The ABC TV network was so delighted by the success of The Johnny Cash Show that they presented Cash, in lieu of more cash, with a 1970 Rolls-Royce long-wheelbase Silver Shadow, complete with division. (Note that long-wheelbase Shadows were often badged “Silver Wraith” — JB) The “division” being the pane of interior glass that isolated the chauffeur in the front compartment, thereby adding to the passengers’ privacy. Perhaps as an homage to Henry Ford’s Model T, Johnny Cash’s Shadow was delivered in—black. Cash’s initials appear on the rear doors.
The Johnny Cash Show ran in 58 episodes from June 1969 to March 1971. In retrospect, it is easy to imagine that the show was able to go forward only as the result of an uneasy truce under which the network executives crammed has-beens on the order of alleged comedian George Gobel and oldsters like Bob Hope down Cash’s throat.
That was the price Cash had to pay to have his own show and to be able to feature fresh talent like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan on his own show’s opening night. To Cash’s credit, over the run of the series, his guest lists included Louis Armstrong (who died only weeks after the taping), Odetta, Charley Pride, and The Staples Singers.
My favorite The Johnny Cash Show moment came when Cash sang a duet (obviously a lightly-rehearsed duet), with Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot. Although Lightfoot had recently recorded in Nashville, he had not yet enjoyed the household-name success brought by “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown,” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
Perhaps fearing a memory lapse was coming, at one point Cash, who was having a hard time keeping a straight face anyway, tells Lightfoot, “Sing it, Pretty Boy!” Priceless.
It also should be noted that it was during a remote taping at Vanderbilt University that Cash first performed the song “Man in Black.”
I had always assumed that the comparatively short run of Cash’s show was caused by viewers and advertisers preferring to watch a TV show featuring a country musician who much less resembled Count Dracula. Specifically, that other Pretty Boy, Glen Campbell.
However, multiple sources attribute the cancellation of Cash’s show to the 1970-71 “Rural Purge” of network television, during which nearly all the rural-themed television shows were canceled, despite their overwhelming popularity. (Campbell’s show survived until 1972.)
The rationale was that rural-themed shows such as Green Acres, Mister Ed, Petticoat Junction, and The Beverly Hillbillies were overwhelmingly popular, but primarily among elderly-trending demographic segments, while the younger viewers the advertisers craved were just tuning them all out. Hence, a bloodless revolution: All in the Family, Da; Hee-Haw, Nyet.
(To be sure, there were highly popular non-rural shows that fell under the axe during the Rural Purge, among them, The Andy Williams Show, The Lawrence Welk Show, and Wild Kingdom. Someone with TV-Land connections really should write a book!)
Automobile-auction superpower Barrett-Jackson will offer Johnny Cash’s 1970 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow at no reserve in its Las Vegas Auction, September 25-27, 2014. Barrett-Jackson claims that the vehicle is original, and that it comes with complete documentation. Barrett-Jackson’s policy is to decline to provide estimates for no-reserve auctions.
However, as a matter of broadly-based averages, early-1970s Silver Shadows have a hard time breaking $30,000. An acquaintance of mine paid $16,000 for Sergio Franchi’s Rolls of similar vintage, in daily-driver condition. Whether a deep-pockets country-music fan, or perhaps some museum, wants to make some news with this auction result remains to be seen—literally, as one would expect this lot to be televised.
Photos courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.