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Yesterday in La Crosse

Future stars got a chance to shine on summer nights, 50 years ago

Brad Williams

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The year 1970 is remembered for anti-war protests, environmental awareness, and the breakup of the Beatles.  For people watching TV that summer, there was a wide variety of what they used to call ‘variety shows,’ new programs filling time instead of reruns.  Many talented performers got big breaks appearing on those shows.  

The Smothers Brothers got a summer show on ABC in 1970, a year after being fired by CBS for being too controversial.  Their new show tried experimental comedy, and starring with the brothers was a girl named Struthers.  Sally Struthers.  A year later, Sally would get her major break as one of the Bunkers on “All in the Family.” Tom and Dick Smothers’ old Sunday night time slot on CBS was occupied by “Comedy Tonight,” a sketch show hosted by comedian Robert Klein.  The cast of unknown actors included soon-to-be-famous Madeline Kahn and Peter Boyle.  

Singer Ray Stevens had his own show on NBC, and one of the young comics appearing frequently on the show was Steve Martin.  The group of singing and dancing girls known as the Golddiggers filled in for their boss, Dean Martin.  The Golddiggers had done a 1930’s nostalgia show the previous two summers, but in 1970, they went to mod London, in a show featuring Charles Nelson Reilly and British comic Marty Feldman.  Four years later, Feldman, Kahn, and Boyle would all appear in “Young Frankenstein.”  But they were summer TV stars 50 years ago, yesterday in La Crosse.   

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from UW - La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area. He regularly covers local courts and city and county government. Brad produces the features "Yesterday in La Crosse" and "What's Buried on Brad's Desk." He also writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse. Brad been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.

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