19 October 2014

DuMont Episode 3 ~
A Fate Worse than Death

DuMont Television Network
Continued from last week

The Fate of DuMont’s Library

Today, only 1½% of DuMont shows survive, one or two episodes of a series here and there, three or four of another. Of most programs, none at all remain. Only Jackie Gleason’s Honeymooners, which was stored separately, remains largely intact.

Often, recordings were simply recycled to recover the silver halide in the film itself. Even so, DuMont had saved more than 20 000 individual shows recorded by kinescope, a process where a broadcast is captured on film directly off a television screen. Through other acquisitions, this historic library ended up in the hands of ABC.
Edie Adams
Edie Adams
Ernie Kovacs
Ernie Kovacs

Here is the testimony of Edie Adams, wife of DuMont television star Ernie Kovacs, before a Film Presentation Board public hearing:
In the earlier ’70s, the (former) DuMont network was being bought by another company, and the lawyers were in heavy negotiation as to who would be responsible for the library of the DuMont shows currently being stored at the facility, who would bear the expense of storing them in a temperature controlled facility, take care of the copyright renewal, et cetera.

One of the lawyers doing the bargaining said that he could “take care of it” in a “fair manner,” and he did take care of it. At 2AM the next morning, he had three huge semis back up to the loading dock at ABC, filled them all with stored kinescopes and 2" videotapes, drove them to a waiting barge in New Jersey, took them out on the water, made a right at the Statue of Liberty and dumped them in the Upper New York Bay.
That corporate attorney destroyed the earliest and priceless television film library, 20 000 irreplaceable kinescope recordings.

And that concludes the story of the world's first television network.

Today’s Video

This is another for Dale Andrews and his friend Kurt Sercu, experts vis-à-vis all things Ellery Queen. Today, I present the third of three episodes of an early Ellery Queen television show from when Dale was a wee lad, an episode broadcast 08 November 1951.

Of the three available episodes, this is my favorite although Ellery appears dismayingly gullible. However, it had been only a decade since Mary Astor, in the form of Brigid O'Shaughnessy, planted the notion that occasionally women can be bad guys. The title sequence certainly sets an atmosphere. I doubt it was intended to be so noir, but I like it.

Note that Dale Andrews will return to SleuthSayers the 25th of January 2015.


  1. The SleuthSayers authors have each set aside an "emergency" column that can be run in case, for whatever reason, we miss a deadline. Mine is a short cover article that then gave a click-able address to this show. So, thanks a lot, Leigh -- when I come back in January I will be swimming without a life-line!

    Seriously, I enjoyed the three part Dumont series a lot. Thanks for digging and sharing, Leigh.

    See you all in January (at the latest).

  2. Hopefully, we are more attentive nowadays and towards the future in preserving works - created in any manner - of authors, artists, actors, musicians and others, no matter their level of notoriety for all generations to peruse and ponder over, rather than any one being the final arbitrator of their value.

    Thank you, Leigh, for this step back through another segment of our history.

  3. Oops, sorry Dale! Wait… I just read yours. That's a darn good article and those who missed this column can catch the rerun in yours.

    Thank you, Bradley. Some time back, I attended a business seminar. One of the participants spoke out against public radio and not for the usual reasons. He argued that 'old music' (classical) was a waste of airwaves when there was so much new music (and of course advertising) available. He wasn't merely disinterested in classical music, he opposed it. I and a couple of people spoke with him during the break, but he could not be persuaded 'old music' had any place in modern society.

    (Bradley, did you see RT's note trying to contact you?)

  4. Leigh, I enjoyed the program, but was even more entranced by the commercials. "The Henry J has 20 gauge steel, like a car that costs a thousand dollars more! And you'll only spend a penny-a-mile on gasoline." Wonderful stuff, man!


  5. Dixon, it's easy to understand why Kaiser lost the marketing game (particularly coming on the heels of WW-II!)

    Without dipping and undercoating, that 20-guage steel didn't last long on salted roads in northern climates. My dad had a Kaiser, although I'm not sure which model. But it seemed in no time at all, the body had rusted through.

    They brought out a gorgeous fibreglas sports car, the Kaiser Darrin, but they were flattened by the release of Chevy's Corvette one month later.

  6. Leigh, enjoyed the history of the Dumont saga. By the way, the first car I remember our family having was a Kaiser. After that, dad went with Studebakers until they quit making them in the U.S.
    Thanks for your note to Bradley in your comments. He contacted me today and I'm about to reply.

  7. oh, man that makes me sick hearing about that lawyer dumping all those TV shows. Did anyone sue that idiot? Of course the older I get the more I despair at things being destroyed. But so many youngsters don't care for antiques unless it's something that can bring in BIG BUCKS.
    I try not to sit still too long in case some decided to throw me out.

  8. Up until the 1980s, BBC TV and radio reused tapes, wiping out historic recordings of countless programmes. In 2000, they launched the Archive Treasure Hunt, asking the public for home-made recordings of missing programmes, which proved most successful. Broadcast studios in far-flung corners of the old Empire also made contributions of copies long-forgotten in dusty cupboards.

    Read about their latest venture: BBC's Genome Project offers radio and TV archive listings

  9. RT, my dad did the same thing, went from Kaisers to Studebakers. Dad got Mom a ’57 Studebaker Packard. For such a tiny thing (she had to sit on a cushion to see the road), she had a lead foot. He eventually disconnected the supercharger in a vain attempt to slow her down.

    Jan, that’s funny but not so funny, too. I agree that ‘old’ has become anathema to the current generations, in more ways than one.

    ABA, thanks. I’d just read about that. I had no idea the BBC hadn’t archived their programs, something I’d not have expected of Auntie Beeb.

  10. I hope that someone digs up the name of that attorney who destroyed the recordings and publishes it, so his name will go down in infamy to posterity, as a warning to those overcome by greed and shortsightedness.

  11. Tharpa, I have similar sentiments. Due to maintenance on the original web site, the testimony documents are temporarily unavailable, so I can't be certain if the name of the lawyer was mentioned in the hearings or not… but it would be nice if he remains exposed.


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