We choose Jimmy Durante’s birthday for a quick squib on a major TV variety show he was associated with, NBC’s Four Star Revue. Like The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Four Star Revue’s format was a stable of rotating hosts. The concept was “strength in numbers”, but the drawback was the inability for anyone to put a personal stamp on the show, or get any kind of momentum going in audience development.
The Four Star Revue launched in 1950, alternating between Durante, Ed Wynn, Danny Thomas and Jack Carson as m.c.s. Old-timer Wynn was already a TV veteran by this point; his The Ed Wynn Show had run on CBS the previous season, and is well remembered as groundbreaking TV variety program, despite its brief run.
Ratings for the first season weren’t ideal, so in the following season other hosts were added and it became the All Star Revue. Carson dropped out mid-season to take a Broadway show, and was replaced as one of the key hosts by Marth Raye. Others who were added into circulation included Bob Hope, Olsen and Johnson, Paul Winchell (and Jerry Mahoney), the Ritz Brothers, Victor Borge, and Spike Jones and Helen Grayco (as a team).
In the third season, Danny Thomas and Ed Wynn also dropped out, leaving Jimmy Durante as the only one of the original hosts left. Martha Raye also remained. Maurice Chevalier and Harold Lloyd were tried as regular hosts, but George Jessell and Tallulah Bankhead were the ones eventually settled upon. Other new ones added as one-shots included Ben Blue, Perry Como, Dennis Day, Rosalind Russell, and Walter O’Keefe. Sonja Henie fronted a special ice skating edition with special guest Harpo Marx.
In the fourth season, something interesting happened. A multi-host format was planned as usual, but Martha Raye scored an unexpected hit at the top of the season so she became the show’s sole host. So The All Star Rue morphed into The Martha Raye Show, which ran until 1956. She just swallowed it up like a whale! Simultaneously the popular Jimmy Durante, also got his own variety show The Jimmy Durante Show, which also ran until 1956. Naturally, Danny Thomas also got his popular show, starting in 1953.
To learn more about the history of variety entertainment, including television variety, please consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous