I imagine that when we die, there will be two people waiting at the gates. One will either be God or St. Peter, depending on their schedules. The other will be Ralph Edwards, creator and host of “This Is Your Life”, a show that has not only stood all these decades to remain one of the best-loved classic shows, but one that also sidestepped what most biography shows are steeped in today: A glossy cut-and-paste job that tells just enough about the subject to keep viewers abreast of who they are, but prefers the seedy details right away.
Edwards’ purpose would be to host the show in a different way. Some believe that in dying and going to heaven, it is time for a reunion, to reconnect with loved ones that departed throughout our lives for the same place. Therefore, Edwards would stick to the same reunion format, and always remain the same great man he was for it. This collection of “This Is Your Life” episodes demonstrates not only the appeal of the show, but the spectrum of people which he focused upon. The moments when a few of these people hear Ralph Edwards say “This is your life,” is priceless, such as Richard Carpenter who claims that they’re too young for this. But in the case of that singing duo, it was just the right time. Betty White, when hearing the same words, is open-mouthed in shock for 15 seconds as her fellow “Golden Girls” co-stars look on, amused. Robert Wagner most certainly is not tickled when Edwards walks in on him, Bette Davis, and costume designer Edith Head and gets the name of their movie, “Madame Sin”, wrong. He rolls his eyes in annoyance.
But Edwards didn’t seem to mind and neither did the sponsors of the show, which ranged from Ivory to Joy to Prell and many others. He had a hit and that’s all that mattered to anyone involved in it. However, it was more than just shelling out the lives of celebrities for the viewing audience. It was also about giving further life to those not completely well known, such as Holocaust survivor Hanna Bloch Kohner and Pearl Harbor survivor Rear Admiral Samuel Fuqua. Their stories are just as deeply felt as Roy Rogers looking on in surprise at his family’s old car on the stage. “This Is Your Life” showed that even with the various career paths we take and the lifestyles we choose, we as human beings still grow old, still collect memories, still meet and leave people, and do what we think is best. That was the commonality of it all, which not only appealed to those who saw it throughout the years, but also those who might see it today.
Who could ever refuse to see Laurel and Hardy in their only U.S. television appearance together? What about a moment shared between Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, and Dean Martin where Berle initially thought he was making a commercial for the upcoming telethon for muscular dystrophy? And if the profile of lives isn’t exactly your thing, then the dark gold shag carpeting on the 1970s set of the show cannot be missed. Moreso, it isn’t entirely about watching these people relive their lives through Ralph Edwards’ words and their own stories, but also about who comes out during the broadcasts. Bette Davis’ show brings out Olivia DeHavilland and director William Wyler. The entire cast of the “Mary Tyler Moore” show comes out during Bette White’s honoring, with Mary Tyler Moore joining in via satellite. And Vincent Price has a jolly time with Hans Conreid, before being surprised, with a fitting end to the set made by an appearance of Helen Hayes.
There’s a lot of promise for future sets of this show. First, it’s by way of the photo and memorabilia gallery included on each disc. There’s photos of each show in progress, along with Edwards going over script changes and spending time in the makeup chair. Even more valuable is the ticket for the Betty White episode, which requested that guests arrive by 7 p.m., with showtime by 8, and the “This is Your Life” board game. They actually made a game out of it, though there isn’t enough information available here about it. A 25-page booklet is also included, which charts the history of the show from its radio to television days, along with musings on each episode. The real value of this set also comes not only with the episodes, but what may be in store for the future that also contributes to that great promise for volumes 2, 3, 4 or however many sets they end up with. We learn that Olivia DeHavilland was on an episode of the show in London. Steve Allen also was part of one, and so was Ann Blyth, and Hollywood mayor Johnny Grant. If R2 Entertainment has the access to Ralph Edwards Productions that I think they do, then the future of these releases is going to be quite a sight to behold. Already this first volume shows the mastery inherent within each episode, the format and concept which never ceased in entertainment and education of figures different from ourselves. This is one reason why television shows on DVD remain such a valuable commodity not only financially for the industry, but also for those who want their old programs back. And people like Ralph Edwards are properly honored through it.