In 1969, Della Reese became the first Black woman to lead a variety show. Della had strong ratings during its first season, holding its ground against popular variety/talk show hosts like Barbara McNair, Steve Allen and Mike Douglas. She even had a stronger audience than Johnny Carson in Memphis at one point.
A quote from a 1969 Columbia Record article states, "With Sandy Baron, a co-host, Della films five days a week in a Hollywood studio that must be cleared by mid-afternoon three times a week to make way for Steve Allen Show performances, which means little time for rehearsal." Della and her team had to ignore scripts since there was no time for a full rehearsal, so they winged the dialogue and their ultimate goal was to ensure the audience was happy.
"Our job is to make the audience happy. It's better to come in fresh and fluffy," Reese told the Columbia Record. Reese's show would continue for 197 episodes, and there was one group that consistently showed up for her — women.
According to the article in the newspaper, women made sure to tune in regardless if the show ran during the day or night. They supported her the best way they could. "At my age and size, I'm no challenge to the ladies. Producers want me to reduce more. I've already lost more than 30 pounds and that's about enough. I'm not going to [hurt myself] to diet."
During this time, society's everchanging "beauty standards" focused on women who were young and slim. Yet Reese decided to love her natural appearance out loud and inspired women worldwide to do the same.
All shapes and sizes are beautiful, and seeing Della Reese on television — a woman that looked different than what was always advertised in the media (magazines, ads, etc.) — was a breath of fresh air for women. The singer was 38-years-old at the time the Columbia Record article was written, and she spoke to the demographic of women her age and older who society seemed to ignore and look at as "less than."
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