Advertisement
Share

All-Star Cast in Bronze : Tributes: The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences honors TV’s legends with sculptures at its North Hollywood headquarters.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Presidents get libraries, baseball players get into a hall of fame, and movie actors get their footprints in cement.

But what about those other national icons: Lucy, Uncle Miltie, Walter, Mary, Sid, and George and Gracie? They, too, were part of our lives, but when television notables get canceled or move on to other endeavors (including the Great Beyond), what do we do to honor them?

Have a tribute show emceed by someone they hardly knew, like Burt Reynolds as host of the one recently done on Ed Sullivan? Show a rerun of a roast?

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has chosen a more dignified route, although one that also has overtones of commercialism. It has started a Television Hall of Fame for performers, newscasters, writers, hosts, executives and shows that made significant contributions to the relatively young medium.

Advertisement

Today, the Hall of Fame dedicates its newest statue--a full-size bronze of Johnny Carson. The dedication takes place on the occasion of the comedian’s final “Tonight” show.

Although the academy started inducting notables, at the rate of about seven per year, back in 1984, the Hall of Fame was not officially dedicated until last May at the organization’s new headquarters in North Hollywood.

It includes statues, busts and bas reliefs depicting entertainers Steve Allen, Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Carol Burnett, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Sid Caesar and Mary Tyler Moore. The lone newsman honored is Walter Cronkite, the writers selected are Paddy Chayefsky and Rod Serling. The executives are Joyce Hall, Norman Lear, William S. Paley, David Sarnoff and Sylvester (Pat) Weaver. Finally, there is the man whose role can be best described as host--Ed Sullivan.

In addition to this group, 30 other TV people and one show, “I Love Lucy,” have been chosen for the Hall of Fame with plans calling for almost all to be eventually immortalized in bronze or plaster.

Advertisement

And the academy will elect six or seven new inductees every year.

“I think our industry is awarded to death,” said Edgar Sherick, chairman of the Hall of Fame selection committee and a prominent producer whose credits include “The Kennedys of Massachusetts,” “Little Gloria . . . Happy at Last” and the movie “Rambling Rose.” “But what we are doing with the Hall of Fame is to recognize a man, woman or program that has made a contribution to the most pervasive medium in the world.

“It’s more than just a one-shot award that you pick up at some ceremony when your name is called out.”

Not that the Hall of Fame is without ceremony. A high-profile fete--designed for television broadcast--was an integral part of the annual induction from the beginning.

Advertisement

In a 1986 interview, John H. Mitchell, the late founder of the Hall of Fame, said the reason that at least seven were inducted per year was that number of tributes would fit nicely into a two-hour special. It was also decreed that at least four of the honorees would have to be living so they could accept their awards in person.

“The one thing I didn’t want was to get stuck with a static show,” he said then. “It had to be a good piece of entertainment. I didn’t want to start a Hall of Fame and then have it collapse because we couldn’t get an audience.”

Mitchell, a producer, TV executive and three-term president of the academy who died in 1988, created the Hall of Fame when plans were being finalized for the new headquarters, which is at the heart of a major office/shop/hotel development at Lankershim and Magnolia boulevards. Because the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency was involved in the deal to acquire the land for the project, the developer was obliged under CRA rules to incorporate a certain amount of art into the complex.

To meet the requirement the developer, Kensley Corp. of North Hollywood, agreed to sponsor three life-size bronzes and three life-size bas reliefs.

Advertisement

“The free-standing bronzes, alone, cost between $40,000 and $50,000 apiece, so we could have never done them on our own,” said Jan Scott, head of the academy committee in charge of sculptures.

Obviously, the life-size pieces would be more prominent on the plaza than the busts the academy planned to sponsor. The academy sent out ballots to let its members decide by popular vote which of the Hall of Fame members should get the life-size treatment. The winners were Steve Allen, Walter Cronkite and Burns & Allen, who are were shown on the plaza in bas-reliefs, and Lucille Ball, Jack Benny and Johnny Carson, who were enshrined with life-size bronzes.

