Monday, October 7, 2013

Miami Beach sweeps TV land in 1955 with "Today," "Tonight" and ...

Eden Roc today; Fontainebleau adjacent (south)

By Jane Feehan

Tourism was already a growth industry in Miami Beach before World War II. It continued to expand when some of the first post-war hotels constructed in the United States went up in Miami Beach. Building accelerated throughout the 1950s, making the beach side city the most glamorous vacation destination in the nation; it also became a favorite spot for Europe’s elite. The Fontainebleau, Bal Harbour, and Ankara hotels opened in 1954. Tourists flocked to the Eden Roc, Bal Moral and Lucerne when they were completed in 1955.

Hank Meyer, public relations director for the city during the 1950s, hoped to establish Miami Beach as the winter entertainment capitol of the U.S. His dream was well on its way to fruition when he announced 30 hours of broadcast network programs were to air from beach hotels to living rooms across the country. The week of Jan. 9, 1955 was to be the busiest television week in Florida history. 

Dave Garroway of Today and Steve Allen of Tonight (both shows produced by Mort Werner) plus 62 NBC staffers made the Sea Isle Hotel (opened in 1940) home for one week while they televised from its pool, cabana area, and beach. Steve Allen used some of the local night spots as background. The Colgate Comedy Hour, also an NBC property, beamed from the spectacular Fontainebleau; the network's Friday night boxing show took over the Miami Beach Auditorium. ABC also used the Fontainebleau for a program featuring Walter Winchell.

Arthur Godfrey (b. 1903 - d. 1980) paved the way for television aired from Miami Beach in the early 1950s when some of his winter shows were produced there.  In 1954, he and two others purchased the Kenilworth Hotel, the site for many of his winter programs. The Jackie Gleason Show, which ran from 1966 to 1970 from the Miami Beach Auditorium (later renamed the Jackie Gleason Theater), marked the end of the big-show television era of Miami Beach. The era ended but not before giving millions the idea of Florida as a place to live as well as visit. Copyright © 2013 All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.
Kleinberg, Howard. Woggles and Cheese Holes. Miami Beach: The Greater Miami & Beaches Hotel Association (2005).
Kleinberg, Howard. Miami Beach, a History. Miami: Centennial Press (1996).
Miami News, Jan. 9, 1955

Tags: Miami Beach history, Miami television history, Miami broadcast history, Jane Feehan historial researcher for films