The Colgate Comedy Hour was a big-budget variety series featuring some of the biggest names in show business. Variety shows hosted by a major comedian were common in the early fifties, but the Colgate show was different in featuring alternating hosts. Some performers, like Phil Silvers or Ray Bolger, would only host once or twice, while the "regular" hosts appeared roughly once a month. At that time, variety meant variety, so the talent featured onColgate ran the course from opera to vaudeville, from adaptations of Broadway shows to dog acts; and always lots of comedy. During it's entire Sunday night run, its main competition was Toast of the Town on CBS, a program better known to us today asThe Ed Sullivan Show.
The series was also one of TV's priciest. According to the 7/9/50 issue of the New York Times, the first season would cost $25,000 weekly in airtime and $50,000 in talent and production charges.
The show was broadcast live from New York's International Theatre almost exclusively during the first season. The regular rotation of hosts were: Eddie Cantor, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (the sole surviving original hosts to stay with the series for its entire run), Fred Allen, Bob Hope and his fill-in Bobby Clark. Fred Allen called it quits after just a few telecasts. He didn't like television---and it showed. Once a month, an episode was sponsored by Frigidaire rather than Colgate. On those nights, the title of the series was shortened to The Comedy Hour. Those episodes are included in this listing. Colgate ended its first season as the fifth highest rated series on TV.
Season two brought about a move to the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood since television had, for the first time, the technology to broadcast live from the West Coast. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello joined the line-up of regular hosts, keeping company with Martin/Lewis, Cantor, Donald O'Connor and the occasional Hope. Jackie Gleason, then starring on DuMont's Cavalcade of Stars , kicked off the season of television's highest-budget series! This season, the series again ranked at number five.
Season three found Eddie Cantor out for several months, having had a heart attack hours after his first show of the season. He would return in the spring, but more guests hosts than usual were employed during his recovery. For this season, Colgate ranked as seventh most popular.
Jimmy Durante joined Martin/Lewis, Abbott/Costello, Cantor and O'Connor as hosts of the fourth season. The 11/22/1953 telecast was quite historic. It was the first public broadcast using NBC/RCA's new color technology. Several hundred sets were set up around New York for people to view the program. Donald O'Connor had the honor of hosting that week. For the first time in its run, the series didn't take an official "summer break"; the episodes that filled the time slot until the fall premiere are included in this listing.
Season five found the series in decline. It dropped in the ratings from tenth to twenty-seventh, while Ed Sullivan's show rose to number five! This coincided with a new production team taking over the show and the departure of most of the series' regular hosts. Instead, big splashy events and musical extravaganzas were scheduled. The public was disinterested and the critics weren't very kind. With falling fortunes, the series found itself pre-empted often for special programs. Again, a summer edition of the series with the revised title The Colgate Variety Hour filled the hot months and those episodes are included here.
The end was near for this once-great series. Martin and Lewis did appear twice, but shows were mostly hosted by Robert Paige or Gordon MacCrae. The Colgate Variety Hour ended its run on Christmas night 1955 with a program of holiday music. During this final half-season, the show didn't make it into the top thirty rated shows.moreless