Colgate Comedy Hour, The


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

Tabs

About

For approximately five-and-a-half seasons, NBC's Colgate Comedy Hour presented big budget musical variety television as head-to-head competition for Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town on CBS. Featuring the top names in vaudeville, theater, radio and film, this live Sunday evening series was the first starring vehicle for many notable performers turning to television. Reflecting format variations by host, the Colgate Comedy Hour initially offered musical comedy, burlesque sketches, opera and/or night club comedy revues.

In his autobiography, Take My Life, comedian Eddie Cantor recalled proposing to NBC that he was prepared to host a television show but only once every four weeks in rotation with other comics. Colgate-Palmolive-Peet picked up the tab for three of the four weeks and the Colgate Comedy Hour was born with Cantor, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and Fred Allen as hosts. The fourth show of the month was sponsored originally by Frigidaire and appeared for a short time under the title Michael Todd's Revue with Todd producing and comic Bobby Clark scheduled to alternate with Bob Hope as host.

Cantor premiered the Colgate Comedy Hour on 10 September 1950, to rave reviews. Working the thread of a story line into the show for continuity, the veteran performer took his material out of the realm of vaudeville and turned it into more of a legitimate Broadway attraction. Martin and Lewis met with similar success. Dominating their hour, the energetic duo created a night club setting whose intimacy and ambience the trade press found continuously funny. Allen, on the other hand, found the large scale theatrical nature of the format too demanding and out of character for his more relaxed style of humor. Attempting to transfer elements of his successful radio show to video, he only met with disappointment. This was especially true when the characters of his famous Allen's Alley were foolishly turned into puppets. Allen showed improvement on subsequent telecasts but was retired from the series after his fourth broadcast. Bitter about his experience, he promised he would not return to television unless provided a low key format comparable to Dave Garroway's Chicago based Garroway at Large. Clark produced better ratings and reviews than Allen but ultimately he and the Michael Todd Revue suffered a similar fate.

Premiering with Jackie Gleason in its second season, the Colgate Comedy Hour was the highest budgeted, single-sponsor extravaganza on television with Colgate-Palmolive-Peet picking up a three million dollar a year talent-production-time tab. Back for their second year were Cantor and Martin and Lewis with Gleason, Abbott and Costello, Spike Jones, Tony Martin and Ezio Pinza slotted as starters. Ratings remained high for the original hosts but the Sullivan show began producing high budget specials that chipped away at the Colgate numbers when the new hosts appeared.

During the second season, the Colgate Comedy Hour also became the first commercial network series to originate on the west coast when Cantor hosted his program from Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre on 30 September 1951. Two years later, on 22 November 1953, a Donald O'Connor Comedy Hour became the first sponsored network program to be telecast in color. In an FCC-approved test of RCA's new compatible color system, several hundred persons monitored the broadcast in specially equipped viewing booths at a site distant from the Colgate production theater.

Despite an annual budget estimated at more than six million dollars, during the 1953-54 season the Colgate Comedy Hour began to experience problems. Many performers, hard pressed to continually generate new material, were considered stale and repetitious. Cantor and Martin and Lewis were still highly rated regulars but Cantor was feeling stressed. The diminutive showman had suffered a heart attack after a Comedy Hour appearance in September 1952, and, now nearly sixty years of age, he felt the work too demanding. This would be his last season. To attract and maintain an audience, new hosts, including the popular Jimmy Durante, were absorbed from NBC's faltering All Star Revue. Occasional "book" musicals, top flight shows such as Anything Goes with Ethel Merman and Frank Sinatra, were produced. The Comedy Hour also began to tour providing viewers with special broadcasts from glamorous locations-- New York seen from the deck of the S.S. United States.

During the 1954-55 season, the Sullivan show made significant inroads on the Colgate Comedy Hour's ratings. Martin and Lewis made fewer appearances and an emphasis was placed on performers working in big settings such as the Hollywood Bowl and Broadway's Latin Quarter. During the summer, Colgate collaborated with Paramount Pictures, the latter supplying guest stars and film clips from newly released motion pictures. The show moved away from comedy headliners; actor Charlton Heston hosted as did orchestra leader Guy Lombardo and musical star Gordon MacRae. To reflect these differences the show's name was changed to the Colgate Variety Hour, but, despite the changes, for the first time in its history, the series dropped out of the top twenty-five in Nielsen ratings while Sullivan moved into the top five.

A feuding Martin and Lewis kicked off the last season of the Colgate Variety Hour to good reviews but subsequent shows proved it had become increasingly difficult to sustain acceptable ratings for a series of this budget magnitude. On 11 December 1955, Sullivan drew an overnight Trendex of 42.6. The Variety Hour's salute to theatrical legend George Abbott came in a distant third with a dismal 7.2. Two weeks later, on 25 December 1955 the Colgate series quietly left the air following a Christmas music broadcast by Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians. Replaced with the poorly conceived NBC Comedy Hour, featuring unlikely host Leo Durocher, one of the most lavish, entertaining and at times extraordinary musical variety series in television history was just a memory. In May 1967 NBC presented a Colgate Comedy Hour revival but it was a revival in name only--not in format or in star value.

