You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Charles Rolland ‘Charlie’ Douglass

Inventor-operator of TV 'Laff Box' aud reaction machine

Charles Rolland “Charlie” Douglass, inventor-operator of the often maligned yet much-employed TV “Laff Box” audience reaction machine, died April 8 in Laguna Beach, where he had retired to. He was 93.

The Acad of Television Arts & Sciences awarded the longtime CBS engineer and private entrepreneur a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in 1992. When he retired, his son Robert, himself a nine-time Emmy-winning sound mixer who had worked alongside his father for years, assumed running the family business, Northridge Electronics, which “sweetens” programs with “audience reaction.”

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Charlie Douglass and his family left their home in Guanajuato, Mexico, when he was 2 because of the political unrest during the time of Poncho Villa. The young family moved to Nevada, where Charles’ father, an early-day electrical engineer, found work in silver mines. At a young age, Charles knew he wanted to pursue a similar career.

He worked his way through the U. of Nevada at the height of the Depression and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering in 1933. He then moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a sound engineer and later as a broadcast engineer for CBS Radio. He joined the Navy during WWII and was sent to specialized training at Caltech, Bowdon College and M.I.T. prior to assuming an assignment in Washington, D.C., where he worked with a team of engineers developing shipboard radar systems.

After the war, he remained in the Naval Reserve and attained the rank of commander before returning to his previous career as a broadcast engineer with CBS. In the early 1950s, with the broadening of the young television industry, he became a technical director for many live TV shows.

It was around 1953 that he got the idea of developing a “laugh machine” to enhance or even substitute for live audience reaction. That idea became his business and for the next 30-plus years he operated Northridge Electronics, providing audience reaction for TV comedy shows. The practice has always been controversial since it first came about and has often been maligned by critics and creatives, but it also became standard procedure for many shows, particularly laffers filmed on location or where no audience is present.

Besides son Bob, Charlie Douglass is survived by his wife of 62 years, Dorothy; another son, Dr. Steve Douglass; a brother; and two grandchildren.

More Scene

  • Don Cheadle and Andrew Rannells Black

    Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells Talk Snorting 'Coke' on 'Black Monday'

    “Black Monday” show creators David Caspe and Jordan Cahen divulged an intriguing detail to come later in the first season of the new Showtime comedy at its world premiere, held at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Monday night in Los Angeles. “The fourth or fifth episode opens with a sexual harassment seminar, which very well [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron attends the 44th Annual

    Alfonso Cuarón to LAFCA: 'Thanks to Your Help We Can Break Down Walls'

    Inclusion was the big winner at the L.A. Film Critics Association Awards, which was held Saturday night at the InterContinental in Century City. “This year’s winners are the most diverse in LAFCA’s 43-year history,” announced its president, Claudia Puig, adding that 14 out of their 18 awards were won by women and people of color. [...]

  • Mandatory Credit: Photo by Max Malandrino/REX/Shutterstock

    Hollywood Power Players Assemble to Save Iconic Deli Nate 'n Al

    A group of Hollywood executives and celebrities have banded together with the intent to save Beverly Hills deli and star haunt Nate ‘n Al, a stone’s throw from tourist destination Rodeo Drive. A consortium of investors including music kingpin Irving Azoff and wife Shelli, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Jeff Shell, and Rande Gerber and [...]

  • Charlie Collier, FOX Chief Executive Officer

    'The Passage' Team Talks Diversifying Races, Genders and Ages of Book Characters

    “The Passage” star Saniyya Sidney was unaware that the book version of her character was originally white until her father, a fan of Justin Cronin’s apocalyptic trilogy, informed her during the audition process. “I was like, ‘Oh, she is?'” Sidney told Variety at Thursday’s series premiere in Santa Monica, Calif. “And when I got it, [...]

  • KiKi Layne and Stephan James'If Beale

    Regina King Praised by 'If Beale Street Could Talk' Co-Stars for New 50/50 Initiative

    Two days had passed since Kiki Layne and Stephan James had attended their first Golden Globes and the “If Beale Street Could Talk” co-stars were still trying to wrap their heads around having been there. “It was such a special night — and pretty unreal,” says James, who was also nominated for his work opposite Julia Roberts [...]

  • Steven Van Zandt, Edie Falco, Tony

    'The Sopranos' 20th Anniversary Reunion: Cast, Producers Remember James Gandolfini

    Jan. 9’s 20th anniversary reunion of the cast and producers of HBO’s “The Sopranos” was a raucous family gathering from its first moments. “I saw a picture of myself in the newspaper,” series creator David Chase said at the start of the event. “And I thought, 20 years. Jesus Christ.” “People come up to me,” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content