Story: 2008 Hall of Fame Honorees Inducted
The Television Academy Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which honors individuals and teams whose contributions have left a lasting influence on the television medium, is always a prestigious event.
This year’s presentation, held December 9 in the Crystal Ballroom at the Beverly Hills Hotel, was even more lauded than usual.
The office of Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa declared the date Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame Day, complete with a resolution signed by all members of the City Council. The office of Beverly Hills mayor Barry Brucker also recognized the Hall of Fame on this day, presenting a certificate in its honor.
Both documents were on view at the ceremony, which marks the 18th time the induction has been held. The honorees – Bea Arthur, Daniel B. Burke and Thomas Murphy, Larry Gelbart, Merv Griffin (posthumously) and Sherwood Schwartz – become the 114th through 119 th Hall of Fame members.
“The Hall of Fame represents lifetime achievement, the highest honor the Academy can bestow,” Academy chair John Shaffner said in his welcome, before holding aloft the mayors’ documents for all to see. Shaffner also took a moment to recognize Hall of Fame plaza sculptor and longtime sculpture committee member Richard Stiles, who died November 24, for his talent and his years of dedication to the Hall of Fame.
The evening’s host, James Denton of Desperate Housewives, noted that the Hall of Fame is ‘something everyone aspires to. It’s the pinnacle. It includes professionals who have made their mark in front of the camera, behind it and as executives in suites.”
The first inductee, Larry Gelbart, was welcomed into the Hall of Fame by an honoree from the first-ever ceremony, Norman Lear, who also included Bea Arthur when he mentioned his pleasure at knowing the night’s “two legendary figures of comedy, to whom we all owe an enormous debt."
Laughter adds time to our lives," Lear said. "As a consequence, I am confident that Larry Gelbart has played a major role in lowering my cholesterol, smoothing out my irregular heartbeat and making it possible to stand here, feeling like 40.”
Following a clips package spotlighting biographical material, some of Gelbart’s early jokes for the likes of Bob Hope and Sid Caesar and his other television work such as M*A*S*H, Barbarians at the Gate and Mastergate. Gelbart took the stage to thank the Academy.
“Little did I think, when I first began in television – when reality was something that didn’t have to be rehearsed, and women dancers didn’t show their navels – that I would be invited to join this exclusive forest of rarified redwoods,” Gelbart said.
“The greatest awards you can garner are those you don’t actively seek, the ones that are bestowed upon you for your work. Having watched television grow from [Milton] Berle to Big Bird, [Paddy] Chayefsky to [Aaron] Sorkin, I’ve learned it can be whatever we want it to be," he continued. "It’s a medium pregnant with possibilities. It remains for us to deliver as many babies as we possibly can.”
Next up, the executives Denton had referred to earlier: Thomas S. Murphy and Daniel B. Burke, who were Capital Cities Communications chairman/CEO and president/COO, respectively, when they purchased and merged with ABC in 1985.
Eleven years later, Murphy and Burke sold Cap Cities/ABC to the Walt Disney Company; at the time, Burke was recently retired after succeeding Murphy as CEO; Murphy resumed his former position and consulted Burke on the deal, retiring after the sale.
Welcoming them into the Hall of Fame, current Walt Disney Company president/CEO Robert A. Iger noted, “I have lived a charmed life in this business, and have worked with incredible people,” including Murphy and Burke.
After the clips package documenting their building and management of the “multimedia giant which they married to a magic kingdom,” Iger said, “I’m fortunate to be able to call them my mentors. You want mentors to be smart, be great teachers, be people of great integrity. Integrity always came before ratings and stock prices.”
Drawing a laugh from the audience, he recounted the team’s reaction when they first saw a screening of the quirky Twin Peaks: “Bob, we don’t know what the hell that was, but we think it was great!”
Murphy came from his New York base to accept. “It’s very exciting for me to be here tonight, and listen to the creative people, who are the guts of this business,” he said. “It’s nice to be a ‘suit’ honored. I’m really honored. I can’t say I’m humbled by it – many people say that! –
but I’m just delighted.”
Of Burke, who could not attend, he said, “We were partners thirty years. The success we had, we would not have had without Dan.” Noting his partner’s aptitude for recognizing talent, he recalled Burke’s being impressed at observing a young Iger at work at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.
“I have absolutely no creative instincts,” Murphy said. “The way to run a company is to hire the most talented people you can, and give them the chance to succeed or fail.”
One of Burke’s sons, Frank, traveled from Chattanooga, Tennessee on his father’s behalf. In a world where it’s become increasingly common for people in business to take shortcuts, “you’re honoring two people who have never taken a shortcut in their lives,” he said. “On behalf of my brothers and sisters, my mother and father, thank you.”
Beatrice Arthur was the next honoree, introduced by pal and Hall of Fame member Angela Lansbury. The two met on Broadway in Mame, where both won Tony Awards and became, in the words of one of the show’s songs, “Bosom Buddies.”
