This hour-long live broadcast seems to have been pulled together -- and sustained without a sponsor -- by CBS television as a high-profile vehicle to promote the inauguration of the network's new television center in Los Angeles. For the purpose CBS really pulled out all of the stops, signing all of their major stars (and the mayor of LA) on to roles. The result is a very mixed bag, although the special is thoroughly fascinating for its curio value and place in broadcast history, and, as in 1952, for the sheer number of big stars it manage to assemble.
The broadcast opens strongly with a very cleverly-written and funny sequence featuring the stars of the now rarely-seen television version of "Amos 'n' Andy" on an airplane (the closing credits indicate that the TV stars here were given material by their own usual writers). Amos, Andy, and the Kingfish never appear again, which is a good indication of what kind of all-star special this is.
The nominal plot of "Stars in the Eye" revolves around the making of special itself, and the fact that Jack Benny, having fronted the money for the television center, wants to take over its production. Jack Benny and Rochester get the most screen time and that is a good thing because their material is just as good as in "The Jack Benny Program" There's a wonderfully-played sequence in which Jack's dilapidated Maxwell car inconveniences the mayor (Benny was always great at playing off of non-performer celebrity guests and not losing a step), and probably the highlight of the broadcast is a wonderful part-filmed sequence in which Desi Arnez shows up to sue Jack for spoiling a filming of "I Love Lucy" with his insistence that Lucy appear on his special.
However, the linking scenes with Gale Gordon as a worried television executive that appear fairly regularly work less well. The timing is off and they're a little too transparent. Art Linkletter appears and randomly starts talking to a couple of celebrity's kids that he has been asked to babysit as if they are on "Kids Say the Darnedest Things," and the celebrity kids prove that they have been chosen not because they say particularly cute things but because they are celebrities' children. Some other acts from CBS shows of the time prove pretty uninspired, and pretty much succeed at proving why those shows have not been remembered as well as time has gone on.
George Burns and Gracie Allen appear, but, very oddly, they do not appear in any scenes together. George still has some nice bits playing on his famously terrible singing voice, though, and Gracie steals the second half of the show in her scene with the Governor Warren of California. It's just a shame to have a great comedy team around and not allow it to work as a team.
There are a couple surprisingly frank gags about the recent "talent raids" on NBC, with Alan Young in an NBC jumpsuit and a reference to all the ex-NBC talent around.
In all, "Stars in Their Eye" is totally uneven in terms of quality, and chock-full of contrived moments where a way needs to be found to introduce another guest star or include a speech about the television center. However, their are also many priceless moment with the talent that was involved, and a Jack Benny fan such as myself certainly won't want to miss it for that reason at least. Very few productions exist where so many significant figures in early TV appeared together, and it's worth it for that if nothing else.
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