-Joel Sternberg

PRINCIPAL HOSTS

Eddie Cantor (1950-1954)

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (1950-1955)

Fred Allen (1950)

Donald O'Connor (1951-1954)

Abbott and Costello (1951-1954)

Bob Hope (1952-1953)

Jimmy Durante (1953-1954)

Gordon MacRae (1954-1955)

Robert Paige (1955)

PRODUCERS

Charles Friedman, Sam Fuller

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

NBC

September 1950-December 1955   Sunday 8:00-9:00

FURTHER READING

"Abbott, Costello Into Colgate Hour." Variety (Los Angeles), 13 December 1950.

Brooks, Tim, and Earle Marsh. The Complete Directory To Prime Time Network TV Shows 1946-Present. New York: Ballantine Books, 1979; 5th edition, 1992.

Cantor, Eddie with, Jane Kesner Ardmore. Take My Life. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1957.

"Cantor Faces the East As First L.A.-to-N.Y. Com'l TV Show Bows." Variety (Los Angeles), 3 October 1951.

Castleman, Harry, and Podrazik, Walter J. Watching TV: Four Decades of American Television. New York: McGraw Hill, 1982.

"Colgate Comedy Hour." Variety (Los Angeles), 20 September 1950.

"Colgate Comedy Hour." Variety (Los Angeles), 27 September 27 1950.

"Colgate Comedy Hour." Variety (Los Angeles), 5 September 1951.

"Colgate Comedy Hour." Variety (Los Angeles), 17 May 1967.

"Colgate Looks and Reads Like the Sullivan Show, But Still Takes Beating." Variety (Los Angeles), 14 December 1955.

"Colgate Variety Hour." Variety (Los Angeles), 15 June 1955.

"Colgate Variety Hour." Variety (Los Angeles), 21 September 1955.

"Color TV Review: Colgate Comedy Hour." Variety (Los Angeles), 25 November 1953.

"How the New Shows Are Doing." Television (New York), November, 1950.

"Martin & Lewis Show." Variety (Los Angeles), 24 September 1952.

"Martin & Lewis Show (Colgate Comedy Hour)." Variety (Los Angeles), 7 October 1953.

"Michael Todd's Revue." Variety (Los Angeles), 4 October 1950.

"NBC Comedy Hour." Variety (Los Angeles), 11 January 1956.

Rosen, George. "Cantor Sock in Debut on Colgate Airer; Vet Showman a TV Natural." Variety (Los Angeles), 13 September 1950.

"Tele Follow-Up Comment." Variety (Los Angeles), 20 December 1950.

"Tele Follow-Up Comment." Variety (Los Angeles), 29 September 1954.

"Tele Follow-Up Comment." Variety (Los Angeles), 6 July 1955.

"Tele Topics." Radio Daily (New York), 19 September 1950.

"Television Follow-Up Comment." Variety (Los Angeles), 25 October 1950.

Terrace, Vincent. The Complete Encyclopedia Of Television Programs 1947-1979, Vol. 1, A-Z. New York: Barnes, 1979.

Highlights
Jerry Lewis on hosting The Colgate Comedy Hour with Dean Martin
06:53
Bud Yorkin on working with Eddie Cantor, Fred Allen and Bud Abbot and Lou Costello on The Colgate Comedy Hour
02:48
Norman Lear on Jerry Lewis asking for him to write on The Colgate Comedy Hour after seeing a sketch he had written on the Ford Star Revue
03:28
Sam Denoff on being influenced by the Colgate Comedy Hour with Martin and Lewis
02:03
Norman Lear on writing for Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin on The Colgate Comedy Hour with partner Ed Simmons
07:10
Doris Singleton on The Colgate Comedy Hour
01:37
Who talked about this show

Berle Adams

View Interview
Berle Adams on his clients Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis breaking up their act before fulfilling a four-episode contract to appear on The Colgate Comedy Hour, and how he convinced them to appear on the show anyway
06:53

William Asher

View Interview
William Asher on directing The Colgate Comedy Hour with Sammy Davis Jr. and other guests

Bob Banner

View Interview
Bob Banner on producing The Colgate Comedy Hour
00:58

Ted Bergmann

View Interview
Ted Bergmann on managing Colgate's television interests, including Colgate Comedy Hour
00:36

Al Borden

View Interview
Al Borden on being propmaster for The Colgate Comedy Hour
05:25
Al Borden on a typical production week for The Colgate Comedy Hour
08:10
Al Borden on some of the "tricks" he used as propmaster for The Colgate Comedy Hour
01:43
Al Borden on the budgets of The Colgate Comedy Hour
01:03
Al Borden on the hosts of The Colgate Comedy Hour
04:32
Al Borden on Donald O'Connor hosting The Colgate Comedy Hour
05:41
Al Borden on working with Lou Costello on The Colgate Comedy Hour
02:02
Al Borden on working with Jimmy Durante and Tallulah Bankhead on The Colgate Comedy Hour
03:14
Al Borden on problems with props and guest stars on The Colgate Comedy Hour
02:10
Al Borden on working with the writers on The Colgate Comedy Hour and the gags on the show
06:15
Al Borden on mishaps involving props on The Colgate Comedy Hour
03:36
Al Borden on leaving The Colgate Comedy Hour
00:34
Al Borden on the impact of technological advances on The Colgate Comedy Hour
05:31

