No better way to remember Cincinnati TV entertainer Bob Braun on the anniversary of his death than to enjoy this 1984 Bob Braun Show clip when Columbus zookeeper Jack Hanna let goats run wild through the WLWT-TV studio while singer David Cassidy looked on.
Braun died on Jan. 15, 2001, at age 71.
With Braun's live noon show, you never knew what could happen… or who would show up. Braun hosted a live weekday noon variety show on WLWT-TV from 1967 to 1984, taking over from the legendary Ruth Lyons.
When celebrities or national politicians came to town, you'd see them on the Braun Show: Bob Hope, Dick Clark, The Supremes, Barry Manilow, Red Skelton, Lily Tomlin, Jerry Lewis, Lucille Ball, Milton Berle, Issac Hayes, Fats Domino, Roberta Peters, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.
Braun, father of WKRC-TV news anchor Rob Braun, was Cincinnati TV's biggest star in the 1970s, and a broadcasting fixture here for 50 years.
He retired from hosting big band music on WSAI-AM in 1999 for health reasons, and died from cancer and Parkinson's disease 14 months later.
Here's my favorite Braun Show clip from April 1984 – his last year on the air – with Cassidy, sidekick Mary Ellen Tanner, and a young Jack Hanna before he became a national celebrity on David Letterman's NBC Late Night show (1985-93). It's pandemonium when Hanna brings out a baby deer, four goats (one who poops in the audience) and a four-week old camel. You don't see local TV like this anymore!
Born in Ludlow, Ky., on April 20, 1929, Braun started his TV career in October 1949 on WCPO-TV, three months after the station signed on. He pantomimed songs on WCPO-TV's Dottie Mack Show, which was broadcast by the old DuMont Network from 1953 to 1956.
After winning the $1,000 first prize on Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts in 1957, he was immediately hired by rival WLW to do a daily radio show, weekend "sock hop" dances and appear on Lyons' 50-50 Club. He took over her show in 1967, and in 17 years raised more money for the Ruth Lyons' Children's Christmas Fund than she did.
Like Lyons, Braun surrounded himself with talented young singers on the show: Rob Reider, Nancy James, Mary Ellen Tanner, Gwen Conley, Randy Weidner and Mark Preston. Announcer/weatherman Bill Myers also made regular appearances.
Braun didn't let the cancellation halt his career. He and wife Wray Jean moved to Los Angeles, where he hosted TV beauty pageants and parades; appeared in movies (Die Hard 2, Christmas In Connecticut); did infomercials for the Craftmatic Adjustable Bed and other products; and co-hosted a cable TV financial show.
He returned home in 1994 to launch WSAI-AM's "original hits" radio format playing songs by some singers that he would pantomime to at the start of his career
He's best known for the Braun Show, one of the longest-running local TV variety-talk shows in the nation. At its peak, Braun was seen in 10 other cities: Dayton and Columbus, Oh.; Lexington and Louisville Ky.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Huntington and Charleston, W. Va.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Greenville, S.C.
Former Braun Show director Kit Carson posted the 1984 Jack Hanna clip on YouTube, one of nearly four dozen clips you can watch online.
"Jack was a great guy and knew exactly what he was doing," Carson tells me in an email from Los Angeles, where has directed The People's Court for more than 20 years.
"As I recall on this particular show, Jack showed up late, there was no rehearsal and everything just happened. The Prop Room was located directly behind the curtain area of the set so you could hear some of the animals backstage. If you watch the clip, you'll notice the assistants just keep bringing animals out -- the goats run free, and it's pandemonium, and then a 'clean up in aisle 5!' … and paid off with a camel! Jack was always a genius at making these things happen and his philosophy was to educate and entertain," Carson says.
The clip ends with Hanna telling Braun: "I'll give you all free passes to the zoo. Tell them not to be upset! Please!"
Carson, who started as floor director in 1977, calls Braun "the most amazing host ever. There was never a script, never a cue card. The only time he used anything was a small card telling where products were available during a commercial. A consummate professional, Bob always did his homework. He knew his guests, and knew how to promote them on the show. He was a master of ceremonies and certainly helped me navigate this segment, when all I could see was what the cameras could show me."
"Some of the most talented people I have ever worked with came from that era (on Channel 5)," Carson says. Among his coworkers was Steve Womack, another Braun Show director who had a long career in Nashville.
"Bob was truly the master when it came to live television, and he was always very appreciative of the efforts made by those of us behind the scenes," Womack says.
"I cherish my time at WLWT for I had the opportunity to work with two of the greats – Paul Dixon and Bob Braun. I directed the Paul Dixon Show for the last five years of the show, 1969-1974. He, too, was a master at live television... Then in early 1975 I was permanently assigned to direct the Braun Show and did so for a little over three years until Multimedia got me involved with country music specials and award shows in Nashville.
"It truly was a great time to grow up in the biz! It was a real treat for a hometown boy who grew up watching these men and their shows as a viewer," Womack says.
Carson has posted 44 Braun Show videos to this YouTube channel. You'll see Rob Reider, Mary Ellen Tanner, Nancy James, Mark Preston, weatherman Bill Myers, plus Tony Bennett, Lee Greenwood and Jerry Van Dyke and Braun's on-air birthday surprise for Kit Carson.
Here's another favorite from Carson's collection – a 1980 behind-the-scenes look at a Braun Show, preparing for WKRP star Gordon Jump and skater Dorothy Hamill.