Nat King Cole: TV

(Above: Nat King Cole and singer June Hutton. Source: SteveHoffman.tv)

Nat King Cole, who would have turned 100 this Sunday, March 17, achieved everlasting fame as a jazz singer and pianist – but was also an accomplished movie actor and landmark TV host.

Yesterday, we looked at Cole in the movies. Today: his historic TV career.

On June 1, 1948, Nat King Cole was a guest on the first-ever TV/radio simulcast: the premiere episode of a CBS series, We the People. On the show, Cole met the writer of his then-current hit, “Nature Boy”:

In November 1956 and for the next 13 months, Cole became the first black host of a major network TV series. Here, from August 13, 1957, is a favorite episode of The Nat King Cole Show as selected by Will Friedwald, Wall Street Journal feature writer, jazz critic, and author of the upcoming book, Nat King Cole: Straighten Up and Fly Right. Friedwald will also present a Cole retrospective this Sunday at New York’s Film Forum.

But, despite strong support from NBC, nobody would sponsor The Nat King Cole Show nationally. Some local advertisers were braver: “In the New York market, Rheingold Beer stepped up,” recalled Krin Gabbard, Columbia University professor and presenter of last week’s “Happy Birthday, Nat King Cole” at New York’s Tribeca Performing Arts Center.

As proof, here’s Cole singing a local Rheingold commercial:

After more than a year of NBC searching for a national sponsor, Cole reportedly pulled the plug on the show himself, saying, “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”

Here, from the last episode (December 7, 1957), Cole sings “The Party’s Over”:

For more of The Nat King Cole Show, including additional full episodes, we recommend searching YouTube.

Our own search turned up the following rare goody: a 1961 Canadian TV special, Wild is Love, that offers an inkling of the Broadway musical Cole was anticipating. Enjoy!

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About Les Luchter

Les Luchter is a former managing editor of Multichannel News, editor-in-chief of Cable Marketing, and news editor of Broadcast Week.

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