Allan Burns

View Interview
Allan Burns on being an usher for The Colgate Comedy Hour
00:34

Henry Colman

View Interview
Henry Colman on an incident early in his career when he was working on The Colgate Comedy Hour
01:06

Michael Dann

View Interview
Michael Dann on producing The Colgate Comedy Hour
03:41

Milton Delugg

View Interview
Conductor Milton Delugg briefly on working on The Colgate Comedy Hour
01:19

Sam Denoff

View Interview
Sam Denoff on being influenced by the Colgate Comedy Hour with Martin and Lewis
02:03

Bob Finkel

View Interview
Bob Finkel on a picture of Martin and Lewis 
00:55

Betty Garrett

View Interview
Betty Garrett on appearing on The Colgate Comedy Hour
01:29

Rocky Kalish

View Interview
Rocky Kalish on writing for The Colgate Comedy Hour; the format of the show; on meeting Marilyn Monroe
02:12
Rocky and Irma Kalish on The Colgate Comedy Hour' s writers room

Irma Kalish

View Interview
Rocky Kalish on writing for The Colgate Comedy Hour; the format of the show; on meeting Marilyn Monroe
02:12
Rocky and Irma Kalish on The Colgate Comedy Hour' s writers room

Mort Lachman

View Interview
Writer Mort Lachman on Bob Hope hosting the The Colgate Comedy Hour (airdate: December 24, 1950) and his discomfort with TV cameras
02:30

Norman Lear

View Interview
Norman Lear on Jerry Lewis asking for him to write on The Colgate Comedy Hour after seeing a sketch he had written on the Ford Star Revue
03:28
Norman Lear on writing for Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin on The Colgate Comedy Hour with partner Ed Simmons
07:10
Norman Lear on the revolving hosts of The Colgate Comedy Hour
01:28

Jerry Lewis

View Interview
Jerry Lewis on hosting The Colgate Comedy Hour with Dean Martin
06:53
Jerry Lewis on The Colgate Comedy Hour
05:59

Jerry Mathers

View Interview
Jerry Mathers on working with Ed Wynn in commercials for The Colgate Variety Hour
02:07

Kent McCray

View Interview
Kent McCray on the experience of working as a stagehand for NBC on shows like The Colgate Comedy Hour and All Star Revue
02:21
Kent McCray on his duties as a unit manager at NBC, and on working with Eddie Cantor on The Colgate Comedy Hour
02:08

Arthur Penn

View Interview
Arthur Penn on being hired as a floor manager at NBC in New York, and on working on The Colgate Comedy Hour
06:12
Arthur Penn on learning about directing while he was the floor manager of The Colgate Comedy Hour, and on the production schedule for the show
02:55
Arthur Penn on becoming associate director for The Colgate Comedy Hour, and on going to work for Fred Coe
05:46

Joyce Randolph

View Interview
Joyce Randolph on working on The Colgate Comedy Hour
03:51

John Rich

View Interview
John Rich on setting up The Colgate Comedy Hour at the El Capitan Theater
11:18

Doris Singleton

View Interview
Doris Singleton on The Colgate Comedy Hour
01:37

Sid Smith

View Interview
Sid Smith on directing The Colgate Comedy Hour
00:23
Sid Smith on a photo of him, Jimmy Durante, and Eddie Cantor from The Colgate Comedy Hour and All Star Revue 
00:35

Johnny Stearns

View Interview
Johnny Stearns on producing the "Autumn Crocus" episode of The Colgate Comedy Hour
01:00

Jerry Stiller

View Interview
Jerry Stiller on his first job in television - on The Colgate Comedy Hour as an extra
02:16

Gale Storm

View Interview
Gale Strom on the producer of The Colgate Comedy Hou r, Ernie Glucksman
00:18

Bud Yorkin

View Interview
Bud Yorkin on working with Eddie Cantor, Fred Allen and Bud Abbot and Lou Costello on The Colgate Comedy Hour
02:48
Bud Yorkin on stage managing and associate directing The Colgate Comedy Hour
03:55
Bud Yorkin on working with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on The Colgate Comedy Hour
02:01
Bud Yorkin on being promoted to associate director on The Colgate Comedy Hour and moving to the West Coast
05:52
Bud Yorkin on his big break becoming director of The Colgate Comedy Hour at the behest of Pat Weaver
02:14
Bud Yorkin on dealing with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis as director of The Colgate Comedy Hour
05:46

All Shows

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
J
L
M
P
R
S
T
W