Shortly before 5 pm on September 16, 1949, bandleader Guy Lombardo arrived at the NBC Studios in New York City for what he believed was a routine radio interview. Instead he found a studio audience, an orchestra and host Ralph Edwards.
"Tonight, this is your life - Guy Lombardo!" gushed Edwards.
The next half hour the bandleader's life was recreated with anecdotes from family members, colleagues and childhood friends. The highlights were tributes from three Londoners - Dr. William Tillman, the doctor who delivered Guy, Fred Jackson, the theatre manager who booked the band in its early years, and Mrs. Len Palmer, who accompanied Guy on piano as a boy- plus all nine members of Lombardo's original London band.
This Is Your Life, the originator
of modern biography programs, premiered in the fall of 1948 and enjoyed
two season on radio before achieving even greater success on television.
Host Ralph Edwards was also responsible for creating the wildly successful
quiz show Truth or Consequences.
The subjects were not told their life would be chronicled until the broadcast began, leading to some embarrassing situations. Newsman Lowell Thomas was less than charming on one program while comedian Stan Laurel refused to go on stage, forcing Edwards to ad lib for several nervous minutes.
Fortunately for Ralph Edwards,
Guy was a good sport. "The biggest surprise of my life," he
laughed as a long-forgotten childhood sweetheart was trotted out.
Since it was difficult to edit the broadcast, all guests had to rehearse their "spontaneous" comments for several hours prior to Guy's arrival. A program of quantity rather than quality, This Is Your Life then rushed its guests past the microphone, giving them only a few seconds to share their memories with a nationwide audience.
However, there was no doubt Guy was genuinely moved when his entire family - including nonmusical brother Joseph - was united on stage.
"I have been on the job a long time, and I have never seen such devotion of children to parents, and such love of parents towards children, as I saw in the Lombardo family, " said Dr. Tillman.
Afterwards, the London party was invited to Guy's home in Long Island. The later dined at his restaurant in Freeport where they were entertained with a private performance by the Royal Canadians.
The program was later broadcast over the NBC network on September 29th. As a result of the show, London City Council named a new residential street after Guy.
The acetate discs for this broadcast were recently discovered by Web master Christopher Doty at an auction house in Oakland, California. They have been fully restored by Peter Nagy of Dawn of Sound.