Q & A: Here’s Looking at You/The Richard Willis Show

I get a lot of e-mails from people asking me about television shows, made-for-TV movies or miniseries they remember from years or decades past. I try to answer each question as best I can. Every now and then I like to dig through my inbox and pull out a few choice e-mails to answer here at Television Obscurities for everyone to read. Keep reading for today’s questions and answers.

There was a TV show called, “Here’s Looking At You” that was later called The Richard Willis Show done in New York City in the 50’s. In fact it was one of the first shows to be done in color. I find very little info on this show. I found one show in Washington and they preserved it to digital. I have yet to be able to go down and see it. Any insight to this program would greatly appreciated.
David

Richard Willis had a lengthy career in radio and television spanning three decades, several local stations and two countries. He started out as a movie makeup artist turning to radio where he doled out advice to women wanting to look their best. As early as September 1940 he was heard over station WOR in New York City, hosting a twice-weekly beauty show called Here’s Looking at You alongside fashion expert Pegeen Fitzgerald. According to LIFE magazine, “on each show they advise one volunteer ugly duckling, later take her out for a treatment and shopping tour” [1]. By 1945, Willis had moved to station WNEW in New York City.

In March 1947, Willis began hosting a half-hour weekly series over the CBS radio network called Look Your Best. It wasn’t heard in New York City because of his WNEW program [2]. Three years later, CBS adapted Look Your Best for television. The half-hour TV series was seen three times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 3:30-4PM. The Monday and Friday broadcasts were sponsored by the International Latex Corporation for its Playtex girdles; the Wednesday installment was sustaining. The series premiered on Monday, September 18th over a 25-station CBS network [3]. The TV version of Look Your Best didn’t last long. The final episode aired on Monday, November 1st.

Willis returned to television the following year with a local New York City series airing weekday mornings on WNBT (Channel 4). It was called Here’s Looking at You, recycling the name of his early radio program, and premiered on Monday, June 11th, 1951. The series is believed to have joined the national NBC network in early October 1951, airing from 3:15-3:30PM weekday afternoons, although the number of stations airing the series is unknown.

Here’s Looking at You definitely aired in Chicago on WNBQ and in Philadelphia on WPTZ from October to December 1951. The series may have left the national schedule at that time but remained on WNBT, where it was quite popular. In March 1952, The Billboard reported that the series had the highest local daytime Pulse rating in New York City [4]. The series later expanded to a half-hour and was shifted around the WNBT schedule, eventually settling first on the 2-2:30PM time slot and later the 2:30-3PM time slot.

In September 1953, NBC announced that its owned-and-operated stations would begin a joint Saturday programming plan, with programs originating from one of the five O&O stations airing on some or all of the others. Here’s Looking at You was one of those programs, airing on WNBT from 12-12:3PM and feeding via coaxial cable to WNBQ in Chicago, WNBK in Cleveland and WNBW in Washington [5]. By November, the series was apparently also airing on KNBH in Los Angeles, sponsored on all five stations by Cearasil and Inhiston [6]. How long NBC’s Saturday joint programming was in affect is unknown but by July 1954, Here’s Looking at You was no longer airing on WNBT on Saturdays.

Around that time, WNBT was experimenting with broadcasting Here’s Looking at You in color, although details are sketchy. According to a July 1954 article in The Billboard, NBC officials gave a color demonstration to the National Television Film Council to compare live color with color film. They were shown Here’s Looking at You live in color followed by color film via closed circuit [7]. It’s unknown how many episodes were aired in color or how many households would have been able to see them.

The name of the series was changed to The Richard Willis Show in November 1955. It remained on WNBT until early 1957, with the final episode airing on Friday, February 15th. Willis wasn’t away from television for long, returning in May 1958 on the renamed WNTA-TV (Channel 13) in New York City, as part of the inaugural programming schedule under new owner National Telefilm Associates (NTA). The new series was also called The Richard Willis Show and aired weekdays from 6-6:30PM.

