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When Variety Was King: Memoir of a TV Pioneer: Featuring Jackie Gleason, Sonny and Cher, Hee Haw, and More

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An anecdote-filled recollection of a bygone golden age. He created Hee Haw, the number-one show on TV. He wrote and produced variety shows for Jackie Gleason, Andy Williams, Judy Garland, Julie Andrews, Sonny and Cher, and Perry Como. He invented the rock TV show Hullabaloo. He was the most popular producer of his time — a time when variety television was king. With his wr An anecdote-filled recollection of a bygone golden age. He created Hee Haw, the number-one show on TV. He wrote and produced variety shows for Jackie Gleason, Andy Williams, Judy Garland, Julie Andrews, Sonny and Cher, and Perry Como. He invented the rock TV show Hullabaloo. He was the most popular producer of his time — a time when variety television was king. With his writing/producing partner John Aylesworth, Frank Peppiatt developed dozens of TV shows but their career began on air in the initial days of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, alongside other talented newcomers like Norman Jewison and Arthur Hiller. Then came a call from New York to write for the Eydie Gorme/Steve Lawrence show in 1958, and quickly “A & P” became the most in-demand writing and producing team around. Peppiatt, a man who spent his life behind the scenes writing comedy and turning entertainers into household names, now recounts his own remarkable life story: a humble Canadian boy who grew up to create iconic American TV shows amid a cast of Hollywood celebrities. When Variety Was King captures the early days of TV with humour and spice.


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An anecdote-filled recollection of a bygone golden age. He created Hee Haw, the number-one show on TV. He wrote and produced variety shows for Jackie Gleason, Andy Williams, Judy Garland, Julie Andrews, Sonny and Cher, and Perry Como. He invented the rock TV show Hullabaloo. He was the most popular producer of his time — a time when variety television was king. With his wr An anecdote-filled recollection of a bygone golden age. He created Hee Haw, the number-one show on TV. He wrote and produced variety shows for Jackie Gleason, Andy Williams, Judy Garland, Julie Andrews, Sonny and Cher, and Perry Como. He invented the rock TV show Hullabaloo. He was the most popular producer of his time — a time when variety television was king. With his writing/producing partner John Aylesworth, Frank Peppiatt developed dozens of TV shows but their career began on air in the initial days of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, alongside other talented newcomers like Norman Jewison and Arthur Hiller. Then came a call from New York to write for the Eydie Gorme/Steve Lawrence show in 1958, and quickly “A & P” became the most in-demand writing and producing team around. Peppiatt, a man who spent his life behind the scenes writing comedy and turning entertainers into household names, now recounts his own remarkable life story: a humble Canadian boy who grew up to create iconic American TV shows amid a cast of Hollywood celebrities. When Variety Was King captures the early days of TV with humour and spice.

30 review for When Variety Was King: Memoir of a TV Pioneer: Featuring Jackie Gleason, Sonny and Cher, Hee Haw, and More

  1. 4 out of 5

    Barry Hammond

    Starting in Toronto at an advertising firm that did radio ads, Frank Peppiatt worked his writing craft into a pioneering career in radio and television from the early CBC into the now-vanished world of television variety where he worked with stars like Perry Como, Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Jimmie Dean, Sonny & Cher, shows like Hullabaloo, as well as creating and producing the long-running country variety show, Hee-Haw. His entertaining memoir takes the reader thro Starting in Toronto at an advertising firm that did radio ads, Frank Peppiatt worked his writing craft into a pioneering career in radio and television from the early CBC into the now-vanished world of television variety where he worked with stars like Perry Como, Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Jimmie Dean, Sonny & Cher, shows like Hullabaloo, as well as creating and producing the long-running country variety show, Hee-Haw. His entertaining memoir takes the reader through personal glimpses of the show business world, his own tumultuous personal and professional life, and the kind of pressure that leads to collapse. Peppiatt covers it all with the kind of humour, charm and wit that frequently took his writing to the top. A fascinating historical trip. - BH.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mediaman

