May 4, 2013

This week in TV Guide: May 3, 1958

Nostalgia is never far from the surface when it comes to discussing vintage TV Guides, but this week's issue itself is awash in nostalgia, as Shirley Temple returns to television.

The former child star, now all of 30 years old, is the host and occasional star of Shirley Temple's Storybook, airing on NBC.  She'd retired twice from acting, most recently at 21, having made 33 movies and more than $3,000,000. Since then she's been Mrs. Charles Alden Black, married with three children, but she's never really been that far from the public eye.  Dolls, storybooks, and TV repeats of her movies have ensured that Shirley Temple will always be an American icon.  She relates a story of how her mailman, "a darling old man about 70, said to me, 'Mrs. Black, does Shirley Temple live here?'  And I said, 'Why yes, I used to be Shirley Temple.' 'Oh, my!' he cackled. 'You used to be my favoriet movie star - when I was a little boy!'"

Shirley Temple Black has led probably one of the most successful lives of any former child star.  Although Storybook ended after two years, she continued to make television appearances, then became involved in politics (she'd always had an interest in current events), ran unsuccessfully for Congress, served as a representative to the United Nations, and was appointed U.S. ambassador to Ghana and later Czechoslovakia.  She survived breast cancer and was one of the first celebrities to speak openly about it.  And the name Shirley Temple is still - and will continue to be - magic.

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Last week we took a look at the matchup between Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen, the two variety show titans of the time. Well, we've got another matchup this week; let's see who comes out on top this time.

Sullivan: Ed's guests include singers Lillian Roth, Teresa Brewer, Denise Darcel and Ed Townsend; the Everly Brothers, vocal group; musical-comedy star Helen Gallagher; dancers Carol Haney and Peter Gennaro.

Allen: Steve's guests are singer Jane Powell, comedian Phil Harris, the comedy team of Igor and H., and jazz pianists Count Basie, Teddy Wilson and Joe Buskin.

Well, that was a Staples moment.  Let me Count the ways Steverino wins!

***

I may have commented on this in the past, but it's worth mentioning again, how striking it is that there are virtually no sporting events shown on Sunday afternoon.  What there is, is bowling - Bowlerama on Channels 3 and 4; Championship Bowling on Channel 6.  It makes sense, of course; the NHL and NBA are over (and they wouldn't have had dominant TV coverage anyway), baseball games are few and far between (especially since the Twin Cities didn't yet have the Twins), and golf wasn't anywhere near being a weekly presence on the tube.

Tim Tam, the red horse, circled.
Aside from dueling baseball games on Saturday afternoon (Athletics vs. Yankees on CBS, Indians vs. Orioles on NBC), the sports that is shown represents the last vestiges of the Golden Age of Sports: horse racing and boxing. The horse race is a big one: the Kentucky Derby, which merits 45 minutes of coverage on CBS Saturday afternoon. The Derby's still a TV hit today, but the Triple Crown races as a whole are probably the only races many of us watch, whereas in the 50s and early 60s big races, such as the Washington International and the Traverse Stakes, were regular network productions. The Derby was won in 1958 by Tim Tam, as was the Preakness Stakes a couple of weeks later*; I've always had a fondness for Tim Tam, not because I was around to see him in the Derby, but because of a Kentucky Derby game I had when I was a kid. The "horses" in the game were all named after previous Derby winners; Tim Tam was the red horse; red was, then as now, my favorite color. Hence, whenever we played this game I was always Tim Tam. Makes perfect sense, no?

*Tim Tam was favored to win the Belmont and the Triple Crown, but he suffered broken sesamoids in the home stretch and finished second. The vets were able to save him, and he lived until 1982.


Boxing, though not the thrice-weekly television event it once was, still ran regularly on network television, and ABC's Wednesday Night Fights presented a good one: the lightweight title bout between champ Joe Brown of New Orleans and challenger Ralph Dupas, also of New Orleans - fought, naturally, in Houston, Texas.*  Brown would retain his title, knocking Dupas down three times in the eighth round before the referee stops the fight.

*Actually, there's a good reason for that - Brown was black, Dupas white.  Because of the anti-integration laws in Louisiana at the time (which I've alluded to here), the fight had to take place in more enlightened Texas.

***

Here's another of those programs you're not likely to see on network TV today: Billy Graham in a regular weekly series.  The evangelist's New York crusade (which ran for 16 weeks) had been a weekly event on ABC in the summer of 1957, and the network is now showing broadcasts of his San Francisco crusade, at 9pm CT each Saturday night.  Graham has, of course, long been a staple of syndicated TV, with his crusades and specials running for decades, and this show wouldn't have been that unusual at the time - after all, Bishop Fulton Sheen's Life Is Worth Living had gone off of ABC just the previous year, and CBS maintained religious programming on Sunday mornings well into the 70s, but a network series actively proselytizing the faith today?   Unthinkable.