“I’ll tell you about a phone call I got from Bea,” Lansbury said of Arthur, she of the imposing stature and foghorn voice, who made her television mark as the liberal, outspoken Maude and as one of the quartet of The Golden Girls, Dorothy. “That inimitable voice came through the phone line: ‘You’re not going to want to do this.’” “What?” “Forget about it. I’ll call later.”
“This” was presenting Arthur her Hall of Fame award, which Lansbury was, of course, happy to do. Clips showed “television’s first feminist” in her decades-long stage career and in her appearances as Edith Bunker’s fearless cousin Maude on All in the Family, which led to her own spinoff series, and as a hilarious Sonny-and-Cher duo with Golden Girls mom Estelle Getty, part of a GG talent contest.
Away from the set, Arthur is a gourmand, Lansbury informed: “She taught me to appreciate sushi. And I taught her how to prune roses.”
An obviously moved Arthur took the stage with a heartfelt, “Oh Angela, thank you! There’s an old saying,” she added. “To be successful in this business, you need two things: talent and luck. I have been very, very lucky."
"Right out of school, I was invited to join the Actors Studio. We thought movies were bad. When television came along, that was even worse," Arthur recalled. "And then came Maude. Thank you, Norman [Lear], for proving to me that television was not the pits. Thank you, [Golden Girls creator} Susan Harris and [GG executive producer] Tony Thomas for corroborating that. And I want to thank the Academy for rewarding me with this great honor.”
The penultimate honoree, the late Merv Griffin, was inducted by his former agent Mark Itkin, who is executive vice president of the William Morris Agency and chairman of the Academy’s Hall of Fame Selection Committee. “When this year’s committee had its first meeting, we went through a long list of icons who had been inducted,” Itkin said. “One was conspicuously missing. We couldn’t believe it. We unanimously decided to induct Merv Griffin.”
One of the first television personalities to form his own production company, Griffin, who died last year at age eighty-two, created the game shows Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, the two longest-running game shows in history. Griffin’s eponymous talk show ran for twenty years.
He went on to become a resort real estate mogul as well, but till the end was still creating for television: the game show Merv Griffin’s Crosswords, which he had worked on during his last hospitalization, began airing in syndication shortly after he died.
After a clips package, Griffin’s son Tony accepted on his dad’s behalf. “If he were here, he’d probably look around and say, ‘Well, it’s not quite the Beverly Hilton, is it?’” Tony quipped, referring to Griffin’s ownership of that hotel.
Saying, “He was born to entertain,” Griffin noted that his father’s “happiest times were on his [talk] show. I asked him, How do you become a great interviewer? He said, ‘Never take No for an answer. Offer wine in the green room. And the most important thing is to listen. If you listen, you pretty much know what the next question will be.’”
”It’s really nice to see Academy members remember him," Griffin continued. "We’re proud of him for this award. Thank you very much.”
The evening’s final Hall of Fame recipient, Sherwood Schwartz, was introduced by Florence Henderson, a star of one of the writer-producer’s most enduring creations, The Brady Bunch.
“Mrs. Brady” led the audience in a singalong of the show’s famed theme song, whose lyrics Schwartz also wrote; she pointed out that she’d heard a comedian say the ditty should be the country’s national anthem because the words were better known to most people than those of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Clips showcased the origins of The Brady Bunch and Schwartz’s other iconic show, Gilligan’s Island, starring the seven most famous castaways since Robinson Crusoe.
Brady was inspired by a newspaper article that said one-third of all remarriages after divorce included children from the previous relationships.
For Gilligan, Schwartz wanted to create a social microcosm where all types of people were forced to get along in order to survive; he felt the concept would work best in a comedic context.
At age 92, Schwartz left no doubt in his acceptance that his wit is as sharp as ever. “I’m the oldest person ever to be inducted,” he noted. “I’m 92. Oh, to be 91 again! Actually, I’m in pretty good shape. The doctors said, give up smoking, drinking and sex – so I gave up doctors!”
But, he added, “I’ll never give up writing. I’ve been writing scripts since 1938. I’m old fashioned. I can’t use a computer, and I never learned to type. I hate fountain pens, so it’s me and my quill."
“This award is really special, because television is really special,” Schwartz added. “It’s the most pervasive means of communication ever invented.”
Reflecting on his series, Schwartz said that the Gilligan shipwreck idea came to him in a dream. Critics were not kind at its premiere: Wrote one, “It’s difficult for me to believe that Gilligan’s Island was produced by adults.”
Schwartz had the last laugh – literally – of course; the show still runs in more than 120 countries. The Brady Bunch airs in more than fifty countries; Schwartz continues to receive fan mail about both.
“I’d like to thank the medium of television,” he said, bringing the illustrious evening to a close, “for bringing me hundreds, maybe millions, of friends from all over the world.”