July 3, 2001

Finding the Needle in a Televised Haystack

I found it! The episode of the television show It Could Be You my mother was on in the 50s. I’ve been combing the NBC Master Broadcast Reports at the Library of Congress since March. Every other Monday I’d go there on my day off and look through transcripts of the show on microfilm. It was a daunting task and required every methodical brain cell I had to systematically scroll through each year. Ultimately, though, I relied on vague memories of how old I might have been and when in the year it might have aired.

horoscopeI remembered being in the 2nd grade. I also remembered I was home sick when the spies from my mother’s women’s club came over to gather information on my mother’s life. So, perhaps it was in the fall or winter. But, of course, there would have been a lag between the spying and the eventual airing of the show. That’s all I had to go on and my recollections could be totally inaccurate.

After initially focusing on the microfilm reels containing the shows the Library of Congress actually had kinescopes of (kinescopes being pre-videotape film taken directly from the television screen), I decided I’d better look at every episode I came across, just to be sure I wasn’t missing it. The library’s kinescope holdings are spotty and even if they didn’t have it, I’d wanted to find the transcript of my mother’s national TV debut.

There were a couple of episodes missing on the microfilm archives (with notes indicating their absence). I scrutinized the music permissions list for tunes that might indicate the missing segment might be about “first dates” or “how a couple met” (the subject of my mother’s story). I noted these dates, hoping that my mother’s was not one of the missing.

Every transcript started with an outline of each show, with a list of guests. This made it easier for me to scan without having to read through each page. After all these months I had started to fantasize what it would be like to find my mother’s name. Yet, I tried to keep my excitement in check. This was, after all, a needle in the haystack search. And I had nothing but a few memories to go on.

So when I saw her name on the December 12, 1956 list I was shocked. You know, that momentary, disconcerted feeling you get when your heart moves to catch up with your eyes. The adrenaline was on its way when I remembered to take a breath and make sure my eyes were not deceiving me (I had had a couple of false alarms during the 3 month search). My first thought was that my search was over and I wouldn’t have to fear the nausea-inducing microfilm reader again! But I also wanted to savior the victory of the search!

I sat there for a good minute before I read the segment. Then I carefully read every word. Now that both of my parents are gone, this will make an amazing “memento” of their lives.

Sadly, this episode was not one of the kinescopes the library had. So when I got home I began calling television archives around the country to see if I could locate the actual filmed show. I spoke with the archivist at the UCLA Film and Television Archive and even the archivist at the Game Show Network. But the chances of finding my parents nationally televised kiss aren’t good. The only visual record I have is this photograph. While this was a network show, it wasn’t I Love Lucy. And most were probably destroyed long before the 50s became the Golden Age of TV.

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