By Larry Teren
Rodney King once famously said, “can’t we all just get along?” No!
Nowadays, in the world of politics, its hard to find an international enemy not to pick on, Since detente in the early 1990’s, the Russians are allegedly our friends now that they gave up that Soviet business. Even when we want to slap them for doing things we don’t cotton to, we have to look the other way. There’s no fun watching a tennis match if you cannot look side to side to see how the other player is going to respond to the first one’s volley.
There used to be a time when one could rely on a good feud to keep him amused. Where have the Hatfields and McCoys gone when you need them?
Back in the 1930’s, Jack Benny’s writers turned an acerbic Fred Allen quip about Benny’s alleged violin playing skills into a master feud that lasted for several years. Benny would go on Allen’s show and vice versa and continue to milk the act until Allen’s career went into a tailspin and then it seemed no longer funny.
Ed Sullivan was famous for feuds. He did not cotton to anyone who put him down especially when he deserved it. That’s what happens when you have a solid gold inferiority complex. His first feud and longest was with Walter Winchell. They were both newspaper reporters and Ed could not stand the fact that Winchell had success out of his arena as well. Only when Sullivan became a major success on television and Winchell was on the downside did he give up his vituperate feelings.
Steve Allen tried to goad Sullivan into a phony feud but Ed did not deem Allen worthy of such interest. Besides, he respected Steve’s talents. But Sullivan did run into a brick wall with Jack Paar. Paar was the late night precursor to Johnny Carson. His five nights a week budget was nowhere remotely in the same league with Sullivan’s Sunday evening prime time extravaganza. Ed, however, took exception to the fact that the late night show paid performers three hundred twenty dollars a booking while Ed was paying the same talent into the thousands. Sullivan felt like a chump and put a ban on anyone who appeared on his show also going on Paar’s. This lasted for a while until Paar exposed Ed for being a silly, petty, mean, old man. Public perception caused Sullivan to end the edict.
Twenty or so years later Johnny Carson himself had a public feud with Joan Rivers when she quit her contract to be his sole substitute host for his frequent nights off to launch her own competing show. He barred his guests from appearing on her show or otherwise they would lose the right to come back on his. Talk about being petty! He had nothing to worry about because Rivers was not that good being the headliner instead of the backup and she shortly lost that gig. Carson, though, never forgave her.
More recently there was bad blood in the early years of Jay Leno taking over Johnny Carson’s spot when he retired and David Letterman, who felt he earned the right to that spotlight. Talk show guests had to choose between which show they would decide to visit. It was one or the other.
In all this, somehow the audience was forgotten as if they mattered at all. That’s what fame and ego does to a person, I guess. I’ll let you know.