George Schlatter is a Hollywood icon.
He served as the executive producer behind “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” one of the most successful variety shows ever.
The sketch comedy program gave us stars like Lily Tomlin and Goldie Hawn. The writer and producer forever changed Tomlin’s career in just one day.
“She came in for an audition and the audition lasted like three hours. She did all of her characters. She said ‘Which one do you want to do?’ I said ‘We want to do them all,'” Schlatter explained to KTLA 5’s Sam Rubin. “She came on, she did Ernestine, blew everybody away. She was amazing.”
Another major moment was when the program featured former President Richard Nixon, who was a candidate at the time. It helped that Nixon was close friends with Paul Keyes, the show’s writer and producer.
“We wanted something for the second year that would make it, so he said, ‘Well, I can get Nixon.’ I said, “Get him for me too!'” Schlatter laughed. “So we went out to the studio, he was doing a press conference. Paul Keyes said, ‘Mr. Nixon, would you just say sock it to me?’ (Nixon said) ‘Yes. I’ll say sock it to me.’ We went back to the studio and put it on the next show. At that point, no political character would ever do it. So people say that may have been what elected him. I’ve had to live with that.”
Shlatter’s contribution to Hollywood reached further than just entertainment.
His friendship with the late Sammy Davis Jr. helped break down many racial barriers in Hollywood. He even helped the crooner acquire a home during a time when that wasn’t so easy for Black people.
“I was making about $200 a week and we went up to see this house and I bought the house and it was impossible. It was so that Sammy could move into the neighborhood,” he explained. “Obviously, I didn’t have their money. Sammy became a good friend. He was a major event. You know, it’s changed a little bit. (Back then) Black people couldn’t work in Vegas, they couldn’t appear in Vegas. We broke a lot of barriers with Sammy.”
Stories like this are featured in the show business legend’s upcoming memoir titled “Still Laughing,” which hits bookshelves on July 11.
As for television programming today, Schlatter thinks it needs to loosen up.
“I think it could be having more fun. I mean, they’re taking it all so seriously,” he said. “They need a real rebel. If I was only about 30 years old.”
Could “Laugh-In” work in 2023? Schlatter doesn’t think so.
“If we were on today, we would be heavy. I think we’d be under arrest if we were. But we had a good time,” he said as he looked back fondly. “It was an adventure and our attention span was somewhat minimal. We all had great energy and we were rebels. There was so much going on to talk about, and we talked!”
Schlatter will be signing copies of his book at the Barnes and Noble at the Grove on July 9 at 2 p.m. For tickets and more, head here.