Curtain Drops on The Milt Grant Show
Milt Grant, Washington's Dick Clark, is dead.
Beginning in 1956, Grant served as host of a TV dance show that introduced both local and national pop and rock acts to viewers in the Washington area. The show, originally weekly and later broadcast six days a week on Channel 5, was produced live in front of a studio audience at the Raleigh Hotel at 11th and E streets NW.
Throughout the late 50s, the Grant show was a pop phenomenon especially among high school kids in the area. Make that white high school kids. The Grant program was a segregated affair, at least until complaints and protests by black viewers pushed the producers to devote one show a week to black acts, with black high school students in the audience. The weekly event became known, not exactly in a complimentary way, as Black Tuesdays. (A show catering to black Washingtonians, Teenarama, later appeared on a rival station.)
The lineup of national stars who appeared on Grant's show was remarkable: Ike and Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Bobby Darin, Andy Williams, Bo Diddley, Nat King Cole, Little Richard, and many more. The show was also an outlet for local bands such as The Triumphs, The Naturals, The Off-Keys and Jerry Dallman and the Knightcaps. Grant's house band was led by the late Link Wray, a legendary rock guitarist.
The Grant show came along at the beginning of the baby boomers' rise to the center of the national consciousness, when the concept of the teenager was starting to play a dominating role in the pop culture. As local pop historian Mark Opsasnick writes in his book, "Capital Rock," Milt Grant's show was "for teenagers, about teenagers and starring teenagers."
In 1990, when the National Archives remembered the Grant phenomenon with a program that drew many of his old fans to meet their teen idol, The Post's Lois Romano reported the recollections of some of those Washingtonians who had been in Grant's studio audience:
Donna Moeller remembers it as if it were yesterday. "I did the dirty boogie with Jerry Lee Lewis," she told the several hundred who had gathered for the noon program at the Archives. "It's what you call regular dancing now, but back then it was scandalous. It's something I've done in my life that I'll never forget."
"I danced with Bobby Darin while he sang 'Mack the Knife,' " announced Patricia Denny Dews. "I talked about it for years."
Pat Fitzgerald had the honor of being a Milt Grant Miss Teen Queen, sort of the prom queen of dancers. "I went on to a modeling career," she said. "It was really a neat and exciting time." "It was the only show I was allowed to watch every day," said Peggy Brown.
The Grant show--helped along by the record hops that Grant hosted at local high schools and armories, as well as at Glen Echo amusement park--was cemented in the #1 spot in the TV ratings until its demise in 1961, when Channel 5 was sold to Metromedia, which didn't believe that a teen dance show would fare well against the network affiliates in town. The new management replaced the dance show with episodes of "Robin Hood" and "Bold Journey."
Grant disagreed with that decision, and after losing the Channel 5 gig, he went into the TV business for himself, launching Channel 20 in 1966, where his lineup included several locally-produced programs. Grant spent most of the rest of his life as a TV station owner, purchasing stations all around the country. Opsasnick says Grant was believed to hold the original recordings of his dance shows at his home in South Florida.
By Marc Fisher |
May 1, 2007; 1:23 PM ET
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