It all started with this press release announcing a new show, 9th STREET A GO-GO, which is what HOLLYWOOD A GO-GO was originally named for the first three episodes. This was to be unlike any previous music show, and history has proved that this was the case. SAM RIDDLE was hired as the host, and THESINNERS and GAZZARRI DANCERS secured as regular guests.
Above left: These were the first ads to announce the premier of a new "a go-go" music show. They ran in the Saturday, December 26, 1964 issues of southern California newspapers. This particular one appeared in the Long BeachIndependent TV listings page.
Above right: A rare ticket to 9TH STREET WEST. This was the show that ran simultaneously with HOLLYWOOD A GO-GO. It was broadcast on weekday afternoons and SAM RIDDLE was also the host. This ticket was for the July 27, 1965 taping.
More than four decades after the last episode of this classic show was taped, it is still looked upon favorably by music fans, dancing fans, and television historians. In its short run of just more than a year, it broke new ground on how a music show should be produced and look to the viewing public.
The show started life as9TH STREET A GO-GO, which in itself was a successor to two previous teen shows named POP DANCE PARTY and PICKWICK DANCE PARTY. Episode # 1 made its debut on December 26, 1964 but was broadcast only in the southern California KHJ-TV market. By the fourth episode, which aired on January 16, 1965, the show acquired the HOLLYWOOD A GO-GO name. Episodes # 1 through # 5 plus episode # 7 were not nationally syndicated and onlyKHJ market viewers had the pleasure of seeing these early shows. National syndication began with episode # 6, which aired January 30, 1965, and with the exception of # 7, ran uninterupted until February 5, 1966 when episode # 58 was broadcast. There was an extra show titled ALOHA A GO-GO, filmed in Hawaii, which was broadcast mid-week between syndicated episodes # 23 and 24.
These shows all stemmed from AL BURTON, who was the executive producer, and an expert at reading teen trends in music and television. AL'S resume is so impressive and lengthy that it is worth looking up on the internet. AL had the novel idea of producing a teen show unlike any previously. He would create a set for the show using an idea from his early director, RIC EYRICH, who had visited a French cafe/nightclub while on on a European trip. RIC remembered a concrete-block background and various levels of shelving where people could go up and dance. The KHJ carpenters started construction on a set showcasing the illusion of low ceilings, faux brick walls, and an intimate feel. There would be lower level lighting using movie lights instead of the usual television floodlights, a dance floor full of teens, and capitalizing on the latest trends, go-go dancers, specifically the GAZZARRI DANCERS. The faux lower ceilings were in complete opposition to the cavernous sets of the competition. There would be a stage as you might find in a nightclub, which would accommodate the music guests and the dancers, although there were many variations on this. In some episodes the musical acts would perform on the dance floor amongst the dancers. There were almost always GAZZARRI ladies on the stage, but sometimes there were additional dancers on solo platforms, and sometimes some on the dance floor. The overall effect, incorporating faux brick walls and dimmer lighting, was a stunner for teen television. The television viewer would have no idea that the broadcast was coming from anywhere other than a cool nightclub.
In keeping with AL'S idea of not wanting to look like either SHINDIGor HULLABALOOthe dancers wore mod-type dresses, striped shirts, and other hip outfits. A fashion bombshell landed on the HOLLYWOOD A GO-GO set in 1965 when some of the dancers debuted the first Mary Quant mini-skirts to American TV audiences. Ian Whitcomb, who appeared on the show several times, commented that AL BURTONand director JOE AGNELLOwere seen following the cameramen and telling them to get more "boob shots". In some oversea markets the show was considered so risque that it was banned. Of course by today's standards it is all rather tame, but for the mid-60's it was cutting-edge.
The inaugural show taping was most likely on December 19, 1964 and episode # 1 hit the L.A. market airing on KHJ-TV (Channel 9) Saturday, December 26, 1964. The guests were Jackie & Gayle, Jerry Lee Lewis,TheSinners, Sonny & Cher, and The Walker Brothers. On this same date episode # 2 would have been taped in the afternoon, keeping the one week gap between taping and airing dates for the duration of the show's run. We have heard reports that there were rare Saturday double tapings. One was to avoid a Christmas Day taping for the episode that aired on January 1, 1966. The other was to accomodate for the ALOHA AGO-GO break. You will find a full dated list of episodes and a partial list of musical guests/songs on our "Episode List" page.
