March 23, 2013

This week in TV Guide: March 27, 1965

I'm often fond, when writing here, of quoting the old French saying, "plus ça change, plus c'est la même" - the more things change, the more they stay the same.  And as I've read through these TV Guides, I find that more and more to be the case.  Last week it was gun control; this week it's politics.  (And keep in mind, as always, that the following discussion is not meant to be partisan, just to illustrate what I mean.)

For example, take the following quote: "When I was a boy, a liberal was one who looked upon the state as . . . a necessary evil, to be watched night and day. Today, a ‘liberal’ is likely to be one who looks upon the state as a panacea.”

Since we’re reviewing a TV Guide from 1965, you probably think that’s when this quote was authored, and that the point is to show how little things have changed in nearly fifty years. (Any guest on Fox News might say the very words today without changing even a comma, and nobody would blink an eye.)  But in fact that quote comes from 1947, predating this TV Guide by almost twenty years.

Spivak with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi
The man who said that was at one time one of the more recognizable faces on television, but today it’s unlikely you’ve heard of him unless you’re my age, or even older, and that's a shame because he was one of the major figures in early television, someone whose influence continues today. His name was Lawrence E. Spivak, and for thirty years he was the moderator and power behind Meet the Press. Spivak, along with Martha Roundtree, created Meet the Press for radio in 1945, and added a television component in 1947.  At the time he wrote the above, he was publisher of The American Mercury, a conservative magazine founded by H.L. Mencken.  Spivak fought vigorously against Communism and what he saw as its infiltration of labor unions.  He wrote against government control of the media, and advocated kicking the Soviet Union out of the United Nations.

Nowadays, Spivak has buried any personal ideology in the name of fairness.  "I couldn't maintain my position as an impartial interviewer in the eyes of viewers if they knew my political philosophy or position on any particular issue," he tells writer Edith Efron.  Instead, he positions himself as "anti-everybody," with no one escaping his public grilling.  And yet, when pressed, he will give us an insight into his personal opinions.  "I still think that the conflict between the individual and the state is the big problem of our time," he says.  "The question I ask is: How much freedom are we willing to sacrifice for how much economic security?  I fear that if we keep allowing the Government to handle more and more of our problems, we'll get into trouble."  Conservatives would probably accept this verbatim, and if you substitute "national" for "economic" when discussing the sacrifice of freedom, you'd probably describe every liberal's concern about the Patriot Act. "The old-fashioned liberal originally was a fighter against concentrated power in the Government," he concludes, echoing his comments from 1947.  "But the contemporary liberals are seeking more concentrated power." 

Efron says of Lawrence E. Spivak that his "heart is where Barry Goldwarter's is, his head is where [Socialist] Norman Thomas's is," meaning that Spivak is conservative in idology, but has the temperament of an anarchist who doesn't want to be told what to do.  And that seems to me like a pretty good combination.

***

How about this charming KSTP news quiz?  This is the kind of thing you see in free coffee store papers nowadays.  Can you answer all the questions?  (Presumably you could if you watched the Channel 5 news.)

1) 120 days.  Four months.  If only.

2) Msgr. James Shannon.  Shannon, who died in 2003, was an interesting figure.  I spoke with a priest who'd been in the seminary at the time Shannon was a teacher, and he said that although Shannon was considered a liberal, he was a staunch defender of orthodoxy, speaking at length about why the Catholic Church couldn't do some of the things its critics wanted it to do.  However, his life was turned around by Paul VI's encyclical Humane Vitae, which reaffirmed the Church's stance on artificial birth control.  It's possible that Shannon, who'd defended tradition so long, was rocked by the decision and lost faith with the teaching authority of the Church; I don't know for sure.  Anyway, his decision in 1968 to step down as Bishop and resign from the priesthood (and eventually marry) rocked the Church.  He remained a Catholic, but continued to speak out in favor of liberal causes.

3) The Gophers finished in second place, behind top-ranked Michigan, which made it all the way to the NCAA championship game before losing to UCLA, 91-80.

***

During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Ed Sullivan: Scheduled guests: comedian Sid Caesar; singer Bobby Vinton; comedian Jackie Vernon; impressionist Marilyn Michaels; comedian Bob King; Les Marcellis, acrobats; and Little Anthony and the Imperials, singing "It Hurts So Bad."

Hollywood Palace: Host Tony Randall; comedian Allan Sherman, who parodies the hit recording "Downtown"; romantic singers Nelson Eddy and Gale Sherwood; songstress Vicki Carr; the Supremes, vocal trio; Japanese comic Pat Morita; the Marthys, tumbling acrobats; Mendez's high-wire act; and a wrestling match between the Hangman and Victor the Great, a Canadian brown bear .

