Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Alan Young Show (CBS-TV, April 18, 1950)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The show was a half-hour April 18, 1950 episode of The Alan Young Show, an odd little offering from CBS that lasted two years (1950-1951) and seemed to follow the same format every time: an opening monologue (Charles has noted that the format of TV variety shows seems to have hardened into orthodoxy in the earliest years — including a comedian/host who delivered an opening monologue), a dance number, a featured singer (at least in all the surviving episodes the featured singer always seems to have been a woman) and a couple of comedy sketches. Young was a British-born comedian (“Young” was the last name on his birth certificate but the original first name was “Angus”!) but he comes off here as a cross between Danny Kaye and Jerry Lewis, and it’s not too surprising that the writers, David R. Schwartz and Leo Solomon, were Jewish. The monologue made fun of TV stars using various cheats to avoid having to memorize lines — Young has his speech written on various parts of his shirt and nearly has to undress on camera to read them all (and the punch line, when he finally finds it on his shirttail, hardly seems worth it) — and the sketches were about a reading of a will that’s sabotaged by a leaking cylinder of nitrous oxide, better known as “laughing gas,” which causes the would-be heirs to crack up hysterically over being disinherited; and another in which Young is a nebbish seeking to date the young daughter of a middle-aged married couple. What made this interesting is that her father was played by William Frawley a year before he debuted on I Love Lucy, and as jarring as it is to see him with someone other than Vivian Vance playing his wife, it’s a lot of fun and he’s as lovably acerbic as ever.

Charles and I had downloaded this after another archive.org download, a May 22, 1955 episode of a show called Masquerade Party, had piqued our curiosity about singer Monica Lewis, who was one of the contestants on that — the show featured celebrities in really thick disguises (including one segment in which Black boxer Archie Moore was made to look white) and a panel that had to guess who they really were. We’d already seen Monica Lewis in the 1952 film The Strip (starring Mickey Rooney as a wanna-be jazz drummer who gets to sit in with Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars, featuring Barney Bigard, Jack Teagarden and Earl “Fatha” Hines — almost certainly the greatest band Armstrong ever had and the real reason I wanted to see that film) doing a faux-Latin number, and here Lewis performed a version of “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” which was quite nicely sung (though there were plenty of other singers around in 1950 who could have done it better) but undone by a bad, overly gimmicky arrangement by music director Lud Gluskin or whoever was doing his vocal charts: it starts out as a rhumba, slows down and then speeds up again. Still, Lewis was attractive, personable and had a nice voice, and one could see why she became at least something of a star — and probably would have had more of a career if she’d been about a decade older before the rock ’n’ roll revolution would severely weaken, though not completely destroy, the popular appeal of her kind of music. Young himself was best known from the Mister Ed TV series of the early 1960’s, in which he was the human interlocutor of the talking horse (originally called “Francis” in the film series from the 1950’s and voiced on both film and TV by Chill Wills) but had a rather interesting career even though he wasn’t a distinctive enough performer to make it as a major star.