Thursday, March 13, 2003
Lloyd Thaxton: Local Personality
By ROGER M. GRACE
A few months ago, I was writing a column on Oscar Levant and wanted to get ahold of a particular person who had appeared on the late wit’s local TV talk show, delivering commercials. I tracked him down to “LT Productions,” and telephoned “information” for the phone number.
There was no listing. The operator queried, “Do you know what ‘L.T.’ stands for?”
“Lloyd Thaxton,” I responded.
“Oh, I know HIM!” came the enthused reaction of an obvious fan.
Thaxton had a lot of them.
He was youthful, personable and good-looking in those days, 45 years back, when he delivered spiels on KCOP, and co-hosted a show on that station with the pianist’s wife, June Levant, after Oscar Levant had a blowup with management and moved to KHJ-TV. Thaxton soon starred in a local afternoon show resembling Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand,” and emceed network television shows in the 1970s.
White-haired now, Thaxton remains youthful, personable and good-looking.
Thaxton came to Los Angeles in 1957 from Toledo, Ohio, where he had hosted the top-rated local show, “Leave It to Lloyd.” He became a “freelance announcer” here.
I hadn’t heard that term before talking with Thaxton. A freelance announcer, he explained, would go from station to station to deliver commercials. That was, of course, at the tail end of the live television era. Videotape had been developed, but was not yet widely used.
“I would do the same commercial over and over again,” Thaxton said.
He’d deliver a White Front (discount store) commercial on Channel 9 at 11 a.m., get in his car and go to Channel 2, and repeat the same spiel, he recalled. And he would keep running into the same “freelance television guys,” such as Lloyd Simon, in station parking lots, Thaxton noted.
At KCOP, he would deliver spiels on the talk shows of the erratic Oscar Levant and the controversial gabber, Tom Duggan. Thaxton told me that after Oscar Levant had bolted from KCOP, station manager Al Flanagan asked him to a do show with June Levant, promising that if he did, “I will also give you a show of your own.”
June Levant was possessed of charm and self-confidence. She was a former actress. But I remember her first day on her afternoon show, with Thaxton as her announcer/sidekick. She seemed uneasy.
“She was scared to death,” Thaxton confirmed.
On her husband’s show, he recounted, “she would read the mail” and “she didn’t really have to come up with any new, fresh ideas.” But this was now “The June Levant Show,” and “she was very nervous,” Thaxton said. His own role on the show, as he described it, was that of “kind of leading her on, and asking her questions—like interviewing her.”
Aired for an hour each weekday afternoon, “45 minutes of the hour was made up of films,” the announcer recalled. A movie would be continued from day to day.
Eventually, however, June Levant became at ease, the movie was eliminated, and the program became a “true talk show,” Thaxton said. June Levant would chat with someone like Pamela Mason (wife of actor James Mason, and a local TV personality), he brought to mind, remarking: “I more or less sat there and introduced the commercial breaks.”
The show, which started in 1958, lasted about a year.
Flanagan made good on his promise to give Thaxton a show of his own. “Lloyd Thaxton’s Record Shop” went on the air in 1959, while he was still announcer on June Levant’s show. It was broadcast weekdays. He sat behind a counter on a set “made to look like a record shop,” Thaxton explained. “It had a lot of live commercials, and I did them all,” he mentioned.
Thaxton interviewed "big-name guests" on his daytime television show on KCOP.
It was not quite a one-man show. He had guests, who dropped by to plug their records, or just to chat. They included dancer Fred Astaire, comic Jerry Lewis, musical director/composer Johnny Green, and composer Dmitri Tiomkin. Back then, “it was much easier than it is today to get big name guests,” Thaxton remarked.
In 1961, “The Lloyd Thaxton Show” was launched on KCOP. It featured teenagers, brought in from local high schools, dancing to records. Thaxton said:
“No one told me what I had to do. I was producing it myself. I was writing it myself.”
He lip-synched vocals and played the guitar and piano.
Seen from 5 to 6 p.m., the show started with a viewership “of three homes,” he said facetiously. Thaxton said the show went from “total obscurity to number one” show in the time period, reaching 350,000 homes.
And then, it went into national syndication. More on that next week.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company
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