Thursday, September 27, 2012

Brought to You By Nabisco

Andy Williams died--lemme check--two days ago. I can't say I paid much attention to him over the  years. I'm in no way prejudiced against his style of singing, which in my youth was referred to a "easy listening." I just have an easier time listening to Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, or Perry Como than I do Williams. "Moon River" is a great song, but I prefer the way Audrey Hepburn sang it in Breakfast at Tiffany's. And it's nice Williams stood by his ex after she was accused of shooting and killing her ski instructor, but I can no longer remember if she was found guilty or not (well, I am on the Internet, so let me check again...misdemeanor criminal negligence, 30 days in jail plus a small fine.)

Now that I think about it, there was a point in my life when I did pay attention to Williams. I was 8 or 9 and used to watch his variety show on TV. I didn't watch because of him particularly. I just happened to have liked variety shows, of which there were many when I was a kid. Singing, dancing, and comedy skits all under an hour. The format seems just about extinct now. You can still find singing and dancing and comedy skits on TV, but it's all been divvied up. Saturday Night Live gets the skits, American Idol the singing, and Dancing With the Stars, obviously, the dancing. A further example of the fragmentation of the media.

William's show had this recurring skit that I eagerly looked forward to each week. A talking bear would try to finagle some cookies out of Williams, but to no avail. I found this hilarious when I was 8 or 9. Now I just find it a bit strange. Of course, that may even be a better reason to look forward to it each week. Here's a clip of one such skit, in which the bear enlists the aid of a svelte Kate Smith (don't ask me to explain that countdown in the middle of the screen; best I can figure is that whoever originally put this on YouTube taped it on a 40-year old VCR):

 
A word about Kate Smith, a popular radio performer of the 1940s. If you're not familiar with her, you may be puzzled, after watching that clip, as to why I referred to her as "svelte".  Well, here's what she looked like in her prime:
 
 
That's in the 1940s. As you can see, she had slimmed down considerably by the time she appeared on Andy William's show in 1970. She was relatively, comparatively, svelte.
 
As for that talking bear, did you see how he fell backwards at the end of that skit? Obviously, the poor creature collapsed from hunger. And what did Kate Smith do? Just stand there and laugh. How cold. How callous. I hope those cookies made her fat all over again. It would be her just desserts! 

8 comments:

  1. I must have seen this show, the bear wanting a cookie seems familiar but I really don't remember the show at all. Was not an Andy Williams fan.
    I like variety shows like Ed Sullivan and my favorite was the Dean Martin Show. I remember Carol Burnett but that really wasn't in the true sense of the word a variety show.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. Well, parsnip, I'm glad there's at least two other people out there who remember the bear wanting a cookie--you and whoever posted that clip on YouTube. Until the day before yesterday, when I decided to google "Andy Williams" and "bear", I thought maybe I had imagined the whole thing.

      Ed Sullivan was a kind of glorified vaudeville show. I think my early love for stand-up comedy may have originated there. Carol Burnett is remembered for the comedy skits, but I recall the show having a fair amount of singing as well. Carol herself had a nice voice ("I'm so glad we had this time together, to share a laugh and sing a song or two...") and Vicki Lawrence actually had a Top 40 hit with "That Was the Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" though I can't remember her ever singing it on the show (I just now googled "Vicki Lawrence" to make sure there's not two women with that name. Nope, the Carol Burnett Vicki and the Top 40 Vicki are one and the same.) Dean Martin was great, and I should have included him with the easy-listening singers, but the variety show I really liked as a kid was Sonny and Cher, before they were divorced. Amazingly, they later on did a post-divorce show that was pretty good, too. Except they could no longer insult each other, as they might have been a bit awkward.

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  2. OMG Andy Williams, I never liked that show but my parents loved it. I loved Sonny and Cher too. But my real heroine was Carol Burnett, I could not wait for that show to come on. I wish there was someone with that level of ta1ent on TV today. She was a comic genius. Thanks for the memories.

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    1. I agree with you, Patricia, Carol Burnett was, and is (if I'm not mistaken, she's still alive) a comic genius. I've always been impressed at the way she uses her physical appearance to her advantage. That combination of big, pretty eyes, rubbery face, and overbite allowed her to play everyone from Lana Turner to Norma Desmond to a hillbilly housewife to a slovenly washer woman. And there was that hiccup laugh and that Tarzan yell. And top of all that--and I'm not sure she's ever gotten credit for this--she was a good ad-libber. Remember, she used to answer questions from the audience? And would often give comical answers at the top of her head. Very funny woman.

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  3. i too remember the andy williams show, along with perry como, dean martin, ed sullivan, etc. how about mitch miller (be kind to your web footed friends...)? my dad was a fan of all them, so we watched them a fair amount.
    i was never a big fan of any of them, being more into rock and roll. sonny and cher, of course! remember that furry vest he used to wear?

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    1. Mitch Miller was off the air during the time period I'm referring to (roughly 1968-1978), rraine, but I'm sure if he hadn't been, or I had been born a decade or so earlier, I probably would have watched his show. But not because of him. As I said in my post, it was the format more than the person hosting the format that attracted me. Though in the case of Carol Burnett and Sonny and Cher, I liked both. As for my musical tastes, I've gone full circle. In my preteens, I liked all kinds of music. By the time I was in high school, it was strictly rock, the harder the better. I'm now back to all kinds of music.

      I believe Sonny wore the furry vest when he and Cher first hit the charts with "I've Got You, Babe" in the mid-60s. By the time he did the variety show, it seem to remember a white tux, the kind you would have seen at a 1970s high school prom.

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  4. oh holy crap, i'm older than i thought!
    i do remember sonny's tux. i think i liked the vest better.

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    1. Oh, now, rraine, I didn't mean to do that! You mentioned your father watching Miller, which brought up a specific era of TV, so I felt I had to say that. If it makes you feel any better, I just now checked the Wikipedia article on Mitch Miller, and see that I needed only to have been born a mere 5 years earlier--1956 instead of 1961--to have been exposed to his show. For some reason, I thought he had been on TV earlier than that. My apologies.

      Some other interesting facts gleaned from that article on Miller. He was the head of A&R (artists and repertoire) at Columbia records in the 1950s. In that capacity, he made millions of dollars for rival companies RCA, and Capitol by passing on the biggest rock acts of the day. Obviously, he didn't like the music, and that affected his business sense. He once referred to rock and roll as "musical baby food" and the "worship of mediocrity." Ironically, fans of Traditional (pre-Elvis) Pop, dislike Miller's own influence on 1950s music, as he forced such talented perfromers as Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney to sing silly novelty songs. According to music critic Will Friedwald (who, according to HIS Wikipedia articl, was born the same year as me), "Miller exemplified the worst in American pop. He first aroused the ire of intelligent listeners by trying to turn — and darn near succeeding in turning – great artists like Sinatra, Clooney, and Tony Bennett into hacks. Miller chose the worst songs and put together the worst backings imaginable – not with the hit-or-miss attitude that bad musicians traditionally used, but with insight, forethought, careful planning, and perverted brilliance." According to Frank Sinatra's Wikipedia article (a lot of Wikipedia reading I'm doing just to respond to your comment, eh, rraine?) Miller basically ruined Ol' Blue Eyes career until he jumped ship to Capitol (where the Beatles, also passed up by Miller, eventually ended up) and made a series of albums that restored, and even exceeded, his reputation.

      As for Sonny Bono, I also recall him occasionally wearing one of those jewel encrusted jump suits on his variety show. Let me consult Wikipedia just to make sure...

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