CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “Public Defender”

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.   Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances. 

RCN-TV is kicking off its “Spring Programming Schedule” this month with the return of popular television shows and other programs making their first-ever appearances on our channel.

Today we look at Public Defender.

 One of the popular trends in 1940s radio shows was dramas featuring public servants’ adventures, fighting crime and righting wrongs.  Insurance investigators like Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, real-life police stories like Dragnet, procedural detectives like Pat Novak and Richard Diamond and other similarly successful shows spilled into the early 1950s before radio programs started giving way to television.

While many of those programs never got past producing a failed pilot episode, one show that did make a successful leap to the small screen was Public Defender.

Defender is based on the idea of a client who can’t afford a lawyer to represent them in a criminal trial.  Bart Matthews is the counselor assigned to help people in need and encounters lawsuits significantly beyond your typical cases.

Matthews was portrayed by Reed Hadley, who had a very successful film career in the late 1930s and 40s (including playing the titular character in the movie, Zorro’s Fighting Legion).  Hadley had a number of roles playing characters involved on either side of the law in criminal dramas and had just finished starring in the very popular TV show, Racket Squad, from 1950-1953.  His voice may also be familiar to more recent audiences as he narrated a number of documentaries produced in the 1960s and early 1970s.

The Phillip Morris Corporation, who sponsored many of the decade’s top programs in the 1950s, including I Love Lucy, took an immediate interest in Public Defender and became their top sponsor, with Revlon adding their name as the alternate sponsor.  The show was scheduled in the very competitive Thursdays at 10pm timeslot and ran up against other stalwarts from both the radio and early television eras — The Lux Video Theatre and the Kraft Television Theatre.

Although the show ran for just under two full seasons (producing 70 episodes), there were a number of notable guest stars on the program, including future stars on both the big and small screens…

See if you can spot some of these future stars as Bart Matthews attempts to exonerate wrongly accused individuals.  Public Defender makes its RCN-TV debut on our new spring programming lineup; tune in (or set your DVRs) for Wednesday evenings at 8:30pm and Fridays afternoons at 2:30pm.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: The Successes of “Bonanza”

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.   Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

 RCN-TV is kicking off its spring programming schedule this month with the return of popular television shows plus additional programs making their first-ever appearances on our channel.

Today we look at the return of Bonanza to RCN-TV and its successes in the entertainment industry! 

The reappearance of Bonanza on the RCN-TV programming lineup signifies the return of one of the most successful television programs of all-time.

The show is NBC’s longest running primetime television show and is the second-longest western program (behind CBS’s Gunsmoke) in the medium’s history.

Bonanza was the first series to appear in the Top Five list for nine consecutive seasons (a record that would stand for many years) and thus established itself as the most consistent strong-performing hit television series of the 1960s.

One unique thing about the 1963-64 season of Bonanza…it triggered something that hadn’t been accomplished in over three decades.  Bonanza was the show that “brought down” The Jack Benny Program.

The comedian had won his timeslot on radio and television every year since 1932 until NBC scheduled the relatively new western program opposite the popular entertainer, although with some “programming trickery” involved.

You see, the network started the 60-minute western a half hour before Benny’s program.  The gimmick worked so well that, according to his memoir, Sunday Nights at Seven, Benny found himself tuning into and watching Bonanza! To his horror, three-quarters through each episode, he would suddenly realize he forgot to switch over to his OWN show!

Another unique characteristic that showed the popularity of this western…it’s one of the few shows EVER on television that had its own reruns added to its network’s primetime lineup.

NBC retitled the show’s reruns as The Ponderosa during the 1971-72 season and aired “old” yet often requested episodes.  NBC utilized a similar “trick” as above when they started the show at 7:30pm and it “spilled over” into the prime-time lineup and held its own competition with “first-run” episodic shows on ABC and CBS.

Another rarity that highlights its popularity…the show was one of the first programs in the first 50 years of television that was sold into syndication in 1970 to off-network affiliates BEFORE it ended its’ initial network run.  Both the “new” and syndicated shows continued to earn solid ratings before the show finally fell out of the Nielsen Ratings’ Top 10 in 1972. One of TV’s biggest and most popular stars, actor Dan Blocker (Hoss Cartwright), unexpectedly died that year, playing a major role in this event.

In 2002, Bonanza was ranked No. 43 on TV Guide‘s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time and in 2013 TV Guide included it in its list of The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time.

