TV in the 1950s!
St. Patrick Day
is the 252nd Saint Patrick's Day Parade
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NYC's St. Patrick's
March 17, 2013 marks the 64th anniversary of the very first broadcast of NYC's annual St. Patrick's Day Parades. WPIX 11 became the very first NYC based television station to air the event; actually, the real reason for telecasting the parade was just to test Channel 11's newly acquired cameras for upcoming baseball games.
Channel 11 originally intended to air an hour of the celebration and elected veteran radio/TV host and station co-founder Jack McCarthy to serve as the event's moderator. McCarthy's hosting of the parade was so successful that he received a phone call on the spot from the assistant director asking him if, "he would continue hosting the parade for another half hour?" He agreed to do so and thus was born a NYC tradition!
At the beginning of each year, McCarthy would do his own research into the history of the parade and would prepare notes about the persons marching. This enabled him to do interviews with participants and guests; he would also prepare historical information about Ireland and talked about his own experiences for the benefit of the viewers and spectators along the "Queen of Avenues."
During the first few years of the telecasts Joe Bolton served as Jack McCarthy's co-host, the two would talk about the history of the parades and the old country while fully decked out in the finest tam o' shanters and kilts.
More often than not McCarthy (aka "Mr. Ireland USA") would interview people along the parade route like the actor who played "Sean" the promoter of Irish Spring Soap, excited young kids, and many well known Irish dignitaries and city officials.
Bands from all over the City played their tunes, dancers showed off their high steps, and organizations displayed colorful banners from the many counties in Ireland; billowing in the NYC breezes, they dazzled the crowds.
The station was so pleased with the results that the parade's running time was extended from an hour to two hours, then three and finally four hours.
For a time other stations in the NYC viewing area began to air their own versions of the event. In the late 1950s WRCA TV 4 assigned newsman Gabe Pressman and radio DJ "Big John" Wilson to cover the parade. It didn't click.
Earlier in the 1950's WJZ (WABC) TV 7 had hired a broadcaster from Ireland to host the event - unfortunately he was given pre-written copy that represented only ten minutes worth of researched material. His efforts were also unsuccessful.
In the 1970s WNEW TV 5 hired radio/TV personality Arthur Godfrey - and later on entertainer Jack Cassidy - to host the parade. Their efforts failed to match McCarthy's meticulously prepared script and his truly witty and gentle presentation.
Jack McCarthy would continue to host the St. Patrick's Day Parade telecasts on WPIX until 1990 when controversy infringed on the event - gay and lesbian groups wanted to march in the parade to protest the mistreatment and abuses that they were suffering at the time. They were refused permission to march leading to protests from the gay communities. Parade officials also fought over who to select for a Grand Marshall that year.
Fed up with the problems that were wreaking havoc on the event, McCarthy refused to host the parade that year.
Channel 11 instead chose actors/singers Andrea McArdle (best remembered for her performance in the original Broadway stage production of Annie) and Ed Herlihy (the third and last host of The Horn & Hardedt Children's Hour and the TV spokesman for the Kraft Foods Co.) to MC the telecast.
Despite their best efforts, Ms. McArdle and Mr. Herlihy were not as successful as Jack McCarthy who returned to host the parade a year later - sort of. For the 1991 telecast, Channel 11 decided to utilize the multiple host concept again and added WNEW TV 5 newsman Jim Ryan and veteran newsmen Tommy Smythe and Chris O'Donnell (not to be confused with the young actor who played Robin in Batman Forever and Batman and Robin) to host the event. WPIX also hired an outside production company to handle the technical aspects of the telecast.
As a result, Jack McCarthy's role as the parade's moderator was diminished during the Saturday March 16, 1991 and Tuesday March 17, 1992 broadcasts of the parade. At the end of the 1992 telecast he announced his retirement as parade host, ending with a saying that had become a tradition for all of his years as MC - "May God keep the heart of you clean and may you be in heaven a half hour before the Devil finds out you're dead. Remember me always."
WPIX would broadcast NYC's St. Patrick's Day Parade for a few more years before the TV rights were sold to WNBC.
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