Skitch Henderson

Music Director


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his two-and-a-half hour Archive interview, Lyle “Skitch” Henderson (1918-2005) talks about his early years, and working as musical director with such luminaries as Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, and Bing Crosby. He recalls being hired by NBC, first for radio, and working with Arturo Toscanini. He recounts his years as musical director on Tonight with Steve Allen, and staying on when the show was taken over by Johnny Carson in 1962. Henderson describes appearing on other shows like Texaco Star Theater with Milton Berle, The Kate Smith Hour, Captain Kangaroo, and The Mike Douglas Show. He concludes with a discussion of then-recent activities including a stint with the New York Pops, and of his advice to aspiring television musicians. Karen Herman conducted the interview in New York City, New York on July 25, 2002.

"Bing Crosby used to say to me, 'never say no, always say, yes, and do what the hell you want.' I think that’s a very good philosophy."

People Talking About ...
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his first job at a radio station; on working with Judy Garland early in his career; on taking various jobs in Hollywood
On working with Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey at the NBC radio studios on Sunset and Vine; on working with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in nightclubs and on radio, and on getting his nickname from Bing Crosby; on the first time he saw television, and on the state of the NBC television network when he joined

Chapter 2

On being a "morning man" for NBC radio, on working with Arturo Toscanini as a musician for NBC, and on Toscanini's vision of television; on David Sarnoff dismantling the NBC Symphony, and on becoming music director for NBC
On becoming the musical director of Tonight, and on working with Steve Allen on Tonight; on a typical day putting together Tonight in the '50s when Steve Allen was host
On the end of Steve Allen's stint as the host of Tonight; on deciding the music that was to be performed on Tonight, and on Tonight announcer Gene Rayburn; on rehearsing with musical guests of Tonight

Chapter 3

On the popularity of Steve Allen's Tonight, and on network interference or censorship with the show; on the style of music on Tonight, and on changing the music up for Jack Paar and Johnny Carson; on the sponsors influence over the music of Tonight, and on working with Dave Garroway on Garroway at Large
On returning to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson; on working with Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson; on how the music on Steve Allen's Tonight differed from the music on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and on being involved with the sketches on the show

Chapter 4

On the "Stump the Band" segment from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and on other recurring segments featuring the band on the show; on dealing with sound on television as opposed to a live performance; on doing The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson from 11:15pm to 11:30pm with Ed McMahon in the early years, and on the wardrobe of the band
On leaving The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1966; on the legacy of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson; on the legacy of Steve Allen and his version of Tonight
On working with Victor Borge; on working on Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar; on working on Wonderful Town, U.S.A.
On working on Texaco Star Theater with Milton Berle and The Kate Smith Hour; on working on Captain Kangaroo starring Bob Keeshan, and To Tell the Truth; on working on The Jonathan Winters Show

Chapter 5

On Steve Allen's man on the street segments on Tonight; on appearing on various talk shows; on ending his association with NBC
On the Hollywood Blacklist; on heading up the New York Pops; on his then-recent projects
On his proudest career achievement, and on his playing for three hour live on NBC the evening of the Kennedy assassination; on career regrets; on advice to aspiring television musicians
Shows

Captain Kangaroo

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on working on Captain Kangaroo starring Bob Keeshan

Garroway at Large

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the sponsors influence over the music of Tonight, and on working with Dave Garroway on Garroway at Large

Jonathan Winters Show, The (1956-57)

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on working on The Jonathan Winters Show

Kate Smith Hour

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on working on the Kate Smith Hour

Lawrence Welk Show, The

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on The Lawrence Welk Show

Merv Griffin Show, The

View Show Page
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on The Merv Griffin Show

Mike Douglas Show, The

View Show Page
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on The Mike Douglas Show

Texaco Star Theater

View Show Page
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on working on Texaco Star Theater with Milton Berle

To Tell the Truth

View Show Page
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on working on To Tell the Truth

