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Thursday, December 01, 2016

Where CK Had Its Biggest Nights


Kane Is 58's Comeback Kid

Here's another reckless assertion which I invite any or all to refute: Citizen Kane had its largest-ever viewing audience during the week of January 6, 1958 in and around Los Angeles (on station KHJ), this surpassed only by ten months later New York City broadcast through Thanksgiving week, twelve free Gotham runs to whoever could pick up WOR, Channel 9. Kane never drew such a crowd, not in initial release, certainly not from revivals. Wish I knew how many millions watched over those bi-coastal weeks. Was this when Citizen Kane truly achieved modern classic standing? Never mind its being truncated and riddled with commercials. At least hint of greatness broke through, whatever abuse was heaped upon it. I'm back on Kane jag thanks to Scott MacQueen pointing my way to the TV ad at left, which appeared in support of November runs on WOR. Other promos for Channel 9 can be seen at previous (6/19/16) GPS posting on Kane's TV premiere(s). WOR pushed the run with multiple print promos (this latest my favorite), each a salvo to whatever sought paid admissions that NYC week. No wonder theatres despised television. Surely Orson Welles noted the showcase his seventeen-year-oldie got over multiple nights with much of Gotham tuned in. Might Kane have been a (re)freshed calling card to help him get further jobs? Industry execs on both coasts would certainly have been watching, what with Citizen Kane playing every night over respective weeks. I'd say the only larger TV audience Welles had during the 50's was his guesting on I Love Lucy (10-15-56), unless I've overlooked another, and higher profile, appearance (but then, was anything more watched than I Love Lucy that decade?).

18 Comments:

Blogger Dave K said...

My first viewing of CK; late night New Years Eve/New Years Morning airing on a baby sitting job 49 or 48 years ago. No commercials! At least after midnight. As the film wound down I was terrified the couple I was sitting for would walk in minutes before the movie ended. I needn't have worried. They continued to party long after all the stations signed off!

9:07 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

CITIZEN KANE may have being shown on Argentine television throughout the seventies until the 1980 changeover to color broadcasts put almost all of the black and white movies (except for THE THREE STOOGES shorts) to rest at least until 1984 when they begin to resurface. I saw KANE for the first time on cable TV around 1986, probably shortly after we got the service.

By that time, the VHS revolution had started and what it looked worn and scratched on the air, it felt pristine on home video. And KANE was among the first movies issued in cassette in Buenos Aires.

The VHS revolution was in fact a shock for the television industry because the movies that were constantly presented in used and scratched versions looked much better in home editions. For instance, GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER had its television premiere in Argentina in 1989 (I got a commercial from the channel that aired it) but it was already in VHS in a far better edition that was shown on TV.

But CITIZEN KANE was always available, mostly in good if darkened prints. In fact, I guess the Alex labs in Argentina are the ones that prepared the 16mm versions that aired on TV in the United States in 1958.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Bill O said...

I Love Lucy inadvertently portrayed him as a relic - The Man From Mars. Kane's not mentioned, I think, even tho she now owned the studio.

1:51 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...


Well, perhaps Orson's appearance on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW on February 5, 1956 might have had very good ratings too (ironically, Lucy and Desi were guests on that show as well which might explain the good ratings). Welles performed in an excerpt from his City Center production of KING LEAR, during which he had unfortunately broke his ankle and was performing from a wheelchair(he's brought on in a sort of sleigh/wagon thing when he makes his entrance on the Sullivan show, then he's hobbling around on crutches at the end of it).

I have no doubt that much of CITIZEN KANE's later critical reputation came from it being shown and seen on television, it's critical reputation at the time of it's release well remembered and then it's general unavailability in the meantime had given it a definite mystique. But it still held onto that "special" treatment on television even years after it had been playing there. I remember the first time I saw it was a Channel 5 special evening broadcast in the early 70's, they treated it as an event, with a special two and a half hour time slot so as to allow commercials with little trimming. KANE actually worked rather well on television, with the camerawork and close-up compositions that live television had borrowed much of in PLAYHOUSE 90 dramas of the 50's, I'm sure when it first aired in 1958, it looked very much at home there.

