life of the interviewee and creating an interview guide of questions. (You don’t need to spend weeks doing research for your family interviews - if you’ve already got questions in mind, by all means, begin!) But you might be inspired to go looking for an official document after a family member tells you a particular story. Or maybe a letter a relative gives you makes you want to research your ancestor's military service. Perhaps you've already done some genealogical research - in that case, read through the materials you uncover, and see if any questions surface that you want to ask your family members. You can spend twenty minutes on research, twenty days, twenty years. Do as much or as little research as you like, but know that there are likley some genealogical gems out there just waiting for you to discover them. If you’re interested in delving into your past to learn the genealogy of your family, come along for the ride. I promise it will be worth it - it just takes a little detective work. So go get your cap and magnifying glass; we've got some work to do.

Conducting Genealogical Research

I am a genealogy junkie. I’m addicted to finding ships' logs, census records, birth and death certificates, local newspaper clippings, military records… if a document exists about a family member, I want to see it. I’m fascinated by looking at Great-Grandpa John's signature on his naturalization card and reading the assigned description of his complexion: ruddy (translation: Italian). I got a sense of peace when I located the death certificate of Grandpop Moishe's twin, Henry, who died at two days old, and then bafflement when a whole new, still-unsolved mystery opened up when I discovered Henry's birth certificate. I was stunned when a census report revealed that Grandmom Minnie had a sibling named Dora who died before my grandmother was born, and no one in my family had ever heard of this older sister. I located the cemetery where Dora was buried and paid my respects. Each document that I uncover is a piece of the paper trail of my DNA, and often serves as a starting point for me to learn more about a person from my past.

If you want to go sleuthing for primary texts from your family's history, here are some places to begin: 

  • Take advantage of the free two-week trial period. Start typing in names of family members and you’ll likely find some associated documents. Try multiple spellings of last names in your search (e.g. Faillace, Faillaci, Fallaci) - with all of these sites listed, remember that data has been transferred to computers by humans who are trying to decipher original cursive records, which were often written by someone who did not speak the language of the person entering the country. There's plenty of room for human error here.
  • Cyndi’s List: A great aggregate of sites for genealogical research, broken down by categories - location, immigration, etc.
  • Ellis Island Foundation: If you have family members who entered the U.S. via Ellis Island, you’ll likely be able to find the ship's log of their journey to America. 
  • FamilySearch: A large records repository, assembled by the Church of Latter Day Saints, includes a repository for African American Genealogy Records.
  • Federal Land Records: Titles, deeds, etc. If you know family members owned land in the U.S., this might be a great place to start to find where that property was. Also consider looking at city maps of neighborhoods - you can learn interesting connections by seeing whom your family members lived next door to or down the street from.
  • Historical societies: There are state, county, and city societies. Each may help give context and specificity to government records.
  • JewishGen: A starting point for those with Jewish ancestry.
  • Local archives: Cities have archives where records are kept. They usually have names like “Office of Vital Records.” Check out the archive in the city where your family has roots and see what documents you can find. You can often find birth/death/marriage records, deeds of sale, etc.
  • Local newspapers: Newspapers have archives, too. Some are digitized and online, some are not. If not, visit your local paper and ask to look through back issues. If your relatives were business owners, you may be able to find ads run for those businesses. You might find obituaries, accounts of awards won, birth announcements, etc. These kinds of clippings help give the people of your past a context that you might not otherwise get from an official government document.
  • National Archives: Where many government records are housed. You can request military records here.

With the documents you discover from your research, you’re now armed with the roots and branches of your family tree. It's time to put some leaves and flowers on them with the information you'll glean from interviews with your relatives. Remember: your family members are primary sources, too - first-hand witnesses to the events in their own lives, and often valuable secondary sources of family lore passed down from their parents and grandparents. Your relatives are perhaps your most treasured resources of all.


If the tips for interviewing and researching outlined above are helpful to you, wonderful. If they seem overwhelming, just set up a camera and start asking your relatives what you’ve always wanted to know about your family's history. Use the video feature on your phone and record short segments. Set up an audio recorder if you don't want to do video. Ask family members to write down their most memorable moments. There are many different ways to conduct family history interviews; the most important thing is to actually do them. Now. Before the people you love aren’t around anymore and this becomes one of those things you regret not doing.

