DAVID BIANCULLI

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My Smothers Brothers Book Is In the Works -- Finally!
May 19, 2008  | By David Bianculli  | 1 comment
 
Publishers Weekly broke the news last week in its "Deals" column, so it's official: My book on the controversial 1960s CBS Smothers Brothers variety show is scheduled to be published as a Touchstone hardcover in October 2009. Now all I have to do is write it...

smothers.jpgI'm thrilled about this deal, for which I have to thank my agent, Laurie Fox of the Linda Chester Agency, and Michelle Howry, the Touchstone senior editor who made a pre-emptive bid on my 107-page book proposal. But most of all, I have to thank Tom and Dick Smothers, who approached me with an irresistible offer of "total access, total freedom," then waited for me to do all my research and interviews. And waited. And waited.

"The only thing I ask," Tom Smothers yelled at me the day he made the offer, as the escalator was whisking him away, "is that I get to read it before I'm dead." Thank goodness Tom and Dick take such good care of themselves, and are so amazingly patient. That was more than a decade ago.

Finally, after more than 50 interviews and an obsessive amount of research, I'm ready to go, with only a half-dozen final interviews and a few pending Freedom of Information searches yet to go. Dangerously Funny: The UnCENSORED History of 'The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour' moves this week to the front burner.

Except for my Fresh Air work, my Broadcasting & Cable columns and blogs, and this website, the Smothers Brothers book becomes my full-time job between now and September, when I become a full-time professor at New Jersey's Rowan University. With luck, and diligence, I'll have more than half the book completed by then.

Meanwhile, one very fortunate side effect of my years of procrastination is that the Smothers' story is even more relevant now. The story of popular entertainers having the courage and conviction to speak out against a questionable war has been echoed with the Iraq war, with Michael Moore and Bill Maher, for example, attacked for speaking their mind. Both of them, by the way, tell me they were hugely influenced by The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

patpaulsen0010-sm.jpg

Another timely update is that Pat Paulsen, whose brilliantly satiric run for the presidency in 1968 was one of television's most extended and creative comedy stunts, is still making me laugh. Paulsen died in 1997 (and yes, I've been working on this book for so long that I interviewed him before that), but his widow and son playfully have just resurrected his name for the 2008 presidential election. The slogan, which makes me chuckle every time I think of it: "Dead Man Running."

That's delightful. So is one of the campaign's runner-up slogans, "Thinking Inside the Box." Man, I love these guys...

The Smothers Brothers' official website, run by the wonderful Wendy Blair and including their discography and performance schedule, is here. The Pat Paulsen website, with even more campaign news and slogans, is here. And I'm here, finally writing the damned book. Ice cubes from hell, and bacon from flying pigs, can't be far behind...

If you have any stories or memories related to the Smothers Brothers, either their TV show or seeing them live, please share them by sending a comment. I'll make sure Tom and Dick read them all.

 

6 Comments

 

Robert said:

Congratulations David, this is wonderful news!

My first exposure to the Smothers Brothers came in the early 1970's, where as a kid discovered a few of their Mercury LP's in my parents' record collection...I remember being very excited when I heard that they were coming "back" to TV on NBC in 1975 (even though at that time I knew nothing about their previous CBS show), and even was able to audio record a few of those shows, thanks to my dad hooking up a cable from the audio speaker of our TV that I would then be able to plug into the back of my 8-track tape recorder and thereby eliminate any outside noise (sadly, through the passage of time those 8-tracks wore out and now only have vague memories of those shows). With the advent of VCR's in the 1980's, I was lucky enough to record from Nick at Nite a few episodes of their first "Smothers Brothers Show" series from 1965-66 and then from E! every episode of the "Comedy Hour" (with Tom & Dick's excellent commentary before and after each episode), and since then have been able to see them in concert about six times. Two months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 they performed at the College of Staten Island Theatre where I was able to meet them after their show and get my copy of the "Smothers Comedy Brothers Hour" and Dick's "Saturday Night At The World" LP's signed, and they happily signed/posed for pictures for anyone who asked...a class act in every sense of the word.

