From time to time, I’ve paused in my weekly quiz questions to write a little about some of my life experiences. Folks have been kind enough to show interest in such posts, and Tess K. has been tolerant and welcoming – so here’s another.
Around the year 1950 television was just starting out as a mass medium. And Berowne was just starting out as an announcer. The fabulous salaries for tv announcers, by the way, were very much in the future.
Here is a picture, taken aeons ago, of young Berowne, struggling to make a living on a new – also young, also struggling – television station. As you can see, there was a sort of perversion of production values; it looked like they had just set up a flat and hung someone’s shower curtain on it. That was it for set décor.
The TV show I emceed was titled the Weekly Starshine Theatre and it was a fairly grandiose name for what was usually an old cowboy movie, featuring old cowboys, which had been produced back in the days when a new and fascinating element – sound – had only recently burst upon the film industry.
Not many cinema folk of that early day understood much about sound equipment, which was why the actors in a film carried on impassioned conversations by shouting at each other, hoping they’d be heard by the mikes hidden behind flower pots and such.
But I couldn’t have cared less. I was on TV. Not many could say that. Not many were watching, either.
The sponsor was a famous grocery chain and their ad agency had the idea that, in addition to dazzling our audiences with topflight entertainment, like wornout old movies, there would also be a weekly “live” feature. In the moments when the film paused, I was to introduce each week a different actual grocery-store manager of the sponsor and chat with him on camera. Who wouldn’t be interested in that?
So there I was, standing with that first week’s store manager, Herman Schlumpfbinder or something like that. He had been given lines to memorize: “Say, that was a corking good film,” he was to recite. “It’s great to see the fine old movies!”
I wondered which copywriter in the ad agency was responsible for the phrase “corking good.” Who talked like that? But I said nothing, thinking it was possibly some sort of secret store manager code that I didn’t understand.
Things did not go smoothly; they rarely did in those days.
I think it’s hard for folks today to realize what tv meant in that early era. It was all so new. As we waited for our cue I suddenly realized that Mr. Schlumpf-etc. did not look at alI well. I could see that this magical new thing called television was just too much for him; he was overcome with stage fright. He was clearly shaking and sweat was visibly pouring off him in rivulets.
I could have lived with that, but his condition affected me. I feared what he might say or do and how I might have to respond. I began shaking myself.
Finally the cinematic masterpiece that was on the screen paused and I introduced my guest. For a while he just stood there, staring at the camera, shaking and sweating and making odd little noises. Then he pulled himself together and, suddenly animated, blurted out a single word: “Corking!”
I wondered what our TV audience, all two dozen of them, made of that. Anyway, after that week’s episode the ad agency cancelled all future store manager interviews.