secret_history (2006-05)

Tell It To the Camera

Unexpected associations: An abortive Allen Funt project, a prepositional correction, and landmark of Gay adoption

by Jack Neely

Last fall, I wrote a piece about Sam Orleans, who was probably Knoxville’s first resident professional filmmaker. Orleans, an old silent-movie cameraman who had begun working with TVA in the ’30s, once made a living as the owner and chief cameraman of the Sam Orleans Studio on Cumberland Avenue downtown. They made mostly promotional videos, but they had just enough of an eccentric flair that Orleans’ loony sense of humor comes through. Orleans died suddenly in an airline crash in the summer of 1964.

Film archivist Bradley Reeves has collected several of Orleans’ films and has become the world’s foremost champion of Orleans’ almost-forgotten oeuvre. Reeves is heading down to Columbia, S.C., next month with a few reels; his screening of Orleans’ films is a scheduled feature at the Orphan Film Symposium there.

Reeves recently had a bit of a surprise. He had been working on an archiving project at WBIR, and quite accidentally ran across a short local-news clip from 1963. It’s black and white, and there’s no sound; Reeves thinks it’s just one of those how-about-that segments that might have been used to punctuate the hard news.

It’s a scene from Market Square, early in the “Mall” era, when parts of the square were covered with a concrete canopy for farmers and florists to sell. Judging by the foliage, it was sometime in the late spring or summer.

At the south end of Market Square, there’s a long aluminum trailer. The sign on the side of the trailer, lettered with professional flair, asked, “GOT A GRIPE?” It’s a silly question, of course, to ask of a Knoxvillian. But the message went on to sweeten the deal:


The next shots are inside the trailer, of three men. One is a man in a suit, sitting at a table, a serious-looking older gentleman who apparently has a gripe. There’s a second guy, who Reeves thinks is maybe the soundman. And there’s Sam Orleans himself, a bald, rotund presence in a white shirt and tie, moving a camera tripod closer to the man at the table.

Orleans, surprisingly after 40 years in pictures, looks a little uncomfortable in front of the TV camera, as if he’s hoping it will be over soon. Allen Funt, the creator of the iconic show Candid Camera, who would be recognizable to any American over 35, is not in evidence. Funt was, for better or worse, the Daniel Boone of reality TV.

Outside, through a window behind the subject, is bright Kennedy-era Market Square—or, more properly for that era, Market Square Mall . There are flower stalls in the background, and a few thin men in fedoras walk back and forth across the brick surface.

Reeves did some research on the project, and learned that the series was called Tell It To the Camera . According to one source, it was shown at 8:30 on Wednesday nights, and debuted on Christmas Day, 1963, as a replacement for an ill-fated detective comedy called Glynis . But it turned out to be one of Funt’s few failures. Camera ran for only 13 weeks.

It’s not clear whether Market Square’s most ambitious grumblers ever made it on national television. Reeves has learned that Cornell University has the original Funt archive, and may have Orleans’ films stowed somewhere there.

A few weeks ago, as I was remarking on the exalting powers of the preposition—especially the preposition at —in certain new developments, I referred to a new condominium development on the south side called CityView at Riverwalk.

I’d seen an ad for the thing and had assumed it was the name of the newly conspicuous condominium development at the end of Scottish Pike, which appears to be nearly finished. But, as it happens, that one’s called Rivertowne.

It’s unsettling to see the extraneous terminal E , which has long dominated parts of West Knoxville, starting to slip into South Knoxville.

I oppose banning extraneous E s. It’s a First Amendment issue, I think. Developers should feel free to name things whatever they want. However, maybe they should be taxed. If the city could tax all unnecessary E s at the end of the names of various developments, at a rate of, say, $10 a month, we could pay off the convention center in no time.

I digress. CityView at Riverwalk is another river’s edge condominium/marina project, but as City Councilman Joe Hultquist pointed out to me, that one’s almost a mile to the east, closer to downtown proper, on the old glove factory site, just west of the Henley Street Bridge. They haven’t even broken ground on the thing, but are already taking names of “priority buyers.”

Somewhere in the process I looked up “Scottish Pike” on Google. I learned a good deal about fishing on Loch Ness, which is apparently a good place to catch some. I suspect Scottish pike may in fact be the answer to that lake’s ancient mystery. Maybe that can be the elusive theme for the whole Southside development.

My friend Ian Blackburn noted that my article about the granite tombstone of an American killed fighting insurgents in the Philippines as a Macabebe Scout turned up on a website concerned with granite countertops, which I’m told are trendy. So maybe there’s reason to be concerned about yuppie graverobbers.

That’s almost as weird as another association I ran across last week. Computers are scanning American journalism night and day to make connections, and this one is almost inspired.

The new Mast store is going into a building known for its first quarter-century as M. M. Newcomer’s; I wrote about it last year, remarking on an unusual swap: that a small metal-front building constructed as an addition to Newcomer’s eventually became part of the J.C. Penney Building next door. I said it was the architectural equivalent of adoption.

I shouldn’t be surprised that this Gay Street phenomenon is listed on a website devoted to gay adoption.