    This Canadian writer's name will be unknown to most people in America but after reading about the number of TV variety shows he was involved with it made me wish this book was much more detailed regarding his TV work and less about his private life. Skip the first 120 pages where he talks about Canada since nothing that he worked on there will be known to American readers. Once he gets to New York City and starts working with some major stars, the book becomes interesting. But even then he short This Canadian writer's name will be unknown to most people in America but after reading about the number of TV variety shows he was involved with it made me wish this book was much more detailed regarding his TV work and less about his private life. Skip the first 120 pages where he talks about Canada since nothing that he worked on there will be known to American readers. Once he gets to New York City and starts working with some major stars, the book becomes interesting. But even then he shortchanges the details about working with Judy Garland, Steve Allen, Frank Sinatra, Sonny & Cher, etc. Instead he thinks we care about where he lived (he moves a lot and likes to describe the places he lived in), the women he married or hooked up with, and his guilt over abandoning his children (who mostly lived in Canada while he worked in the U.S.). Since he's not famous, we really don't need to hear so much about his private life and instead need some great stories about the dozens of major celebrities he wrote for. But sadly he just lightly touches on some of his shows, including the one he is best known for that he helped create, Hee Haw. The book takes a weird twist near the end where he checks into a psychiatric hospital for over six months, then has trouble returning to work and spends his last decades in the Canadian wilderness. So there are really only about 150 great pages worth reading out of a 300-page book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Maurice Tougas

    This book could have been SO good. Frank Peppiatt was a pioneer of TV comedy in both Canada and the U.S. His recollections of the early days of Canadian TV are pretty entertaining, and the arc of a amazing career (he created, sad to say, Hee Haw) is well covered. But there is a terrible lack of anecdotes about the dozens of famous people he met; he was involved in the pop music show Hullabaloo, but there is not one single anecdotes about the dozens of rock stars he met. Peppiatt spends way too m This book could have been SO good. Frank Peppiatt was a pioneer of TV comedy in both Canada and the U.S. His recollections of the early days of Canadian TV are pretty entertaining, and the arc of a amazing career (he created, sad to say, Hee Haw) is well covered. But there is a terrible lack of anecdotes about the dozens of famous people he met; he was involved in the pop music show Hullabaloo, but there is not one single anecdotes about the dozens of rock stars he met. Peppiatt spends way too much time trashing his two ex-wives, and wastes page after page recreating allegedly funny dialogue he 'remembers', word for word, for half a century ago. Some of it is painfully mundane, like this: "Frank," he said, "I'd like you to meet Leonard Stern, the head writer of The Steve Allen Show," "Good to meet you," I said, as I shook his hand. There are pages and pages of this stuff. There is no sign of editing at all. It's a shame, really, because a guy with his history and breadth of knowledge of TV should have produced a great showbiz book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    I gave this only 3 stars but that is because I think it has a limited audience. It is about the early days of television so if you remember Hullabaloo or Hee Haw you would find this interesting. The author gives great insight for how the variety shows of early television came together. A very easy read and I found it enjoyable.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    A Must Read This is one of the finest books about the early days of TV I have read! It's funny and sad and full of big names. Don't miss a chance to go back in time and enjoy the ride.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Daphne Simpkins

