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'Divorce Court' cue cards

‘Divorce Court’ cue cards

March 29, 1960: On the set of  “Divorce Court” at KTTV’s studios, an assistant director, left, uses cue cards during videotaping of the unrehearsed show. Bill Welsh, KTTV’s special events director, who serves as narrator on show, is seated just inside railing.

During a five-part series on KTTV, Art Ryon in Part 4 reported on the popular television show “Divorce Court” in the April 20, 1960, Los Angeles Times:

“Divorce Court” was selected for this behind-the-cameras look at a TV show because it is KTTV’s most successful entertainment endeavor. In addition to telecasting it locally, the station has syndicated it to 36 other stations throughout the country where it gets ratings higher than many of the big budget network shows.

And as conceived by Jackson Hill, its producer, it is unique among dramatic shows because it has no script, no rehearsals. What’s more, the lawyers are real lawyers and the court clerk and the bailiff, Ted Kurtz and Rusty Burrell, are actually the clerk and bailiff in Superior Judge Elmer D. Doyle’s court.

The only actors are the litigants, their witnesses and the judge, Voltaire Perkins — and he even is a retired law professor.

This is the way it works:

An hour before the show, the lawyers are allowed to confer with the actors who will be their clients. Hill provides the wife and her attorney brief outlines of her grounds for divorce. He does the same for the husband and his attorney. While similar, the two outlines vary — the husband and her attorney are told some things about the wife (things she and her attorney never heard of, naturally) and the wife and her attorney get information about the husband he has no way of knowing they have.

It’s when this surprise testimony is sprung before the cameras that indignant outrage flares and the show bristles with realism and spontaneity.

If the lawyers, engrossed in the case, argue too lengthily, a beam of red light, invisible to the black and white camera is flashed in their faces. There is also a supply of cue cards — “Weepy,” “Upset,” Angry,” etc — that are held beneath the cameras to coach the actors. ….

This photo by staff photographer Bruce Cox accompanied Part 1 of the five-part series in the April 17, 1960, Los Angeles Times.

“Divorce Court” was televised on KTTV Channel 11 from 1958 to 1962. The show was videotaped, allowing easy distribution to other stations.

Times-Mirror Corp. owned KTTV at the time but sold the station to Metromedia in 1963.

scott.harrison@latimes.com

Follow Scott Harrison on Twitter and Google+

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