Tonight

View Show Page
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on becoming the musical director of Tonight, and on working with Steve Allen
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on a typical day putting together Tonight in the '50s when Steve Allen was host
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the end of Steve Allen's stint as the host of Tonight
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on deciding the music that was to be performed on Tonight, and on Tonight announcer Gene Rayburn
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on rehearsing with musical guests of Tonight
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the popularity of Steve Allen's Tonight, and on network interference or censorship with the show
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the style of music on Tonight, and on changing the music up for Jack Paar and Johnny Carson
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the sponsors influence over the music of Tonight, and on working with Dave Garroway on Garroway at Large
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on how the music on Steve Allen's Tonight differed from the music on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the legacy of Steve Allen and his version of Tonight
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on Steve Allen's man on the street segments on Tonight

Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The

View Show Page
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on returning to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on working with Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on how the music on Steve Allen's Tonight differed from the music on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on being involved in sketches on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the "Stump the Band" segment from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and on other recurring segments featuring the band on the show
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on dealing with sound on television as opposed to a live performance
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on doing The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson from 11:15pm to 11:30pm with Ed McMahon in the early years, and on the wardrobe of the band
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on leaving The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1966
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the legacy of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

Wonderful Town, U.S.A.

View Show Page
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on working on Wonderful Town, U.S.A.

Your Show of Shows

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on working on Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar
Topics

Advice

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on advice to aspiring musicians to desire to work in television

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the popularity of Steve Allen's Tonight, and on network interference or censorship with the show

Historic Events and Social Change

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on his proudest career achievement, and on his playing for three hour live on NBC the evening of the Kennedy assassination

Hollywood Blacklist

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the Hollywood Blacklist

Industry Crossroads

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the Hollywood Blacklist

JFK Assassination and Funeral

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on his proudest career achievement, and on his playing for three hour live on NBC the evening of the Kennedy assassination

Television Industry

View Topic
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the popularity of Steve Allen's Tonight, and on network interference or censorship with the show
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the Hollywood Blacklist
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on advice to aspiring musicians to desire to work in television
Professions

Music Director

View Profession
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on hiring musicians for NBC, and on hiring Doc Severinsen
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on dealing with sound on television as opposed to a live performance
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on his musical style

Music Professionals

View Profession
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on hiring musicians for NBC, and on hiring Doc Severinsen
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on dealing with sound on television as opposed to a live performance
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on his musical style
Genres

Music Shows & Variety Shows/Specials

View Genre
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on The Lawrence Welk Show

Talk Shows

View Genre
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on being musical director for Steve Allen's Tonight
Lyle "Skich" Henderson on acting as music director on Steve Allen's Tonight and on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on Steve Allen's man on the street segments on Tonight
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on The Mike Douglas Show
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on The Merv Griffin Show
People

Steve Allen

View Interview Page
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on becoming the musical director of Tonight, and on working with Steve Allen on Tonight
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on a typical day putting together Tonight in the '50s when Steve Allen was host
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the popularity of Steve Allen's Tonight, and on network interference or censorship with the show
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on Steve Allen's man on the street segments on Tonight

Victor Borge

View Person Page
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on working with Victor Borge

Sid Caesar

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on working on Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar

Johnny Carson

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on returning to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on working with Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

Bing Crosby

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on working with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in nightclubs and on radio, and on getting his nickname from Bing Crosby

Mike Douglas

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on The Mike Douglas Show

Judy Garland

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on working with Judy Garland early in his career

Dave Garroway

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the sponsors influence over the music of Tonight, and on working with Dave Garroway on Garroway at Large

Merv Griffin

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on The Merv Griffin Show

Bob Hope

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on working with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in nightclubs and on radio, and on getting his nickname from Bing Crosby

Ed McMahon

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on working with Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

Gene Rayburn

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on deciding the music that was to be performed on Tonight, and on Tonight announcer Gene Rayburn

David Sarnoff

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on David Sarnoff dismantling the NBC Symphony, and on becoming music director for NBC

Doc Severinsen

View Person Page
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on hiring musicians for NBC, and on hiring Doc Severinsen

Frank Sinatra

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on working with Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey at the NBC radio studios on Sunset and Vine

Arturo Toscanini

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on being a "morning man" for NBC radio, on working with Arturo Toscanini as a musician for NBC, and on Toscanini's vision of television

Lawrence Welk

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on The Lawrence Welk Show

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