Your book will be a great companion to the "Smothered" documentary and am looking forward to its release! (Thanks -- me too. And I agree completely about the "class act" aspect. -- David B.)

Comment posted on May 19, 2008 1:18 PM


Phillip R. Crabb said:


Being in my earliest teens in a household that at least considered voting for Goldwater, I still remember watching the Smothers Brothers each week..but with a distinct feeling that I needed to be reserved in my reaction to their jokes...as they were anti-war and anit-establishment..in a word, 'controversial'.

I knew this wasn't a 'safe' program, like "The Ed Sullivan Show" was. Even at that early age, I could tell the show was 'pushing limits' and distinctly remember my folks scrutinizing many of the jokes and innuendos with reserved reactions.

But watch the show we did..every week. I remember to this day two lines which made me laugh out loud. One was when they were promoting a story about themselves but were not allowed to mention the magazine on the air. So they got around it by suggesting we go to the newstand and 'take a Look'.

Another time was when Tom was making fun of how Russions pronounce a 'v' like a 'w' and stated 'When you drink too much wodka, you womit'.

I cracked up, and my parents reminded me how the Smothers Brothers were unlike any 'entertainment' they had ever seen.

Ah, the dynamics of the mid-60's. Amazing how much that show, as young as they were, was bold and mind-expanding....and would have legs even today. (Those are wery funny jokes you remembered -- David B.)

Comment posted on May 19, 2008 3:15 PM


Ron Casalotti said:

Like many, I loved The Smothers Brothers on their shows as well as 'The Ed Sullivan Show', Johnny Carson's 'Tonight' show and many others. I enjoyed Tom's yo-yo prowess that he demonstrated numerous times with Johnny as well.

But as only a much smaller group can say, I also had the pleasure of see Dick and Tom in their Broadway debuts in 1978 at the Ethel Barrymore theater in a production of 'I Love My Wife.' They both did a fine job.

Comment posted on May 19, 2008 11:18 PM


Patty Cook said:

My family loved the Smothers Brothers and we watched their show each week without fail. One of my favorite possessions, which is framed and on my desk at work, is an autographed photo of Tom and Dick thanking my dad for his entry in the Slithery Dee contest. (The contest challenge was to depict the sea monster of the title.) I wish I had a copy of the the art that my dad submitted alongside it. The photo brings a smile to my face each time I see it. And I get a kick out of it when when people walk past my desk, do a double-take, and walk back to talk about the Smothers Brothers.

It just goes to show you that, at the end of the day, it really doesn't matter who Mom loved the best.

Comment posted on May 20, 2008 10:40 PM


Dave A. B. said:

I was always personally impressed with the Smothers Brothers' courage in booking controversial guests and allowing them to do their uncensored shtick. Keith Moon's drum-kit explosion was a particular favorite clip of mine that never seems to get old.

Comment posted on May 21, 2008 10:04 AM


Len Feiner said:

David,

As a soldier serving in Vietnam at the time of the 1968 election, I sent in my absentee ballot for Pat Paulson. I still think today, as I did then, that I made the right choice!!! (I have to interview you for the book! Remind me! -- David B.)

Comment posted on May 26, 2008 9:17 PM

 
 
 
 
 
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Diana Stephens
I am working with a committee to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1st Berkeley Barb on August 12 & 13th. The committee includes the publisher, Max Scherr’s, daughter Raquel and filmmaker George Csicsery. We wanted to make sure Tommy & Dick knew of our plans, and see if they are interested in participating.
We are planning a day of events, which will include a series of public presentations, as well as a celebratory evening event. If the brothers are unable to participate at that level, we will have educational displays around Berkeley and a book of collected reminiscences.
Rolling Stone honored Max with a full-page obit entitled, “The Death of a Founding Father.” As relevant as Charlie Hebdo, the Barb addressed free speech, civil rights and anti-war concerns, also the environment, sexuality, legalizing pot, gender issues, economics, and more. The Brothers’ outspokenness was featured too. Please forward to them so they might give their support.
Diana Stephens
(510) 599-0016
Jan 28, 2015   |  Reply
 
 
 
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