1 9 4 8 – 1 9 7 0 (USA)
America’s most famous television talent show was a direct descendant of radio’s best-known talent show, Major Bowes’Original Amateur Hour, which began in 1934 and was hosted by Major Edward Bowes until his death in 1946.
A year later, Ted Mack, who had directed the auditions for the Bowes show, took over as host and brought the show to television.
Originally titled Major Bowes’ Original Amateur Hour even on TV, the show was seen sporadically in 1947, with regularly scheduled broadcasts beginning in 1948.
The show’s format was simple and straightforward and changed very little over the years. Each week, a number of amateur performers displayed their talents, and the viewing audience was invited to vote – by telephone or postcard (to Box 191 Radio City Station) – for their favourite act.
For most of its long run, it was a half-hour series, and it was one of the few TV shows to have been broadcast on all four commercial US networks.
After Boone had appeared – and won – for several weeks, it was revealed that he had appeared on the rival CBS Television show Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, meaning that he was technically not an “amateur”. He was removed from the show, but by then, his fame was assured.
Other future celebrities discovered on the show include Ann-Margret (1958) – who lost to a man who made music by blowing a leaf!, Jose Feliciano (1962), Irene Cara (1967) and Tanya Tucker (1969).
The greatest fame attained by anyone appearing on the show was that achieved by Frank Sinatra, who appeared on the show during its radio days with “The Hoboken Four”.
But for every Sinatra, there were at least a dozen other wannabes who tried to win (and even won) by using animal performers or playing with spoons, bananas, eggbeaters, and other paraphernalia.
Despite the dubious “talents” of some winners, the lure of potential celebrity was enough to inspire more than 750,000 people to audition for the TV series, even though less than 5 per cent of the applicants ever got on the show.
TV Guide claimed in 1956 that only 500 Original Amateur Hour participants went on to professional entertainment careers. When one considers they had been on the same show that let a man play Yankee Doodle Dandy while banging a mallet on his head, perhaps that statistic is not so surprising.
The show returned briefly on cable’s Family Channel in January 992 as The New Original Amateur Hour, with Willard Scott as host.