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The Most Uncomfortable Half Hour of Television Ever
July 3, 2011 10:47 AM   Subscribe

This Is Your Life was not always about famous people being surprised with nostalgic reminisces and old friends. Early in the series, the spotlighted guests included ordinary people who had lived though extraordinary circumstances: most controversially, a survivor of Hiroshima, brought on stage in front of a live audience, to be face-to-face with the man who had dropped the atomic bomb on his city. Further background on the meeting. The show did not end its daring there, bringing in a Holocaust survivor in 1953, and ambushing Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in a hotel room for their only appearance on television together. Semi-related: a remarkable interview with Johnny Lee Clary, a former KKK leader, regarding his interaction with (and eventual peaceful defeat by) Reverend Wade Watts.

Inspired by a recent This American Life episode.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul (29 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Another notable guest: Lillian Roth, a 1930's singer and actress whose career then took a nose dive due to alcoholism. She struggled for years before joining A.A., and appeared on This Is Your Life in 1953 to tell the story of her fall and recovery in order to encourage other alcoholics to seek help themselves.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:02 AM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


That defeat of the KKK member by Wade Watts is an extraordinarily moving story. At once horrendous, hilarious and profoundly inspiring. Had to see the face of this hero.
posted by nickyskye at 11:14 AM on July 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for linking that, nickyskye. Another horrendous fact is that his firstborn froze to death at the hospital.

This was a really good post.
posted by bleep at 11:22 AM on July 3, 2011


Great post...
I had forgotten about Ralph Edwards annoying style, what a ham.
posted by tomswift at 11:30 AM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


This Is Your Life List of Honorees.

Wow. Had no idea so may of these shows were seriously weepworthy. Think it would make a worthy remake these days.
posted by nickyskye at 11:41 AM on July 3, 2011


Watching the Johnny Lee Clary interview is uncomfortable. It sounds like Rev. Watts would be the last to begrudge Clary his merry tone about his cross-and-church-burning past, but all those big laughs in the TV studio are discordant with the physical and emotional damage the Klan did. It's not that Watts' responses to the Klan's threats weren't funny. But it'd be easier to laugh along if I could believe that Clary recognized the horror of what he had done. Instead, he seems to laugh off his Klan days like other people laugh off their shoplifting days.
posted by Beardman at 11:51 AM on July 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Every time I see Hardy with his toothbrush moustache I'm reminded of Hitler who was nearly the same age. Two men of the same era and moustache, very different lives.
posted by stbalbach at 11:57 AM on July 3, 2011


Wade had a total of 14 children with his wife, Betty Jean. His firstborn froze to death in the Ada, Oklahoma hospital. In those days, the hospital would not allow black and white babies to share the same incubation room. The hospital channeled all the heat to the incubation room of the white children and allowed no heat in the room where the black babies were kept. As a result, their first child died. -- Clary's website, which includes this page entitled In Memory of My Friend, Rev. Wade Watts
posted by dhartung at 12:11 PM on July 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wish I hadn't watched the Laurel and Hardy clip - - they seemed so uncomfortable. :(
posted by fairmettle at 12:14 PM on July 3, 2011


Two men of the same era and moustache, very different lives.

Yes, Oliver Hardy and Adolf Hitler did indeed lead different lives. One can hardly deny the justice of this assessment.
posted by kenko at 12:16 PM on July 3, 2011 [15 favorites]


Well, they both made movies.
posted by longsleeves at 1:04 PM on July 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Great post, thanks!

Here's an all time classic episode... someone just posted it a few days ago:
Muhammad Ali (with appearances by Joe Louis and Joe Frazier among others).
posted by Old Man McKay at 1:06 PM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, Oliver Hardy and Adolf Hitler did indeed lead different lives.

This is the rarely seen negative Godwin.

