Cavalcade of Stars

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Dumont (ended 1952)

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Cavalcade of Stars

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Cavalcade of Stars was one of the few successful series launched by the limited Dumont television network. With a larger budget than most of their series, it was a legitimate competitor in the big-time comedy/variety sweepstakes dominated by Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan.

The initial host was young comedian Jack Carter whose "in your face" was very much like that of Berle's. Once the show began to gather a following, Carter was made an offer he couldn't refuse; one from the bigger, more prestigious NBC. He left in February 1950 to star in The Jack Carter Show, the opening hour of their new Saturday Night Revue. (Starting at the same time and following Carter would be Your Show of Shows.)

Next up was comedian Jerry Lester, another brash comic whose tenure as host lasted a mere four months before being lured away by NBC to star in its late night variety program Broadway Open House.

Still in need of a new host, and not wanting to lose a much-needed hit, Dumont offered a six-week audition contract to a relatively unknown nightclub comic named Jackie Gleason. During Gleason's tenure, Calvalcade reached new heights in popularity as the comedian began to assemble the cast of characters he would use for the rest of his career: Reginald Van Gleason III, Charlie Bratton, Rum Dum, The Poor Soul and the beloved Ralph Kramden. Jackie's gregarious, "How ya doin', pal?"-attitude took center stage in a show featuring dancing beauties (The June Taylor Dancers), a dull-looking bandleader who always rated an insult (Sammy Spear), and a genuine comedy find in Art Carney. Carney had been appearing on Dumont's Morey Amsterdam Show as a comic doorman or waiter and Gleason liked his work. Carney's roles on the series began to grow and by the time of The Honeymooners, it was clear that he was the perfect foil for Gleason.

The misadventures of the Kramdens and the Nortons began on this series and were much harsher and shriller than the now-beloved sketches that Gleason and company performed on CBS. The role of Alice was originated by actress Pert Kelton, a woman whose hawkish features matched her delivery. Unlike Audrew Meadows' portrayal, this Alice bellowed at Ralph as loudly as he bellowed at her.

Gleason's talents and popularity did not go unnoticed by the "big boys". CBS offered him a huge pay increase and complete control over his own variety show. Jackie packed up Carney, the Dancers, and writers and made his CBS debut with the splashy variety show he would become famous for in September of 1952.

By this time, Dumont had begun its descent to oblivion and couldn't possibly offer Gleason a deal as sweet as that from CBS. Dumont did not have the line-up of stations the other networks had, often seen around the country on a shared-time basis with NBC, CBS, and ABC. Their programs were often shuffled off to out-of-the-way time slots and aired almost as filler. Besides, Dumont wasn't particularly interested in, or able to, compete with the expensive shows that were now the norm on the other networks.

Trying to follow an act like Jackie Gleason would be tough for any performer, especially on Dumont and on a minuscule budget. The unenviable task fell to another young comic, Larry Storch, a former fill-in host who was chosen as his replacement. Cavalcade of Stars and Storch remained on the air just a few months more.

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