I remember the film blowing me away on first viewing, and I recall that the episodic nature of the film actually made cutting to commercials a little less jarring than with other films, I can still recall the scene in the opera house where Kane stands to applaud Susan loudly until he realizes he is now the only one in the theater clapping, and it being a rather effective stopping point to go to a commercial break, if one must have them.

I've gradually realized over the years that my first introduction to Orson Welles was probably on THE DEAN MARTIN SHOW, then the lengthy and fascinating Dick Cavett interviews, I found Welles fascinating as a person before I ever saw any of his work. Seeing Kane for the first time, I expected to see a classic and was not disappointed, I was much more entranced when I came upon TOUCH OF EVIL on Los Angeles television one afternoon while visiting there, I knew nothing about the film, didn't even know it's title as I came upon it already in progress. and it was such a powerful swirling nightmare that I immediately had to find out what it was.

I have enjoyed Orson Welles work in ALL mediums ever since, it constantly amazes me, he was both deep thinker and entertaining showman in a combination no one else ever came close to, and it impresses me more that, thirty years after his passing, he continues to amaze me with new, before unseen works.

RICHARD M ROBERTS

3:49 PM  
Blogger JAMES COBB said...

Hard sometimes for younger film buffs to fully understand how hard it was to see vintage and classic films before home video. My first Welles film was TOUCH OF EVIL. This would have been in the late 60's. I had read about his films but never seen any. In this case it meant setting an alarm clock for a 3:00 a.m. showing on a Norfolk, Virginia tv station. Seeing it at the time and under those circumstances perhaps enhanced the film. I was lucky that the first time I saw KANE was during an early 70's revival with a newly struck 35mm print show on a large theater screen. But these occasions were rare.

11:52 PM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

My first KANE experience was a high school film class screening, so no commercial breaks there. I felt then as I do now when I come across it: an enthralling, astonishing film during the first hour or so. Then Susan Alexander takes center stage and it all starts to drag and never really recovers.

Richard's observation that the film feels "very much at home" on television is spot on. Certainly by 1958, Jack Webb had brought Welles' penchant for close camera work, unusual angles and dramatic lighting to the forefront on DRAGNET, as well as to his theatrical output... which is why he was referred to as "Orson Webb" by more than a few industry insiders.

8:01 AM  
Blogger tbonemankini said...

Think I first saw this on CH9 from Windsor Ontario....lots of other offbeat stuff turned up due,I guess to different packages sold to Canadian TV and not so much reluctance to air controversial or niche films which at that time CK still was, despite its critical reputation. ....all that changed after the Cavett interviews

8:20 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Can't recall my first viewing of Charlie Kane. I like the movie, but it never had the 'blow my shoes and socks off' impact on me as it did many.

9:59 AM  
Blogger tbonemankini said...

And for the life of me I can't recall if it was trimmed at all....combination of the late night showing and very few breaks may have spared it... but seems to me I was familiar with all scenes when I next saw it a few years later...

10:27 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I first saw KANE on a late movie around 1961 or so and had at least my socks blown off. Probably my whole ensemble.

I'd heard of CITIZEN KANE before seeing it, but I didn't know it was anything special. Just an old movie. So I had the sensation I remember having exactly three times in my youth -- "discovering" a movie that nobody else knew about. I spent days after the viewing telling people about this incredible movie I'd seen on the late show. Why, I wondered, did nobody else know about this great thing? I honestly thought I must be the first person to recognize the movie as a classic.

Had the same reaction, the same feeling of lonely discovery, with IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and HERE COMES MR. JORDAN.

I may have been late to the party, but at least 11-year-old me recognized a great movie when he saw one.

12:45 PM  
Blogger b piper said...

The first time I even heard of CITIZEN KANE was on the old "Dick Van Dyke Show". Rob was alone and bored and flipping through the TV listings when he suddenly blurts out "Oh boy, CITIZEN KANE! I've always wanted to see that!" Then he realizes he's looking at the wrong day. But it gave me the impression the movie must be something special and by the time I finally saw it I'd read a decade of hype and hoped I wouldn't be disappointed. I needn't have worried. Like PLAN NINE FROM OUT SPACE but in a totally different way it was everything it was cracked up to be.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

The best, though perhaps cruelest, line from that DICK VAN DYKE SHOW... "Dorothy Comingore??"

