41 vintage photos that show 'Saturday Night Live' in its '70s heyday

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
insider@insider.com (Gabbi Shaw)
·14 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
blues brothers snl
The Blues Brothers in 1978.
  • "Saturday Night Live" premiered on October 11, 1975. The very first host was George Carlin.

  • Season 46 is set to premiere on October 3, 2020, hosted by Chris Rock.

  • The first cast, to many people, remains the best of all time.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

"Saturday Night Live" remains one of the most iconic institutions in TV history. For decades, it has been the goal of many a comedian to grace the halls of Studio 8H and scream "Live from New York, it's Saturday night."

This all started with a group known as the "Not Ready for Primetime Players," the first cast of "Saturday Night Live," along with writers, creator Lorne Michaels, and early replacement Bill Murray.

Keep scrolling to see vintage photos of "SNL" in its earliest days — and what some would call its best days.

"Saturday Night Live" premiered on October 11, 1975.

snl season 1
The first cast of "SNL": Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Michael O'Donoghue, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, and Garrett Morris.

The first cast consisted of Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Michael O'Donoghue, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, George Coe, and Garrett Morris. They were called the "Not Ready for Primetime Players."

The show's creator, Lorne Michaels, has been with the show since the beginning, barring a brief hiatus in the '80s.

lorne michaels 70s snl
Lorne Michaels in 1976.

Michaels created the show, and he was originally a writer and producer as well. Barring his hiatus in the '80s between seasons six and 10, Michaels has been with the show since its inception. It's entering its 46th season this year, with no signs of slowing down.

Here's a peek at what it looked like behind the curtain in NBC's control room in the '70s.

snl control room
The control room in 1978.

"SNL" is exactly what it's advertised to be: live. That's why, sometimes, the show has aired people cursing accidentally (or on purpose, in the case of Charlie Rocket). The control room is there to oversee everything.

The very first host of the show was none other than comedic legend George Carlin.

snl episode 1 george carlin
Host George Carlin during the monologue on October 11, 1975.

You can watch Carlin's monologue here.

Plenty of other comedic legends have passed through the halls of Studio 8H, like Richard Pryor.

richard pryor snl
Host Richard Pryor during the monologue on December 13, 1975.

Pryor hosted "SNL" just once, but left his mark forever. He took part in one of the show's most controversial sketches of all time, the word association sketch with Chevy Chase. You can watch it here.

Here, you can see Desi Arnaz, along with Gilda Radner and Chevy Chase, rehearsing for his debut on the show.

chevy chase gilda rander desi arnaz
Gilda Radner, Desi Arnaz, and Chevy Chase during rehearsal for "The Untouchables" skit on February 21, 1976.

Arnaz, of course, is known for "I Love Lucy." He was, and is, TV royalty.

Beloved comedian Steve Martin has also stopped by a fair amount of times through the show's four decades.

steve martin snl 70s
Steve Martin in 1978.

To be exact, Martin has hosted the show a whopping 15 times, putting him behind only Alec Baldwin as the show's most frequent host.

But what really made "Saturday Night Live" the powerhouse that it is today was the original cast and their iconic sketches, like the Coneheads.

coneheads snl
Jane Curtin, Dan Aykroyd and Laraine Newman as the Coneheads in the '70s.

The Coneheads, an alien family who was trying to assimilate with American culture, was one of the show's first smash successes. It was turned into a movie in 1993 with Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin reprising their roles.

The Killer Bees was another recurring sketch that was popular during the show's first seasons.

john belushi snl
John Belushi as a Killer Bee.

The Killer Bees was the first-ever sketch to recur on "SNL," after it debuted in the first episode of the show. The humor almost entirely consisted of puns about bee anatomy.

"The only note we got from the network on the first show was 'Cut the bees.' And so I made sure I put them in the next show," said creator Lorne Michaels, according to "Live From New York," a 2002 book about the show's history.

Even the hosts got involved with the bees — here's host Candice Bergen participating with the cast.

candice bergen snl
Candice Bergen hosting "Saturday Night Live."

Bergen has hosted the show five times.

Another popular sketch that was turned into a movie? The Blues Brothers, starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi.

blues brothers snl
Dan Aykroyd as Elwood Blues and John Belushi as Jake Blues of the Blues Brothers on November 18, 1978.

The Blues Brothers were even a musical guest on the show as time went on. They released an album in 1978 and a film, "The Blues Brothers," in 1980.

After Belushi's death, there was a sequel in 1998 entitled "Blues Brothers 2000," which had John Goodman take over Belushi's spot.

The longest-running sketch in the show's history is Weekend Update, a spoof on network news shows. It's still a weekly fixture.

chevy chase jane curtin
Chevy Chase and Jane Curtin hosting Weekend Update on May 29, 1976.

