On this day in 1922, the American Broadcast Corporation in partnership with RKO Radio Pictures broadcast to nearly five hundred homes across the nation the instant classic “Man Doing Somersault”. In a format of a combined Radiotron video and Audiovox sound, the eighteen second long clip featured Ive Alfredsson, the famed Scandinavian daredevil known today as the “Father of Stuntmen” performing a single forward somersault on the hardwood dance floor at Michella’s Dance Academy in Manhattan, New York.
Magazine, billboard, and newspaper advertisements building up to broadcast called it the event of the year and promised “intense, non stop action, see”, but were not specific at all. Today, this is considered the first teaser trailer campaign ever. In a 1948 interview with The Saturday Evening Post, period ad-guru Bob Slyman called the move, “the most robust and provocative gamble he had ever seen to that point.”
That night, according to several sources, hundreds of thousands of working men and their families ran to the nearest television store windows after quitting time to watch the advertised 5:30PM showing. The actual broadcast time was nearer to 5:43 due to a small flock of seagulls getting caught in high tensile transmission lines across the Hudson river that fed the New York studio.
After an introduction by the presidents of ABC and RKO, the segment ran. Immediately, there were thousands of calls to local hospitals and emergency hotlines reporting fainting, the vapors, the passions, syncopic episodes, and dozens of head, neck, and back injuries from copycats who thought it would be ‘coolsies’ to try the feat themselves. Later that day, small riots broke out in front of regional offices of the broadcast partners for allowing a glimpse of Alfredsson’s ‘upper ankular’ area as his costume was pulled tight in the middle of the maneuver.
In the end, Man Doing Somersault was a terrific technological and artistic achievement that was only surpasses by the intensely popular Man Riding Horse some eight years later, despite fines of nearly eight thousand dollars for violation of decency laws (approximately six hundred fifty billion dollars today). It is still referred to in many acting and production texts, and revivalist art houses perform live remakes in period costume on this day around the world.
For this day in television history, I am Nelson Gates.