We’ll have more on this legendary television program including more unique stories and histories of its famous stars on upcoming editions of the Classic Video Showplace.

In the meantime, be sure to catch the return of Bonanza to RCN TV on our new spring programming lineup.  Tune in or set your DVRs for Sunday mornings at 9 am on RCN-TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: I Married Joan

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Showplace will feature prominent female-driven classic programs and films…and women who “changed the game” and made a lasting impact in the Golden Age of Hollywood and beyond.

 This week, we take a look at the incredibly underrated performance of television’s Joan Davis.

When I Love Lucy burst onto the scene in 1951, it became the nation’s hottest television sensation of the decade.

The premise for most episodes?

A wife caught in outlandish situations bringing about zany comedic bits and sometimes quite extreme physical slapstick routines while the loving husband looks on and all becomes right with the world in the end.

This plotline was the hallmark of the early years of the Lucy program and, like most crazes, imitators we’re quick to jump on and exploit this winning formula.

Even with only three channels available, an abundance of similar shows popped up throughout the broadcast week – some faring better than others.

But one of the best of the rest, and one show that could clearly stand on its own merits that emerged from the early 1950s was I Married Joan, starring Joan Davis and Jim Backus.

The similarities were clear.

Davis would quickly get herself involved in a predicament which descended into a spiraling mess of craziness, which would culminate in an over-the-top physical event before each episode’s resolution. 

The husband’s role was largely that of a straight man who’s expressions at Davis’s antics would help build the final comedic climax. Both shows’ leading ladies were housewives who longed for more while their husbands (to somewhat different degrees) tried to deflate those notions and disapproved of their wives doing much more than suppressing them to stay home.  Still, it was clear who were the stars of both shows.  Both programs also had very little character development beyond the main wife and, to a lesser extent, her husband’s lives, with a supporting cast acting mostly as props.  (Desi Arnaz would frequently admit this about his own series many times in the years that followed.)

Heck, both I Love Lucy and I Married Joan were even piloted by the same director, Marc Daniels for each series’ entire run.

However, “Joan” did have two aspects that set it apart from the other imitators.

While some specific gags were similar to the Lucille Ball sitcom, Davis’s series would usually attempt fresh challenges and completely original ideas for harebrained schemes.

Probably the funniest example of this was the episode in which the family buys a new TV and Joan is left on the roof trying to install it herself. Ironically, this identical plotline was actually “borrowed” for one of Ball’s later series in the 1960s.

Backus, as Davis’s foil, portrayed a respected judge and exhibited a much more laid-back brand of humor than Desi Arnaz’s Ricky Ricardo character.  Instead of explosive reactions normally played to hilarity by Arnaz, Backus’s Bradley Stevens character was more subtle with his humor, yet had impeccable timing that played well off of Davis’s eccentric physical comedy.

Backus, of course, would go on to play more prominent roles on television and is best known as the Millionaire Mr. Howell on Gilligan’s Island and was the original voice of the cartoon character, Mr. Magoo. (More on Jim’s tremendous career in a future Showplace blog entry.)

Davis also did not have the benefit to play off her comedy with the expert acting tandem of the extremely talented William Frawley and Vivian Vance as neighbors as Fred and Ethel.

Among the recurring role-players who did interact with Davis from time to time included Hal Smith, who would later play Otis, the town drunk on the 1960s classic, The Andy Griffith Show.

Despite being matched up against the incredibly popular Arthur Godfrey and Friends program on Wednesday nights for the show’s entire run, I Married Joan’s ratings or solid and actually improved in the second and third seasons.

There’s contradictory evidence as to why the show was cancelled. Some sources cite a decline in ratings during the program’s final few months, indicating a trend that the program was starting to lose momentum. Others say the physical strain on Davis became too much for the actress to handle.

Yet, viewing the final episodes reveals that the story lines were still fresh for it’s time, the comedic bits were still funny and Davis was handling the physical comedy just as well for the latter episodes as she did when the show first premiered in 1952–almost one year to the day after I Love Lucy debuted.

While Joan’s efforts have become largely overshadowed by the enormous success of Lucille Ball, one would be remiss without checking out Davis’s own brand of antics and unique style… and, in retrospect, certainly deserves a second look.

