In the 1950s I was assigned to work on the Bing Crosby special as stage manager. The show..
was produced by song writer, Sammy Cahn, whom I had the opportunity to work with many times and we became very good friends. We did the show at NBC although it was for ABC. I'm not certain why the show was done at NBC as it was to be presented on the air live. This was before the days of videotape recording and all shows were done live unless they were filmed in 35mm.
One of the major guests on the show was Dean Martin. His spot was to come up right after the station break halfway through the show. The theme of the show was called "Planks for the memory". This was a take on Bing's theme song which was " THANKS FOR THE MEMORY". Art Director, Jim Trittipo, had created all of his sets from stacks of wood arranged in different manners. Thus the Dean Martin set consisted of two leaning boards facing each other. Leaning boards were on movie sets to allow actors who wore costumes that would not allow them to lie down, an opportunity to get some rest. Leaning boards had an angle of about 25°. The idea was that Dean Martin who was known for being laid-back and casual would be on one board facing Bing Crosby who also was famous for being laid-back and casual. There was a written comedy dialogue that was to go on between the two of them. They would read their copy from the large cue cards being held by the cue card boy near the camera.
When it came time to do the show, Dean Martin had not arrived from home as the show went on the air. When we were 15 minutes into the show I was really becoming concerned and I asked Sammy, I said," Sammy, have you talked to Dean? I haven't heard from him and I don't know where he is!"
Sammy said, "Well I'll keep an eye out for him. He doesn’t it have to be here right away, but he should show up anytime".
Guest singer Jo Stafford did her bit, singing her hit song, "How is that Doggy in the Window? " and she was chatting with Bing as we were minutes away from the station break.
I was beside myself! Where was Dean?!!! I ran to find Sammy to ask him what to do and at just that moment stage door opened and Dean walked in.
He said, "Sammy, I got a have a drink".
Sammy said," Sure, Dean, no problem," and he grabbed a water glass and filled it with Jack Daniels which Dean Martin immediately drank down and then handed the empty glass to Sammy saying, "How about another?"
Sammy obliged and handed Dean another water glass full of the potent stuff. Pretty soon, Dean began to wobble when he walked across the dressing room, and his words were slurred. He began to slump, and as it was time for the comedy skit go on the air, Sammy and I put Dean between us with his arms across our shoulders and literally dragged him across the stage to his slant board where we flopped him in place across from Bing, just as the Associate Director gave the cue that we were on the air!
Dean had a big drunken smile on his face. He grabbed the cue card from the cue card boy. He held it in his hands rotated it back and forth. "Now, what is it I am supposed to say?" he mumbled, and the audience roared with laughter.
Bing looked at him from his slant board. He said, "Here. Can I help you? The laughter got louder and louder as the two men struggled with the cue cards, sometimes reading them, and sometimes just throwing them away. The improvisation over the written words was a huge success. The audience would never know that what they saw was real and unrehearsed.
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Emmy Award winning Associate Director tells his stories about the history of television from 1953-present.