WNTA-TV debuted on Wednesday, May 7th. Reviewing the station’s first day of broadcasting, Jack Gould had this to say about Willis:

Richard Willis, make-up and beauty specialist, who had quite a following with the ladies when he was on Channel 4, brought his show back at 6 P.M. This time he is also attending to the needs of gentlemen. One of last night’s masculine guests received a free hair rug.

Fortunately Mr. Willis has an amusingly sardonic attitude toward his visitors who hunger for guidance on how to put the best face on things. [8]

The WNTA-TV version of The Richard Willis Show went off the air in November 1959. In January 1960, Willis returned as part of the station’s unusual advertising experiment called Daywatch. Sponsors paid for ten-second commercials that could reach thousands of active shoppers located in department stores, grocery stores and pharmacies that were part of NTA Storevision. At each of these locations television sets aired Daywatch continuously from 9AM-6PM [9].

No single program ran longer than a minute but all manner of topics were covered: sports, stocks, news and more. Richard Willis provided “beauty and household tips” to Daywatch, which was broadcast Monday through Saturday [10]. Willis also began hosting The Richard Willis Show again on January 18th, this time on weekday mornings.

Daywatch took the summer of 1960 off but returned in the fall. By then, it appears Willis was no longer with WTNA-TV. His morning show went off the air in early September 1960. From 1962 to 1964, Wilis hosted yet another version of Here’s Looking at You, this one in Canada over the CTV Television Network.

Willis died on September 5th, 1964 at the age of 56. According to an obituary published in The New York Times, he regularly taped five half-hour episodes a day of his CTV series, leaving him free for lecture tours [11. Few episodes of the various Willis-hosted shows are known to survive. Most were broadcast live. The Library of Congress may have an episode of one incarnation in its collection. The UCLA Film & Television Archive has two 1963 episodes of the Canadian version of Here’s Looking at You.

Works Cited:

1 “‘Here’s Looking At You’ Experts Transform The Homey on the Air.” LIFE. 16 Sep. 1940: 85.
2 “CBS in Sustaining Revamp; Seeks Corwin Replacement.” Billboard. 29 Mar. 1947: 7.
3 “Playtex Buys 2 CBS-TV 1/2 Hours For Beauty Tips.” Billboard. 19 Aug. 1950: 6.
4 “Popularity Increase: WNBT Promotion to Push Daytime Shows.” Billboard. 29 Mar. 1952: 9.
5 “NBC o&o’s Begin Network-in-Network.” Broadcasting*Telecasting. 28 Sep. 1953: 74.
6 “O&O Program Plan of NBC Is 60% Sold.” Billboard. 14 Nov. 1953: 5.
7 “Color Tests: Film Tint Definition Tops Live.” Billboard. 17 Jul. 1954: 8.
8 Gould, Jack. “TV: First Day of WNTA.” New York Times. 8 May 1958: 59.
9 Adams, Val. “News of TV and Radio.” New York Times. 17 Jan. 1960: X13.
10 Ibid.
11 “Richard Willis of TV Dies at 56; Advised Women on Appearance.” New York Times. 6 Sep. 1964: 56.


3 Comments

  • Kathleen Kiska says:

    I remember Richard Willis very well. I was growing up in the 50s and my mother would watch him. Women would come on needing beauty advice and he was very amusing as he doled out his opinions. I lived in the NY area and the show was possibly on Channel 13, the forerunner of PBS.

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    Yes, for a time, Willis was on Channel 13- then a commercial TV station known as WNTA (named for its then-owners, National Telefillm Associates). However, because of financial problems, they shut the station down in 1961. In September 1962, it went back on the air as WNDT, under new ownership- by Educational Broadcasting Corporation, as New York’s first “educational” TV station. It became WNET in 1970, at the time National Educational Television transformed itself into the Public Broadcasting Service. By the early ’60s, Willis was also supervising the makeup for “CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?”.

  • Karen R says:

    I remember my paternal grandmother watching this show everyday it was on t.v. she was a real afternoon t.v. show viewer. I would watch with her whenever could. I could hum all the tunes to the t.v. commercials as well. Thanks for the time, I enjoyed it.

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