You can find this out for yourself as

I Married Joan is featured prominently over the next two weeks on RCN TV’s current broadcasting line-up, airing on Sundays at 12 noon, Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. and Wednesdays at 10 a.m.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “Annie Oakley”

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Showplace will feature prominent female-driven classic programs and films…and women who “changed the game” and made a lasting impact in the Golden Age of Hollywood and beyond.

It wasn’t very common to see female characters in a starring role on successful non-comedy television series in the early 1950s.

It was unheard of to have a female lead in a TV western…

…except for Annie Oakley.

Gail Davis was one of few shining accomplishments for progressiveness in 1954 television by successfully portraying the popular Western hero.

The real Annie Oakley was a sharpshooting exhibitionist after the Civil War and toured the world showcasing her talents with a gun.  

At fifteen, she won a shooting contest against experienced marksman Frank E. Butler, whom she later married. The couple joined Buffalo Bill in performing in Europe before royalty and other heads of state. Audiences were astounded to see her shooting a cigar from her husband’s lips or splitting a playing-card edge-on at 30 paces, becoming one of the richest gun-slinging performers in the world.

Unlike the real Annie Oakley and the 1935 movie of the same name, the television version was completely fictionalized and strayed far away from the original screenplay. The only true similarity between the television and earlier versions was that Annie was an exceptional marksman, whose sharpshooting skills would rival anyone in the Ol’ West.

Cowboy legend Gene Autry came up with the idea for making the legacy of Annie Oakley into a television show.  Autry was the program’s executive producer under his company, Flying A Productions, of which Davis was a part prior to the show’s creation.  Gail’s personality made her an easy choice for the show’s likeable protagonist.

A common plot line throughout the series was that Annie’s Uncle/Sheriff  Luke MacTavish would be out of town on some other matter while at the same time trouble started brewing in their hometown of Diablo, Arizona. It was up to Oakley and her friends to try to save the day.

Starring as Annie’s little brother, Tagg, was Jimmy Hawkins, whose previous claim to fame was as Jimmy Stewart’s youngest son in the holiday classic, It’s A Wonderful Life.  Before retiring from acting in his late twenties, Hawkins would also have recurring roles on fellow television classics like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and The Donna Reed Show.

Rumor has it that Hawkins himself inadvertently led to the end of the initial series’ run. Additional episodes for Annie Oakley were ordered after the 1957 season, but Hawkins went through a growth spurt and became too big to credibly play the role of Annie’s little brother.  Instead of recasting, legend says that the producers and studio executives decided to just end the show.

The episodes were so popular when they first ran in the mid-1950s as a weekly show that ABC then re-ran the series with daily airings in the late 1950s and early 1960s and again from 1964-1965. The show was finally sent into syndication over a decade after the show first premiered on network television.

You can see the adventures of this early female television star in Annie Oakley on RCN-TV every Tuesday evening at 9:30pm.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Audrey Hepburn (Part 2)

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Showplace will feature prominent female-driven classic programs and women who “changed the game” and made a lasting impact in the Golden Age of Hollywood and beyond.

Last week here at the Showplace, we discussed legendary film actress Audrey Hepburn’s troubled early years and her determination to avoid oppression and family tragedy throughout World War II, along with highlighting her rise to becoming one of the all-time leading ladies in Hollywood.  

Today we focus on the second half of Hepburn’s film career successes and her incredible spirit to help starving children around the world.

Arguably, Hepburn’s greatest and most identified film contribution, My Fair Lady, was filled with controversy.  

Julie Andrews, who originated the role of Eliza Doolittle on Broadway, was passed over for the movie role when Producer Jack Warner thought Hepburn’s reputation would help bring in more movie-goers than the then relatively unknown Andrews.  Hepburn herself recommended that Andrews take the role but eventually relented. (Ironically, Andrews would be offered the titular role in Mary Poppins later that same year and won an Academy Award for her performance.)

While the casting caused a rift on the set, further conflicts occurred halfway through filming when Hepburn was informed that most of her singing would be overdubbed.  She walked out of the production but returned several days later to finish the project.  Despite the reported difficulty Audrey had with castmates and crew, the film won multiple Academy Awards including Best Picture and has been regarded as one of the greatest film musicals of all-time.

Hepburn continued to star in great films throughout her career, but she was publicized just as much for her humanitarian efforts over the next three decades, culminating in 1989 by being awarded UNICEF’s International Danny Kaye Award for Children.