In addition to the large works, the academy paid for busts and miniature bronze statues, about two feet in height, of other honorees to be placed inside the building’s lobby.

Scott’s committee determines how an inductee is immortalized. “Some of them, like Carol Burnett and Ed Sullivan, were known for their body language,” said Scott, who has won 11 Emmy awards for art direction during the 15 years she has worked in television. “So we made the decision to do them as the smaller statues with a lot of detail work.”

Advertisement

Her committee also commissioned sculptors. “We looked at the sculptor’s portfolio and decided on that basis,” Scott said. “Some can do women very well, some have a flair for comedy.” So far, 11 sculptors have been used.

Many of the sculptors chosen make their living in the industry. Richard Stiles, who did the Carol Burnett miniature bronze and is working on Jackie Gleason, designed the set for “Wheel of Fortune.”

“I did the complete set, the letter board and the wheel,” said Stiles, who continues to work on the program as art director, making the sets, as needed, to showcase vacation and other prizes.

Stiles would have liked to have met with Burnett while doing her sculpture, but her schedule did not allow for it. The sculptor, however, said he had seen her in person many times.

Advertisement

“I started out on ‘The Red Skelton Show,’ which was taped on the stage next to her show,” Stiles said. “I saw her almost every day.”

The academy stipulated that honorees be depicted as they appeared during their heyday in television, so Stiles did Burnett as the charwoman character she made famous on her variety show.

Robert Jacobs did Ed Sullivan in his classic posture of his hand under his chin. Mary Tyler Moore was depicted in a bust in the character of Mary Richards.

Sculptor Steve Varner, who makes his living sculpting the models for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other toys, looked at tapes of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and worked from photographs. But at a certain point, he got stuck.

Advertisement

“I didn’t quite know how to finish her off,” he said, speaking from his studio in Gardena. “I was not sure what she should be shown as wearing. I took photos of the model, copied them and put together different looks in blouses and scarves.”

He sent the photos to Moore’s office and heard, through the actress’s assistant, which one she thought was appropriate.

The sculptors had varying degrees of cooperation and input from the inductees or their survivors. Norman Lear and Frank Stanton allowed their sculptors to make measurements on their heads. The sculptors of Walter Cronkite and Steve Allen sought out their subjects at book signings so they could study them in person.

The wife of the late Rod Serling and a close friend of the late Paddy Chayefsky met with the artists to make comments on the models.

Advertisement

Only one inductee, Bob Hope, requested and received final approval over his sculpture, which is being done by artist Richard Ellis, whose studio is in South Pasadena. And the widow of inductee Edward R. Murrow asked that her late husband not be depicted in the Hall of Fame. “She thought it was a kind of invasion of privacy,” Scott said, “so we will not have one of him.”

Scott and Sherick say that development of the Hall of Fame is progressing well, even though there has been a glitch in the television coverage of the annual induction event. Although it started its broadcast life at NBC in 1984, the show switched to Fox when that network took over the Emmy broadcast in 1987.

But in 1990, Fox announced it was keeping the Emmys but dropping the Hall of Fame broadcast after that year. The last time Fox ran the Hall of Fame show, in January, 1990, it drew only about 5% of the viewing audience.

Last year, the academy went shopping for a new network for the Hall of Fame show with a powerful ally, Procter & Gamble, which agreed to sponsor. But Procter & Gamble dropped out because of tightening advertising budgets, Sherick said, leaving the show with little chance of getting picked up.

Advertisement

The 1991 ceremony and show celebrated the induction of Desi Arnaz, Leonard Bernstein, James Garner, Danny Thomas, Mike Wallace and “I Love Lucy,” but it was not broadcast.

Sherick said the loss of a broadcast year was disappointing, but not disastrous. “No one likes to lose the chance to bring in money,” he said, “but we are in pretty good financial shape, and I think we will soon announce that we have a deal to broadcast the show this year.


Advertisement