Appreciation of this story best occurs if you read the previous post which explains the existing contentious situation between the TV Host for whom I had been hired to work on his live talk show and the young woman I was replacing who was providing me a week of on-the-job training before she left. Interestingly, I eventually learned the host had no say in my hiring, nor had he even met me to interview before I joined the crew, but that’s a different convoluted story.
Among the TV show host's varied career entertainment experiences was having been a comedy writer at age 22 for legendary comic Milton Berle, often referred to then as “Mr. Television”, “Uncle Miltie”. The host also sometimes performed as a stand-up comic at Playboy and night clubs.
He liked having a live audience, but the TV show also had live music with a talented professional quintet playing jazz and all other music genres, plus a vocalist who had co-hostess-capabilities, along with a second banana announcer as an able conversationalist often participating in the show. The host would not have had the responsibility of carrying the five days a week hour and a half show on his own lacking feedback even if he had no studio audience.
The fact there might be no live audience for the show that wintry icy snowy day would not be a disaster. The guys in the Quintet, floor crew and a few others present would laugh aloud as warranted though, granted, the sound wouldn’t seem like a crowd. All show cast members were adept at spontaneously coping with the unexpected, had previously done so in various ways as could occur with a live, not videotaped, show.
The talented quintet led by a former piano player with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra could easily have filled the whole program with music they hadn’t rehearsed from their catalog of most known songs, improvising as needed, without even requiring written music charts, if necessary.
When I was hired, unbeknownst to me the situation between the two of them, show host and assistant, had devolved to the point they would not speak directly to each other. What this meant was, when the three of us were at my desk he would look specifically at me with what I think was a twinkle in his eyes and say, “Tell (her name), .........” then spoke whatever his message was. She would then look at me stiffly and angrily saying, “Tell (his name), .........” then speak her very formal terse response.
The conversation would continue like this for varying lengths of time several occasions each day. This went on for my whole training week! I couldn’t believe it, but just went with the flow. Usually, I was spared having to repeat what each said as they didn’t wait for me to do so before responding with messages for each other, but always looking and talking directly to me.
We were all physically close together within touching distance huddled at my desk. It’s just that each always prefaced what they said, saying my name, and then instructing me to tell the other whatever their message was.
It wasn’t any skin off my nose, as the saying goes, so I just went along with it, curious to see what could possibly happen next. My whole training week went like that as they never resolved this alleged insubordination matter. She left at the end of the work week and we never heard from her again. I wasn’t particularly in a state of flux from this situation, but it was very strange – quite unlike anything I’d ever experienced before or have since.
I tended to conclude creative talent might be a bit eccentric so wondered if this was just natural for what I might expect in the future. I knew where I’d draw my lines in the sand, but in the following years I never had an experience on the job with him even remotely close to causing me to need to do that.
Years after the show was in our distant past there was an occasion when I gained a new perspective. Our last phone contact not long before his sudden death, precipitated behavior from him that reduced me to tears -- that had never happened before. I knew he was egocentric and could become intensely emotional but never had been confronted with the likes of his storm.
Maybe insecurities from excessive instances of rejection many people in show business routinely receive results in some explosive reactions in the talent’s process of trying to survive with ego intact, but I had never before had such an outburst unleashed on me. I had merely phoned him to inquire about the success of his performance as FDR on tour with a Broadway musical road company of “Annie” now concluded -- a production that I had been unable to attend when the show came to the Disneyland area near my city.
I volunteered regretting missing seeing him, explaining in broad brief terms my life had been unusually distressed without going into detail about just how difficult for me it had really been at that time. I was totally unprepared for his reaction as he instantly went verbally ballistic, not crude but very emotional loud hurtful words strongly emphasizing that there could be nothing that should have prevented my attendance.
I was already in a fragile emotional state at the time for reasons that had nothing to do with him, or that I was going to explain further. There was no adequate excuse in his mind anyway, so our last conversation ended on a very sour note. I had never experienced this sort of volatile interaction with friends or even family so was just unprepared to cope in that moment.
I began to understand what might have motivated the TV station management those years ago when the powers-that-be had waited until the end of his weekday show one Friday to inform him he wouldn’t be returning on the air to host the show further. I hadn’t been alerted in advance either, only learning of a show host change after I returned to the office.
Perhaps they were concerned his behavior on air might be unpredictable in ways they might not like once he was told he was being removed from the show. I speculate that the decision-makers were reluctant to give him the opportunity to say good-bye to his viewing audience, including to those who had booked seats months in advance to attend the live weekday show, for fear of what he might say or do.
They replaced him with a host, Dean Miller, whose name was known nationally then and had been a popular character in a recently ended family comedy television series, December Bride. His presence proved to be not that much of an attraction to appreciably increase viewership to a level administration desired in the following months.
I soon left the show with increased salary to direct my energies toward other areas in programming, then engineering before leaving the station completely to relocate in another city, later moving across the country to the Southwest due to my husband’s career change. I was going to leave anyway for a position at Ohio State University’s public television station that I had to relinquish before even starting due to my husband’s move.
The years following, the show underwent more host changes, finally settling on a local radio personality whose show was much less appealing for my tastes from what was described to me before finally being cancelled. By then much live programming was concluding except for the news, sports and weather. The corporation also began dissolving the broadcast division by selling each of the TV stations separately except for the mother station.
This tale seems to be not yet quite ended as a serendipitous coincidental incident occurring before my host friend’s death has come to mind, so I’ve decided to add that bit extending the conclusion another week.