Janis Ian may be best known for her 1975 smash “At Seventeen,” but 8 years earlier, she was on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” performing her smaller hit, “Society’s Child.” And that’s when she had this creepy encounter with Bill Cosby:
We taped the show. I had a ball. (That’s me, looking scared, in the green dress. My friend Buffy from East Orange, where I’d started high school, made it for me. I treasured it.) Then we went back to New York, and I went back to school.
A while later, my manager called me into her office. “What happened at the Smothers Brothers show?!” I had no idea what she was talking about, and said so. “Well, no one else on TV is willing to have you on. Not out there, anyway.” Why? I wondered. And was told that Cosby, seeing me asleep in the chaperone’s lap, had made it his business to “warn” other shows that I wasn’t “suitable family entertainment”, was probably a lesbian, and shouldn’t be on television.
Again, a reminder. I was 16. I’d never slept with a man, I’d never slept with a woman. Hell, I barely been kissed, and that in the middle of the summer camp sports area, next to the ping pong table.
Banned from TV. Unbelievable. Bless Johnny Carson and his producer Freddy de Cordova, one of the nicest men I’ve ever worked with, because they didn’t listen. Or maybe they didn’t give a damn. I don’t know. I do know that they broke the barrier Cosby tried to create.
In the end, it turned out that Ian is a lesbian, but that shouldn’t have mattered. And remember that this was taking place at about the time that Cosby — already famous thanks to his standup appearances and drama series “I Spy” — was already drugging and raping women, according to the earliest claims of some of his victims. But in his mind, as America’s morality guide, Janis Ian wasn’t suitable for families to watch on TV.