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April 02, 2018

Company Town

L.A.’s special relationship with the television industry comes alive — frame by frame — in a historic still-photography exhibit.

Liane Bonin Starr
  • Lucille Ball (seated) and Desi Arnaz (watching at right) rehearse a scene for an episode of CBS’s I Love Lucy during its first year of production. The show debuted in October 1951.

    Courtesy Of Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
  • Buddy Ebsen and Irene Ryan, in their Beverly Hillbillies duds, pose on set with the chairwomen of the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital Valley Women’s Guild in advance of their 1964 charity hoedown.

    Courtesy Of Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
  • Miss Redondo Beach, Penny Ward, poses in the jungle setting of Gilligan’s Island with the show’s Alan Hale Jr. (center) and Bob Denver to announce a 1965 celebrity golf tournament.

    Courtesy Of Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
  • Billy Dee Williams, playing athlete Gale Sayers in the ABC movie Brian’s Song, is visited by the real Sayers on location in 1971.

    Courtesy Of Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
  • In the 20th Century Fox commissary, writer-director Burt Metcalfe (at podium) speaks after the filming of the last episode of CBS’s M*A*S*H, which drew 121.6 million viewers when it aired on February 28, 1983. Seated from left: stars Alan Alda, Loretta Swit, Harry Morgan and Mike Farrell.

    Courtesy Of Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
  • Mercedes Gaffney — with Rex May, known as “The Man Around the Kitchen” — keeps her eyes on the camera as the director (squatting) guides his talent through an episode of Mercedes Gaffney’s Kitchen, one of the popular morning cooking shows of the early 1950s.

    Courtesy Of Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
  • L.A.’s first commercial TV station, KTLA, began as experimental station W6XYZ in the early 1930s; here’s a look at the control room in 1948. Production stopped during World War II, and in 1947 KTLA aired its first broadcast, hosted by Bob Hope.

    Courtesy Of Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
  • Reporters watch the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate down the street from L.A.’s ABC studio, where Nixon was stationed; Kennedy appeared simultaneously from the ABC studio in New York City, and the telecast used a split screen to join the candidates.

    Courtesy Of Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
  • County employees wait for the signal to proceed to the elevators of the L.A. County courthouse while Raymond Burr (hand to chin), star of Perry Mason, prepares to film a scene for the legal series.

    Courtesy Of Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
  • To promote the 1965 CBS lineup, the network brought together (from left) Clint Eastwood and Paul Brinegar of Rawhide, Tina Louise of Gilligan’s Island and Robert Conrad and Ross Martin of The Wild, Wild West, all dressed as their TV personas.

    Courtesy Of Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
  • Gerald McRaney and costar Jameson Parker (rear) stand by for a take at the Del Mar racetrack; their CBS detective series, Simon & Simon, ran from 1981 to ‘89

    Courtesy Of Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
  • Filling in for vacationing Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra shares a laugh with Tonight Show guests (from left) George Burns, Angie Dickinson, Carroll O’Connor and Don Rickles

    Courtesy Of Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
  • Andy Warhol — playing himself in a guest role — is flanked by actresses Vera Perez (left) and Laura Dean during a break on the set of ABC’s The Love Boat. The episode aired in October 1985, 16 months before Warhol’s death.

    Courtesy Of Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Television's long love affair with Los Angeles — its downtown and suburbs, the canyons and beaches — has been visible on screen since the earliest days of the medium.

Now it is also on display at the Los Angeles Central Library, where a photo exhibit chronicling this courtship is open to the public through July 15.

In 31 black and white prints (and over 100 more in a companion book), "The Industry in Our Backyard: Television Production in Los Angeles 1940s– 1980s" evokes a time when television was seen as a more friendly and almost folksy cousin of Hollywood's glamorous movie biz.

"When you look at the photos, there's sort of a blasé attitude in the people," says Wendy Horowitz, the librarian for the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection who culled the images for the exhibit. "Television was a little more casual, more inviting."

She points to an '80s-era photo of fans lining up on a Hollywood sidewalk for a taping of The Merv Griffin Show. "They're wearing flip-flops and shorts, and they're not necessarily tourists. These are locals who thought, 'Hey, let's go to a taping.'"

The exhibit grew out of a serendipitous discovery made by Horowitz as she sorted through some 2.2 million photos that were shot over seven decades for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner; they were donated to the library when the paper shuttered in 1989. As L.A.'s major afternoon paper, the Herald notably had access to television productions and photo opportunities that out-of-town newspapers did not.

"After Wendy found all these amazing photos from the '80s, we got the idea to do an exhibit about television," says Christina Rice, manager of the LAPL Photo Collection. "She started looking into what we had already digitized and realized that not only had the Herald been visiting these television sets all along, but we had a second newspaper collection, from the [now defunct] Valley Times, which would visit sets even more frequently."

As they assembled the exhibit, Rice and Horowitz agreed that the images needed to distinctly reflect L.A. "It was important to me that the photos confirmed the idea that 'this could only happen in L.A.,'" Horowitz says.

"Some are amusing," she continues, "like the one of ladies from the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital Women's Guild visiting the set of The Beverly Hillbillies. I'm guessing that one of the ladies had a husband who worked for CBS, and one phone call later they were down at the set to promote their charity hoedown.

"But this would have been quite remarkable to people in other parts of the country, to go on set and have your picture taken with Buddy Ebsen and Irene Ryan in costume."

Visitors can also peruse prints of Perry Mason star Raymond Burr at the L.A. County courthouse; the cast of M*A*S*H after wrapping their ratings-busting final episode; and Gerald McRaney (most recently of House of Cards and This Is Us fame) and Jameson Parker of Simon & Simon on a location shoot.

Even Clint Eastwood appears in a '60s-era network publicity shot (he then starred on CBS's Rawhide), posing with Tina Louise of Gilligan's Island and Robert Conrad and Ross Martin of The Wild Wild West. Only some of the images show L.A.'s famed landmarks, but they're all clearly from the city's backyard.

"I really don't see this happening in New York," Horowitz says of a photo of Billy Dee Williams and Chicago Bears' halfback Gale Sayers, shot during production of the 1971 ABC telefilm Brian's Song. "You have Williams on a football field set somewhere out in the suburbs and Sayers [whose memoir was the basis for the movie] is dropping by. It's only in L.A."

Some of the photos are likely to evoke as much surprise as nostalgia, such as a shot of Andy Warhol taken during his guest spot on ABC's The Love Boat. "I just imagine that he really wanted to be on it," Horowitz says of the artist's TV appearance. "I can see him finding the kitsch factor appealing."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 2, 2018

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