She continued to visit foreign countries and used her considerable influence to call attention to areas around the globe that were stricken with children’s poverty and starvation…right up until her death from abdominal cancer in 1993.  Among the many high profile celebrities to attend her funeral included her first major motion picture co-star, Gregory Peck, who delivered a tear-filled eulogy to the late actress.  His speech came nearly 50 years after he helped give Heburn her first big break five decades before.

Hepburn is one of only a small handful of entertainers ever who have won Academy, Emmy, Grammy and Tony Awards. She also won a record three BAFTA Awards for Best British Actress in a Leading Role.   She was ranked by the American Film Institute as the third-greatest female screen legend from the Golden Age of Hollywood, and was inducted into the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame.

But it is also her charitable efforts that helped define her life story.  She received posthumous awards like the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work with UNICEF, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarding her the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her contribution to humanity.  Also, in 2002, at the United Nations Special Session on Children, UNICEF honoured Hepburn’s legacy of humanitarian work by unveiling a statue, “The Spirit of Audrey”, at UNICEF’s New York headquarters. Her service for children is also recognised through the United States Fund for UNICEF’s Audrey Hepburn Society.

You can see some of Hepburn’s most memorable film performances on RCN-TV, including Charade, this Friday night at 9:30. 

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Audrey Hepburn (Part 1)

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Showplace will feature prominent female-driven classic programs and films…and women who “changed the game” and made a lasting impact in the Golden Age of Hollywood and beyond.

While Audrey Hepburn is known as one of the greatest actresses of all time, she also should be remembered for amazing contributions to the world through her humanitarian and charitable efforts.

Hepburn was born Audrey Kathleen Ruston on May 4th, 1929 in Belgium.  To avoid possible occupation at the start of World War II, the family moved to the Netherlands–a decision which proved costly.   

In 1942, Hepburn’s uncle was executed in retaliation for an act of sabotage by the resistance movement. While he had not been involved in the act, he was targeted due to his family’s prominence in Dutch society.  Hepburn’s half-brother Ian was deported to Berlin to work in a German labor camp, and her other half-brother Alex went into hiding to avoid the same fate.

After the war, Hepburn began taking ballet lessons and got her first motion picture role in 1948’s Dutch in Seven Lessons.  After several small roles on film and television, she earned her first starring role in Roman Holiday, winning her first Academy Award for Best Actress.  She also began a lifelong friendship with co-star Gregory Peck, who reportedly insisted her name appear about the title with his, even though she was still relatively unknown before the film’s release.

Later in 1954, she starred on Broadway in Ondine, becoming just one of three actresses to date to win an Oscar and Tony Award in the same year.  Other starring and critically acclaimed roles followed, like Sabrina, (with Humprey Bogart and William Holden), War and Peace (co-starring Henry Fonda), Love in the Afternoon (with Gary Cooper and Maurice Chevalier), The Nun’s Story (with Peter Finch), The Unforgiven (opposite Burt Lancaster) and Paris When It Sizzles (again co-starring with Holden).

Hepburn next starred as New Yorker Holly Golightly, in Blake Edwards’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a film loosely based on the Truman Capote novella of the same name. The character is considered one of the best-known in American cinema, and a defining role for Hepburn.   The dress she wears during the opening credits has been considered an icon of the twentieth century, and perhaps the most famous “little black dress” of all time.  According to a November 1st, 1964 article in “The New Yorker,” Hepburn stated that the role was “the jazziest of my career” yet admitted: “I’m an introvert. Playing the extroverted girl was the hardest thing I ever did.”  She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.

Hepburn teamed with Director Stanley Donen for two classic early 1960s films, Two for the Road (with Albert Finney) and Charade (co-starring Gary Grant).

Grant initially balked at the idea of Hepburn playing his on-screen love interest in the latter film–pointing out a 26-year difference in the actors’ ages.  However, upon meeting Hepburn for the first time before production, he was so enchanted by her that he agreed to do the film.  However, he did demand some of the “love scenes” be re-written to play up the comedic-side of the relationship and downplay the age discrepancy.  Hence, scenes like the famous “Suit in the Shower” sequences were born, and Charade became another one in a series of cinema classics starring Miss Hepburn.

Audrey was just beginning to make her mark in both films, as a female role model and as a person trying to improve the quality of life for those less fortunate.

We’ll examine more highlights in the legendary career and life of Audrey Heburn, both in Hollywood and around the world, next week here at the Showplace.

