November 17, 2012

This week in TV Guide: November 17, 1962

As is the case this year, Thanksgiving 1962 fell on November 22, which would take on an entirely new and darker significance a scant 12 months later.  But this is all in the future; right now, there's plenty of Thanksgiving cheer in this issue, and I'm not talking turkey.

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The thing about Jack Lord, star of ABC's modern-day western series Stoney Burke, is that he wants to be "big, big, big" - like his idol and friend, Gary Cooper.  And "fast, fast, fast" - because he's been in the business for awhile and it's about time.

A fellow actor told TV Guide's Alan Gill that Lord "could be good if he wanted to portray a real person instead of a great big star" and added that "Jack ought to chuck this Renaissance-man thing. He's been an athlete, a seafarer, a steel worker, a photographer, a TV writer, an actor. If he'd concentrate on one thing -- and heaven knows he's throwing everything into Stoney -- and if he did it with complete honesty, he'd be great. Real bronc riders are mangy, rough, sincere people, not stars."  And in 1962 that was the perception of Jack Lord, that he's self-conscious, intense, more concerned with being a star than allowing the role to make a star out of him, a man who tries so hard to make sure that things are just right, rather than - you know, just doing it.

Stoney Burke was not the series that made Jack Lord that big star.  That would come later in the 60s, with Hawaii Five-O.  Perhaps Steve McGarrett was not the most fleshed-out character; perhaps he was one-dimensional, an icon rather than a real person.  But McGarrett meant business; you didn't mess around with him and live to tell about it.  I don't know about you, but I rather like my police heroes that way.  And that new show on CBS, the imposter with the same title and a character with the same name - well, my friend, that's not Hawaii Five-O, and the cop's no Jack Lord. 

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Holiday programming actually started earlier in the week, on Saturday, when Lawrence Welk and his Champagne Music Makers (8:00 Central, ABC) celebrated with an evening of Thanksgiving music, including "Thank the Lord for This Thanksgiving Day," "Bless This House," and "By the Waters of Minnetonka." (Bet you didn't know there were so many Thanksgiving songs, did you?)

On Red Skelton's Tuesday night show, "Red plays a Pilgrim hunting for Thanksgiving dinner."  We took a look at Perry Como last week; this week, his Kraft Music Hall presents a "Happy Thanksgiving Show" on Wednesday ("Thanksgiving Eve"* according to TV Guide) with special guest Thomas Mitchell.  the theme for the program - a fitting one - was "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays."

*Eve, complete with a capital E, putting Thanksgiving Eve on a par with Christmas Eve.

Then we come to Thanksgiving Day itself. And what would it be without parades and football? Well, there was plenty of it, starting at 9 am. NBC, as is the case to this day, carried the Macy's parade. Only two hours back then as opposed to three hours today - I wonder if they cut out the fluff and the awful lip-synched production numbers? Guess not; the broadcast started off with a half-hour, three-ring circus in front of the store. Donald Duck was the new balloon that year, and Bud Palmer and Chris Schenkel, the well-known sportscasters, were the announcers. I find that interesting, considering that traditionally the hosts of the Today show anchored the parade coverage.

CBS's coverage also started at 9 and ran for two hours. Captain Kangaroo was in New York, hosting the overall coverage of three traditional parades: New York, Philadelphia and Detroit. But here's the interesting thing: all three parades were treated as news events, and anchored by newsmen. Douglas Edwards covered New York, Robert Trout and Gene Crane in Philadelphia, and Dallas Townsend and Bob Murphy were in Detroit. These were all well-known newsmen of the time, although you might not remember them today. Again, I wonder if they were forced to read the excruciatingly bad copy that that parade announcers do today? I doubt it.  Here's some footage from that year's Detroit parade (H/T Kevin Butler at TVParty) - it's striking to see how different downtown Detroit looked then, with a stronger economy, larger population - it just looks alive.


When I was a kid, I loved watching these parades, particularly CBS;s coverage - after all, more parades. They were all sponsored by department stores: in addition to Macy's, Gimbel's sponsored the Philadelphia parade, and Hudson's underwrote Detroit. It was good business for the stores, and good publicity. (For many years CBS would also cover the Santa Claus parade in Canada, where Eaton's department store was the sponsor.*)

*When CBS replaced the Eaton's parade with the Hawaiian Floral Parade, hosted by - you guessed it - Jack Lord.

