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September 8, 1897|
|Died||March 30, 1992
New Orleans, Louisiana
|Employer||Lorne Michaels (1977)|
Miskel Spillman (September 8, 1897 – March 30, 1992) was the winner of the first and only "Anyone Can Host" contest on NBC's late-night variety series Saturday Night Live, and hosted the December 17, 1977, broadcast of the show.
Role in SNL history
An 80-year-old German immigrant and grandmother from New Orleans, Spillman held the record as the oldest host in SNL's history (two weeks older than Ruth Gordon when she hosted) for many years, until it was broken on May 8, 2010, by 88-year-old Betty White. Spillman remains the only non-celebrity to host the program.
"Anyone Can Host" contest
The contest was first mentioned on the October 8, 1977, episode (hosted by Madeline Kahn), with producer Lorne Michaels giving the rules and address; various members of the cast gave the rules and address on the following two shows.
The contest required entrants to submit a postcard (no letters) with a 25-words-or-less essay to a designated address by November 1, 1977, stating why they would like to host Saturday Night Live. The five people whose essays were deemed the funniest by Michaels and the cast would be flown, all expenses paid, to New York for an appearance.
Michaels stated on the October 8 show that absolutely zero bias would be held against entrants, and only required them to have "talent and a strong belief in [themselves]". He further stated that any applicant who tried to personally hand their essay to Michaels or a cast member would immediately be disqualified.
Spillman appeared with the four other contest finalists, selected out of around 150,000 applicants, on the November 19 broadcast (hosted by Buck Henry); despite the continued stating of zero bias, Garrett Morris expressed disdain that none of the finalists were African-American during the cold open.
In her essay, Spillman wrote that "I need one more cheap thrill, since my doctor told me I only have another 25 years left." Among the other contestants were Richard Kneip, then the incumbent Governor of South Dakota.
As the five contestants were introduced, Spillman introduced herself as "I'm Miskel Spillman; I'm old." This evoked the biggest audience reaction. She then went on to win the subsequent write-in vote.
Saturday Night Live starring Miskel Spillman
Spillman's appearance as host (the Season 3 Christmas episode, also featuring Buck Henry) began with a joke involving herself and cast member John Belushi sharing a joint, followed by a marijuana-induced obsession with a bowl of fruit (going so far as to swat away Henry's hands whenever he tried to grab the bowl).
As per the norm for SNL hosts, Spillman attended rehearsals and appeared in some sketches. She was also paid the then-usual host's salary of $3,000 (a fact which had been promoted during the contest's duration).
Spillman's episode was further notable for musical guest Elvis Costello's scheduled performance of "Less Than Zero", which he aborted after 30 seconds to play "Radio Radio", a then-unreleased song critical of the broadcast establishment.
Life following SNL experience
In a 1989 interview with People at the age of 92, Spillman stated that she still watched the show and was a fan of the current cast, "especially that fella in the dress" – referring to Dana Carvey's Church Lady character. Spillman further expressed an interest in hosting again, noting that she still had thirteen years left to live.
- People Magazine interview with Spillman (September 25, 1989) at the Wayback Machine (archived October 29, 2002)
- Transcript of Spillman's "SNL" monologue
Mary Kay Place
|Saturday Night Live Host
December 17, 1977