I got to see Billy Graham in person once, in the mid-90s when his crusade was in Minneapolis at the Metrodome.  He was old and frail even then, but as soon as he stepped to the podium and stood behind that microphone, it was as if time stood still - his voice was strong and decisive, and the familiar cadences rang out as they always had.  It was quite a sight to see.

***

NBC continues to dominate the color airwaves.  Color television is still a rarity, with only 350,000 color sets in use in 1958, but there's no question that color is the future of the medium, and NBC - whose parent company, RCA, just happens to make those color sets - makes sure there's enough programming to intrigue potential buyers.  There are so few color shows being broadcast, TV Guide has a special section listing them all, and with one exception (Red Skelton), they all belong to the peacock network: Perry Como, Your Hit Parade, My Friend Flicka, Steve Allen, Dinah Shore, Matinee Theater, The Price Is Right, George Gobel, Kraft Theater, and Rosemary Clooney.  NBC will hold this lead well into the 60s.

***

At the top of each page this week - a reminder of our discussion last week.


***

This week's cover also asks the burning question: What's Happened to Liberace?  Until last month, the onetime TV regular hadn't appeared on live television since October, 1957, and he only made that appearance because he had a new album to plug.*  So what gives?  "I am purposely staying off TV," he says.  "I've been a victim of overexposure.  I feel a demand for me must be re-created, and to re-create it I must be missed."

*That, and his planned two-week engagement in Havana, Cuba had to be canceled due to the revolution.

If Liberace seems to be displaying a big of an ego with that comment, it's kind of easy to understand.  Although his movie Sincerely Yours was a bomb, ("That was only natural," he says.  "No performer could maintain the white heat I generated."), his agent, Seymour Heller, reminds us he's still pulling down between $500,000 and $750,000 during this "slump."  In addition, his syndicated music program still appears in 99 cities throughout the country, meaning he's never really been off television at all.  And he's praised by those who work with him as a consummate professional.  No wonder he once said, in one of entertainment's more famous quotes, "I cried all the way to the bank."

4 comments:

  1. There's something in those days of the Billy (and now Franklin) Graham Crusades, we knew Cliff Barrows and the recently departed George Beverly Shea. That was a far cry from today's pop groups that dominate second and third generation Graham events, and even those generations have different titles (Festival for second-generation - (William) Franklin (III), and Celebration for third-generation - Will (William Franklin Graham IV) - Graham events).

    And for reference, most of this year's Graham events are overseas. You don't hear of the Graham family doing syndicated programming the way it ran as recent as 15 years ago.

    Sadly, part of the problem in horse racing and boxing has been gambling. Gambling and sport have hurt their integrity. A few years ago, a tickets to the Travers and a race name on that day were offered as a prize on "The Price Is Right". We haven't seen a Crown for 35 years.

    Today, faith is downwardly bashed on television. Sad.

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    1. You're absolutely right - such a difference in a relatively short period of time.

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  2. I have a copy of this issue, but it's the Michigan State edition, covering the Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo area. Only one of the half-dozen stations is a full-fledged one-network affiliate; the others are bi- andeven tri-split between nets. Consequently, the schedules are a crazy-quilt of delayed broadcasts - different episodes of the same series pop up on various stations, sometimes from two or three weeks previously. I remain grateful for having lived in a city with four free-and-clear stations available.

    In the color section, I got a kick out of the feature on choral director Ken Darby, whose Singers provided a capella scores for Wyatt Earp, Jim Bowie, and The Californians (they did employ a banjo on that latter). I still remember those themes all these years later - humming and all.
    Surprisingly, the article scarcely mentions Darby's wide experience as an arranger and orchestrator on many major Hollywood musicals, particularly the Rodgers & Hammerstein pictures.
    I'll throw in as a capper that shortly before his passing, Ken Darby wrote a book titled The Brownstone House Of Nero Wolfe, a delightful tribute to his favorite fictional detective (and one of mine as well).

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  3. It really makes it difficult to tell what's on when with those split-network affiliates, doesn't it? Sometimes I have to dig out my Brooks and Marsh guide just to tell what should have been on. It's fun, though.

    Good feedback on Ken Darby. I thought that article interesting as well; did not know that bout the Hollywood musicals. And I'll have to check out his book on Nero Wolfe. Now, the Timothy Hutton-Maury Chaykin version that was on A&E last decade - when that left the air, that was truly a loss.

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