In the meantime, you can see one of Hepburn’s most memorable performances on the silver screen in the film classic, Charade, on Friday, March 19th at 9:30 p.m. on RCN-TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Betty White

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Showplace will feature prominent female-driven classic programs and women who “changed the game” and made a lasting impact in the Golden Age of Hollywood and beyond. 

When you ask a contemporary television viewer, “Where did Betty White get her big TV break,” you probably would get different answers.

She appeared as either a regular or recurring guest star on numerous shows through the 1960s and 70s in classic programs like, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Carol Burnett Show, Jack Parr’s Tonight Show and as host of the annual California Rose Parade or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

Or it could be her numerous appearances on classic game shows like I’ve Got A Secret, Match Game, To Tell The Truth, What’s My Life and also the program, Password, in which she married the host, Alan Ludden, in real life. 

But her big break came on the 1950s sitcom, Life With Elizabeth.  The show was really a reimagining of a show called Hollywood on Television, for which White received her first Emmy Award nomination.

The difference between the two shows was that White was co-owner of Brandy Productions, which bought the rights to the show.  This move made White one of just two women (the other being Lucille Ball) who both starred in AND produced the program–giving her full control of the creative content.

Elizabeth was a unique show in that it consisted of three separate sketches on each show–all featuring White–and was extremely successful.  The only reason the show was cancelled was because of a misguided idea that the show’s distribution company thought the 65 episodes they had already produced would “oversaturate the market” and devalue the show’s syndication financial intake.

White immediately found work in another groundbreaking show — the ABC fantasy-comedy, Date With The AngelsShe would go on to star in a number of early television shows, including two versions of a talk/variety program with her name in the show’s titles.

Betty would also break down by being the first female offered a role on a primetime news show, NBC’s Today Show — a position that was later filled by Barbara Walters.

She would continue to be one of the first actresses to make regular appearances on the iconic talk show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, along with other popular talk shows, variety programs and game shows throughout the 60s and 70s.

White would continue to star in television roles for the next several decades, starring in more recent programs like The Golden Girls, Golden Palace, Hot In Cleveland and a sitcom version of The Betty White ShowShe was also nominated for several guest starring roles well into her 80s in shows like The Practice, Boston Legal, Modern Family and was the host of the candid camera lookalike program, Betty White’s Off Their Rockers.

She continued to break new ground by becoming the oldest person to ever host Saturday Night Live at the tender age of 88.  She also voiced a toy tiger character two years ago in Disney\Pixar’s Toy Story 4 after celebrating her 97th birthday.  The role was ironic because White has spent most of her life as an advocate for quality animal health.  She worked with and later chaired several organizations raising money for dogs and cats as well as zoo animals.

You can see a special marathon of Betty White in her breakout series, Life With Elizabeth, this Monday starting at 9 pm on RCN TV.  To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

As part of RCN’s celebration of Black History Month, we here at the “Showplace” are putting the spotlight on African American actors who excelled not just on the big and small screens but those who also inspired change with their courage and perseverance.

“The kind of beauty I want most is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within – strength, courage, dignity, the greatest gift is not being afraid to question. God, make me so uncomfortable that I will do the very thing I fear.”   — Ruby Dee

Ruby Dee provided inspiration throughout her life as an actress, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, poet and civil rights activist.  Her courage to portray powerful women and speak out against injustice has produced some of the most powerful quotes ever seen on the screen or in print.

Dee was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1922 and was raised in Harlem New York attending Hunter college high School and later Hunter College, majoring in romance language.  

Dee joined the American Negro Theater as an apprentice, working there with fellow future legends Sidney Poitier (with whom she would reunite to collaborate with on several projects during their careers) and Harry Belafonte.  After appearing on Broadway for many productions, her first onscreen role was in That Man of Mine in 1946. Dee received national recognition for her role in the 1950 film The Jackie Robinson Story.  In 1965, Dee became the first African American actress to tackle leading roles at the American Shakespeare Festival as Kate in The Taming of the Shrew and Cordelia in King Lear.

Furthermore, she participated in various television projects and wrote books, short stories and poetry works, among them include “The Original Read-In For Peace For Vietnam,” “What If I Am A Woman (Volume 1 and 2),” “Tough Poems For Tough People,” To Make A Poet Black” and “To Be A Slave,” (the latter three projects co-written with her husband / actor Ossie Davis.)