Allen Sherman (1924-1973) was Weird Al before Weird Al was born.  He was a brilliant song parodist; very funny, but even more, witty, and clever.  (He also created the game show I've Got a Secret, which had nothing to do with music, but was very successful.)  His biggest hit was "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah," which I listened to over and over again when I was but a kid.  Ed may have the bigger names this week, but based on my affection for Sherman, I'm going to give the edge to The Palace.  That whole episode is on YouTube, by the way - here's the clip of Sherman with host Tony Randall, including the aforementioned version of "Downtown."


***

Remember Pat Priest, the attractive young woman who played Marilyn on The Munsters?  (Hint: she was the normal-looking one.)  There's a profile of her this week, and as usual the best part about it is learning something new.  Did you know, for example, that Pat's mother was Ivy Baker Priest, former Treasurer of the United States (and Mystery Guest on What's My Line)?  Or that her then-husband, Pierce Jensen, was a Naval aide at the White House?  In fact, when the young couple were married, one of their gifts was a silver tray with the inscription "To Pat and Pierce from President and Mrs. Eisenhower."

Recognize the name now?
Pat Priest didn't have a huge career after The Munsters - she didn't even appear in the feature-film version of the show (the role instead went to Debbie Watson, who was under contract to the studio), and retired in the 1980s.   Pat and Pierce divorced two years after this article appeared - I wonder who got the tray?

TV Teletype gives us the news that the Alfred Hitchcock Hour is going off the air at the end of the season.   It was at the time the longest-running network anthology series of all time*, having run for 10 years in total - "five years on CBS as a half-hour, two years on NBC as a half-hour, two more years on CBS as an hour, and a year on NBC as an hour."  Ah, for the days when sponsors controlled more programming.

*It may well still hold that distinction, since anthology series have pretty much disappeared over the years.  Anyone know?

Melvin Durslag, TV Guide's most frequent sportswriter, has an interesting feature on the brand-new "Harris County Domed Stadium" in Houston, to be better known as the Astrodome.  It cost the then-heady sum of $31 million, which might pay for a restroom in one of today's modern palaces.  The stadium, besides having a plastic room, also has "de luxe boxes" on the top level of the stadium - what we'd today call luxury suites.  It doesn't yet have the plastic grass, though, and there's a good story behind that.  Originally the Dome was constructed with translucent plastic panes, in order to let enough light through that real grass would still grow.  The problem was that the plastic created a terrible glare for outfielders trying to follow the flight of a fly ball.  No problem - the offending panels, which comprised maybe a quarter to a third of the dome, were painted over.  The glare disappeared - but so did the amount of sunlight needed to save the grass, which died and was painted green for appearance's sake.  The next year it would be replaced by Monsanto's new product - Astroturf.

***

Romper Room, the classic kids' show, features in many of our 60s TV Guides.  In Minneapolis Romper Room starred Miss Betty, but in this WEAU ad, the hostess is Miss Yvonne.  A lot of kids had crushes on the various hostesses, but I don't think Yvonne would have been my type.


***

Quick sports note: baseball is just around the corner, as the Astrodome article would suggest.  On Sunday a couple of the CBS stations have a half-hour feature on the defending World Series champs, the St. Louis Cardinals.  St. Louis had been 6½ games out of first place with only 13 games to play, before Philadelphia's monumental collapse allowed the Cards to capture the National League pennant in a tight four-team race, and then go on to defeat the New York Yankees in the Series.  But there was even more drama ahead, as the Yankees fired first-year manager Yogi Berra following the Series and replaced him with - Johnny Keane*, who had managed the Cards to the championship and then quit, fed up with what he saw as a lack of front-office support.  It seemed a great move at the time for Keane, but who was to know that he'd arrived in New York just in time to preside over the collapse of the Yankee dynasty?  Injuries and aging stars spelled the end for the Bronx Bombers, and after finishing in 6th place during Keane's initial season, they came out of the gate in 1966 with a record of 4-20, and Keane was fired.  The Yankees would go on to finish in last place for the first time, and Keane died of a heart attack before the end of the year.

*Appearing on NBC's Today the next morning.

***

And then there's the story of, as the cover calls it, the season's most jinxed show.  It was CBS's variety ensemble show The Entertainers, which was supposed to star Carol Burnett, Bob Newhart and Caterina Valente.  How could this go wrong, right?  For starters, Burnett injured her back in October, putting her out of action for 10 weeks.  The famed comedienne Imogene Coca was signed to fill in for her; she sprained an ankle.  Bring in dancer Gwen Verdon, who promptly broke her foot.

Bob Newhart complained that the studio audience was so young it didn't get his humor.  ("I mentioned Wernher Von Braun* in one routine, and it was obvious from the response that few in the audience had heard of him.")  The producers managed to calm Newhart down enough that he agreed to stay on until Burnett was able to return. Caterina Valente was supposed to appear in Europe in November and December, and so she'd pretaped her spots, but she wasn't available to do anything more.  Ernest Flatt, the choreographer, quit to work on Mitzi Gaynor specials.

