Broadway Open House

with Jerry Lester and Dagmar

Broadway Open House is network television's first late-night comedy-variety series.  It was telecast live on NBC from May 29, 1950, to August 24, 1951, airing weeknights from 11pm to midnight.

 

One of the pioneering TV creations of NBC president Pat Weaver, it demonstrated the potential for late-night programming and led to the later development of The Tonight Show.

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BROADWAY OPEN HOUSE Vol. 1 

starring Jerry Lester, Dagmar, Milton DeLugg, the Mello Larks BROADWAY OPEN HOUSE is one of the newest, best, and rarest additions to this catalog. Jerry Lester originated the late night network variety show with BROADWAY OPEN HOUSE, a 1951.          

 

This show, featuring Lester's established "Stop, Look, and Listen" introduction, has lots of jokes about "hidden" talents (which falls apart comically when the tall, statuesque Dagmar shows up to show off her hidden talent), a very funny gag involving marriage counseling, and an even better prison sketch ("Please, believe me, there's no punch-line," Lester tells the audience). The Mello Larks sing "Yesterdays," and women from the cast and the audience model some beautiful fur coats.

 

The program was done live and unrehearsed, and has a uniquely manic energy behind it. It also includes the original sponsor commercials for Blatz Beer of Milwaukee (the beer that became Schotz Beer on Laverne & Shirley), and Anchor Hocking "one way no deposit glass beer bottles."

BROADWAY OPEN HOUSE Vol. 2 

starring Jerry Lester, Dagmar, Milton DeLugg,

 

The Mello Larks The second BROADWAY OPEN HOUSE installment opens with Jerry having fun with the audience. He then gets a message about a wild animal being loose in the studio, which leads to a series of sound and sight gags, culminating with Jerry going into the audience to get animal imitations from its members. Dagmar and the Mello Larks have fun with the animal sketch as well, and Jerry ends up hunting the beast, rather unwillingly, in the best Lou Costello

Dagmar Arrives

Devising new material night after night became a treadmill of desperation. The solution was to hire bosomy blonde, Jennie Lewis, who was given no script and told, "You just sit there and act dumb. Your name is Dagmar."

 

With her new name, she sat on a stool with a sign around her neck saying "Girl Singer," did breathing exercises, and soon performed as a reader of poems and plays, while Lester made occasional jokes about her "hidden talents." Her appearances created a sensation, leading to much press coverage and a salary increase from $75 to $1,250. With Dagmar getting all the attention, Lester walked off his own show in May 1951, and Dagmar carried on as host. On July 16, 1951, she was featured on the front cover of Life, and the show came to an end one month later.

Dagmar's run on Broadway Open House and her appearances on other shows (Colgate Comedy Hour, The Milton Berle Show, Masquerade Party) made her the first major female star of television, and she soon had her own show, Dagmar's Canteen, making guest appearances during the late 1950s with Jack Paar on The Tonight Show.

Cast and Crew

Other Broadway Open House cast members were tap dancer Ray Malone, accordionist Milton DeLugg, announcer Wayne Howell and vocalists Jane Harvey, Andy Roberts and David Street. The show's opening theme music was "The Beanbag Song" by DeLugg, Lester and Willie Stein. A second theme was the song "It's Almost Like Being in Love." DeLugg often played a song he wrote with Stein, "Orange Colored Sky", which became a hit for Nat King Cole.

Ray Buffum and Jac Hein were the producers. Hein and Joseph C. Cavalier directed. Stan Burns and Allan Sherman were the writers. The program was developed by Sylvester "Pat" Weaver, a programming vice-president at NBC who had started his career as a production assistant on Fred Allen's radio show Town Hall Tonight in the 1930s. After the 15-month run of Broadway Open House, Weaver further developed his ideas on a local show over NBC's New York station starring Steve Allen, which eventually took to the network in 1954 as The Tonight Show. There are those who dispute Weaver's credit for The Tonight Show, including hosts Steve Allen and Jack Paar. Years later, Paar said "He didn't invent programs, but wrote great memos."

Steve Allen remembered Hornsby, Broadway Open House and Fred Allen in a 1997 interview:

"NBC had tried unsuccessfully to do late night television with the comedian Jerry Lester and with Morey Amsterdam in the early 1950s, but that did not go over well with the viewers. I'm not certain the quality of the show had anything to do with it. At that point in time, you still had a limited number of television sets and television had still not come to a lot of the medium-sized cities around the country. I think you had a lot of people in the network executive suites who were convinced 11 o'clock was just too late for people to stay up and watch television."