The Original Amateur Hour was first heard on New York radio in 1934 as Major Bowes' Original Amateur Hour. The following year, it was programmed on CBS radio where it remained until 1946 when Major Bowes--the program's creator and host--died. Two years later, the program was revived on ABC radio and on Dumont television, hosted in both media by Ted Mack, a talent scout and director of the series under Bowes. The radio and television programs were originally sponsored by Old Gold Cigarettes, represented on television by the famous dancing cigarette box. During its first season, Original Amateur Hour was a ratings sensation, and although it never equaled its initial success, its longevity is testament to its ability to attract a consistently profitable audience share.
Original Amateur Hour lasted on radio until 1952 and on television until 1970. The television version was ultimately broadcast over all four major networks during its long run, eventually settling in as a Sunday afternoon CBS feature during its final decade of production.
The format of the program remained virtually unchanged from its premiere in early network radio. The show was essentially an amateur talent contest, the non-professional status of contestants thus distinguishing Original Amateur Hour from Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts which also ran during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Contestants traveled to New York's Radio City from all parts of the country to sing, dance, play music, and participate in various forms of novelty entertainment. Those who passed an initial screening were invited to compete on the program. Winners were determined by viewers who voted via letters and phone calls, and winning contestants returned to compete against a crop of new talent on the next program. Between amateur acts, Ted Mack conducted rambling interviews and shared corny jokes with contestants. Contestants who won three times earned cash prizes, scholarships, or parts in a traveling stage show associated with the program. In 1951, five such shows traveled about the country.
While most contestants fell back into obscurity following their appearances on the program, others went on to successful professional careers. Stars who first appeared on television's Original Amateur Hour included ventriloquist Paul Winchell and pop singers Teresa Brewer, Gladys Knight, and Pat Boone.
Original Amateur Hour offered a shot at fame and fortune to thousands of hopeful, would-be professional entertainers. As such, it represented a permeable boundary between everyday viewers and the national entertainment industry. The program's general appeal, reliable ratings, simple format, and low production costs have inspired many imitators in television including the Gong Show (which resurrected the notorious rejection gong, not heard since the Major Bowes' radio broadcasts) and, more recently, Star Search.
Dennis James, Roy Greece
Ted Mack, Lou Goldberg
DuMont Television Network
January 1948-September 1949 Sunday 7:00-8:00
October 1949-January 1952 Tuesday 10:00-11:00
January 1952-September 1952 Tuesday 10:00-10:45
April 1953-September 1954 Saturday 8:30-9:00
October 1955-December 1955 Sunday 9:30-10:00
January 1956-February 1956 Sunday 9:30-10:30
March 1956-September 1956 Sunday 9:00-10:00
October 1956-March 1957 Sunday 7:30-8:30
April 1957-June 1957 Sunday 9:00-10:00
July 1957-September 1957 Monday 10:00-10:30
September 1957-December 1957 Sunday 7:00-7:30
February 1958-October 1958 Saturday 10:00-10:30
May 1959-June 1959 Friday 8:30-9:00
July 1959-October 1959 Friday 10:30-11:00
March 1960-September 1960 Monday 10:30-11:00
Brooks, Tim, and Earle Marsh. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows; 1946-Present. New York: Ballantine, 1988.
Dunning, J. Tune In Yesterday; The Ultimate Encyclopedia Of Old-Time Radio. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1976.
"400,000 Hopefuls." Time (New York), 12 April 1954.
"The Gong Again." Newsweek (New York), 11 October 1948.
McNeil, Alex. Total Television; A Comprehensive Guide To Programming From 1948 To The Present. New York: Penguin, 1991.
"Ted Mack." In Rothe, A., editor. Current Biography; Who's News and Why, 1951. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1951.