*Von Braun, the famed German rocket scientist who helped make America's manned space program a success, was the subject of a movie based on his autobiography called I Aim at the Stars, starring Curt Jurgens as Von Braun, which is being shown on Tuesday at 11:30pm on WEAU, Channel 13. The British, mindful that Von Braun also designed the V-2 rocket that the Germans used during their terror bombing, joked that it should have been called I Aim at the Stars, but Sometimes Hit London.

When Burnett's doctors did allow her to return, she was promptly sued by the producers of her Broadway musical Fade Out - Fade In, who claimed her absence had cost the show $500,000.   All of this, in and of itself, could perhaps have been overlooked if the ratings had been good, but they weren't.  As a result, the show broadcast on March 27 was its last.

Valente remained a singing star in Europe for some time, and was frequently on the Dean Martin Show.  As for those other two, Burnett and Newhart, your guess is as good as mine.

5 comments:

  1. I was a bit late digging this issue out of my collection, but I have it here with me now, so here goes:

    - Apropos of something we mentioned a few weeks back, the For The Record column in the inner pages announces the replacement of Robert Lansing with Paul Burke on 12 O'Clock High.
    This is the first mention, so everybody's all nicey-nicey about everything; the bad stuff came out years (many years) later.

    - Also in For The Record: the official announcement of ABC's fall schedule for 1965.
    As noted, NBC made their announcement the previous week.
    Back then, the fall announcements were generally stable; last-minute changes were unheard of (save in extreme emergency), and the promo spots usually started up in mid-summer.
    I do remember the networks's campaigns for this particular season:
    - NBC WEEK - The Full-Color Network!
    This was the season that all but two of NBC's prime-time shows were in color (one of them, Convoy, a war series, was gone by midseason; the other, I Dream Of Jeannie went to color for season 2).
    - Hey! Look Us Over On CBS!
    Caught short by NBC's color surge, CBS suddenly converted as many shows as possible to color for fall.
    This mainly meant the comedy-variety shows - Sullivan, Skelton, Gleason, Kaye - and the sitcoms - with the curious exceptions of Dick Van Dyke and The Munsters, all the other sitcoms got the tint.
    Dramas stayed B/W, again with one exception: Gunsmoke (again, nobody knows why).
    - ABC: Turn On The Excitement!
    Although ABC had been fiddling with color for a few years, NBC's push caught them even shorter than CBS.
    THey did what the could with short funds and time, but ABC wound up with fewer color shows than either of their competitors, and this hurt them in the fall.
    Of returning shows, ABC's color converts were Lawrence Welk, The Hollywood Palace, The Farmer's Daughter, Bewitched, Ozzie & Harriet (that one surprised me at the time), and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (that one surprised me, too).
    Everything else stayed B/W.

    - I see that this week marked the debut of one of my favorite game shows (albeit short-lived), Call My Bluff on NBC.
    This was a Goodson-Todman game in which two teams of three (a celebrity and two civilians) played each other over obscure words from the dictionary.
    One team would get a word and three folders: one folder had the definition and the other two had BLUFF. Those who got BLUFF had to make up a definition, while the other guy gave the real one, and a member of the other team had to guess which definition was the real one.
    Call My Bluff only ran on NBC that summer (they ran out of words?), and I've always missed it.

    - I'm a bit surprised that you didn't mention the Dick Van Dyke cover story, and in particular the double-page photo of DVD and MTM on pages 20-21.
    I was 14 years old when this issue came out, and I can tell you that I noticed it.
    ...and 47 years later, at age 62, I'm still noticing it (right now, on my desk, I'm noticing it).

    - And on this bleak note, I'll stop - for now, anyway.
    I might come up with something else later, though ...

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    Replies
    1. I really lingered over the Van Dyke story. I've mentioned before that I wasn't a big fan of the show, although I think DVD is a tremendous talent. Ultimately, I think I just got tired of writing!

      Love your additions to the issue - it really does make a difference. Keep 'em coming!

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    2. GUNSMOKE and BEWITCHED didn't go color until the following season...while Universal made the feature film MUNSTER, GO HOME in part to see how the characters would appear in color, in expectation of a third season renewal--however, BATMAN put the kibosh to that. The story is the cast heard of their cancellation at the Los Angeles airport upon returning from England for location shooting.

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    3. CBS aired "The Smothers Brothers Show", a sitcom where Tom played Dick's guardian angel, in B&W for 1965-66. CBS also aired a short-lived variety show, "The Steve Lawrence Show", in B&W that fall.

      ABC had 1 more sitcom in color for 1965-66, the flop sitcom "O.K. Crackerby", which was co-created by TV Guide's critic Cleveland Amory and playwright Abe Burrows.

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  2. The story is that Hitchcock himself ended the run of his TV series, due to the death of writer James Allerdice, who created the opening and closing segments for the entire 10 years. Alfred thought no one else could do them as well.

    ReplyDelete

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