Before there was “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent,” there was the “Original Amateur Hour,” which Ted Mack produced and hosted. It was the nation's first commercial television program. Discoveries included the likes of Ann-Margret and Frank Sinatra.
Although Mack had started out in 1923 on a very different path as a pre-law student at Denver University, times were tough. So he left school to pursue paid musical gigs. He toured as a clarinetist with Ben Pollock's band, but left a year later for a fixed-location position to marry his childhood sweetheart, Marguerite Overholt. Mack got his start hosting by standing in last minute for an ailing master of ceremonies while he led a pit orchestra at a Los Angeles theater. He took to it immediately and soon became one of only one or two "talking" bandleaders.
During the Depression of the 1930s, gigs dried up again. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer hired Mack as musical director of such productions as "The Great Ziegfeld" and "Beat the Band." Major Edward Bowes, who started the “Major Bowes Amateur Hour” radio program, worked with MGM and hired Mack as his chief assistant in talent selection, production and direction of the radio show. Mack had found his lifetime career.
In the 15 years that followed, he supervised the auditioning of more than 700,000 amateurs and directed the programs on which more than 10,000 of them appeared.
Mack naturally stepped into the top spot when Bowes died in 1946. In 1948, the show moved to television. It was first aired on the old DuMont Television Network, then on NBC, then ABC and finally on CBS.
Talent on the shows varied from the sublime to the wildly improbable –- and as often as not it was the kooky act that won the audience vote over more conventional performances.