Succulent ’70s Salaciousness: A Tribute to “The Gong Show”

August 13, 2008

Let us now pay homage to one of the funniest, most raucous, transgressive and subversive shows in TV history, “The Gong Show,” hosted by its shambling, shuffling, shaggy dog producer, the enigmatic Chuck Barris. There were, and are, people who don’t “get” this show—thinking it the pre-Jerry Springer version of the end of civilization—but never since has the tube been so wonderfully chaotic and, yes, off-the-cuff witty and surreal. The reactions of the panel to the infamy being perpetrated on stage were priceless, as was Barris’ stoner demeanor and saliva-soaked, ungrammatical ad libs – often punctuated by his awkward hand claps that the audience would humorously mimic. Barris often modeled an arsenal of bad hats, perched precariously over his forehead and covering his eyes, for maximum goofy visual effect. Although some people claim this is an early version of American Idol because part of the fun is watching the bad acts get razzed, that comparison misses the point. A bad act on the Gong Show was just as likely to win the prize as a good one. In fact, some talented people were gonged off the stage while some truly awful acts evaded the boot. The score an act received on The Gong Show was virtually meaningless. Top prize was $516.32 (yes, that’s right), and the winners were pretty much guaranteed continued obscurity, so nobody was taking this seriously. A guest panelist with an absurdist, wicked sense of humor might score a dreadful act a 10, while the celebrity sitting in the next chair might score it a 0 or a 2. Some real talents did appear on the show, Steve Martin, for instance. It was one big unrehearsed spontaneous party, quite unlike the slick and super-controlled production of American Idol. The infamous moment we feature here, highlighting an “act” from 1978, now simply known as “The Popsicle Twins,” allegedly led to the show’s cancellation (though in fact, the show lasted until 1980; what happened was that the western time zones didn’t see this part of the show after outraged callers on the east coast caused NBC to panic and pull the bit). Two young girls, looking way too young (they were too young, 15 and 17), fellate upon some sweet icy goodness as audience and panel members shout, “Yeah, do it! Do it!” and “all right! all right! allright!”- all contributing nicely to the delinquency of minors. Barris allegedly threw this act into the mix as a way to trick the censors, figuring if he put something this blatantly sexual onstage that the censors would cut it out and ignore some of the other presumably less offensive performances. It didn’t work—this baby went out gloriously over the national airwaves, and the rest, including The Gong Show, is history. Incredibly still, this act was not gonged, Jaye P. Morgan and Jamie Farr having absented themselves from the vicinity. One is perplexed, though, at the gall of Phyllis Diller, who at the time was hawking big girthy cucumbers on TV commercials for the now-defunct Paramount Pickle Co., of Louisville, Ky., finding no hypocrisy in scoring these phallic Lolitas with a zed. Morgan, once a ’50s torch singer who earned a somewhat lascivious reputation as the show’s humorous muse (she was the original “Girl Gone Wild,” fond of baring her breasts to the audience during commercial breaks or writing obscene notes on cards that the censors would blot out with a white bar), caps it all off with an honest observation: “Do you know that that’s the way I started?” Anyway, like her, this is something you ladies might learn from. Enjoy.

The Popsicle Twins @ YouTube:

(NOTE: I originally posted the direct, embedded Youtube link to this video, but knowing how hamhanded WordPress is about censorship and how skittish it is about Youtube material, I’ve decided to post a link to Youtube instead where you can watch the video. This state of affairs sucks, but WordPress really seems to have no sense of humor, etc.)

Wikipedia’s entry the Gong Show does a pretty good job of separating the myth from the reality.

AS a bonus enjoy this interlude from series regular Gene Gene the Dancing Machine, whose visits occasioned unrestrained festiveness for all. Tell me what other TV show has allowed this kind of sheer joyousness to erupt?

P.S.: I understand that this show has been revived a couple of times, most recently by Comedy Central and hosted by Dave Attell. From what I’ve read, it sounds as bad as all attempts to bring back comedy intensive games shows, eg., Whoopie Goldberg’s arid revisitation of The Hollywood Squares. No thanks.

A Three-Hour Tour through the Wormhole; or How General American Geographic Ignorance Doesn’t Hurt When Making Hit TV

July 31, 2008

Skipper: Riddle me this, little buddy: Just how many uncharted desert isles with active volcanoes do you think there are just three hours off the coast of the United States?

Gilligan: Uh, ummm, uh … none?

Skipper: Wow, that’s right little buddy. You’re one smart motherfucker.

Gilligan: Well, OK, so where the fuck are we then !!!! ???

