The history of Lee & Lionel
Despite high ratings, "Lee & Lionel" was doomed! Syndication was coming on strong, and the New York gang wanted what they referred to as "The thirty-five year old Muskogee housewife!" Well, they got her! Mike Douglas was the chosen show to go into the three-thirty slot, and of course it did very well. That was a really good show. Mike was an excellent singer, and when he had guests, he didn't try to compete with them. He was a very good interviewer after awhile. Some of the guests he had on would not do other shows, just his.
Well, to try and save face, and Lee and Lionel, the "Bigs" offered me a Saturday morning slot. Thirty minutes! I thought about that and wondered if it would work? You never know! Yeah you do! But you go ahead anyway. I went all out on the set design. I had the black and white tile floor, the embossed velveted wallpaper. I had Ray Arkaketa (sp?) paint two portraits for the walls. One of "Wellington Leading His Troops!" Using Lionel's face, of course. And then the famous "Mona Lisa," again featuring the enigmatic smile of you know who. I still have those paintings. I also fashioned a new throne for the King. This actually worked pretty well and I was happy with the "look!" The problem was....I had lost my audience. This was cartoon country! I couldn't do my current events things in this slot. I could have guests and did! But, it just didn't feel right.
This gave the opportunity to go back and have some fun with people she had supposedly known. I did not do her voice on "the exhale." As a consequence, I could do her voice longer than Lionel's. On occasion, if I had been ill or had a cold, I could not make a voice for Lionel, which presented a problem. If I had it all to do over again, I would have done a different voice for Lionel, but all in all...it worked out . At the end I designed a kitchen set for Granny and this is how it looked. This was on the Saturday show! Actually, this segment worked pretty well because I could get wilder with Granny. Here we are.
When the news was expanded to one hour, it did not take everyone very long to figure out that there was not that much to cover and that we didn't have the manpower to fill the void. So, either Clayton Vaughn or someone suggested that I bring Lionel on at the end of the weathercast to give, or help give the forecast and a few comments! Well, you know the rest. This was about as strong as Lionel ever got because he could say what he thought about a story that no news person would touch! And he got away with it! In fact he became known for telling it like it is before Cosell! Then too, with people like Creagar and the Moose to play off of, it was just a ball. The Moose would get so cracked up he couldn't talk. Looking back, I can see why those New York people hated us! I don't think anyone would let us do that in today's world. Over the years, we had so many people on the news that came and went and I'm sure some of them didn't like the idea of the Lion doing schtick with the anchors. I know Ken Broo used to mix it up real well with the King, and two or three others, but if they didn't want to play, we just didn't involve them.
Here is a color photo of the last throne of King Lionel as used on the weather set. I built this throne on wheels with the help of the late Richard Hendricks in the Dan O'Shea Gallery. Gold leaf framing around the red velvet seat with gold braids and other accents. This worked very well in all situations, and especially in personal appearances, such as doing the "Queens Coronation" during the "Neewollah Festival" in Independence, Kansas. Jim Halsey got me to start going up there and I did that for about seven years in a row. A lot of fun! This throne could be taken apart in three pieces, so it was very portable. I still have it. In the attic. Lionel is wearing one of the hats which became a trademark of his bit and an easy intro to "Plug-ola!"