"Folks," Barber soon reminds his amnesiac audience, "the Gillette Safety Razor Company is mighty happy to bring you this game, and say, fellas, that reminds the Ol' Redhead: How're ya fixed for blades?" Cue the cartoon parrot, who sings: "How're ya fixed for blades? Please be sure you haaave enough, 'cause a worn out blade makes shavin' mighty tough...." Mickey Mantle hits a home run over the Schaefer Beer sign in right-field in the sixth to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead. "This series will go down as one of the greatest of all time," gushes Allen, who has returned to the mike. It will go down as the Battle of the Home Run." Black is then lifted for Preacher Roe and...the tape runs out. If anyone knows who won the 1952 World Series, please write in care of this magazine.
No matter. Flip, and 1 am watching the Harlem Globetrotters play a full-court game of five-on-live on The Sieve Allen Show in 1957. The Trotters' opponents: a slick-haired and uniformed quintet of Allen, Tom Poston, Skitch Henderson, Lou Costello and Don Knotts—a Dream Team in Brylcreem.
My flipping evokes the expected memorable moments—Al Michaels asking, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"—and the unexpected Maalox moments: Phil Rizzuto, broadcasting for the Yankees in 1961, had weeks to prepare for the possibility of Roger Maris hitting his 61st home run, and when the historic occasion at last arrives, the Scooter summons up all of his oratorical skills and articulates, "Ho-o-o-oly cow!"
The broadcasting museum is at the mercy of whatever its donors donate. Thus, its lineup is a quirky combination of quality and crap, much like the lineups of those variety shows that were television's most durable product, and the medium's only constant, from the '50s through the '70s. Something called Burt Bacharach '14 can be found under "Sports" at the museum, whose computerized card catalog summarizes the special thusly: "Highlights include Burt Bacharach and Roger Moore talking about women, Sandy Duncan singing I'll Never Fall in Love Again, Duncan and Bacharach in the park, and the Globetrotters in a sketch about the invention of basketball. Continues as the Globetrotters imitate the Temptations, Bacharach and Moore portray two bums in the park, Jack Jones sings Alone Again Naturally, and the ensemble sings a medley of Bacharach hits. Closes with a musical tribute to George Gershwin."
Flip. Exactly seven days after the assassination of President Kennedy, Cassius Clay recites poetry on The Jack Paar Program while Liberace accompanies him on the piano.
Former New York Daily News sportswriter Ed Sullivan first turned the spigot that brought a stream of sports stars to television talk shows. Flip. Sept. 30, 1962: Newly crowned heavyweight champion Sonny Liston, seated in the audience, is introduced at the start of Sullivan's shew; next, onstage, come the Harvest Moon Ball Dancers, followed by a man lying on his back while simultaneously juggling and spinning a piano on his feet; then Ed makes more special introductions: Mantle and Whitey Ford...Flip. Jan. 6, 1957: Sullivan welcomes newly retired Jackie Robinson, newly defeated Sugar Ray Robinson, Don Budge and... Elvis. Flip. Dec. 3, 1961: Sullivan's guests are members of the All-America football team, Zippy the Ape, and Maurice Chevalier.
Flip. I see my life passing before my bleary eyes, and I realize that all of my living has been done "in living color," the NBC peacock having made its debut well before I made mine in the mid-1960s. The first thing I notice when TV turns to color is not the new palette of the playing field but the Crayola blazers in the broadcast booth: Hideous tartans, Kermit-the-Frog greens, robin's-egg blues, and the canary-yellow jackets of ABC Sports. Someone skinned a pool table to make the sport coat Curt Gowdy wears while announcing Super Bowl III; a pocket square like a burgundy silk bedsheet billows from the breast pocket of his green baize blazer.
Flip. I have dialed up Jim McKay, who is wearing one of ABC's Tweety-Bird blazers on a 1970 episode of Wide World of Sports. Yugoslav forklift-operator Vinko Bogataj has dutifully veered off a ski jump in Oberstdorf, Germany, like a human gutter ball; a disembodied voice has intoned, "Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat—the human drama of athletic competition"; and suddenly here it is, the human drama of athletic competition: McKay hitting a golf ball over the Great Wall of China. (White stakes are out, Great Wall is in.)
Howard Cosell is another who is always wearing that Dole-banana blazer. Flip. Here he is in Kingston, Jamaica—suddenly hysterical as George Foreman knocks down Joe Frazier in their 1973 heavyweight bout—shrieking, "Down goes Fraziuh! Down goes Fraziuh! Down goes Fraziuh!"
Flip. Now Cosell sits in rare and doleful silence as a Monday Night Football camera focuses on a bed sheet borne by Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans. WE LOVE THE BUGS, reads the sheet, which is then further unfurled to rhymingly reveal... HOWIE SUCKS!" The camera jerks away. The age of living color, it seems, has often been more off-color than colorful.