Of course, most of these stores are gone now, as the shopping centers of large cities moved out of downtown and into the suburbs. The parades are still around, with new sponsors (IKEA is the title sponsor in Philly), and the Detroit parade is syndicated nationally, while others are shown locally. CBS and NBC both dedicate their entire parade broadcasts to New York, and we've shifted our attention to Chicago, where WGN provides national coverage of the McDonald's Thanksgiving Day parade, which was moved to Thanksgiving from an early December date a few years ago.


But I digress. There's more to Thanksgiving television than parades, right? There's football! CBS went directly from their parade coverage to the NFL game of the day, the traditional Turkey Day matchup between Detroit and Green Bay. In one of the most storied Turkey Day games ever played, the Lions sacked Packers QB Bart Starr 11 times (including once for a safety) and totally dominated Green Bay en route to a 26-14 drubbing that wasn't nearly as close as the final score would indicate. (Appropos of the day, one sportswriter said it looked as if Roger Brown and Alex Karras, the Lions' two defensive stars, were ready to take Starr by the legs and make a wish.) It was said that Lombardi was so furious about that loss that he ended the annual Thanksgiving game against the Lions; the teams would play to a lackluster 13-13 tie in 1963 (three days after JFK's funeral) and would not play again on Thanksgiving until 1984.

As soon as the Detroit-Green Bay tilt was over, the network switched to Austin, Texas for coverage of the traditional Texas-Texas A&M matchup. These two teams played for many years on Thanksgiving Day, and have sporatically continued the tradition in recent years; now that the Aggies have moved to the SEC, the teams won't be playing at all, at least for a few years. If you were in the mood for a little AFL football, you could catch the New York Titans (now the Jets) playing the Broncos in Denver at 2 pm on ABC.

There was some other holiday fare, however. Pat Boone had a variety special at 4:30* on NBC, with guest stars Patti Page, Elaine Dunn, and Peter, Paul & Mary (perhaps Pat wasn't as square as we thought he was). Also on NBC, at 6:30, was The Bell Telephone Hour Thanksgiving show, starring John Raitt (father of Bonnie), Martha Wright and Mahalia Jackson, and featuring an appearance by poet and Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg. Now, for our younger readers those names might not mean much, but trust me - this was some big-name talent appearing on this show.  And finally, Mr. Ed gets into the act as Ed decides he wants Wilbur and Carol to stay at home with him for Thanksgiving dinner.

*It doesn't seem likely that a network show would come on at that hour today, does it?  Not with the news saturation that local stations have.

And that was it for Thanksgiving, 1962.

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November 22 is the earliest Thanksgiving can fall in the year. In 1963 Thanksgiving was on November 28, the latest it can fall. It was six days after JFK was assassinated, three days after he was buried, one day after LBJ addressed a joint session of Congress. Parades were still held and people came, although nobody seemed that excited about it. It's for the children, the organizers said, in explanation for why the parades went on. Everyone agreed that the diversion was probably a good thing. The special programming was over; football games were played, entertainment specials were broadcast, life went on.

November 22, 1962. Nobody could possibly have anticipated what things would be like 365 days later. But that was all in the future, and people lived with what they had, which was Thanksgiving Day: parades, food and football, and they were thankful for it.


The complete program listings for Thanksgiving Day are now available here

Don't be a stranger.  There's a new TV essay every Wednesday - check it out!

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the reminder about what T-Day TV used to be like. Captain Kangaroo and the CBS parade smorgasbord was must-see TV at our house. IIRC, they'd always go to Toronto at the end of the broadcast, because the last entry in the Eaton's parade was Santa on his sleigh. It was a big deal to us, seeing the jolly elf on Thanksgiving Day, because it meant Christmas was really coming. Not like now, when he can be spotted everywhere, and just after Labor Day at that.

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    1. I know, jb. I always enjoyed the Eaton's parade as well; loved Santa! It pains me to see how Thanksgiving's changed, especially now that it looks like we're headed toward it becoming another holiday where all the stores are open.

      About Christmas coming earlier and earlier - I remember a Peanuts cartoon from the early 60s where Charlie Brown tries to buy a Halloween mask, but the store's all out of them. "Aren't they getting any more in?" Linus asks. "Are you kidding?" Charlie Brown replies. "They were busy putting up Christmas decorations!" If only they'd wait that long!

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