Televison Pioneer Len Goorian Dies At 100

Jan 20, 2020

Update Friday, Jan. 24:  Just found this clip on YouTube of an early 1950s Paul Dixon Show with Len Goorian broadcast on the ABC network from WCPO-TV.

The show opens with "Lennie" Goorian, who died Jan. 20, as a Sid Caesar-like character doing a gag involving Dixon.  This 10-minute clip features a song pantomime -- a great example of live TV in the early 1950s, when entertainers pantomimed to popular records, an extension of the radio stations which put the first TV stations on the air.

In the first song, Dixon dresses as a sailor and pantomimes to Perry Como's "No Boat Like A Row Boat" with Dottie Mack and Wanda Lewis.  Then Lewis draws a picture to the second song  using a black-out technique that's pretty cool for 1950s technology.

This show probably aired in 1951, since Dixon tells viewers his show will be broadcast on ABC on Wednesday nights. The Complete Directory To Prime-Time To Network And Cable TV Shows says Paul Dixon aired on ABC at 8 p.m. Wednesdays in August-September 1951, and from October 1951 to September 1952.

Original post on Monday, Jan. 20: Len Goorian, a TV pioneer who produced shows for Paul Dixon,  Glenn "Skipper" Ryle, Dotty Mack, Irma Lazarus and Lilias Folan, died at his Clermont County home Monday.

The Brooklyn native, whose Cincinnati broadcasting career spanned more than six decades, was 100.

Len Goorian (center rear) produced WCPO-TV's 'Music Shop' featuring (from left) Wanda Lewis, Paul Dixon and Dotty Mack in the early 1950s.
Credit Courtesy WCPO-TV

After serving as the U.S. Army entertainment director at Fort Thomas during World War II, Goorian was a local dance instructor for Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire studios. He made his TV debut in 1947 on Crosley Broadcasting's experimental W8XCT, which became WLWT-TV in 1948 -- a year before Taft Broadcasting's WKRC-TV and Scripps' WCPO-TV began broadcasting.

Goorian was the last of Cincinnati TV's greatest generation, the people who invented and presented TV programming as they went along on WLWT-TV, WCPO-TV and WKRC-TV in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

"We worked like crazy, but we loved it," Goorian told me in 2009.

He starred on and helped produce Dance Time on WLWT-TV until 1950. He also hosted Producer's Preview and appeared on some WLWT-TV shows with Bill Nimmo, the city's first big TV star.

In the early 1950s, he was hired by WCPO-TV to produce The Music Shop with Dixon, Wanda Lewis, Bob Braun, Colin Male and Dotty Mack. They pantomimed to hit records, creating the city's first music videos 30 years before MTV.

Goorian interviews comedian Jimmy Durante on WKRC-TV in 1961.
Credit Courtesy Len Goorian

Goorian produced WCPO-TV's Paul Dixon Show, which was so popular that it was picked up live by ABC and the old DuMont networks. As a joke, Goorian once opened Dixon's national show with a text pattern, as if the station was experiencing technical difficulty; the network affiliates weren't amused.

"Everything was new," he said in 2009, when honored by the Ohio Valley chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. "We'd try something different all the time, and it worked or it didn't. We were making a halfway decent living in a business we loved. Not many people are allowed to do that."

In the early 1950s, when the circus came to town, he asked that an elephant be sent to WCPO-TV's studios for a live morning show. When the elephant relieved itself in the studio minutes before the live telecast, "with the heat of the lights, it was like mustard gas in there," he said. He also hosted a cooking show in 1951 on WCPO-TV.

Goorian at WMKV-FM in Springdale.
Credit Courtesy Media Heritage

After Dixon went to New York for DuMont, Goorian was hired by WKRC-TV, where he transformed decorated war veteran-turned-announcer Glenn (Schnitker) Ryle into children's host Skipper Ryle.

"I gave him the name and everything," Goorian once said.

In July 1960, he premiered the Len Goorian Show at 10:30 a.m. weekdays on Channel 12. He interviewed local and national celebrities, including Jimmy Durante, Liberace, Judy Perkins, Gordon MacRae, Jessica Tandy, Amanda Blake,  Dick Clark and politician Robert F. Kennedy.

After Channel 12, he produced Conversations with Irma with arts patron Irma Lazarus in the 1960s for WCET-TV. He also produced Folan's Lilias, Yoga and You for the public TV station in the 1970s and 1980s.  He also managed the old Shubert Theater downtown in the 1970s.

"He was one of a kind. He always had a twinkle in his eye and great stories to tell," says Jack Dominic, the former Channel 48 executive who oversees the National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting in West Chester Township.

Goorian claimed to have produced more entertainment TV shows "than anyone in Cincinnati." He also worked longer than his broadcasting contemporaries.

When WMKV-FM debuted in 1995, he was one of the first local radio veterans to help out. In fact, recordings of his Latin Satin show still air at 10 p.m. Friday, one of the oldest continuous shows on the Springdale station.

When he celebrated his 94th birthday in August 2013, Goorian was hailed as "the nation's oldest radio and television host" for doing the weekly ThinkTalkLAF wellness show on WKRC-AM for Christ Hospital and the Aegis Health Group.

When services are set, I'll update this story.