Well, they both made movies.

the double negative Godwin.
posted by stbalbach at 1:11 PM on July 3, 2011 [14 favorites]


I had never seen that clip with Dr Kiyoshi Tanimoto. I am weeping.
posted by Mike Mongo at 1:16 PM on July 3, 2011


^ Rev not Dr
posted by Mike Mongo at 1:16 PM on July 3, 2011


It was the show with Lowell Thomas that ended This Is Your Life, or at least ended the original format. Many guests, like Laurel and Hardy, were angered by the ambush style of the show but Thomas made no effort to disguise the fact that he was extremely pissed off to find himself on the show. Thomas sat with his arms folded making sour comments the entire time. Edwards staggered through the program, bringing on guests that Thomas had no interest in greeting. When it was all over, Edwards said something like, "We won't do that again." Afterwards, guests on TIYL were warned in advance. Of course the show lost all its energy and interest and died a couple of years later. I saw the Thomas show with older family members who were both shocked and delighted as the scandal unfolded before them. (You can't beat live TV!) There was speculation that Thomas didn't want mention of a former marriage or that he was sick of hearing about Lawrence of Arabia or had other reasons (a mistress?) for not wanting to have his life revealed. I have a vague recollection that Thomas said afterward something about wanting to be paid for his appearances, but that might be wrong.
posted by CCBC at 1:18 PM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, I lost it several times as a result of this post. The 20th century was indeed a very, very dark time.
posted by thebestusernameever at 1:49 PM on July 3, 2011


This is a great post, although the Clary/Wade story could be its own FPP.
posted by sweetkid at 2:20 PM on July 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is all amazing, and reminds us that reality TV doesn't *have* to be crap. ...Although I can't imagine putting people who survived such horrors on the spot like that. WOW.
posted by smirkette at 2:50 PM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


While it is amazing to watch these shows now -- cultural artifacts packed with far more information than originally intended -- it is also painful to see some of the guests' reactions. There are the roots of reality tv.
posted by Surfurrus at 3:20 PM on July 3, 2011


We had this show in the UK as well. and clearly some of the victims were unhappy about it. In 1961, Danny Blanchflower, a famous footballer, replied to the line "This Is Your Life" with the retort "No it isn't" and walked off, which raised a few eyebrows at the time. Billy Connolly was similarly not amused, and subsequently talked about it in his act - "See if you can spot the one that owes me money".
I don't recall the UK version having the same interesting habit of the extraordinary but non-famous guests. I may have watched it a bit more if that were the case.
posted by Jakey at 3:30 PM on July 3, 2011


Well, they did do a TIYL for Maureen from Driving School.
posted by subbes at 4:15 PM on July 3, 2011


Then there's Sid Caesar's parody.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:55 PM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


It sounds like Rev. Watts would be the last to begrudge Clary his merry tone about his cross-and-church-burning past, but all those big laughs in the TV studio are discordant with the physical and emotional damage the Klan did.

No, the merry tone is just about the highest honor that a man can hope for in his life - the sound of your most bitter enemy become your truest friend and disciple. Johnny is using the tools that Rev. Wade taught him - humor, honesty, intelligence - to carry on the good fight in his name. Awesome, simply awesome, in the original, non-ironic sense of the term.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:08 PM on July 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


The one with Jim Backus(pre-Gilligan's Island)started out at my grandfather's bookstore, where JB was promoting his memoir.
posted by brujita at 9:22 PM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had never seen that clip with Dr Kiyoshi Tanimoto. I am weeping.

Interestingly, the American tour resulted in significant resentment back home in Hiroshima, where he was a polarizing figure. Many people thought he was using Hiroshima victims as a vehicle for self-promotion. Anyway, Tanimoto became a medical entrepreneur, opening sanitoriums and developing real estate, but is rarely celebrated in his home city of Hiroshima.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:30 PM on July 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is all amazing, and reminds us that reality TV doesn't *have* to be crap. ...Although I can't imagine putting people who survived such horrors on the spot like that. WOW.
smirkette

Really? I had the opposite reaction, that this proves that reality TV can only be a horrible, ugly thing, and it seems like you sensed that too. They're exploiting these terrible tragedies for a shitty TV show, or forcing people into uncomfortable situations for the amusement of the audience. At least Jersey Shore just sticks to showing drunken idiots being drunken idiots.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:25 AM on July 4, 2011


This is another fine mess you've gotten us into, Adolph!
posted by stenseng at 1:30 PM on July 5, 2011


The first link, " face-to-face with the man who had dropped the atomic bomb on his city," made me cry and want to throw up at the same time. War is fucking evil.
posted by artof.mulata at 5:16 PM on July 11, 2011


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