Rescued from VHS: Diana Ross left the Supremes 44 years ago today

On this day in 1970, Diana Ross left the Supremes. Watching this five-part installment of the group hosting a show called “Hollywood Palace” from a little less than a year before makes one wonder what took her so long.

The show captures Motown’s biggest hitmakers at a crossroads of a changing culture, when they no longer felt relevant. That seems almost hard to believe. So many other Motown acts transitioned into groovy times with ease, and the Supremes’ 1967 jam “Reflections” seemed to indicate that they “got it” and could make the jump, but this is an ill-advised television variety show.

Diana looks as skinny as a marionette, and Mary Wilson delivers her lines just as woodenly. Cindy Birdsong, a non-original member, looks comfortable, but it’s hard to be comfortable with her, since Florence Ballard is the one who makes it onto the covers of all the greatest hits albums.

They look a little weird when they’re not dressed uniformly, and the styles of the day don’t seem to suit them.

The commercials are a hoot (people actually smoking in cigarette ads, and was Hai Karate Oriental Spice a real product?) but the comedians on the variety show aren’t funny at all. (Sorry, Soupy Sales, we know you’re a legend, but that whole French bit fell flat.)

That said, Diana Ross turns in a killer dance routine and sounds great. And those eyes! The show also includes an amazing performance by Stevie Wonder, arguably the Motown performer who best transitioned into the 1970s. Watching him stand stoically as Diana heaps praise upon him is pretty much what makes it all worth watching.

Amazingly, by the way, the Supremes continued on for another seven years without Diana Ross, as she burned up the charts with a solo career.


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