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Tommy Dorsey Plays His Theme

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Tommy Dorsey plays trombone on an unsold pilot for The Frankie Laine Show, 1950.

A Pilot Lost

If you search out unaired pilot episodes pitching new shows to networks in the classic TV era, it is clear why most of them ended up unsold and unaired. TV was an infant. How to best use this new medium, delivering nightly content across America, was still being discovered. Many early attempts to decipher American tastes never made it past the network executives and into American living rooms. Who knows how many of these could have shaped tastes had airtime not been a limited commodity? Ideas often took multiple tries to get past network gatekeepers, and ultimately become hits.

So it was when Frankie Laine, in 1950, produced a pilot for CBS for a variety show called simply, The Frankie Laine Show. CBS passed on the pilot. Frankie Laine went on to become one of the biggest singing stars of early television when, four years later, Guild Film Services agreed to produce the show and distribute it in syndication. A year after that series ran, Laine would host a summer replacement show for Arthur Godfrey, Frankie Laine Time. The show ran for two seasons. The failed pilot from 1950 may have been shown as a special on CBS, but exact dates and times are not possible to nail down. The original pilot from 1950 finally went into unsold obscurity, and was forgotten.

A Classic TV Lost Nugget

Hidden within that pilot show, however, is a rare gem. Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra played Tommy’s theme song, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.” This classic TV clip is unique. YouTube offers no other visual recordings of Dorsey playing his well-known theme song. Laine, in introducing Dorsey for the segment notes that he has never heard Dorsey complete the song, only use pieces of it as his introductory theme. Here he plays his theme song in full.

Tommy Dorsey and his brother, Jimmy, were show business legends when TV was in its infancy. Their career spanned from records to radio, and film to television. Tommy became a professional at 15 when he joined The Scranton Sirens in the 1920’s. The brothers played in several bands, landing with Paul Whiteman in 1927. They had their first recorded hit in 1929 with “Coquette” for OKeh Records. Decca Records signed them in 1934, and in 1934 and ’35 a young Glenn Miller joined their orchestra and had a big hit with his composition “Annie‘s Cousin Fannie.” In ’35 the brothers broke up and Dorsey formed his own band. Both bands remained very successful and in the 1950’s the brothers came back together.

Television in Focus

This TV appearance, despite its unsold status, helped inspire Dorsey to focus on TV as an up-and-coming medium. On the day after Christmas in 1953, the brothers appeared with Jackie Gleason on his show and later took that unit out on tour. Their success led them to have their own TV show from 1954-56, Stage Show. In 1956 the Dorsey’s helped transition audiences into the rock-and-roll era when they introduced a very Young Elvis Presley to American TV, adding their imprimatur to his music.

Little can be found about this clip or the unsold pilot in which it appeared. However, buried within it may be the moment that Tommy Dorsey, an entertainer of legendary stature, realized the coming power of TV and made plans for his place within that.

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