Sunday, November 27, 2011

Kraft Music Hall with Milton Berle, Andy Griffith (TV, 1958)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The night before last Charles and I watched an episode of the Kraft Music Hall from 1958, hosted by Milton Berle (who seems to have been host of a dizzying array of series under different titles, many of them named after his sponsors — the most famous show he did was the Texaco Star Theatre) and featuring Andy Griffith. Though the download from which I got this one didn’t give a date, it was easy enough to figure out because Berle’s opening monologue announced that it was just after election day and contained a joke about “Harriman lost New York, but he bought New Jersey” — a reference to the 1958 New York gubernatorial election, in which super-rich Averell Harriman was beaten in a landslide by super-duper-rich Nelson Rockefeller.

Griffith was there to pitch his movies and his TV work — this was two years before his fabled sitcom The Andy Griffith Show debuted (in which he played seriously the country-boy schtick he’d bitterly satirized in the remarkable film A Face in the Crowd) — and his best moment was when Berle introduced him as a folksinger and Griffith launched into a long, convoluted explanation of the song he was about to sing, then sang one line of it and quit. When Berle questioned him, Griffith replied, “I’m not a song-singer, I’m a song-explainer” — a gag that will ring true with anyone who’s been to a folk concert and noted how the performers spend as much time talking about the songs they’re about to sing as they do actually singing them. (With the late Utah Phillips — who was good enough at this sort of thing he could actually have had a career as a stand-up comedian — his pre-song explanations were so long that Ani DiFranco did a remix album of him that used only his stage raps, not his actual singing voice.) As with the Lucky Strike-sponsored program we’d watched earlier, this download left in the original commercials — and Charles and I were both astounded to hear Kraft’s Velveeta actually being sold as a health food!