This is the thirty-first in a series of examinations of legends about television and the people involved in TV and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous TV urban legends.
This week is a special theme week – all legends about stand-up comedians who spent a lot of time on television!
TV LEGEND: Jackie Mason gave Ed Sullivan the “finger” on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Jackie Mason became a stand-up comedian in the late 1950s/early 1960s, after deciding to no longer be a rabbi.
He made a few notable appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, likely THE biggest platform for up and coming performers at the time.
Mason was so popular that within the next year or so, Sullivan booked him to a five-year agreement that he would appear X amount of times on the program for $45,000.
In any event, in October of 1964, while making his twelfth appearance on the program, Mason and Sullivan’s relationship changed…for the worse.
On the night of the program (which ran from 8pm to 9pm), President Johnson was giving a speech at 8:30 PM.
The show decided to keep filming, with the intent of just cutting back into the performance (you know, “We return to your regularly scheduled program, already in progress”).
The show began airing again at roughly 8:50.
Sullivan was quite nervous about the show going over time, so he began to motion to Mason that he needed to wrap things up. Putting up two fingers to denote that there was two minutes left and then one finger to note that time was up and he had to get off of the stage.
Mason was irritated, thinking Sullivan was just trying to yank him because he was not doing particularly well.
So Mason then began to work the finger signs into his performance – telling the audience, “So we’re talking with fingers now” and he began to do manic finger movements to great applause from the audience.
Once he came off of the stage, Sullivan was livid.
He felt that Mason had just given him “the finger” on national television!
He fired Mason and terminated their contract.
Mason was undeterred, and sued Sullivan for $3 million dollars in a libel suit. The case went to trial and the court in New York viewed the footage and agreed that Mason had NOT, in actuality, given Sullivan the finger.
Sullivan, to his credit, apologized and brought Mason back on to the show in 1966 to apologize. Mason made a few more appearances on the show before it finished its run.
Mason has always claimed that even though he “won,” he still “lost” because people did not usually treat those who clashed with Ed Sullivan all that well.
But hey, Mason’s still performing now, over forty years since the incident, so things couldn’t have been TOO bad!
TV LEGEND: Dick Gregory received almost 50,000 votes in the 1968 Presidential Election.
Yesterday’s legend about Gracie Allen’s run for President reminded me of a similar story about the comedian Dick Gregory.
Dick Gregory became a stand-up comedian in the late 1950s, when black comedians were only then starting to get some attention from the national television market.
Gregory began appearing on various talk shows in the early 1960s doing his act and became a popular national comedian.
Gregory used this fame to become more of a political figure. This really took off when he released his 1964 book, Nigger: An Autobiography, to great commercial and critical acclaim (it sold roughly ten million copies!!!).
Gregory became a major figure in the civil rights movement, as well as various other movements that he supported, such as the legalization of certain drugs.
In 1967, he unsuccessfully ran for the office of the Mayor of Chicago.
In 1968, Gregory ran as a write-in candidate for the President of the United States.
And amazingly enough, unlike Gracie Allen, people actually DID vote for Gregory.
He won a remarkable 47,097 votes!
Gregory, now in his late 70s, is mostly retired, but he still occasionally shows up as a guest on various talk shows (mostly radio programs). He spoke at the funeral for the musician James Brown, who he was friends with.
That’s an amazing turnout for a write-in candidate, something Gregory will always have as a legacy.
TV LEGEND: Gallagher sued his brother over the use of their last name in his brother’s act.
Gallagher (born Leo Gallagher) is one of the most recognizable stand-up comedians around.
He was especially popular in the 1980s, where his manic energy, his prop-based jokes and, of course, his “Sledge-O-Matic” (where he would crush things with a sledge hammer) made him a household name.
He recorded specials for Showtime pretty much every year from 1981-1987.
Gallagher specials were part of the early lifeblood of Comedy Central (or whatever it was called when it first started – Comedy Network? Something like that).
As long as we’re talking about write-in candidates for offices, back in 2003 when California had its recall election (that Arnold Schwarzenegger ultimately won), Gallagher ran and came in 16th out of 135 candidates with 5,466 votes.
So the guy is still pretty famous.
That fame was at issue when his younger brother Ron came to him in the early 1990s with a business proposition/favor.
Ron would do small venues under his name, but doing his older brother Leo’s act, including the Sledge-O-Matic. And since Ron and Leo look similar, it would be like a sort of “almost Gallagher” act.
Since both of their last names ARE Gallagher, it would be true – and since Leo did mostly big venues, Ron doing small ones shouldn’t affect him.
Leo agreed to help his brother out and said yes.
For a couple of years, Ron did it just like his brother asked, but after awhile, he began to blur the lines and began touring as “Gallagher Too” (occasionally misspelled Gallagher Two).
Some times, if you looked at the billing for the show, you would have no idea that this WASN’T the “real” Gallagher.
Leo figured that the best way to stop this was to tell his brother to cease using the “Sledge-O-Matic” bit.
But his brother ignored him and in 2000, Leo actually sued Ron for Trademark Violations and False Advertising.
The court agreed with Leo (obviously) and an injunction was issued preventing Ron from touring as Gallagher.
As you might imagine, this has not made Leo very popular with the rest of his family.
Ron continues to tour doing his own act.
Isn’t that just the saddest damned thing?
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org