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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,492

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This is the grave of Al Simon.

Born in 1911 in New York, Simon went to Columbia, got a lit degree, then went to NYU for law school. He got that degree, but preferred journalism. He started writing for major magazines such as Collier’s and Cosmopolitan. He started working for a New York radio station, then joined the military in World War II.

So up to his 30s, Simon was a smart guy trying to figure out a path interesting enough for him. Like a lot of people, he decided to move to Los Angeles after World War II. He got a job working on This is Your Life in 1946 and then he got another job on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. His big break was working as a writer on Truth or Consequences. He was successful and he began producing.

Now, I had never heard of Simon before. This was just a chatty grave. If you are going to write that you are a “television pioneer,” well, I am going to take a picture of that grave and then look it up later. Sometimes it works out, sometimes not. In this case, the first thing you find when you look up Simon is that he was the executive producer for Mister Ed. I laughed pretty good when I read that. What screams TELEVISION PIONEER more than a talking horse. Trying to imagine the pitch for that. “See, you take a dumb comedy setup. Then you add a talking horse. Boom. We are fucking done here, let’s order the martinis.” I have to say though, my mom was a great woman but she had the worst taste in television of anyone I have ever known in my entire life and she loved Mister Ed. So there you go.

But Simon’s exploits extend farther than just one of the worst shows in history. He produced much better shows as well, including I Love Lucy. He went on to later head Filmways, one of the big TV production companies, which was behind Mister Ed, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and other trash shows of the era. It also produced some good movies though, including The Cincinnati Kid, which is a minor favorite of mine.

But there is something more important than any of this. Back when Simon worked on Truth or Consequences, the show’s sponsors wanted to bring in audiences on the east coast, even though the show was live in Los Angeles. The current technology did not allow for rebroadcasts of shows except in very low quality kinescopes. This was not really acceptable. But there were other technologies out there that the film industry had used to produce better copies. It was just that TV was too cheap until this point to use them. So Simon had the show recorded with three cameras on good film and with two-track audio. That created the look and sound of a live broadcast, so east coast viewers would think it was in fact live. This worked wonders and the show became the first that could use the live audience gambit effectively. So that alone is worth the TV pioneer description. Later Desi Arnaz was often given credit for this, but it was Simon who brought the technique to I Love Lucy. What this also did of course was to create the technology to preserve shows for re-runs, which became a staple of the television industry and while that is far less so today than it used to be, it’s still important to older shows in syndication.

Simon died of Alzhemier’s in 2000. He was 88 years old.

Al Simon is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.

If you would like this series to visit other people associated with Mister Ed, and why wouldn’t you, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Allan Lane is in Inglewood, California, as is Connie Hinds. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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