How delightful it was, upon working on my recent post about lip sync pioneer Dotty Mack, to learn that William B. Williams (1923-86) was a real person. John Candy played a character by that name on SCTV, the sidekick to Joe Flaherty’s Sammy Maudlin. I’d always assumed the character was strictly based on Johnny Carson’s second banana Ed McMahon, but I should have known that the SCTV guys would be drawing from sources more sophisticated, incisive, and “inside”, as well as less obvious.
The real William B. Williams had been an occasional host of ABC’s Nightlife (the network’s answer to NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson) in 1965, as well as Sammy Davis Jr’s sidekick on Sammy and Company (1975-77). That makes so much sense when you learn it, and everything clicks into place. All that forced laughter, fake tears, and knee slapping! One typically thinks of Sammy as a sidekick — what must SAMMY’s sidekick have been like?
For most of his career (1940s-1980s), Williams was best known as a New York City DJ, who championed the music of the swing era and standards and condemned rock and roll. He is the man who is credited with nicknaming Frank Sinatra the “Chairman of the Board”. Hence his connection to Sammy.
To learn more about variety entertainment, including television variety, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.