Today is Flip Wilson’s birthday (1933-1998).
The Flip Wilson Show is undoubtedly not as “forgotten” as most of the ones I post in this series. After all, it ran for four full years (1970-1974), as opposed to four full episodes. But it has to be said that, for such a seminal figure Wilson himself has fallen sadly by the wayside. In chronology and signficance he falls in between Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor. While the other two men are frequently celebrated (Cosby as the first black everything in television; Pryor as an unprecedented truth-teller), Wilson, a landmark crossover figure is largely forgotten. Whereas I bet many or most young people are familiar with the work of the other two men, they’ve probably never heard of Flip.
His show was playfully hip at roughly the level of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (a show on which Wilson had done many guest shots prior to his own show). George Carlin was one of the writers and cast regulars. And, like Laugh-in, and the later Saturday Night Live, it was the source of many national fads and catch-phrases, the most famous of which was “What you see is what you get”, delivered by Wilson’s popular drag character, Geraldine.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present (including tv variety), consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc