If you are like me, you probably look at this title and wonder “Who the heck is Frank Peppiatt?”
But if you’ve watched any television, particularly in its formative years, you’ve not only encountered the work of Frank Peppiatt, but you’ve undoubtedly ENJOYED the work of Frank Peppiatt.
I have to admit that I have a soft spot for reading books about the entertainment industry. I like going behind the scenes and seeing how the creative process works. And let’s face it… you can’t do much better than being there when the creative moments first appear from the writer’s mind!
Here we learn about the beginnings of Hee Haw (and, probably even more interesting, how it survived being cut by the network — something I actually have wondered about). We dally with Doris Day. We play with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. We are there when Rich Little makes his first television appearance. We go backstage with Perry Como, Andy Williams, and even ol’ blue eyes, Frank Sinatra (and yes, Frank could read music!). You could fill a phone book with the names of stars that Frank Peppiatt worked with. His was an era when big name movie stars were giving the likes of television a try.
Peppiatt’s writing style is light, smooth and eminantly readable. It makes sense, of course — he spent a long, distinguished career writing bits … moments to fill between commercials that had to be entertaining enough to capture and audience’s attention.
But while this style is his gretest strength, it is also a flaw. What works for a television audience doesn’t always work for a book reading audience. There were many times that I wanted more information… more than a snippet of a story that seemed to be included more to drop a name or to set up a punchline than to actually tell us a story. For this, I felt cheated. I wanted the full story, not just the joke.
Fortunately, he does spend more than a little time telling about his family life and how his drive and work ethic often prevented him from living a happy family life. This COULD have been written in a single chapter, but he does let us know where he was in his personal life with each important television moment. It is a memoir after all, not a Hollywood expose.
One of the most curious moments about the book is the opening chapter. This memoir starts out with a story of Peppiatt and his partner meeting with Jackie Gleason who falls asleep three or four times in their brief pitch meeting, and everyone arond sits and waits quietly for Gleason to wake up. It’s an interesting moment, and certainly it’s an odd moment. Odd not only for the occurence, but an odd way to start out the book. I was expecting it to lead in to the memoir in some strange way, but it really didn’t. It was just a slice of Peppiatt’s life. It wasn’t the start to his career, it wasn’t the ending of his career. It was just a moment between his commercials. And such an odd moment. I almost didn’t read any further. Fortunately, the rest of the book is quite linear and much easier to follow. If he didn’t refer to the moment later in the book (when he had another meeting with Gleason), I would encourage the reader to skip the chapter and read it at the end instead.
All in all, a mostly interesting memoir of a man who created many many great television moments. A man whose name I now know and won’t forget.
Looking for a good book? Look for this one.
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When Variety Was King: Memoir of a TV Pioneer: Featuring Jackie Gleason, Sonny and Cher, Hee Haw, and More
author: Frank Peppiatt
publisher: ECW Press
hardcover, 300 pages