Tag Archives: geek girl

Faye Emerson, first queen of talk shows

fayeemerson1During the Great White Male Host Dance-off of 2014-15, people complained that no women were named as successors to any of the major late-night shows. Now we have Sam Bee and Chelsea Handler, and decades ago we had Joan Rivers, but she wasn’t the first. That crown goes to Faye Emerson, who was more than the first female late-night host; she was the queen of early television.

If you think women aren’t taken seriously as late night candidates now, consider 1950. It was post-war America, the men were home and the women were expected to resume their careers as mothers, housewives, or perhaps teachers and secretaries if they were really bold.

Enter Faye Emerson. Born on July 8, 1917, she was first an actress in war dramas and other hard-boiled movies of the 1930s and 40s. After she married the President’s son, Elliott Roosevelt, she was thrust into publicity opportunities like interviewing Stalin during a trip to the Soviet Union. When she appeared on a game show in 1949 with her husband, she was so smart and witty she felt she had to apologize on-air for upstaging him. Her talent was noticed, however, because she received an offer for her own CBS show later that year. While doing that show, she also signed with NBC for the Faye Emerson Show, making her the first woman with two simultaneous shows on television.  She could talk pearls or politics, and her habit of wearing evening gowns with plunging necklines earned her the tag of “The High I.Q. in the Low-cut Gown.” Her next show would be a travelogue, Faye Emerson’s Wonderful Town, showcasing cities around the country in 1952.

faye2After her divorce from Roosevelt, Emerson announced her upcoming marriage to entertainer Skitch Henderson on-air, something that simply wasn’t done back then. She and her new husband teamed up for their own show, Faye and Skitch, in 1953. Not only did she have her own programs, she was the go-to person for panels and substitute host duties. She occasionally covered for Edward R. Murrow on his show, Person to Person, and for Garry Moore as well.  While she could be the ultimate glamorous TV presenter, she also showed America she had a brain, discussing civil rights, unions, blacklisting and women’s rights, and debating conservative personalities like William F. Buckley. She was so well-known to audiences that she garnered the nickname of “Mrs. Television.”

Emerson’s thoughtful opinions, quick mind and lessening coyness earned her many detractors, who brought up her looks and curves often in an effort to demean her and diminish her role as a social commentator.

As television shifted from talk shows to pure entertainment ,Emerson took her leave from the glowing box in everyone’s living room in the 1960s and spent a well-earned retirement in Europe, where social views were more forgiving. She ended up in Majorca, Spain, where she passed away in 1983. Today her name is largely forgotten, but her legacy lives on in people like Barbara Walters, Lesley Stahl, Rachael Maddow, and Oprah Winfrey, along with so many others. Below is one of the few remaining episodes of Emerson’s show. At the 6:30 mark, she interviews William Cimillo, a bus driver who abandoned his route and drove to Florida, becoming a folk hero along the way. Enjoy.


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Filed under girl power, History, pop culture, Television, women

Celebrating Helen Malsed, toy inventor

slinkydogNo matter what decade you blasted through childhood, you know the work of Helen Herrick Malsed. She was an innovator and inventor with a knack for listening to children, and her work continues to charm the kid in everyone.

The Slinky was already a popular toy in the 1950s, but Helen overheard her young son wondering aloud how it would look with wheels and went to work planning a prototype. She pitched her pull toy idea through the mail to James Industries, who loved it and made the Slinky Dog and the Slinky Train into a reality. After decades as a staple of playrooms across the country, her pull toy doggie achieved animation superstardom when he was included in the “Toy Story” movies. “Slink” was introduced to new generations of kids, making him just as loved by six-year-olds today as he was nearly sixty years ago when he first appeared on the shelves.

malsedpatentMalsed was a college dropout, forced to quit her education when her father went bankrupt during the Great Depression. She had a sharp, creative mind, and even though she followed the traditional path of marriage, children and homemaking in the 1950s, that intellectual talent bubbled forth.

“She was always thinking up things,” her son said in Malsed’s Seattle Times obituary. “She was just exceptionally creative and an incredible speller and grammarian. She read every inch of print, even the classifieds, in both Seattle papers every day.”

In total, Malsed created over two dozen toys and games, including Fisher-Price Snap-Lock Beads and many other toys for different companies. According to varying reports, she earned approximately $1 million from her ideas, was the major reason James Industries expanded operations numerous times, and it all began with an idea in the mail.

Malsed passed away on this day in 1998 at the age of 88, but her legacy lives on.

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Freckle Cream Is Possible Amelia Earhart Evidence: Investigators Connect the Dots

Geek girls, remember to pack your moisturizer when you go out to break world records: one day, they just might figure out what happened to you thanks to what’s in your purse.

Shards of a glass container once containing freckle fade cream has been discovered on Nikumaroro Island, a tiny dot of land in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) believes the reconstructed jar could have been the property of aviatrix and apparent freckle-hater Amelia Earhart, who disappeared 75 years ago while she was trying to set a new world record for flying around the world along the equator. Researchers have noted that this item would have been something Earhart kept with her since history has noted how she disliked her own freckles.

Many theories have surrounded the disappearance of Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan. Some of the more colorful tales include aliens (she was even included in a Star Trek: Voyager episode, yes, we watched Voyager, shut up) while others involve tales of wartime espionage and capture by the Japanese. For many years, historians postulated that the duo may have crashed near Howland Island, but during the last few decades, TIGHAR has been collecting anecdotal evidence along with circumstantial physical items like shoes and heat-damaged bottles that they hope point to Earhart’s survival on this island. They will present their findings and theories during a weekend conference dedicated to Earhart in Washington, D.C.

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6-year-old Girl is Youngest Entrant Ever in National Spelling Bee

Lori Anne Madison. Remember that name, because in a few years, she will change your world.

The six-year-old speller (whose favorite word is “sprachgefuhl”) conquered the competition in a regional Virginia spelling bee, earning herself a slot on the national stage along with nearly 300 other kids. According to her parents, she’s already won awards for math and swimming, and has plans to become an astrobiologist.

Since she will be competing against kids twice her age and older, no one expects her to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee title but we say don’t count her out so soon.  Anyone who’s already planning a career in space isn’t going to let a little thing like a misspelled word get in her way.



Photo credit: Flickr/ScrippsBee

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Chien-Shiung Wu Day

Dr. Wu in her lab, circa 1963. Photo credit: Columbia University.

Today one of the most influential female physicists would have turned 100 years old. Even though she passed away in 1997, she left a legacy of knowledge for generations to come.

Chinese-American nuclear physicist Chien-Shiung Wu received her first degree while still living in China, and worked on her doctorate in 1940 after moving to the United States. Wu studied with the man who invented the Cyclotron, E.O. Lawrence, went on to work on the Manhattan Project, and built the experiment that won her colleagues a Nobel Prize in 1956.   While she didn’t share in the Nobel, her work in disproving conservation of parity was widely recognized, and she received many accolades for a lifetime of achievements, including the Wolf Prize in Physics, the National Medal of Science, and inclusion at the National Academy of Science and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Wu was the first woman appointed to the top post of the American Physical Society in 1973.  She also taught at Smith, Princeton and Columbia University, and her writing is considered required reading for fledgling physicists.

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