×
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

  • The CalArts REDCAT Gala 2019 Honoring

    Pixar's Pete Docter Honored at CalArts REDCAT Gala

    Pixar’s Pete Docter reminisced about his days as a student at CalArts on Saturday night at the 2019 CalArts REDCAT Gala, where he received the Distinguished Alumni Award. For the wide-eyed boy from Minnesota, where life was more routine, attending CalArts “was a free-for-all. It was eye-opening in a lot of ways,” he recalled. “But [...]

  • Sasha Pieterse, Eli Brown, Sydney Park

    'Pretty Little Liars' Spinoff Unexpectedly Coincides With College Admissions Scandal

    It was a case of art imitating life at Saturday night’s Hollywood premiere of “The Perfectionists” — Freeform’s “Pretty Little Liars” spinoff about a scandal involving college students striving for excellence by any means necessary. The TV show’s debut was coincidently preceded by a real-life college scandal involving Hollywood celebrities who allegedly didn’t let a [...]

  • Keira Knightley'The Aftermath' film screening, Arrivals,

    Keira Knightley Talks 'Aftermath,' Alexander Skarsgård and Another Itchy Wardrobe

    The reigning queen of period pieces, Keira Knightley, knows a thing or two about historical clothing. “Lining. Lining is always important,” the Oscar-nominated actress playfully advised on Wednesday at the premiere of her post-WWII drama “Aftermath.” “If you get a lot of itchy stuff always put lining in it. I have learned that from having [...]

  • Priyanka Chopra

    Priyanka Chopra to Speak at the 2019 Women in the World Summit (EXCLUSIVE)

    Priyanka Chopra has just been added to the star-studded list of speakers at the 2019 Women in the World Summit. Chopra, who will be interviewed on stage by Women in the World founder Tina Brown, will discuss her career as an activist and entrepreneur. Recently, the “Baywatch” actress joined forces with Serena Williams in investing [...]

  • Jessica Chastain arrives at the 2019

    Jessica Chastain on Continuing to 'Balance the Scales' for Gender Parity in Hollywood

    Jessica Chastain‘s work for gender parity in Hollywood isn’t slowing down soon. “I have noticed, of course, now that it’s in fashion there are other people that are jumping on board, and honestly, I don’t care what their motives are,” Chastain tells Variety. “Because at the end of the day, the more we focus on [...]

  • 10 Latinxs to Watch

    Variety's 10 Latinxs to Watch Brunch Celebrates Diversity in the Community

    Saturday afternoon brought rising Latinx filmmakers and actors together at Variety’s 10 Latinxs to Watch brunch held in partnership with the 36th annual Miami Film Festival. The festive celebration, which took place at the JW Marquis Marriott’s Boulud Sud restaurant, featured a panel discussion moderated by Variety’s Malina Saval with the following five select individuals [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content