L.A.’s special relationship with the television industry comes alive — frame by frame — in a historic still-photography exhibit.
Television's long love affair with Los Angeles — its downtown and suburbs, the canyons and beaches — has been visible on screen since the earliest days of the medium.
Now it is also on display at the Los Angeles Central Library, where a photo exhibit chronicling this courtship is open to the public through July 15.
In 31 black and white prints (and over 100 more in a companion book), "The Industry in Our Backyard: Television Production in Los Angeles 1940s– 1980s" evokes a time when television was seen as a more friendly and almost folksy cousin of Hollywood's glamorous movie biz.
"When you look at the photos, there's sort of a blasé attitude in the people," says Wendy Horowitz, the librarian for the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection who culled the images for the exhibit. "Television was a little more casual, more inviting."
She points to an '80s-era photo of fans lining up on a Hollywood sidewalk for a taping of The Merv Griffin Show. "They're wearing flip-flops and shorts, and they're not necessarily tourists. These are locals who thought, 'Hey, let's go to a taping.'"
The exhibit grew out of a serendipitous discovery made by Horowitz as she sorted through some 2.2 million photos that were shot over seven decades for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner; they were donated to the library when the paper shuttered in 1989. As L.A.'s major afternoon paper, the Herald notably had access to television productions and photo opportunities that out-of-town newspapers did not.
"After Wendy found all these amazing photos from the '80s, we got the idea to do an exhibit about television," says Christina Rice, manager of the LAPL Photo Collection. "She started looking into what we had already digitized and realized that not only had the Herald been visiting these television sets all along, but we had a second newspaper collection, from the [now defunct] Valley Times, which would visit sets even more frequently."
As they assembled the exhibit, Rice and Horowitz agreed that the images needed to distinctly reflect L.A. "It was important to me that the photos confirmed the idea that 'this could only happen in L.A.,'" Horowitz says.
"Some are amusing," she continues, "like the one of ladies from the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital Women's Guild visiting the set of The Beverly Hillbillies. I'm guessing that one of the ladies had a husband who worked for CBS, and one phone call later they were down at the set to promote their charity hoedown.
"But this would have been quite remarkable to people in other parts of the country, to go on set and have your picture taken with Buddy Ebsen and Irene Ryan in costume."
Visitors can also peruse prints of Perry Mason star Raymond Burr at the L.A. County courthouse; the cast of M*A*S*H after wrapping their ratings-busting final episode; and Gerald McRaney (most recently of House of Cards and This Is Us fame) and Jameson Parker of Simon & Simon on a location shoot.
Even Clint Eastwood appears in a '60s-era network publicity shot (he then starred on CBS's Rawhide), posing with Tina Louise of Gilligan's Island and Robert Conrad and Ross Martin of The Wild Wild West. Only some of the images show L.A.'s famed landmarks, but they're all clearly from the city's backyard.
"I really don't see this happening in New York," Horowitz says of a photo of Billy Dee Williams and Chicago Bears' halfback Gale Sayers, shot during production of the 1971 ABC telefilm Brian's Song. "You have Williams on a football field set somewhere out in the suburbs and Sayers [whose memoir was the basis for the movie] is dropping by. It's only in L.A."
Some of the photos are likely to evoke as much surprise as nostalgia, such as a shot of Andy Warhol taken during his guest spot on ABC's The Love Boat. "I just imagine that he really wanted to be on it," Horowitz says of the artist's TV appearance. "I can see him finding the kitsch factor appealing."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 2, 2018