Back to Book Reviews

Back to Cercles


TV Party! Television's Untold Tales
Billy Ingram
Chicago: Bonus Books, 2002.
$19.95, 304 pages, ISBN 1-56625-184-2 (CD-ROM included).

Barbara Villez
Université Paris 8 - Vincennes Saint Denis

Everyone remembers at least one television programme from childhood. However there are many programmes that have been forgotten, and the actors who played the main characters or who were hosts of variety shows have met the same fate. Billy Ingram's book thus opens a door onto television's past and lets out a parade of such memories. The first impression is one of excitement and amusement as the reader rediscovers the existence of television personalities who disappeared so long ago. It is because the book promises to tell the untold tales of Hollywood that the reader expects the author to reveal the facts behind certain mysterious violent deaths, like that of George Reeves, the hero of the first televised Superman series of the 1950s. However, the mystery mostly remains a mystery and readers quickly discover that the untold tales will remain untold because the facts are still essentially unknown. Some of the tales are not tales either but rather gossip or reminders about regularly appearing guest stars like Talullah Bankhead or advertising cartoon characters like the Cheerios Kid. Other tales should have remained untold as they are of little interest or value to scholars of television history. Consequently the first impression soon gives way to a more tepid curiosity which nevertheless propels the reader to get through even the more tedious anecdotes to see where the author wants to go.

What Ingram attempted to do was not an easy task. It is certainly difficult to try to put together a record of past television programmes which in this case could have resulted in an archaeology of 1950s-1970s television. The choices of what programmes are to be included in such a study are problematic as either they represent the author's personal tastes or constitute a full inventory of the productions of the period. This of course would have resulted in a full anthology as those which, despite their length, offer very little information on the programmes included. What Ingram did was to create a website and have people participate in his project by offering anecdotes about stars they met and memories about shows they watched. This online TV party is the reason for the presence of an unfortunately high number of personal memories about being in studio audiences or the influence a programme character had on a contributor's life. As a result there is much repetition and annoyingly long passages.

The book is not divided into sections, except for one dealing with children's programmes of the 1950s and 1960s and another on variety shows of the 1970s. All the other entries are sundries and do not seem to follow any particular order. There are however pages, for one would not call them articles, dealing with quiz shows, advertising, the careers of stars as well as information on their health and marriages, crimes and violent deaths, and so on. No book on American television of the period covered could neglect Lucille Ball and Ingram includes four uninteresting pages of interview with a personal friend of hers whom the readers discover learned the game of Backgammon from her, which he continues to play to this day. Passages on the goings on of the television industry are a little more useful although the information is not quite earthshattering. Readers can find out about producer decisions on programme cancellations, laugh-overs for comedy series or the construction of house fronts which serve for exterior shots in series like Leave it to Beaver or Happy Days.

Ingram's book does however make two major contributions to the study of television history. First, to his credit, it was important to unearth some of the shows and characters which, although considered minor, had loyal audiences and lasted several seasons. Second, the book comes with a CD-ROM which has the merit of being a primary source of some lost television moments. Unknown or vaguely familiar faces can be seen promoting upcoming series. There are also some incredible commercials like one for toy guns showing a boy imagining himself a great white hunter shooting at elephants. Another advertisement for face cream explains how the product gets off the dirt that comes form "a lady-of-leisure's constantly going in and out of (shop) doors". The commercial convinces the leisurely housewives of televisionland by means of a Geiger counter test which incontestably demonstrates the presence of radioactive dust on their faces. Another part on 1950s programme zapping is the best one although it gets competition from a segment of the 1960s Batman series in which Batman reminds Robin that he should not "watch television until [he has] done [his] homework and caught [his] criminals." Memorabilia is one thing and it is pleasurable in this addition to the book at least, however what is more important is the awareness of the need of such projects to render television history more accessible.

All rights are reserved and no reproduction from this site for whatever purpose is permitted without the permission of the copyright owner. Please contact us before using any material on this website.