Chevy Chase was the first to host the segment. The current Weekend Update hosts are Colin Jost and Michael Che.

But not everything about the first season worked. During the first few episodes, Jim Henson created sketches with the Muppets.

jim henson muppets
Jim Henson's Muppets during the "Ploobis & Scred Get Drunk" skit on December 13, 1975.

 "NBC was so scared of what Lorne ... was doing that they insisted on Jim Henson and the Muppets [to] soften it," Bernie Brillstein, Henson's manager, told Salon. "In the first contract for 'SNL,' there were three essential factors. Lorne Michaels, Jim Henson and the Muppets, and Albert Brooks's [short] films."

However, Henson and his creations only lasted for a season.

The show's first star was Chevy Chase.

chevy chase laraine newman gilda radner
Chevy Chase, Laraine Newman, and Gilda Radner on May 29, 1976.

Chase hosted Weekend Update, appeared frequently in sketches, and was the first person to ever utter the phrase, "Live from New York, it's Saturday night!"

Chase was also famous for his pratfalls.

chevy chase pratfall
Chevy Chase as himself in the "Doing the Fall Again" skit on May 15, 1976.

Here's a compilation of some of Chase's most famous falls.

He was also famous for his impression of President Gerald Ford, who he'd get to meet at the White House Correspondents' Dinner in 1976.

snl white house press correspondents dinner
Chevy Chase, Lorne Michaels, John Belushi, Jacqueline Carlin Chase, and President Gerald Ford on March 25, 1976.

You can see Chase's impression of Ford here.

But Chase was also the first person to leave the show — he left Studio 8H behind just over a year after the show debuted.

ron nessen chevy chase snl
Ron Nessen and Chevy Chase during a skit rehearsal on April 17, 1976.

Chase left right in the beginning of the second season, though he returned a number of times over the years. He even appeared in the 40th Anniversary Special.

Although Chase had left, the show still became a phenomenon.

snl fans 70s
Audience members wait on November 4, 1978.

To get tickets to "SNL," you can either enter the lottery and wait to see if you win, or you can camp out outside the studio and try your luck with rush tickets, like these gentlemen.

The other members of the cast became stars in their own rights as well, most famously, John Belushi.

john belushi samurai
Kris Kristofferson as himself and John Belushi as Samurai Futaba during the "Samurai General Practitioner" skit on July 31, 1976.

Belushi became the other breakout star of the show. He remained part of the cast until 1979, when left to focus on a movie career.

Belushi was one of the most beloved cast members in the show's history.

john belushi
American singer-songwriter Stephen Bishop with John Belushi at rehearsals in March 1978.

Sadly, Belushi died in 1982 due to an overdose. He was 33.

Here's Belushi with host Gary Busey in 1979.

john belushi gary busey
John Belushi and Gary Busey on March 10, 1979.

Busey only hosted the one time, in 1979.

But while Belushi's comedic chops can't be denied, he had a more complicated relationship with his female co-stars.

john belushi jane curtin
John Belushi and Jane Curtin during "Backstage Banter" skit on January 24, 1976.

"There were a few people that just out-and-out believe that women should not have been there and they believe that women were not innately funny," said Jane Curtin on an episode of "Watch What Happens Live." She added that he thought that "women should not be there."

But we beg to differ. The first ladies of "SNL," Gilda Radner, Laraine Newman, and Jane Curtin were, and are, some of the funniest cast members in "SNL" history.

first ladies of snl
Gilda Radner, Laraine Newman, and Jane Curtain during the "Tribute to Television" skit on July 24, 1976.

Simply put, the show would not be what it is today without the contributions of these three women.

Gilda Radner, especially, was known for her recurring characters like Roseanne Roseannadanna.

roseanne roseannadanna gilda radner
Gilda Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna during Weekend Update on July 31, 1976.

Jane Curtin, the first female anchor of Weekend Update, did say she knew that John Belushi thought Radner was funny. "He thought Gilda was funny, but she really — he didn't classify her as a woman. She was Gilda," she said.

Here's one of Roseanne Roseannadanna's appearances of Weekend Update.

Dan Aykroyd was another integral part of the original cast.

chevy chase dan aykroyd
Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd during the "Police State" skit on July 31, 1976.

Aykroyd left at the same time as John Belushi, in 1979.

Though he's appeared sporadically in cameos on the show, Aykroyd has only hosted "SNL" once, in 2003.

Garrett Morris was another member of the original cast, and the first Black cast member on "SNL."

garrett morris snl
Garrett Morris during the "Gary Gilmore" skit on on December 11, 1976.

Morris remained with the show until 1980, when the rest of the original cast left as well.

Here's Morris as Chico Escuela, one of his recurring characters, alongside Chevy Chase's replacement, Bill Murray.

garrett morris snl
Bill Murray and Garrett Morris as Chico Escuela during Weekend Update.