So if you're gathering with relatives for a meal this holiday season, consider positioning a camera, an audio recorder, or a stenographer at the table. Ask your family members about their memories of their grandparents, about their high school crushes, about their first memories of you. Ask them if they have old photos, home movies, letters, or keepsakes that you could look at - maybe you'll get a glimpse of the matchmaker's silver platter. Ask about the pieces of your family’s past, and you’ll start to see a clearer picture of yourself. Odds are there will be some scars and wrinkles in there, but rest assured, it’s a picture worth examining and preserving for future generations.

- Adrienne Faillace

To learn more about the value of oral histories, check out the first Producer's Pointers article in this series: Why I Became an Oral Historian and How You Can Be One, Too. 

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You're Still a Mean One, Mr. Grinch: "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" Turns 50!

December 18th, 2016

He's a curmudgeon, he steals presents, he squelches Christmas cheer ... and then his heart grows three sizes and we all hold him dear! "The Grinch" has become an integral part of the holiday season, for How the Grinch Stole Christmas is now the lead-off holiday special on network television, signaling the annual broadcasting of the animated Christmas classics. The 26-minute short, an adaptation of Dr. Seuss' children's book of the same title, first debuted on CBS on December 18, 1966 and tells the tale of a grouchy, green, Grinch, who with the help of some residents of Whoville, learns the true meaning of Christmas. The program was directed by veteran animator Chuck Jones, features Boris Karloff as the narrator and voice of "The Grinch," and June Foray as the voice of the adorable "Cindy Lou Who."

In their respective Archive interviews, Chuck Jones, June Foray, and animator Phil Roman each spoke in depth about their involvement with the holiday classic.

Chuck Jones on taking How the Grinch Stole Christmas from book to TV movie:

Phil Roman on animating the film:

And June Foray on voicing "Cindy Lou Who:"

Learn more about How the Grinch Stole Christmas at our show page.

- by Adrienne Faillace

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John Wells: Master Storyteller

December 15th, 2016
John Wells

Let’s just name a few of the series this man has written for: China Beach, Third Watch, The West Wing, ER, and Shameless. That’s just a sampling of his writing credits. And in addition to writing in general, this man is particularly skilled at the art of the series finale. He wrote the China Beach finale, with that amazing tribute at the Vietnam Memorial. He wrote the ER finale, with its perfect echoes of the pilot episode. And he wrote the West Wing finale, with Santos’ inauguration and that great cameo by creator Aaron Sorkin. He’s John Wells, and he's a true master of his craft. As if his writing talent isn’t impressive enough, John is also a prolific producer and director. I sat down with him for what felt more like a brief chat than a formal interview, and the next three hours flew by.

Some fun factoids from the day:

John didn’t get his first job as a writer until he was 30 years old. Steven Bochco was an early mentor, who encouraged him to keep writing and started him on the path to becoming an employed writer.

John was one of the Executive Producers of The West Wing from the beginning, and when Aaron Sorkin left the show after season four, John took over as showrunner. It turns out a certain actor was a contributing factor to Sorkin's departure.

John also adapted Shameless (originally a British series) for the U.S. and recruited William H. Macy to star in the series. 

These snippets just barely scratch the surface of what John Wells reveals in his interview. He talks about George Clooney leaving ER, discusses Southland's move from NBC to TNT (John executive produced the show), and recounts his time as President of the Writers Guild of America, West. For those of you interested in writing and producing, here’s your chance to learn from one of the greats. And even if you’re not in the industry, you’ll still just love listening to this man talk. I certainly did.

Watch John Wells’ full Archive interview.

- by Adrienne Faillace

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Christmas Episodes: The Tradition Continues

December 9th, 2016
Florence Henderson

With the rapidly changing television landscape, we’re finding that some long-time traditions seem to be remaining in place, for the time being. Each September a spate of new series debut; each October a large number of those are cancelled. The networks still have “sweeps” periods every February, May, and November, when you can count on your local news to do sensationalized stories in the hopes of attracting more eyeballs. And one cherished television tradition that also doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon is the Christmas episode.

