Hank McCune and the First Laugh Track

I have been able to uncover little about the early life and career of Hank McCune (1917-2005) beyond that he served in WWII and he began his show biz career in radio. From out of the blue he landed his own TV sitcom in 1949, which then went national on NBC in 1950. Despite the fact that show only lasted three months, it earned a footnote for itself in television history for being the first TV sitcom to employ a laugh-track. Whether it was because they couldn’t afford a studio audience, or because it just wasn’t that funny, I dunno, but it start a doleful trend that lasted for decades. The Hank McCune Show was further interesting for having a “meta” premise — it was about a man who was the star of a TV variety show, and it included a show within a show. It was the first producing effort of Samuel Z. Arkoff, soon to start American International Pictures. Arkoff was an old air force buddy of McCune’s — that may have been how this whole thing came about. Its cast of regulars also included the irrepressible Frank Nelson, Arthur Q. Bryan (the voice of Elmer Fudd), and Larry Keating, better remembered as Harry Morton on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. And at the center, McCune himself, who was invariably advertised with caricatures exaggerating the size of his ears, a comic premise that seems not to have captured the popular imagination. After his show’s initial cancellation, McCune returned to do some additional episodes in 1953 for syndication.

After this McCune dabbled in producing independent B movies for a short time. The first was A Life at Stake (1955), with Angela Lansbury, Keith Andes and Douglas Dumbrille, from a story idea by McClune. This was followed by a film unfortunately titled Wetbacks (1956) written by none other than Ed Wood (under the pen name Pete LaRoche) and starring Lloyd Bridges as a man who smuggles Mexicans into the U.S. on his fishing boat. I’m uncertain why it didn’t win a United Nations Humanitarian Award. That same year, he starred in the indie comedy The Go-Getter (1956), which has about a dozen recognizable character actors in it. After this, according to this interview with writer Mort Lachman conducted by the Television Academy Foundation, he went into the real estate business. He’d be in film and television a mere half dozen years.

I will add this interesting postscript, however. McCune was from Kansas City, Missouri. There had been another Henry McCune based in that city, who was notable for being a juvenile judge, city councilman, and founder of the McCune Home for Boys, which operated from 1907 to 2012. His mansion was later turned into a museum. I am going to go ahead and speculate that that this gent was Hank’s grandfather until I hear something better.