Today is Red Buttons’ birthday (see here for my full post on the late rusty-haired comedian.) Most of us below a certain age know Buttons only from film roles in pictures like Hatari and The Poseidon Adventure and from tv guest shots, especially on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts. Fewer know (how couldja and why wouldja?) that for three seasons (1952-1954), he had his own tv variety show in the mold of Milton Berle’s, Jackie Gleaon’s and Red Skelton’s. The show was wildly popular when it started and then rapidly went the other way. To try to stem the tide, Buttons fired many, many writers. (This was thought to have been the inspiration for stuff in Billy Crystal’s 1992 movie Mr. Saturday Night). By the 3rd season he had switched networks and changed the format to a sit-com.
Here’s an episode from 1953:
To find out more about the history of variety (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