Bill Murray was brought in to fill the hole that Chase left.

By season two, the show had mainly ironed out any wrinkles, especially with the addition of Murray.

snl cast 70s
Bill Murray, Jane Curtin, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, and Laraine Newman on November 12, 1977.

This is part of the cast of season two.

Murray quickly solidified himself as one of the show's most valuable players.

bill murray gilda radner snl
Bill Murray and Gilda Radner during the "Nerds & Milt" sketch on April 7, 1979.

You can watch one of the Nerds sketches here.

He began popping up on Weekend Update. Here he is with Don Novello playing his most famous character, Father Guido Sarducci.

bill murray don novello father sarducci
Bill Murray and Don Novello as Father Guido Sarducci during Weekend Update on January 27, 1979.

Here's Father Guido Sarducci in a 1979 episode.

Murray and Radner also dated off-screen during their "SNL" tenure.

gilda radner bill murray
Gilda Radner and Bill Murray on November 17, 1979.

There's a legend that, at the 35th birthday party of Laraine Newman in 1987, Murray carried around his ex-girlfriend so that everyone would be able to say goodbye to her. "[Murray] was the one to carry the tired, terminally ill Gilda Radner, the first true breakout superstar of the group, round and round the house, prolonging her departure from the party with everyone saying goodbye a hundred times, not knowing it would be their last,"writes Little White Lies' Rebecca Nicole Williams.

Sadly, Radner died two years later, in 1989, due to ovarian cancer.

As the decade closed, more and more people began appearing on-screen, like future senator Al Franken and Tom Davis.

al franken tom davis
Al Franken and Tom Davis during the "Franken and Davis Show" skit on January 27, 1979.

Both Franken and Davis were writers on the show who would occasionally appear on-screen. When Lorne Michaels left in 1980, neither stuck with the show. Davis never returned as cast-member, but when Michaels returned to the show, so did Franken. He remained from 1985 through 1995.

Here's Harry Shearer, who joined the show in 1979, alongside host Martin Sheen, and cast members Laraine Newman and Bill Murray.

snl harry shearer
The "Minota AM3" skit on December 15, 1979.

Shearer was on two separate seasons: 1979-1980 and 1984-1985.

"Lorne set things up as a zero-sum game," Shearer told Grantland in 2014. "If someone gets air time, that's an incursion on somebody else's chance at air time. As opposed to fostering a cooperative and collaborative atmosphere, a competitive atmosphere is fostered. So I don't think anybody worried too much about what was happening to the new guy. That's not a comment on [the cast members], that's a comment on the system."

Don't worry, we haven't forgotten the final piece of what makes "SNL" special: the music.

snl band
Members of the "Saturday Night Live" band on October 20, 1979.

Musical legend Paul Shaffer was one of the first leaders of the "SNL" band.

Plenty of musical legends have walked the halls of 30 Rock, especially in the '70s. Here's Willie Nelson during one of the earliest seasons.

willie nelson
Willie Nelson Singing on "Saturday Night Live."

Nelson has appeared on the show a few times.

Here's George Harrison and Paul Simon in 1976.

paul simon george harrison snl
George Harrison and Paul Simon performing on "Saturday Night Live" on November 19, 1976.

While the Beatles famously never appeared on "SNL," Harrison stopped by in 1976 to duet with Simon, who has frequently pulled double duty on the show — in other words, he's been the host and the musical guest simultaneously.

Another legend to perform on "SNL" was Ray Charles.

ray charles snl
Musical guest Ray Charles performs on November 12, 1977.

Charles also pulled double duty during his 1977 appearance.

One of the biggest rock stars of all time, David Bowie, also graced the stage of Studio 8H in 1979.

david bowie snl
Musical guest David Bowie performs on December 15, 1979.

Performing in December of that year, he just made it within the '70s.

As the years pass, every generation claims that "their" cast of the show is the best ...

snl rehearsals
Producer Lorne Michaels, Jane Curtin, and Dan Aykroyd during Weekend Update rehearsal on December 17, 1977.

It's a contentious battle.

... but those who can claim the cast members of the '70s probably have the best case.

snl rehearsals 70s
Garrett Morris, Bill Murray, Jane Curtin, and Steve Martin rehearsing for "The David Susskind Show" skit on October 13, 1979.

It's easy to find these debates online. Rolling Stone ranked every single cast member back in 2015.

What we know for sure is that without the magic of the Not Ready for Primetime Players and their immediate successors, "SNL" wouldn't be gearing up for season 46 this year.

john belushi gilda radner john belushi
Gilda Radner, John Belushi, and Bill Murray during the 'Locker Room' skit on March 25, 1978.

Read the original article on Insider