She also participated in numerous civil right events, protests, marches and was a predominant speaker, speaking out against prejudice, racism and injustices.  Dee was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the NAACP, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Delta Sigma Theta sorority and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1963, Dee emceed the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom…

“There was so much meanness in the atmosphere, but marvelous things pierce through the darkness of poverty and racism. You meet all kinds of people that help put life in perspective and turn the heart into some kind of lesson or avenue of awakening that lives with you all of your days.”

For the next several decades, Dee continued her work on the screen, in print and as an active voice for civil rights.

In 1970, she won the Frederick Douglass Award from the New York Urban League, a nonpartisan organization advocating for economic and social justice for African Americans and speaking out against racial discrimination.

Dee was nominated for eight Emmy Awards and continued guest starring on television series and was featured in various films in the 1980s and 90s including Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and Jungle Fever.

In 1995, both Dee and her husband were awarded the National Medal of Arts.  In 1999, Dee and Davis were arrested in New York City, protesting the police shooting of Amadou Diallo.  In 2003, she narrated a series of WPA slave narratives for the HBO Films.

Dee was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2007 for her portrayal of Mama Lucas in American Gangster — and won the Screen Actors Guild Award for that same performance.

Her seven decade acting career crossed all major forms of media, including the film, A Raisin in the Sun, in which she recreated her stage role as a suffering housewife in the projects, and Edge of the City. She played both roles opposite Poitier.

“The world has improved mostly because unorthodox people did unorthodox things … not surprisingly they had the courage and daring to think they could make a difference.”

You can see Ruby Dee starring in The Jackie Robinson Story on RCN TV.  To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Eddie Anderson

The views expressed in this blog arethose of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

As part of RCN’s celebration of Black History Month, we here at the “Showplace” are putting the spotlight on African American actors who excelled not just on the big and small screens but those who also inspired change with their courage and perseverance.

Of all the zany and popular comedic characters over the five decades that the Jack Benny Program was on radio and television, none was more popular nor drew as much applause at public events than Eddie “Rochester” Anderson.

Guest starring on an episode of Jack Benny’s radio show in 1936, Benny immediately realized that Anderson’s unique voice, comedic timing and quick-witted return of a line would resonate perfectly with Benny’s “slow burn” style delivery.  Benny immediately hired him as a regular full-time character on his team and, in doing so, Anderson became the first African-American regular cast member on a national medium.

Born in Oakland, California he had early aspirations of performing along with his older brother, Cornelius. In his obituary in the Ludington Daily NewsAnderson described himself as being a descendant of slaves who were able to leave the South during the Civil War through the Underground Railroad.

Anderson “acquired” his famous raspy voice as a child when his vocal cords were ruptured when he was selling newspapers. The newsboys believed those who would shout the loudest sold the most papers. The permanent damage done to his vocal cords left him with his voice now so familiar to radio and television audiences.

No one brought out the cheapness of Benny’s character better (and funnier) than Anderson, who would frequently test the penny-pincher’s budget and deliver rapid-fire lines underscoring just how little he paid his employees:

     “You can split an apple, you can split an atom, but I defy ANYONE to split my salary.”

According to Benny’s memoirs “Sunday Nights At Seven,” he came up with the name “Rochester” because he felt the way he could draw out the syllables of that name.  Anderson liked it so much he incorporated it as a middle name for any future productions, including non-Benny performances.

In 1942 while touring Europe with his entire cast and performing shows for the Allied Forces, Benny met a soldier who claimed to be a fan of the show and began to have dinner together.  During the conversation it became evident that the soldier’s favorite part of the program were jokes using prejudices (eg., drinking gin, playing craps) against people of color that were rampant during the time period.  Benny immediately got up from the table, told the soldier that he is not interested in “that type” of person listening to his show.  Benny then instructed his writers to never use any of those stereotypes nor any jokes that would be considered racist or offend any ethnicity again –  a promise to Anderson he kept through the rest of his career.

Unlike his character’s persona, Anderson was paid handsomely for his role as Rochester and used his regularly increasing salaries to enhance his love for horses, exotic boats and exquisite mansions, taking up residence in the West Adams district in California.

In the 1940s, the African-American entertainment community began purchasing homes in the district, nicknaming it “Sugar Hill.”  According to the website, westadamsheightssugarhill.com, property owners reacted to their new neighbors by adding restrictive covenants to their deeds, prohibiting African-Americans from purchasing a property or inhabiting it once purchased. The practice was later declared illegal by the US Supreme Court and Anderson lived in that mansion until his death in 1977.

