One such famous incident, is from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, where a series of guest hosts had begun rotating in occasionally for the vacationing King of Late Night. Carson kept a cigarette box on his desk and one night, guest host Don Rickles broke it on accident. When Carson returned, he discovered it on the air, and decided to confront Rickles, who was filming his own show next door.
It's worth sticking through the whole thing. Doc trying to appease Johnny and keep him calm serves as an excellent build, then the audience reaction to Johnny saying simply, "Should I go over there?" to his line just before he barges through, "I don't give a damn if they're on the air." Rickles is a master of thinking on his feet, so it's quite a joy to see him a little dumbstruck. And it's really a surprise. I mean, this is the 70s! You can see the camera isn't really set up to film (they switch over to CPO Sharkey's camera's, from what I can tell), Johnny's mic is corded, I mean, this kind of thing just couldn't happen back then. They're genuinely surprised. You can hear Rickles' co-star Harrison Page exclaim, "I don't believe this!"
There's a part of Rickles that must be at least somewhat scared for real, because Carson's temper was famous (ask Joan Rivers) and there's at least part of me that believes Johnny's not having fun, he's legitimately pissed. But he must've known it'd make for some really interesting television. It's a really great moment.
Now, I'm not one to constantly pine for days of old, when entertainers were better, movies and music were more inspired, etc., etc. But there is something really special about going back and watching these little treasures of the past. I think one complaint I do have that I defend as legitimate is that the people who were famous were so distinct. Carson was more than just a late-night host, he was the king of late night. Rickles was the insult comic. You didn't need DeNiro and Pacino, you just needed Cagney. John Wayne ruled the western. Orson Welles. Gene Kelly. Elizabeth Taylor. They were just able to make themselves so distinct. Nowadays, what I feel is more the problem is that everyone is expected to do everything. Exceptionalism is rather frowned upon. Disney Channel stars come out of the star-maker machine with their own TV show, some semi-dramatic coming of age movie, a pop single, and down the road they star in a Broadway show. It just all feels rather mechanical, and everyone is trying their hand at all things, without being particularly outstanding at anything.
But I'll save the distinction of the modern era for another discussion.
For right now, I want to share some of the coolest clips I've come across over the years, from an era so different from our own, you'll sometimes wonder if these people were ever real, if these clips were taken from a world apart from our own.
And speaking of Babs...
It was 1946 and you had two of the greatest dancers to ever appear on screen together for one time in their career. I could go on and on about iconic dance videos (and I will, at some point) but this is a true rarity. The athletic Gene Kelly and the graceful Fred Astaire danced only twice together in their storied careers, and this was the first. Ziegfeld Follies consisted of a series of musical numbers and comedy sketches, similar to the Broadway series of shows that had been performed throughout the early 20th century. Astaire and Kelly never performed again together in their primes, but they were both wildly successful, (with Singing in the Rain coming out in '52, and Kelly coming out of retirement in '48 for Easter Parade) and their legacies were cemented. This George & Ira Gershwin assemblage is just pure silly and fun, but it's a great showcase for the two absolute best, at the very top of their game.
Speaking of two greats at their absolute best, what can you say about a 15 minute medley of Mary Martin and Ethel Merman, the first two First Ladies of musical theatre doing what they best, and singing all the hits they were famous for. I mean, really. What more could you ask for. Two voices like this just don't exist anymore. The absolute control of Martin. The boisterous bravado of the Merman.