Mayor Anthony Celebreeze opens the Innerbelt in 1961.
CLEVELAND - The Gene Carroll Show was the longest-running television show in history when the 25th anniversary edition of the Gene Carroll Show aired April 29, 1973.
The show aired on WEWS at noon on Sundays, beginning its run in 1948 -- just a few months after WEWS signed on the air as Cleveland's first TV station December 1947.
The show was a mix of local talent -- amateur and professional -- with a few national acts, often friends of Carroll, sprinkled in.
Gene Carroll himself was quite the entertainer, having a long run in radio at local stations around the country as well as shows that aired nationally.
Carroll's show was known by a variety of names, depending on who was sponsoring it.
Bob Seeley began his career at WEWS in 1967 on the production crew. Forty-four years later, Seeley is still at the station, now as a news videographer. He remembered his first Gene Carroll show.
"I walked in on a Sunday and in the other studio (pointing toward Studio A) down the hall going on live at noon was the Gene Carroll Show, then called the Giant Tiger Amateur Hour," said Seeley. "In the middle of the studio was this green drape, old, moldy, dirty ugly thing that Gene stood in front of an had all the acts perform in front of."
It was the very visually forgiving era of black and white TV and people at home had no clue the curtain was in such bad shape.
"Later in the show was the big production number with the regulars, the less amateur amateurs and the curtain would come out, how the curtain didn't fall down on the ground is beyond me," Seeley said.
He recalled the supporting cast, including two of the show's producers, Ben Rand and Helen Carroll, who were with Carroll for most of the show's run.
"Benny Rand was with Gene from I think the beginning. Blanche Albritton, who was a Cleveland school superintendent, was the piano player on the show all those years. Gene's wife Helen was there shepherding people along. And a whole cast of regulars that the people of Cleveland came to love," said Seeley.
To those of us who have been here at WEWS a long time, it's not uncommon to be approached by someone who tells us they had an uncle or a sister or they themselves were on the Gene Carroll Show.
Bob Seeley added, "People will go, 'oh my father was on Gene Carroll in 1952, do you still have that?' We didn't even have tape then."
We get requests for clips from the Gene Carroll Show more than all other requests combined.
Sadly, very few Gene Carroll Shows survived and no shows with Gene Carroll as the host exist in our archives. The early shows were done live and when the videotape era began, tape was expensive. Shows were taped, on say a Wednesday and then aired at noon on Sunday, and the tape was reused for the next taping. This 25th anniversary show is the only full show that remains. Segments from a show that aired March, 1972 -- right after Gene's death hosted by Fred Griffith and a few other segments also from the 70s are all that survive.
Watch the entire April 29, 1973 Gene Carroll 25th Anniversary Show in eight clips our video player, followed by a clip of Gene himself in 1957. (Note to mobile users: video clips only available on full site)
"Gene was a kind and gentle soul who obviously was a show business guy his whole life and he loved to be on the air, loved kids, love shepherding talent. And along with that, when he ran into good people he became their agent." said Seeley, who laughed as he started his next sentence. "It's not that different from American Idol on a small (emphasizing small) scale."
Gary Stark, Director of Programming and Research at WEWS, began as a station booth announcer in 1969. He told me after Carroll's death, KYW/WKYC radio personality Jim Runyon hosted the Gene Carroll Show for a year or so until Runyon died of cancer in April, 1973. Don Webster added hosting the Gene Carroll Show to his many jobs at WEWS and hosts this 25th anniversary show.
The show would have one more name change before it stopped production.
Videographer Dave Hatala began his career at WEWS on the studio crew in 1980. He recalled the show's name being changed to 'Entertainment 5' in keeping with the station branding everything with a '5.'
Gene Carroll was a part of many Clevelanders' Sunday routine.
"People who were young who say they remember their family's Sunday was simple; they went to church, following church they came home watched the Gene Carroll Show and they watched Polka Varieties (also on WEWS), then they had supper," Seeley recalled.
Studio A was the show's home during its live days and immediately following Gene Carroll, Polka Varietes was done live in Studio C giving the crew just a minute or so to move the bulky Dumont cameras between studios.
Even in the videotape era, the show was done as live, meaning it aired as done with host Carroll guiding it along like a circus master.
"It didn't matter what happened," chuckled Seeley, recalling a 'live' moment on the show. "The girl in the amateur portion
who got flustered and said 'Oh oh oh wait, let me start all over!' They go to Gene, and Gene knows we're live, and says 'That's alright honey, just keep on going."
An awkward live moment involved a regular singer on the show who was blind. In the rush between acts and in order to get her on her mark to sing her song, the floor director neglected to turn her toward the cameras. She heard her cue to start and began singing. Not being able to see, she sang her entire song with her back to the cameras.
Thousands of people appeared on the show over the years, but not all who tried made the cut. Acts had to audition to be on the show. Seeley said those auditions usually happened Friday evenings.
Like many people in early television, Gene Carroll did more than his show, he also hosted a children's show as Uncle Jake.
Here's the rundown of performers on the 25th anniversary show: Benny Rand, Andrea Carroll, Glenn, Dave & Frank, Lamarr Hill, Candy Lee & Lois Byers, The Ryan Sisters, Ray Saparita, The Heartbreakers, Cheryl Lynn, Fred Recko & Lynn Ward, Baby Duvaulet, dancers Kim Smith & Wanda Wilkerson, The Promises and The Snapshots.
I'd love to hear what you remember about the show. Please write your recollections in the comment box below.
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