Long before Barbara Walters, Oprah Winfrey, or Ellen DeGeneres came on the scene, former silent film star Carmel Myers premiered the celebrity talk show with her self-titled “The Carmel Myers Show” in the early 1950s. Following in the footsteps of the “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” Myers allowed nothing to diminish or destroy her, surviving tragedy as well as failure. Reinventing herself several times, Myers pioneered in television as well as consumerism…
Born April 9, 1899, in San Francisco to rabbi and lecturer Isadore Myers, Carmel and her older brother Zion, later a screenwriter, were raised in Los Angeles after the family moved south in the early 1900s. Father Isadore ardently preached Zionism, returning the Jewish disaspora to their original home in the Holy Land, as well as acknowledging that the Talmud gave women equal rights.
Carmel Myers sings and plays the ukulele on her show.
Myers found her way into motion pictures through her father, hired by renowned director D.W. Griffith looking for realism in the depiction of Chaldean and Babylonian culture in his film “Intolerance.” Archeological and Jewish authority Myers consulted on the legendary director’s spectacle, assisted by his daughter as research assistant. Spying the beautiful girl, Griffith tested Myers as an actress before signing her to his Fine Arts Studio stable. For the previous few months, Myers had landed a few small roles in L-KO comedy shorts.
Thanks to acting talent as well as striking beauty, Myers appeared first in Fine Arts productions before moving to Universal Studios and finding stardom in its various high-class drama brands like Bluebird and Jewel, co-starring opposite people like Jack Mulhall and Harold Lockwood. In 1918, she starred opposite rising newcomer Rudolph Valentino in Universal’s “A Society Sensation,” appeared on Broadway in “Magic Melody” in 1919, and perhaps achieved her greatest success in MGM’s massive 1925 hit “Ben Hur.” She also assisted cousin Ruth Harriet Louise in getting a foothold as a MGM portrait photographer, the first woman to serve in that capacity at a major film studio. Though she appeared in various sound pictures, Myers devoted herself mostly to her husband, attorney and agent Ralph Blum, whom she married in 1929, and her two children.
Charming and vivacious, Myers remained popular after leaving the screen, active in causes as well as with friends. In 1950, however, Blum, former partner of producer Charles Feldman, quickly passed away from a heart attack, leaving Myers a widow with three children. Devastated by his death, Myers sold their home, the former Gloria Swanson estate, and moved her family in the fall to New York City to start over.
She landed a few roles in television, including the CBS movie “The Green and Gold String” co-starring actor Lee Tracy, and Betty Furness’ TV show, “Penthouse Party,” appearing in an episode with other silent film stars like Nita Naldi, Patsy Ruth Miller, and Neil Hamilton. A magazine also published two short stories she had written about her friendship with American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald.
In December 1950, Myers began prepping her own television show, the first celebrity interview show. Signed by Dumont Television, the former actress realized that drawing out people served as one of her best talents. Designing a set duplicating her New York living room, decorated in the same lush pink and gray colors, Myers organized a TV show where she would visit with celebrity friends, discussing their careers and current projects, showing both herself and them in the best light. In an interview with the United Press that ran on June 25, the day before her self-titled show’s premiere, Myers stated, “…I hope I have been around long enough and learned enough things in that time to be able to provide an entertaining television program…It will be a 15-minute interview type of program on the ABC network at 7:15 p.m. Tuesdays. There will be a guest, I’ll sing a little, maybe play the ukulele.”
Myers watched plenty of television before shooting her own program vowing never to be copy Loretta Young and wear a new frock every episode. As she told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “I watched a lot of TV before I began my own show, and know the mood that makes the best reception for a little show like mine is a homey, living room effect, a not too hectic party feeling. That’s one reason I won’t wear a dress once and then toss it aside,. The public is pretty smart, and once you try to fool them into thinking you’re putting something over, they know it.”
Premiering June 26, 1951, “The Carmel Myers Show” featured composer Richard Rodgers as first guest. The New York Daily News in July mostly praised the broadcast, acknowledging Myers’ past and stating, “Now she has come before the public in a period featuring nostalgia in the form of anecdotes and old film clips. There are also interviews and an occasional bit of singing. The nostalgic portions of the show are good…the gal has intelligence and charm…but Carmel, please forget the warbling!” Myers actually demonstrated she could sing, but mostly performed herself instead of allowing guests like songbird Jeanette MacDonald to warble on-camera. Other guests included Buster Crabbe, Bebe Daniels, Johnny Mercer, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, and Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
Myers continued looking for companionship as well. On October 31, 1951, she married widower Alfred Schwalberg, a Paramount Film Distribution Corp. executive, gaining a measure of support and strength.
While putting together her new life, Myers also worked on a book, determined not to let her life fall apart or disappoint the memory of her husband. She also met others experiencing grief, sharing thoughts and memories. Putting down on paper a philosophy she had followed since the beginning of her career, the actress extolled moving forward by focusing positively on what you could change. Published by Doubleday under the title, “Don’t Think About it,” the book promoted the power of positivity as a way to help people, released around the same time as Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking.”
As she told the press, “If you can’t help it, don’t brood over it.,” or as the wire story stated, “…her simple philosophy of accepting grief and then letting it alone.” Describing how she fell into deep grief after losing her husband Blum, Myers found solace with a friend suffering through bereavement as well, with both friends avowing to move ahead following new dreams and interests. “This led to the formation of the new “Don’t Think Club,” a kind of “Alcoholics Anonymous” for people “who had, not liquor, but tragedy, in their lives.” Life meant focusing on what you could control to find serenity, following what would be AA’s First Three Steps of “…accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Myers soon put her philosophy to use when the network cancelled her television show after one season. Dusting herself off, the actress turned to being an agent, a business she had seen up close with her husband Blum. Forming Carmel Myers Productions by October 1952, Myers represented actors like John Ireland and packaged radio and television shows. She purchased rights to Mark Hellinger stories for a possible program “Mark Hellinger Tales” for radio starring Edward Arnold. Myers also put together a television series called “Cradle of Stars” to be directed by and starring Gregory Ratoff, and proposed a 15-minute radio show featuring longtime performers Blossom Seeley and Benny Fields. In 1954, she purchased the rights to Roald Dahl short stories for production. Though she had grand plans, none come to fruition.
After dealing with a recalcitrant Ireland, whom she filed suit against for failing to pay back loans or commissions, and the day to day grind of facing stonewalling production executives, Myers decided to branch out into calmer and more lucrative fields. Discovering perfumes in Paris that she loved, Myers bought the rights to see in the United States, which she released under the names Gamin and Zizanie in beautiful bottles. Later she developed purse sizes bottles in colors such as silver, coral, and emerald with a silver filigree case. With her perfume career booming, she slowly pulled away from being an agent.
Overshadowed by legend Betty White as a pioneer in early television, Carmel Myers helped institute the celebrity interview and talk show, showcasing entertainers promoting upcoming product while engaging in entertaining banner with a charming and liable host. Talented, beautiful, and savvy, Myers helped forge a role with creative and powerful women in the field of television.