Forty years ago this fall, a groundbreaking new television show premiered on NBC. A late-night slot had opened up when Johnny Carson announced that he wanted his "Tonight Show: Best of Carson" re-runs to air on weeknights instead of Saturday nights so he could enjoy a little time off.
The world was introduced to the "Not Ready for Prime Time Players," and television was never again the same. Although "Saturday Night Live" has had many ups and downs since George Carlin served as the show's first host on October 11, 1975, there is no doubt that SNL has launched more than a few people into the celebrity stratosphere.
The Manatee County Libraries offer both books and videos featuring many of the superstars that started out as the unknown "new kid" on what has become the longest running sketch comedy series in history.
Jimmy Fallon, who last year took over the coveted role of host of the "Tonight Show," was introduced to a national audience in 1998 as an
SNL cast member. The likeable Fallon starred in a number of movies, including "Fever Pitch" with Drew Barrymore, "Taxi," and more recently, "Whip It." He even penned a very cute picture book for children about something Florida kids can only dream about: "Snowball Fight." The library also offers "The Best of Jimmy Fallon" featuring highlights from his six years on SNL.
Almost a decade before her best-known role as Jerry's ex-girlfriend, Elaine on the megahit "Seinfeld," Julia Louis-Dreyfus, became a regular cast member on SNL at the tender age of 21. You can catch her on "Seinfeld," as well as some of her other performances including her starring role in the Disney movie "Geppetto." Dreyfus has also done quite a bit of voice-over work in animated feature films; among them, both "A Bug's Life" and "Planes" can be checked out from the library.
While researching this article, there were more than a few names that I knew I'd encounter. Eddie Murphy. Bill Murray. Al Franken (who put his acting career behind him to serve as a Minnesota Senator). We have dozens of movies featuring both Murphy and Murray, and more than a few books penned by Mr. Franken. But out of 141 cast members since 1975, one name surprised me: I didn't recall that Robert Downey, Jr. had been a cast member for a single season (starting in 1985) and he certainly qualifies as someone who has had a meteoric (although quite turbulent) ascent to fame.
You can check out DVDs of a few of Downey's more recent performances in "The Avengers," "Sherlock Holmes," the "Iron Man" series and "Chef" which just hit our shelves. Going back a few years, he had memorable roles in "Chaplin" (a biopic of the early 20th century star, Charlie Chaplin), and the deeply unsettling film "Natural Born Killers." Unlike a few former SNL cast members who landed movie roles only to play the same basic characters they did on late night TV, Downey has treated film fans with an amazing breadth of work.
Perhaps the most recent cast member to hit it big has been Kristen Wiig. Although her post-SNL body of work isn't nearly as vast as some, she's had a number of memorable roles in such films as "Bridesmaids," "Friends with Kids," and "Whip It."
It will be interesting to see if any of the current cast members become true stars in a few years. After five decades on the air, is the Saturday Night Live 'launch pad' still in operation?
Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday. You may also access the library via the Internet: mymanatee.org/library. Fran Barba is a reference librarian.