Original Amateur Hour 1930-90
Kultur // Unrated // $29.99 // October 18, 2005
Review by John Sinnott | posted November 14, 2005
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The Show:

The Original Amateur Hour was an American institution for decades.  Before American Idol or Star Search, The Original Amateur Hour was giving people with stars in their eyes national exposure.  The program ran on radio and TV for nearly 40 years, and was responsible for giving a lot of stars their start.  Now a two disc set has been released that looks back on the history of the show and showcases some of the acts that made the program so popular.

Major Edward Bowes ran both a theater and a radio station in New York City.  He decided to combine the two forums and host an amateur show in the theater and broadcast the show on his radio station.  The radio show was very popular, and Major Bowes soon had a slot on a national network.  Within two months of starting on CBS, the show was pulling a share of 48.6, or nearly half of all people listening at the time.

When Major Bowes died at the age of 72 in 1946, his band conductor Ted Mack took over and moved the show to television in 1948 where it continued to get strong ratings. The show continued in one form or another until 1970 when Ted Mack decided to end the run.  It was the longest running show of its kind in TV history.

This two disc set is a compilation of performers who appeared on the show over the years.  Hosted by Pat Boone, who got his start on the show, the first disc features famous singers and actors who got their first national exposure through The Original Amateur Hour.  Frank Sinatra and his group the Hoboken Four wowed the audience when they appeared on the radio version of the show.  Other stars shown include Beverly Sills, Connie Francis, Robert Klein, Penny Marshal, Raul Julia, and Jim Stafford among others.

The second disc features some of the more unusual act to have appeared: one-man bands, animal cats, musical saws, people tap-dancing while jumping rope or roller skating, a man who can spell backwards, a juggler who does his act with a bowling ball, machette and an apple, and a guy who's claim to fame is that he can drives nails in time with a band that is playing Yankee Doodle.  Oooohhhhkay.

This set. Like many of the acts, is a novelty.  It's nice to see some of the stars when they were young, and some of the novelty acts are amusing, but there wasn't anything that really blew me away.  Times and tastes have changed, and the torch songs and orchestrated ballads that many of the singers preform get old pretty quickly.  While it was nice seeing some of this once, it's not anything that is really ground shaking.

The DVD:

This 2 disc set comes in a two leaf book that has a nice slipcover.


Most of the vintage audio was pretty poor.  It's obvious that these tapes weren't taken care of, and the audio is full of hiss and pops and there is some light distortion.  It's really too bad since most of the acts are musical.  Hearing a scratchy low fidelity recording of stars singing standard songs just doesn't really move me.


The full frame video quality was also pretty bad.  Many of the early shows only exist in kinescope recordings (when they pointed a camera at a monitor and taped the live program) which are poor to begin with and these haven't been restored to their original low quality.  The image is blurry and fuzzy and lacks definition.  Some of the clips from the show's later run are better, but not by much.  While you can't expect much from a kinescope recording from the 40's or 50's, it is still hard to watch.


This set has a lot of nice extras.  On the first DVD there is 14-minute featurette on the origins of amateur shows, which is quite interesting.  Hosted by Pat Boone, it gives the origin of the hook that would pull bad amateurs off the stage, as well as the gong which was used for the same effect on the radio.  It covers amateurs in the theater, radio and TV, and the popularity of The Original Amateur Hour.

There is also a theatrical short, "An Evening with Major Bowes".  This ten minute film is an abbreviated version of The Original Amateur Hour's radio show.  The quality of the audio and visuals to this short leaves something to be desired.

Finally a complete episode of "Ted Mack and the Original Amateur Hour" from 1953 which includes Pat Boone's third appearance on the show.  This includes the original commercials, but the name is a little misleading: the show only lasts 30 minutes.

The second disc contains a second short, "Major Bowes Amateur Parade" and another TV show, this one from 1970. (It's also half an hour long, but without commercials.)

Final Thoughts:

This is a nice set but the low audio and video quality adversely effected it.  While it was interesting seeing a young Jose Felliciano and Jerry Vale preform, it wasn't more than of historical interest.  These weren't the stars at the top of their game, but just starting out and still a little raw.  This might be a nice nostalgia trip for someone who remembers watching the show when it was on.  In that case this would make a good rental.

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