SAM RIDDLE was the host of both 9TH STREET WEST A GO-GO and HOLLYWOOD A GO-GO. This was another wise move by AL BURTON because SAM, a local disc jockey, was youthful in both appearance and demeanor and loved by the kids. Even after watching the show now, forty plus years later, it is hard not to like SAM. He simply was very good at what he did.
Which brings us specifically to the subject of our website - the GAZZARRI DANCERS. AL got personally involved in this too. Many people assume that the dancers from Gazzarri's nightclub, who were hired by BILL GAZZARRI, came over one day a week to work on the television show. Not so. The core group of dancers who appeared on the show week after week were personally hand-picked by AL BURTON, RIC EYRICH or one of their scouts ,who would scour the local L.A. clubs, especially Gazzarri's, looking for the prettiest and best dancers. Girls that made an impression on BILL were pointed out to AL. Dancer GWEN SELVAGErecollects that there was also at least one open-audition tryout to recruit a few dancers. But the TV show dancers hadAL, not BILL, as their boss and received paychecks fromKHJ-TV. I was told by one of the dancers that AL, ever the gentleman, would even go to the homes of some of the newly hired girls to meet their parents.
AL himself described how he located his dancers in a 2002 interview. "Norman (Lear) came to me in 1966. He asked to have lunch with me. His opening question was: 'Where do you get the girls for HOLLYWOOD A GO-GO?' I said that I got them from Gazzarri's (hip nightclub on the Sunset Strip). Gazzarri's had the greatest looking girls. By then I was a total expert on great looking girls. When they are not on the floor dancing, I, or one of my associates pick them and ask them if they want to come on the show. I would send one of them whose taste I could trust to a place called Hole-In-The-Wall. I'd tell her to pick out outfits she liked that the girls could dance in." We have also heard first-hand reports that some of the gender neutral clothing, such as pants and tops for the girls, came from a male clothing shop, Sy Devores. Never have women looked so good in mens' clothing!
This group of chosen dancers didn't cross over to the nightclub - they didn't have the time anyway. Being that the show ran for 58 consecutive weeks there was a taping every Saturday, and there were rehearsals for several days each week leading up to the show. Rehearsals started on Mondays and the girls averaged about 20 hours per week running through their routines. The dancers would then spend most of their Saturdays in the studio with rehearsals in the mornings, followed by a four hour taping of the show in the afternoons. The finished product would then air in the L.A. market on the following Saturday.
So while this was in many ways a dream job to some of the girls, it was also a real job, a full-time one, and it involved hard work. It was also a good paying job - one of the dancers told me that she made $250 per week which was excellent pay for the mid-1960's. The GAZZARRI ladies made more than their SHINDIGcounterparts because their union, AFTRA, ruled that they were featured dancers and the SHINDIG ladies were chorus.
The choreography on the earlier episodes was put together by OSCAR WILLIAMS who was known to the girls as "Papa Gastermaster". Sometimes there wasn't a final song list for the Saturday taping until early that day necessitating some quickly put together routines and last minute rehearsing. But generally the routines were intricately worked out and practiced during the full week preceding the show. On some performances the girls were allowed to free-style their dancing. During some songs there would be 4-6 dancers doing a choreographed routine while a few others would free-style. On some shows there were clothing changes but they usually had on their white go-go footwear. We have heard reports that later in the show's run, dancer Toni Basil, from the competing show SHINDIG, was brought in to help with the choreography.
The most noticeable difference between the go-go dancing on HOLLYWOOD A GO-GO and the competing music shows was that the GAZZARRI ladies were most often found dancing in a stationary position. It might have been on the main stage or one of the small platforms, but they were rarely found gliding around the studio in Broadway-style production routines. There simply wasn't room for this and it wouldn't have fit in with the club atmosphere that AL was trying to replicate. There were however several choreographed floor routines such as the very early (episode # 9) line dance on the Donnie Brooks "Can't Help Loving You" performance.
The exception to the Saturday taping was a one-off episode appropriately titled ALOHA A GO-GO. It was taped in Hawaii and allowed the show to showcase some surf music, which was very popular at the time, with acts such as Jan & Dean and the Challengers appearing. The show, which was all taped outdoors, starts with SAM getting off a plane thinking he has found a vacation paradise but alas, he ends up hosting another episode. For GAZZARRI fans who want to see the girls in bikinis, this is the show.