The Christmas episode (and for today we’re focusing on sitcoms) has its roots in radio. Programs like “Fibber McGee and Molly,” “Duffy’s Tavern,” and “The Fred Allen Show” would naturally write episodes centered around Christmas and the holidays. Sometimes, these shows would actually air live on Christmas Day, as shows weren’t rerun, and they weren’t off until the summer. Each December on “Amos ‘n’ Andy,” Amos would explain the Lord’s Prayer to his daughter. Jack Benny’s Christmas episode always featured him in a department store shopping, where he would inevitably encounter a rude clerk played by Frank Nelson, who is the basis for The Simpsons' Yeeess? Guy. Jack carried that tradition over to his television show.

Jack Benny’s initial television Christmas outing didn’t air until 1954. The very first Christmas episode, as we know it today, aired on December 21, 1950. It was The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show’s “Gracie’s Christmas.” That year, the only other regularly broadcast programs with Christmas-themed episodes were The Perry Como Show, a variety show, and a couple of anthology series, Suspense and Lux Video Theatre. The idea finally caught on in 1953, with Mister Peepers, The Adventures of Ozzie & HarrietThe Danny Thomas Show, Our Miss Brooks, and many others airing Christmas fare.

In 1951 Cavalcade of Stars began what would eventually lead to one of the best-remembered episodes of The Honeymooners. In a “Honeymooners” sketch, Ralph (Jackie Gleason) sells his bowling ball in order to buy Alice (Pert Kelton) a gift. In a variation of “Gift of the Magi,” Alice’s gift to Ralph was a very nice, but no-longer-needed bowling ball bag. In the way that “Amahl and the Night Visitors” was staged several years running for Hallmark Hall of Fame, this “Honeymooners” sketch was subsequently restaged for the next four years on The Jackie Gleason Show, with Audrey Meadows replacing Kelton. When The Honeymooners finally got their own sitcom, the ultimate version of the story, now titled “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” was filmed. In this version, Ralph Kramden delivers a speech at the end that is guaranteed to choke you up, particularly if you grew up in or around New York City.

The Honeymooners and the others notwithstanding, filmed shows were cautious about doing Christmas episodes. There was a fear that those episodes could not be used in the syndicated package because no one would want to watch stories about Christmas in the middle of July. This accounts for the fact that I Love Lucy only did one Christmas episode in their seven-year run, and that episode remained unseen for 33 years after its initial airing. It was withheld from the syndication package, but is now a yearly event on CBS, in a colorized form.

Also initially withheld after its first airing was The Brady Bunch Christmas episode “The Voice of Christmas,” which aired in 1969. It was always skipped over in syndication. Until one December, channel 5 in New York finally got around to airing it! I was so excited! Mrs. Brady agreed to sing in church on Christmas but lost her voice. Of course, in the end, we get to see dear Florence Henderson sing a beautiful rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful."

A typical Christmas episode will often take a well-worn holiday story, a la The Honeymooners with “Gift of the Magi,” and incorporate it into their episode. The Odd Couple, Family Ties, and countless others did a variation on “A Christmas Carol.” One of the more memorable holiday shows was Happy Days “Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas,” where the Cunningham family saves Fonzie from spending Christmas alone. That episode was so popular that it was re-aired as a flashback with newly filmed wraparounds for a few years. They finally had to stop that practice, as the Cunningham’s oldest son Chuck is featured in the episode, but was never spoken of again after season two.

As he did with many of the conventions of television, Norman Lear turned the idea of the Christmas episode on its head. All in the Family’s five Christmas episodes dealt with themes of draft dodging, race relations, hate crimes, and divorce. The 1973 episode “Edith’s Christmas Story” dealt with a health scare faced by Edith Bunker. Rocky and Irma Kalish told us how they came to write that classic episode.

Seinfeld tried to do away with Christmas altogether. In 1997’s “The Strike,” a fed up Frank Costanza introduces Festivus, a holiday which replaces the singing of carols with the airing of grievances. Festivus is actually celebrated in some circles. Festivus poles sell out each December 23rd. 

But Frank wasn’t quite as successful as he might’ve hoped. In 2015 there were no less than 45 Christmas/holiday-themed episodes across all platforms and genres. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin, The Goldbergs, and The Muppets all did one. When we watch, we always hope for those special moments like Jackie Gleason’s speech, Fonzie being accepted by the Cunningham family, or Florence Henderson’s lovely voice. A Christmas episode always has the potential to become a classic.

For more information on holiday-related television of all types, search the collection.

- by John Dalton

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