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WDSU-TV ON AIR CELEBRITIES

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Mel Leavitt - Mr. Television in New Orleans
Mel came to WDSU-TV at the invitation of General Manager, Robert D Swezey. Swezey admired Leavitt's work as a sportscaster on the Mutual radio network with which Swezey was formerly associated as Vice-president and General Manager. A great on-air talent and a prolific television documentary writer/producer, Leavitt soon became known as "Mr. Television" in New Orleans. In the early days of WDSU-TV, Mel was a sportscaster. sharing the spotlight on a program, sponsored by the Jackson Brewing Company of New Orleans (Jax Beer), with a highly successful professional weather forecaster, Nash Roberts. Their program, following an evening newscast, was extremely popular.

Mel (his real name was Mahlon Leavitt) wooed and won the heart of one of the first ladies to appear on WDSU-TV. He married Naomi "Nonie" Bryant who appeared on TV in her own WDSU-TV program "Seeing Stars."

"The Huey Long Story"

Mel Leavitt became the director of the WDSU-TV Special Events Department. Teaming up with Director Paul Yacich, they produced many award winning programs. Among them was "The Huey Long Story" a three part (three hours) program. The program was awarded First Prize from The American ssociation for State and Local History.

Broadcasting Magazine featured the "Huey Long Story". The above picture in the magazine was taken from a television screen. It shows Huey Long's son, Louisiana Senator Russell Long, talking with Mel in an interview that was part of the program. The article also quoted kudos from the New Orleans States-Item newspaper following the airing of the first part.

Another progarm written by Leavitt and directed by Yacich was "The School That Would Not Die" which was awarded a Special Citation Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences), "The Battle That Missed The War" (Battle of New Orleans Sesquicentennial), reviewed by Variety, the bible of the entertainment world, also won awards by history organizations.
"Target Moon" was produced in co-operation with Frank Borman and the Apollo 8 Lunar Mission crew and garnered the special citation of the Apollo 8 crew.

All of Southern Louisiana raved about the "Wonderful World Of Cajuns",

Mel and Bart Darby appeared together on "Do You Know Louisiana", quizzing the audience about their knowledge of their home state. The Louisiana state education officials requested the program to be run in several Louisiana cities. The Security Industrial Insurance Co., under the ownership of E. J. Ourso, sponsored the program in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette. The program received wonderful acceptance by the school teachers of the state as their students and the general public.
TV Guide May 23,1966

PRODUCED, DIRECTED AND WRITTEN BY PAUL YACICH


Unfortunately, after the station was sold by the Royal Street Corporation, ALL of those programs (on videotape) were accidentally erased...along with the Emmy Award winning program, "KU KLUX KLAN", a monumental reason establishing a physical Broadcast Arts Museum in New Orleans...a facility that has yet to see the light of day!

Leavitt and Yacich also brought to New Orleans viewers one of the first late night talk shows. Following NBC's "Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. "Tonight With Mel" presented Leavitt interviewing stars of the stage, creen, and television as well as local VIPs and performers. Leavitt's afternoon program, "Byline", also brought visiting celebrities to the TV screens of the city. The pictures below show Leavitt and Yacich and some of the "Byline" guests.
Ernest Borgnine


Al Hirt


Kitty Carlisle


Charlie Weaver


Johnny Desmond


Jimmy Dodd (Disney Mouseketeer)


Monique vonVoorhies


Hugh Downs


Johnny Ray


Mel Leavitt plays quizmaster on "Varsity Quiz Bowl"


John Domec directed and Mel quizzed youngsters from all New Orleans schools. The program was sponsored by the Pipe Council of New Orleans, an association of contracters and plumbers, who weren't selling anything but their genuiune interest in the education of the city's youngsters.

One of the most popular presentations of the Leavitt/Yacich team was their annual coverage of the Mardi Gras parades as they passed in front of the WDSU-TV studios on Royal Street and on Canal Street in front of the Boston Club. WDSU-TV began televising Mardi Gras activities on Jan. 21, 1949, just one month after Channel 6 signed on the air.

WDSU-TV presents the first Mardi Gras ball masque on television
Jan 21, 1949
The picture above shows cameraman Irwin Poche' and audio engineer J. Lowell Otto of the WDSU-TV remote crew in New Orleans' Municipal Auditorium at Beauregard Square as they help present the first Mardi Gras ball masque on television.

From New Orleans Magazine - February 1967
Mel Leavitt and the WDSU-TV Mardi Gras "Task Force"


The annual meeting of the WDSU-TV Mardi Gras "Task Force" was featured by New Orleans Magazine in the February 1967 issue. The "Task Force" members, (L to R) in the above picture, are Jerry Romig, WDSU-TV Program Director and Production Manager, Mel Leavitt, Lindsey Riddle, Chief Engineer, and Paul Yacich, Producer/Director.

During one Mardi Gras parade television coverage, for WGNO-TV Ch. 26, some time after Leavitt and Yacich left WDSU-TV (after the station was sold by Stern, Mel announced on the air that this parade would probably be the last time he and his partner for over a quarter of a century, Paul Yacich, would bring the Mardi Gras to the TV screens of New Orleans. Mel is no longer with us. He died of lung cancer while writing a book about the early days of television in New Orleans. We can only hope that someone will finish the book.

Mel Leavitt was the first New Orleans television celebrity to gain the respect and admiration of the viewers of this city. He was inducted into the Greater New Orleans Broadcast Association "Hall of Fame." The television broadcast community of New Orleans and the nation lost a fine gentleman and a wonderful talent. He will be sincerely missed by all of the New Orleans TV viewers and his friends and co-workers at WDSU-TV.

Bob Carr subs for Mel on "Byline"

The few times Mel Leavitt was unavailable to do his "Byline" program he was replaced by Bob Carr. Bob and his wife, Jan, were members of the Ch.6 "Midday" cast and later starred in their own show "Second Cup", a morning program originating from the area surrounding the pool on the roof of the Royal Orleans Hotel. In the picture below, Bob shares a laugh with Irena Demich, the only female in the feature movie "The Longest Day"
The Baroness von Trapp (the REAL Baroness)

One of the "Byline" programs hosted by Bob Carr featured the Baroness von Trapp. Many will remember the movie story of her life in the Nazi years of Germany. Unfortunately the Baroness chose the "Byline" program as a platform to issue Communist propaganda. At that time, the word "Communist" could have been added as an eigth word to George Carlin's list of "Seven Dirty Words" Director Yacich submitted the videotape recorded program to the station Program and Legal VIPs. It was decided that it was not in the best interest of the station and the community to air the program.

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