Dr. Smith Made it Back to Earth; or Never Fear, Smith was Here…in Louisville

May 25, 2007

jonathan-harris-20.jpgTen years ago or so a co-worker claimed that he had once seen Dr. Smith in Middletown, a suburban area east of Louisville, Ky. Yes, that Dr. Smith: actor Jonathan Harris of TV’s ’60s sci-fi cheese classic, Lost in Space. Having watched this show religiously in my impressionable youth, this claim was regarded by me with admiration and wonder probably way out of proportion to its importance in the grand scheme of things. “Yeah,” said my co-worker, “He was shopping at Kroger.” Well, that gave it some credibility. There is a Kroger in Middletown. I asked him what the good doctor was buying at the grocery. My colleague did not know.

popelick-goatman-20.jpgSmith sightings became something of an unconfirmed local legend—sort of like the Pope Lick Monster—to the point that the city’s main news rag, The Courier-Journal stepped in to settle the mystery. I believe the TV columnist at the time, possibly David Inman, responded to a letter-writer claiming to have seen Harris in Middletown. It was true, Inman wrote. Harris sometimes visited his nephew in Middletown back in the ’80s. The visitations ceased when the nephew moved from the area at some unknown point.

Unfortunately, Smith and the Pope Lick Goatman never encountered one another. Imagine the effeminate yelp the old doc would have howled at that one.

Alas—and “oh, the pain” to us all—the good doctor departed this earthly realm in 2002. But his good buddy the robot is still going strong. He visited Wild and Woolly Video in Louisville a couple of years ago.

Oddly, I never got a glimpse of these spacey visitors to my hometown. Yet, I’ve seen a silver UFO and a guy who looked a helluva lot like Elvis.

(P.S. – No more Gravy Bread postings until mid-next week as I will likely have no computer access till after the holiday. Everyone have a great one!)


The 3 Hot Chix of My Childhood

March 15, 2007

Arriving to this life at the tail end of the Baby Boom I was of course part of the first generation to watch way too much TV; to be baby sat by Captain Kangaroo and Kukla Fran & Ollie and Bugs Bunny and Jed Clampett.

I considered those hours misspent in front of the tube to be a disaster in the development of my social skills, so much so that in the last 2 to 3 decades I’ve largely avoided television viewing and rather view the TV from afar in disgust as an outside observer.

But I still smile and get warm and fuzzy feelings inside whenever I think about or see pictures of Marlo Thomas, Elizabeth Montgomery and Diana Rigg.


These ideal TV women formed my own ideal of the perfect woman when I was just a tyke. Whenever their shows came on (“That Girl,” “Bewitched,” or “The Avengers”) I sat agog in awe of their Barbie-like perfection. They churned up mysterious feelings inside me that at that young age I could not identify or interpret. Back then, in the 60s, it was still possible for a child to go blissfully through life without sex being mentioned. And, if it was mentioned, we really didn’t want to know about it. Back then, “The Talk” about the “birds and the bees” was something we dreaded. No carefree kid, especially brought up Catholic, wants to fidget through their parent’s embarassed, fumbling explanations of uber-serious taboo matters.

They want to learn it on the street.

Oh yeah, there was also Barbara Feldon from “Get Smart” (it was that Jean-Arthur-like buttery voice that gave her an edge). Make that 4 Hot Chix from my childhood. But then I think of Ann-Margret, and Tuesday Weld and Joey Hetherton and Goldie Hawn and Dawn Wells (I was absolutely a “Mary Ann guy”, no contest), well, the list gets a bit unwieldy. (Oddly, Barbara Eden in “I Dream of Jeannie” was probably the hottest of them all, but at the time her excessive makeup on that show made me neutral about her.)

Marlo, Elizabeth and Diana. All thin and pretty and perfect. Their fleeting cathode-ray presence made me know of my heteorosexuality before I knew what the hell that was. I wanted them, but I wasn’t quite sure in what way.


While I was innocently ogling these idealized unattainable TV women, I was completely and stupidly ignoring the attentions of two cute girls in the neighborhood who were practically at war over me, a brunette gal named Terry and a blonde named Judy. Judy wanted me to play doctor with her for Chissake (the whole magilla: “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine”) and I said no. It was that damned Catholic guilt drummed into me. TV and Catholic guilt kept me boringly pure, and afraid of real life.

There are two things I regret: not playing doctor with Judy, and not buying Microsoft stock in the mid-’70s.

Anyway, I don’t intend to wax rhapsodic in any detail about my perfect TV fantasy women of that era. What hasn’t already been written by pathetic fanboys about Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel? We all know the pull of her rapier wit, her chic confidence, her knowing sly smirk, her tight leathers and kung-fu deadliness. Marlo and Elizabeth were Mrs. Perfect-Hair Domestics, with boring guys in tow who made me jealous. Marlo adorable doing double takes and pouting; Elizabeth irresistable when quizzical. Maybe I saw them more as perfect potential mothers than as potential lovers.

“Bewitched” now strikes me as absurd in the way it expects a woman of power to sublimate all those powers to her husband’s will. The metaphors are obvious and feminists can justly have a field day in the analogizing.

I won’t psychologize either about the damaging socializing effects of being weaned on too-perfect media ideals of womanhood, and what that might do to one’s expectations and interpersonal relations in real life.

Anyway, maybe the following pix can convey some of the appeal of these retro sweeties, and maybe it will help me put these lingering subconscious infatuations to rest:
















Ah, how can you not be wistful?