The New Yorkers was a new two-and-a half-hour
daytime talk Variety show that WNEW decided to premiere
in the fall of 1968.
I was asked to host it--the proviso was that I would
walk away from Wonderama. I hadn’t considered
doing that—I loved doing it throughout its eight-and-a-half- year run.
I finally agreed to make the switch. In August, with no fuss or
farewell, I introduced my successor, and moved on to this
new adult show. An elegant woman joined me.
Penelope Wilson, who spoke with the flowing accents of
Charleston, South Carolina. Penelope happily became
pregnant while on the show and continued working
for six months until the weekend before she delivered
a first child for her and her husband Bill Wilson.
She never returned.
I thought to ask Penelope—now Penelope Hall—to share any memories of her stint on that show. What follows is her response.
The New Yorkers was a wonderful (we thought) ‘60s two an a half hour five day a week live show that will live in--well, at least in our own minds. You may remember drugs and flower children and civil rights marches. I remember Sonny and Joe Raposo (our amazing live music person); the cleverest wickedest critic in the land, Stuart Klein, and our weather person, the soft spoken, mannerly, red headed Gloria Okon.
When I won an audition at WNEW and got to be Sonny’s girl co-host, I was of course over the moon. Because Sonny was an an important television star, as among other over-the-top-shows, he starred as one of the first and best host/runners of top class children’s television programs like “Wonderama” (which somebody called ‘‘The Maltese Falcon’ for New York kids of the ‘60s.” “The New Yorkers” was invented to bring Sonny’s television work into the adult world. And it did.
Sonny was wonderful at it, a gift to all ages, and he knew everybody, which showed in our guests. We had the best: Bobby Kennedy, Mike Nichols, Carl Reiner, Julie Harris, Horowicz, Bill Buckley—and that was just on Monday. Due to Raposo, we had music and song (Kermit sang with Beverly Sills about being green); we had fashion, and style (Diana Vreeland), fashion shows and beauty queens. In fact all the wandering minstrels in town came our way. We even had an elephant.
My solo interview on the first show was with a doctor whom I remember as being part of the invention of the birth control pill. Near the end of the segment when my notes ran out, I asked him if getting rid of the convertible would have the same effect as the Pill. No one was amused.
Sonny was The Star of course. And as such, he got to be absent on Thanksgiving day. On Thursday from 1 to 3:30. Mealtime. Stuart Klein was off too.. So was Gloria (why?) Why in fact was I the only one left standing? Who the hell knows?
“Don’t worry. It’s an honor!” Said my then husband, the kindly Bill Wilson. “But who’s coming to dinner?”
Who? An entire busload of underprivileged children from upstate, two hours away, that’s who.. They were orphans too probably. As if there weren’t enough such youngsters in our backyard in New York.
The turkey was cooked to a burnished bronze color. All the other members of the culinary cast were read too: the stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, string beans with fried onions, you name it. All I had to do was select a few gourmet helpers from the little guests, then we’d chat and eat…and chat and eat…well, and so forth. I might even add a few members of the audience to the table.
I was in make up getting beautified when the bus was supposed to arrive. Just before show time, the staff and the director (the late David Brenner who was not funny that day, but who later became a successful comedian) were supposed to place the kids around our set, and at the table, which was all ready. Usually, shortly after I arrived from makeup I stood behind a curtain and an announcer said “And please welcome SONNY AND PENELOPE.” Then our small audience clapped and shrieked. This day he announcer started his speil: “And please welcome…PENELOPE!” There was no applause. There was no audience either. I walked onto the set, smiling up a pitiful storm.
But there were no children either. Mike the camera man held up a large hand printed card CORPHANS DELAYED! LONG WAY AWAY!
Remember there were no cellphones then. I said: “Well.” David Brenner was nowhere to be seen. I think he went out to shoot a bird.
At that time, I was six months pregnant. Secretely. I thought nobody had noticed, due to the cute little dresses we wore which were swingy and crotch length. I needed a good disguise as they didn’t have pregnant people working on camera in those days. All I could think of was: If only the baby could be born RIGHT NOW! It could be a Thanksgiving baby! It wasn’t. So think of all the awful things that could have happened.
And so, dear Sonny, that is my little memoir of my beloved “The New Yorkers” show and I think it says it all. Except that I value your friendship and that you shine brighter year by year and that I love you.
Part 2: Sonny's Reaction:
When Sonny read the piece I sent him, he asked the question I had been avoiding: Did the kids arrive? No. Then How did you fill the time? Two and a half hours?!?
Hmmm Nobody wants to read about torture. However when you’re “it” you’re “it.”: 1- Talked of recipes with cameraman (the cute one). Dragged on for awhile. 2) tasted lunch fork by fork with other camera man (Ugly one. All he said was ‘Ummmmmm’.) 3) some blessed minion arranged to show an old fashion show. Bathing suits. Suitable?. 4) Read a little essay I had blessedly prepared. Read it VERY slowly. Looked at watch. 55 minutes had passed. 5) One more fashion show. Ski wear. More suitable. 6) Schmoozed. Pretended I was radio talk show host Joan Hamburg who was one of my idols then. Bored myself almost to sleep.
Looked at watch. 3PM: Hooray! Somebody played an old Joe Raposo recording while camera swooped in for close-ups of cold food which an hour earlier, had been sprayed to a brilliant glisten. Which led me to a brilliant idea! For some reason, my father had taught me to carve when I was in third grade. So at 3:10, attempted to give carving lesson. Turkey cold, hard and sticky by now. Fingers sort of glued together. Managed to carve breast into little shards and strings. Ate them. Looked at watch.
3:29 1/2: Announcer came in from somewhere. “Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving from Son….from Penelope.”
3:30 1/2: Cried.