Anderson also had an astute business sense.  In 1948, he saw the value and potential of Las Vegas as an entertainment center and wanted to build a hotel where African-Americans would be welcome.  Anderson failed to attract enough people willing to invest, and he was unable to complete the plan.

When the Benny program moved to television in 1949, Anderson appeared more than any other character and was a part of many of the show’s most popular episodes and funniest bits seen on the small screen.

Anderson was featured prominently in the 1963 mega star film It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. While he was given some of the funniest lines in the film, he was the only African American in the entire ensemble cast.

Anderson would make various guest appearances on television shows, including the Benny television specials until his boss’s death in 1974.  Anderson spoke very highly of Benny in memoriam until Anderson’s own death 3 years later.

You can see Anderson’s iconic Rochester character on the Jack Benny Program, along with guest appearances on other classic sitcoms seen on RCN TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Sidney Poitier’s Legacy

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

This February, in celebration of Black History Month, we here at the Showplace are putting the spotlight on those who have inspired change and broken social barriers, both inside and outside of the entertainment industry. 

Recently here at the Showplace, we began our look at one of the world’s greatest living actors / directors / activists … Sidney Poitier.  Today, we continue to highlight his legendary career . . .

After a successful nine-year run in films in the ’50s, Poitier would close out the decade by breaking new ground in the 1959 production, A Raisin In The Sun.  The play was unique in that it was the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway, as well as the first with a Black director.

According to NPR archives, writer Lorraine Hansberry noted that her play introduced details of an African American family’s life to the overwhelmingly white Broadway audiences, while director Lloyd Richards observed that it was the first play to which large numbers of Black people were drawn.  Frank Rich of “The New York Times” said that A Raisin in the Sun (for which Poitier earned a Tony Award for Best Actor) “changed American theater forever.”

Sydney would continue to look for roles that challenged racial issues throughout the 1960s.

In 1967 alone, Poitier starred in three film classics–all testing social boundaries and exploring race relations in America: To Sir With Love, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner and In The Heat Of The Night (which also inspired two additional films based on the success of Poitier’s portrayal of Detective Tibbs).

Poitier received outstanding reviews in all three films and all three pictures received widespread acclaim from people of ALL races.

According to Mark Harris’s book, “Pictures at a Revolution: Five Films and the Birth of a New Hollywood,” Poitier was very much aware of his status as an actor breaking society’s limits in entertainment, but was conflicted on the matter. He wanted more varied roles.  He also felt obliged to set an example with his characters, by challenging old stereotypes as he was the only major actor of African descent being cast in leading roles in the American film industry at that time. For instance, in 1966, he turned down an opportunity to play the lead in an NBC television production of Othello with that thought in mind.

His advocacy for social change went beyond plays and films.  Among his non-production efforts in the 1960s, he joined Charlton Heston, Harry Belafonte and other celebrities for the March on Washington in 1963.  He frequently spoke out and was very vocal in advocating for civil and economic rights for African Americans.

In the 1970s Poitier stepped out of the spotlight to an extent.  While starring in less films than he had in the previous decade, he increased his presence behind the scenes.  Among his successful big budget films as a director was Stir Crazy, starring Richard Pryor, which for many years was the highest-grossing film directed by a person of African descent.

Poitier accumulated best acting awards from various outlets and countries, including winning the Academy Award in 1964 for Lillies Of The FieldHe has captured a SAG Lifetime Achievement Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, multiple NAACP Image Awards and an Honorary Oscar – “for his extraordinary performances and unique presence on the screen and for representing the industry with dignity, style and intelligence.”

A complete listing of all of Poitier’s awards, accolades and expressions of gratitude for inspiring others would be too numerous to mention.

Poitier has occasionally starred in films over the last 30 years (later this month he will celebrate his 94th birthday).  He is currently the oldest living actor to have received an Academy Award and is one of just a small handful of surviving members of the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Actors of the first 100 years of cinema.  Among his non-film responsibilities in recent years is being Jamaica’s Official Ambassador to Japan, and a ten-year stint as a board member for The Walt Disney Company.

Poitier’s legacy both in front of and behind the camera cannot be overstated as his roles and performances continue to be an inspiration to people around the world.

You can see Sidney Poitier starring in classic films on RCN TV and check back to the Showplace all month long as we continue to feature people of color breaking barriers in the entertainment industry.  To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.