Well (he said, rubbing his hands together like a carnival barker)-- funny you should ask about that piece... The story goes like this: Once it became apparent that an act would have to substituted in the third show, we all had a phone conversation in which it was mentioned that it would be nice if we had a stand-up comedy piece in the show, because for whatever reason, there just wasn't much of that in any of the three shows. And as we were talking about that, I mentioned that maybe a Willl Jordan piece would be nice, because those performances really haven't really been seen in years, and a lot of them were pretty funny. And of course, a lot of other suggestions were made, too.
In any event, after a few days, they sent along the clip that had been selected, and I got a marvelous surprise-- out of all of Will Jordan's 50s appearances, they chose one from June of 1955, which was orginally part of a "Toast of the Town" (the show's title changed to the "Ed Sullivan Show" later that year) episode that was a salute to vaudeville. Now of course, I hardly have to point out that most of these old Sullivan shows haven't been aired since their original broadcast dates... even the TV syndication packages mostly skip over the years that are only available as kinescopes. But as it happened, I knew this bit that Will Jordan was doing. I knew it very well. But it wasn't because I'd seen it rerun anywhere... in fact, to my knowledge, it never has been. No, I knew it because I'd heard it before... quite a few times actually.
Let me back up for just a moment, and mention that about 2 years ago, I stumbled across something quite unexpectedly, as I was searching for something else online-- a dealer who knew of my bizarre interest in old recordings had picked up a box of old reel-to-reel tapes that were given away at an estate sale, and asked me if I was interested, because they had (to him) a bunch of weird titles on them. Well, I had him read a couple of the weird titles to me, and very carefully tried not to let my jaw drop to the floor as I calmly bought the box containing 40+ reels of tape from him. I'm pretty sure he felt he'd just made an easy $40.00. And (for reasons I'll mention in a moment) I'm very glad that he was satisfied with that.
I know it seems impossible to imagine now, but there was a time, when many of us were kids, that there was no such thing as a VCR. If you wanted to record your favorite show, you'd have to do what so many of us did at one time or another-- chase everyone out of the room, and sit very quietly, with a tape recorder and a small microphone in your hands, pointed at the TV set. And if you were lucky, when you were done, you'd get a reasonably listenable recording, with only a **little** room echo and the neighbor's barking dogs combined with the show.
But for some people, this wasn't good enough. Many experimented with closing off their recording rooms, or with proper placement of their microphones, all in an effort to minimize room noise. What they overlooked was another option. Grounded jacks. Installed inside their furniture-sized TV cabinets, and hooked in series with their TV speakers. The results, of course, could have been incredible-- once the recorder was plugged into the jack ("in-line"), room noise and echo could not affect the recordings that were being made. Depending on the tape speed and the tape stock being used, a surprisingly high-quality recording would have theoretically been possible.
And of course, the point that any of us who are interested in preserving classic television are concerned with is: Did anyone think of this? just how early could it have been feasible? And assuming someone did try it, with tape being a releatively expensive commodity back then (the equivalent of about $35-$40 per reel in today's money), what could have survived to the present day?
Well, I can answer a few of those questions now. Yes, someone **did** think of it. He was doing it as early as 1955. And he managed to save over 70 hours of his recordings, spanning from January 1, 1955 through 1958. And I know that because that's what was in the box that I bought from that dealer I mentioned earlier.
Among those recordings, which preserve a fascinating overview of music and comedy programs of his time, is the soundtrack to the very same 1955 Will Jordan routine that was selected for inclusion in show #3 of the the Elvis DVD set!
When I saw the footage begin to unspool in front of me, I couldn't believe my eyes. When I compared the sound quality of the 51-year old reel-to-reel recording to the kinescope's optical soundtrack there wasn't even a question about which source to use for the finished product. Once the finished LiveFeed footage was added, I truly felt as though I was standing over this anonymous recordist's shoulder, in his New Jersey home, watching the same thing that he was capturing with his homemade reel-to-reel set-up, so many years ago. It's a feeling I'll never forget.
I was never able to discover this gentleman's name, and may never be able to find out who he was, but to me, he is truly a pioneer in television preservation. To have done what he did at the time was astounding enough, but to have saved so much of his work over the intervening decades is almost beyond all reasonable imagination.
We owe this man, and the few other pioneers back then that were doing the same thing, an incredible debt of gratitude... because not only did they manage to give us an ever-so-brief glance into what these programs really sounded like, they preserved a fragile and ethereal part of our heritage. In some small way, I hope this release honors their efforts.
And **that's** the story. Not bad, eh?
Oh and did I mention that I found the same thing for Elvis' numbers from the 1/6/57 show, from another source? No? Well, maybe I'll tell **that** story a little later...
Last edited by General Sarnoff on Tue Oct 10, 2006 9:42 am, edited 1 time in total.