Some things about the studio show tapings stand out. All of the musical acts, bar none, lip-synched their songs. There was however a floor microphone picking up sounds from the dance floor that was sometimes added to the overall audio mix. You can pick up hooting, hollering, and clapping from the dance floor kids on some of the song playbacks. A good example of this can be heard on The Turtles "It Ain't Me Babe" video on YouTube. The kids who actually made it to the dance floor were selected from Sunday afternoon dancing auditions at Gazzarri's nightclub. The crowd itself was surprisingly well behaved and clean cut. The show is mostly from 1965 when psychedelia from the neighbors a few hundred miles north in San Francisco was in its infancy. No long hair, bell bottoms, or beads on this show. Most of the boys had on jackets and ties and the girls dresses or skirts. When some of the performers, such as James Brown or Chuck Berry, played on the dance floor in the middle of the kids, they were given space and had no problems. One regular on the show shared with me that the kids were told that the performers, which included the GAZZARRI DANCERS, were off limits. And it all went off hitch-free.
It is also very interesting to follow the use of the dancers over the course of the thirteen months that the show was in production. We have to gauge our observations on the existing tapes that are available, and the earliest one is from episode # 6. At this early point it is clear that the dancers had not yet reached their star billing status. Al might not have realized when he first started the show that the GAZZARRIDANCERS would eventually become as popular as many of the musical guests. But by the time the show was several months old it had become apparent that the dancers were no longer background props. They were now featured performers. The producers realized their star potential and we see more and more of them as the show progresses.
Several episodes before the end of the show in February 1966 producer AL BURTON left. He was replaced by MILT HOFFMAN and the choreography was handed off to GAZZARRI'S SHELLEY BONIS and then MIMI MACHU and JACKIE LEVY (JACQUI LANDRUM). Some of the magic that AL brought to the show seemed to evaporate with new changes being introduced. The last episode contrasted starkly with the early episodes. Some of the dancing routines became a bit more "artsy", as opposed to the hip shaking which previously was the norm; the lighting levels seemed a bit brighter; it all added up to a different feel. The introduction of novelty musical guests such as the Bantams, or John Astin and Ted 'Lurch' Cassidy, both from the ADDAMS FAMILY TV show, did not help either. What was once cool had now become comical at times.
The last episode however is a scorcher. The staff, the dancers, and the musical guests all knew that the January 29, 1966 taping was to be the last. One of the dancers told me that Freddy Cannon told them to let it all hang out. And they did. You can see it in their dancing and their intensity. Check out JACQUI'S mini-skirt in the Karen Verros "Little Boy" performance. Was this a hemline altitude record for 1960's television?! And Freddy, who admonished the girls to let it all hang out, was the last artist to appear.
We are not sure why the show the cancelled. The financial burden on a local TV station to produce a show like this week after week must have been great. By the end of 1965 there were a glut of locally and network produced music/dance shows, so competition could also have been a factor. We don't know if AL left because he saw the writing on the wall or whether his departure and the ensuing changes contributed to the end. AL then produced a pilot for a show to be named WAY OUT with former musical guests The Bees (from episode # 38) to be the house band. The pilot did not get a contract for future production and ALsold off the idea. The show later went on to become LAUGH IN.
HOLLYWOOD A GO-GO ended its short run on February 5, 1966 with SAMsaying, "So long, music lovers" for the last time on television.
SAM RIDDLE might have very well been the most popular personality in the Los Angeles radio and television market in the mid -60's. Besides doing daily DJ radio shows on KHJ, he also taped a daily (Monday - Friday) television show, 9TH STREET WEST, the weekly HOLLYWOOD A GO-GO show, plus music specials such as ALOHA A GO-GO and CHEERIO A GO-GO.
SAM released a single on Tower Records in 1966. The A side was "Lollipops & Teardrops", with "Angela Jones" on the B side.
HOLLYWOOD A GO-GO was heavily promoted in its home market of Channel 9 in Los Angeles (KHJ-TV). The above photo, showing SAM in the bus window, most likely appeared in area newspapers. And of course there was at least one public bus promoting the show running around southern California streets!
Legendary HOLLYWOOD A GO-GO producer AL BURTON, shown here in Hawaii during the filming of ALOHA AGO-GO. AL had a very successful career in television production after his time with the show ended.
OSCAR WILLIAMS, pictured at left in a c.1965 photo, was the choreographeron the earlier episodes. OSCAR was brought over from Gazzarri's nightclub, where he had been working, to take over the job.
He can be seen taking to the stage and dancing with the girls on The Sinners video of "What'd I Say".
On later episodes he is listed as "dancing coordinator" with several of the GAZZARRI'S taking over the choreographing duties. We have also heard reports that Toni Basil was brought in to help with the choreography, but have been unable to confirm this through Toni's biography.
Today OSCAR owns a high-profile event planning company in Los Angeles.