"Every week we gotta help somebody with a comeback." - Joey Bishop
This Celebrity Roast aired on December 7th, 1973 with the popularity of "All in the Family" still running strong on the CBS television network. So it was entirely expected that Carroll O'Connor would take his share of hits for Archie Bunker, the bigoted character he portrayed on that show. In truth, these Celebrity Roasts did a lot to break down racial barriers during the Seventies, with guests on the panel like Nipsy Russell and Redd Foxx doing their share of racial jokes while Don Rickles would respond in kind with his stereotypical brand of humor.
The celebrity panel this time included a couple of guests I hadn't seen before on one of these shows, folks like Marty Feldman and Mama Cass Elliott. Mainstays on hand included Norm Crosby, Gene Kelly, Joey Bishop, Don Rickles and Foster Brooks. Remote tributes were sent in by former New York City Mayor John Lindsey, Robert Conrad, Donald O'Connor and Zsa Zsa Gabor. And even though this was an NBC series, CBS President Robert Wood showed up to offer a few remarks for the Man of the Week, wearing a huge CBS network logo on the back of his suit jacket.
What often makes these shows interesting is the way future events are often portended in jokes and remarks about the honored guests. Ronald Reagan would often take heat for his Presidential aspirations when he was still Governor of California appearing on these shows. This night, Nipsy Russell wondered whether a black man could ever become President. Of course we know the answer to that question today, but back then it was the punch line that got the laughs - 'if he ran against a Mexican'. I imagine we'll have a President of Latin descent someday as well.
What was odd about this program was that none of Archire Bunker's 'All in the Family' cast members were on hand for this tribute. Foster Brooks turned that into a joke during his presentation, but it made me wonder. Anyway, it's hard to imagine this show aired almost forty years ago as I write this. I still remember one of the funniest scenes ever involving Archie Bunker on his hit show, again pushing the racial envelope when he inadvertently wound up kissing Sammy Davis Jr. That was classic.
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