Thursday, January 9, 2003
KTTV Presents George Putnam, Masked Genius, Three Stooges
By ROGER M. GRACE
KTTV, Channel 11, born in 1948 as a CBS affiliate and transformed into a Du Mont outlet in 1951, became an independent station on April 1, 1954. It could stand on its own quite well — in fact, its ratings were higher than those of the local ABC station, Channel 7 — largely because of the quality of its locally produced nighttime shows.
Portions of some of those shows were on film, but the person who was looking into the camera, talking to us, was there in person.
Through the balance of the 1950s, KTTV remained tops in such programming.
•There was the immensely popular George Putnam, with his bombastic delivery of the news, commentary, and commercials, and there was his antonym, the subdued, poker-faced Paul Coates, a Los Angeles Mirror column who proved an incisive on-air interviewer. Putnam was a performer; Coates was a journalist. (That dichotomy still exists in local TV news operations.)
•There was a program which debuted June 28, 1955 titled “Mr. Genius,” later billed as “Beat Mr. Genius” and then “Beat the Genius,” hosted by Art Baker (who also had a show on the ABC network, “You Asked for It.”) Viewers sent in questions, and panelists tried, collectively, to rack up more correct answers than “Mr. Genius,” the masked “human encyclopedia” whose identity was a guarded secret during the show’s run. When I was 17, Baker was kind enough to engage in a long conversation with me in a parking lot one night in 1962 after he had emceed a “Nixon for Governor” rally in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. He disclosed the true name of “Mr. Genius” (I have no recollection of what it was) and told me that the genius was an accountant who went to his office each day, quietly doing his work, with co-workers oblivious to his secret on-air identity.
•There was “Cavalcade of Spots.” The title was a take-off on Gillette’s long-running network show, “Cavalcade of Sports,” which featured boxing matches. Channel 11’s half-hour show, hosted by Don Lamond, was comprised of unpaid-for commercials — clever ones, including spiels for products sold in other regions of the U.S. and not here, and pitches from overseas (not always in English, but visually effective). Lamond, now living in Las Vegas, yesterday recalled a 4˝-minute Russian commercial which featured the Moscow Symphony, a spot showing a driverless Chevrolet touring Paris, and a daring net bra commercial from France. The series—later copied on the networks—lasted only 13 weeks, Lamond said, remarking, “It was ahead of its time.”
•Lamond also hosted a weekly collection of Three Stooges shorts which, surprisingly, drew a wide audience. Airings of those slapstick flicks in other parts of the country also fared well in the ratings, and the Three Stooges made a comeback. Moe Howard and Larry Fine, two of the original stooges, teamed with Joe DeRita to star in a new series of feature films, starting with “Have Rocket, Will Travel” in 1959. (Lamond was Fine’s son-in-law and served as narrator of that 1959 offering, as well as the 1961 “Three Stooges Meet Hercules”; he had roles in three other stooges feature films.)
•“Success Story,” hosted by Ken Peters and sponsored by Richfield gas stations, took viewers on a tour each week of the facility of a business or government operation. The TV Guide listing for the Sept. 13, 1957 edition announced: “How two hundred dollars, an original Dutch costume, potato chips and an eight foot store was able to start the fantastic success of Van de Kamp’s Bakery will be seen tonight….” Other remotes emanated from such places as the local FBI office, Pabst Brewing Company, the DWP plant in the San Fernando Valley, and Kaiser Steel Fabricating Plant in Montebello where parts for rocket launchers were fashioned.
•Channel 5 was L.A.’s music-variety station, but Channel 11 also provided such programming. It staged the “Stan Kenton Show,” broadcast from the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa. “Town Hall Party,” a Saturday night three-hour country-western show was broadcast from Town Hall in Compton featuring the likes of Tex Williams (leading the 10-piece band), Doye O’Dell, Tex Ritter, Merle Travis, Joe and Rose Lee Maphis, Wes and Marilyn Tuttle, Johnny Bond, the Collins Kids, and (after he left KTLA) Spade Cooley.
•Channel 11 annually broadcast the Miss Universe Pageant from Long Beach — not just the final night, but all the preliminary rounds of competition, stretching over a full week, with Bill Welsh providing swivel-by-swivel coverage.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company
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