    For readers who enjoy the behind-the-scenes stories relevant to the early variety shows, this book will delight you. I especially liked the vibrant voice of the writer and his snazzy prose.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    If you are like me, you probably look at this title and wonder "Who the heck is Frank Peppiatt?" But if you've watched any television, particularly in its formative years, you've not only encountered the work of Frank Peppiatt, but you've undoubtedly ENJOYED the work of Frank Peppiatt. I have to admit that I have a soft spot for reading books about the entertainment industry. I like going behind the scenes and seeing how the creative process works. And let's face it... you can't do much better tha If you are like me, you probably look at this title and wonder "Who the heck is Frank Peppiatt?" But if you've watched any television, particularly in its formative years, you've not only encountered the work of Frank Peppiatt, but you've undoubtedly ENJOYED the work of Frank Peppiatt. I have to admit that I have a soft spot for reading books about the entertainment industry. I like going behind the scenes and seeing how the creative process works. And let's face it... you can't do much better than being there when the creative moments first appear from the writer's mind! Here we learn about the beginnings of Hee Haw (and, probably even more interesting, how it survived being cut by the network -- something I actually have wondered about). We dally with Doris Day. We play with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. We are there when Rich Little makes his first television appearance. We go backstage with Perry Como, Andy Williams, and even ol' blue eyes, Frank Sinatra (and yes, Frank could read music!). You could fill a phone book with the names of stars that Frank Peppiatt worked with. His was an era when big name movie stars were giving the likes of television a try. Peppiatt's writing style is light, smooth and eminantly readable. It makes sense, of course -- he spent a long, distinguished career writing bits ... moments to fill between commercials that had to be entertaining enough to capture and audience's attention. But while this style is his gretest strength, it is also a flaw. What works for a television audience doesn't always work for a book reading audience. There were many times that I wanted more information... more than a snippet of a story that seemed to be included more to drop a name or to set up a punchline than to actually tell us a story. For this, I felt cheated. I wanted the full story, not just the joke. Fortunately, he does spend more than a little time telling about his family life and how his drive and work ethic often prevented him from living a happy family life. This COULD have been written in a single chapter, but he does let us know where he was in his personal life with each important television moment. It is a memoir after all, not a Hollywood expose. One of the most curious moments about the book is the opening chapter. This memoir starts out with a story of Peppiatt and his partner meeting with Jackie Gleason who falls asleep three or four times in their brief pitch meeting, and everyone arond sits and waits quietly for Gleason to wake up. It's an interesting moment, and certainly it's an odd moment. Odd not only for the occurence, but an odd way to start out the book. I was expecting it to lead in to the memoir in some strange way, but it really didn't. It was just a slice of Peppiatt's life. It wasn't the start to his career, it wasn't the ending of his career. It was just a moment between his commercials. And such an odd moment. I almost didn't read any further. Fortunately, the rest of the book is quite linear and much easier to follow. If he didn't refer to the moment later in the book (when he had another meeting with Gleason), I would encourage the reader to skip the chapter and read it at the end instead. All in all, a mostly interesting memoir of a man who created many many great television moments. A man whose name I now know and won't forget.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    LJ Reviews 2013 May #1 Website: http://www.libraryjournal.com The first Canadian of his generation to succeed in American television, Peppiatt (Hee Haw) relates the rise and fall of variety shows in this posthumously published memoir. Starting in Canadian radio, Peppiatt broke into Canadian television with a weekly comedy show rehearsed in his parents' basement. Success in Canada attracted attention from Manhattan, and Peppiatt and lifelong writing partner John Aylesworth were soon working with St LJ Reviews 2013 May #1 Website: http://www.libraryjournal.com The first Canadian of his generation to succeed in American television, Peppiatt (Hee Haw) relates the rise and fall of variety shows in this posthumously published memoir. Starting in Canadian radio, Peppiatt broke into Canadian television with a weekly comedy show rehearsed in his parents' basement. Success in Canada attracted attention from Manhattan, and Peppiatt and lifelong writing partner John Aylesworth were soon working with Steve and Eydie, Perry Como, and a dizzying array of celebrities on numerous shows. Professionally successful, Peppiatt struggled as a long-distance husband and father, and his efforts culminated in the purchase of a money pit of a house that his wife secretly sold when she took the kids and left him. His career peaked with Hee Haw, a replacement for the controversial The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Peppiatt reveals the behind-the-scenes scramble for top billing, his discovery of Junior Samples in rural Georgia, and a dire warning from Senator Albert Gore Sr. about using the show to mock Tennessee. VERDICT Peppiatt's detailed recollection will appeal to readers who remember this era and is an essential read for television history buffs. While this is not a tell-all, Peppiatt is honest about the personal costs of fame and� -- to comic effect� -- about how meetings with Jackie Gleason really worked.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Stewart Tame

    Fun book! I'd never heard of Frank Peppiatt before, but he's had an impressive career and generally seems to have lived--presumably still is living--an interesting life. One of his largest claims to fame is probably the creation of Hee Haw, which is either good or bad depending on who you ask. Along the way he's encountered some impressively famous people and has some entertaining stories to tell. I had few expectations going into this book and was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it was.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Koozebane

    Enjoyable account of a life and an industry, read for the #ecwchallenge Peppiatt's career has a fascinating story arc, and the anecdotes are very entertaining. I would like to have seen more about the nuts and bolts of comedy writing itself (Peppiatt's creative process, his collaborations with Aylesworth, and so forth), but this book is more suitable for a general audience (and not just diehard comedy geeks like me).

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    I was unable to finish this book because the galley copy was archived. But from what I read, I love it. It is a wonderful personal account of a legendary producer and writer who got in on the ground floor of TV in both his native Canada and the US. If you or someone you love, loved that part of TV and entertainment history this is the book for you. If I am able to grab a copy, I will do so!

  12. 4 out of 5

    John Kussner

    I got about half-way through this interesting memoir + then I put it down 2 read THE SHINING GIRLS by LAUREN BEUKES, wnich I have heard so much about. I do plan 2 finish the other book soon, which I was enjoying.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Roxanne

    This book is about how Hee Haw, Perry Como. The Jackie Gleason show were all created and I watched all of them when I was a kid.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Max Mclaughlin

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mick Meyers

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mike Williams

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lewie F Smith

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tom

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jimmie Lee Johnson

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

  21. 4 out of 5

    Susan O'brien

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gloria Levitt

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jami

  24. 4 out of 5

    Josephine

  25. 5 out of 5

    Diane Higdon

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bill

  27. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cody

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lee Goldberg

  30. 4 out of 5

    shirley masselli

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