Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Sam Hebscher Made CHCH-TV
The lack of coverage in Canadian newspapers on the passing of Sam Hebscher was truly appalling.
Make no mistake about it Hebscher in his time was a mighty force in Canadian TV.
He singularly made it possible for Hamilton's CHCH to rise to world class status. He died last week in Toronto in his 93rd year after a valiant fight against cancer.
Most people don't even know his name. In his day he was all powerful in Hamilton entertainment circles.
At one time in the 1940s he was managing both the Capital and Palace theatres as well as the Barton Street arena.
Sam remembered the time at the Palace when "the morality squad was out in force during a live performance by (stripper) Gypsy Rose Lee. She was very tasteful, they wanted to arrest her because the mayor was in a tight re-election campaign. Right at the end she dropped her G-string while hiding behind a fan and her little four-year-old boy ran onstage to pick it up.
"She was arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and the boy send fto a foster home before she was let go days later. And hizzoner got re-elected, too."
Another time during a screening of Mrs. Miniver (1942) Sam caught a couple making out in the back row of the Palace. "It was Evelyn Dick. I just scolded her and sent her and her boy friend on their way."
So it was only natural when CHCH got its license in 1954 that Sam would be enlisted by station founder Ken Soble who gave him the mandate to make CHCH THE movie station of the continent.
Sam remembered in the early days the films still arrived in cans and he'd store them at the hockey arena. CHCH was a privately run CBC affiliate but as the decade wore on the station moved more into programming of its own. With his superior movie connections Sam was able to know when certain packages would be coming on the market and bid for them first.
Consequently CHCH had the world premieres of such huge features as The Ten Commandments, Gone With The Wind, Ben Hur, Cleopatra and Dr. Zhivago.
I was once at a NBC press conference in Los Angeles when the president announced the world premiere of Gone With The Wind. He was none too happy when I politely but firmly corrected him.
Sam operated out of a cubbyhole on the third floor of CHCH headquarters in Jackson St. W. He was unpretentious about his amazing talents. One clue: he scoured the newspapers for what was showing at local Drive-Ins. He'd spot a title and immediately phone to purchase it because he knew the drive-ins were the last theatrical destinations for films before being sold to TV.
Sam retired in 1987 and CHCH went into a tail spin. The station made a catastrophic mistake in purchasing all the series made by Lorimar (except Dallas) and wound up with hits like Knots Landing but also many dud titles.
Talking to Sam several months ago, he was interested in the new/old policy being pursued by current CHCH management: back to movies. But he said such a commitment would cost plenty and so far he was seeing movies that had already played elsewhere on TV.
Chuckled Sam: "That never happened in my day."