3:51 PM  
Blogger tbonemankini said...

As much as opinions are pro KANE,there is an equal or possibly greater body of people who consider it well over rated or just don't get it....for a variety of reasons I suspect. Still don't know why a nearly 30 year old film resonated in my teen age mind and so I do try to accept that we all look for different things in a film. As much as I consider my favourites as "classics",would an objective opinion come to the same conclusion? Like with songs,is the context of the initial exposure a big factor?

4:45 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

What I say to current audiences is that while we as a society think of movies from other eras as old movies we do not think of books as old books nor plays as old plays nor paintings as old paintings. The films from the dawn of the cinema through to the 1950s are actually young movies. They are filled with energy, the willingness to experiment, to try something new, to risk. By comparison current films which are pre-tested to make sure they upset as few as possible are arthritic by comparison. Many (thankfully, not all) of our current films are actually old movies in spirit.

5:44 AM  
Blogger lmshah said...


I have to admit that, as much as I love CITIZEN KANE, I do have to admit that it's not even my favorite Orson Welles movie. This may be due to personal overexposure from running it in film classes endlessly (same thing happened with Buster Keaton's THE GENERAL for a decade or so), but other Welles films resonate with me a bit more intensely, both MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS and CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT move me far more, TOUCH OF EVIL is just so wacky (though I will also admit I love the second studio version discovered in the 70's way more than the Walter Murch "restoration" (removing the Mancini music from the opening shot just makes it go on forever in a completely self-conscious manner.

Yet, if we have to have a "greatest film of all time", CITIZEN KANE fits the bill in a more satisfactory manner than any other I can think of, it tells a great story in an original manner, has a pretty strong message at it's core, but is so damn entertaining and everything and everyone involved succeeds at what they're setting out to do. The fact that Alfred Hitchcock's VERTIGO has pushed it from the numero uno spot says more about todays self-obsessed film nerds doing the voting than the quality of either film.

RICHARD M ROBERTS

6:32 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915) properly presented is the greatest film of all time. Before it we have a blank canvas. After it we have everything. It is "THE BIG BANG" of the movies. No one else has taken Griffith's risk nor duplicated his success. Consider that the $2 people paid in 1915 to see THE BIRTH was just 50 cents below then top Broadway prices then think of a single movie today that could command top Broadway prices let alone be seen by over four times the population of America in first release alone. CITIZEN KANE is a great film, yes. Welles was not taking the risk Griffith took. Dismissing THE BIRTH today as racist does both the film and its director a huge dis-service. The film presents an accurate and honest picture of The American Civil War and the Aftermath of Reconstruction from the point of view of the white American South. The attitudes in the film are the attitudes of that time. To fault the film for that is wrong.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

My first TV viewing of Kane was underwhelming. Over the years, I grew to appreciate it, especially during the days of home video, as did my feelings toward Kane himself. Initially, I felt sorry for him. As I became more "politically aware" (whatever that means), I hated him. As I matured, I saw him as the great, tragic, human he was. By the time of its 50th anniversary re-release, I came to see the movie not as an overwhelming piece of art, but as an extraordinarily well-made of the 1940s. I haven't seen it since; who knows what I'd think now?

5:19 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

When we come to these films we bring too much that gets in the way. We read that these are great films. We see them too often with expectations that get in the way of simply watching them as movies which is how people first saw them. It is the same thing with great books. We read them because they are great which was not how they were first read when new. I have always preferred audiences that are working class as they bring no affectations with them. They demand of great films what they demand of new films. They demand to be impressed. My job as a presenter is to ensure they are impressed which is why students tell me that though they had never felt a film's greatness in the classroom they have often felt it at my presentations. That is because I learned long ago that expectations merely met are not good enough. They must be surpassed. Cecil B. DeMille put it wonderfully, "When people walk in they demand God. They won't come in for God which is why we must offer them the Devil but once they sit down they want God." I am paraphrasing here from memory but I knew the first time I read that he was right. Perhaps that is what is wrong with current cinema. Our expectations are rarely surpassed because we live in an era that denies God so how can God be given to us? CITIZEN KANE gives us God.

6:19 PM  

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