February 1, 2014

This week in TV Guide: February 4, 1967

D ale Robertson is my kind of guy: plain-spoken, to the point, conservative.  The star of ABC's The Iron Horse, and previous Western series such as Tales of Wells Fargo and Death Valley Days, "believes in income taxes but thinks that they should be a flat 25 percent with no limit on how much the high rollers can make."*  He also believes that the troubled urban areas such as Harlem can be rehabilitated by installing some pride of place, perhaps an early version of the "Broken Windows" theory, and that anyone fortunate enough to have the kind of life he has - a loving wife, obedient children, and three square meals a day - should be able to "do anything on God's green earth he sets his mind to."  No wonder that Robertson was out campaigning for Ronald Reagan during his successful 1966 run for Governor of California.

*Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, as I've said more than once.

It's not a surprise to learn Robertson's values; a graduate from Oklahoma Military Academy, joined the Army right after Pearl Harbor, fought with Patton's Third Army in Europe.  Nor is it a surprise to read Robertson's opinions in TV Guide, or that a man with them is the star of a new series.  It's not quite so common today, however, to find conservatives in the industry so outspoken.  As Clint Howard (brother of Ron, and formerly of Gentle Ben) said not too long ago, “I always tell younger conservative-minded people that they better mind their P's and Q's and remember that you want to have a career."  This isn't a judgement on my part, by the way, just an observation. Of course TV Guide, a conservative publication, gives voice to conservative actors.   And there are still conservatives in Hollywood today - they're just a little harder to find.

On the opposite end of the political spectrum, Sunday night features the premiere of one of the most notable, controversial series of the 60s: The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.  Once upon a time I reviewed a DVD release of season 3 of Smothers Brothers.  Upon looking back at it, I find I didn't think much of it, which doesn't surprise me since I didn't think much of the show when it was originally on, just as I never thought much of the Smothers Brothers themselves, other than as a testimonial on just how far one could get in the entertainment business without much talent.

But here we are, at the very beginning.  The Brothers are coming off a mildly amusing sitcom in which Tom played an angel (no typecasting there), not to mention a fairly successful stand-up act, and numerous appearances on various television shows.  Their opening night lineup is amazingly conventional, with Ed Sullivan (welcoming them to the Sunday night lineup; they immediately followed Ed's show), Danny Thomas, Jim Nabors, and Jill St. John.  The ad accompanying the show promises a "riotous new series,*" with "daffy ballads and oddball humor."  Sounds pretty innocuous, doesn't it?  As I mentioned in that review, for all the shouting about the Smothers Brothers, their show was actually pretty conventional, and when it's removed from the topical context it's actually kind of stupid.

*I don't know what CBS was expecting from the show, but I doubt they thought the biggest riots would come from the network's relationship with their stars.

Nonetheless, that innocent listing is exactly the kind of thing we like to look for here: an advertisement for a historic program, with no hint as to what lies ahead.  The Smothers Brothers were, in my opinion, far more influential in terms of the precedent they set for the shows that followed them than they were with their own show.  One thing's for sure, though - the times, they were a 'changing.

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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..

Sullivan: Scheduled guests: comedian Woody Allen; actor-singer Gene Barry; comics Wayne and Shuster, and Stu Gilliam; singer Lanie Kazan; the Muppets puppets; the singing Doodletown Pipers; and the Staneks' balancing act.

Palace: Host Jack Benny is joined by singers Petula Clark and Johnny Mathis; the Nitwits, English musical comics; dancers Brascia and Tybee; and the Halasis, a Hungarian teeterboard act.  Also: Ernie Terrell and the Heavyweights (Terrell's sister and brothers) offer a musical challenge to Cassius Clay, who defends his heavyweight crown against Terrell on February 6.

Regular readers know that Gene Barry is one of my television favorites; nonetheless, much as I'd like to, I can't go with Sullivan this week.  Personal bias, I know - I like Woody Allen even less than the Smothers Brothers, I never could take the Doodletown Pipers, and I'm afraid Barry and the Muppets aren't enough to overcome Jack Benny and the singing of Clark and Mathis.  Even a singing boxer isn't enough to do it in*. The Palace it is, by a TKO.

*Although he had some talent, Terrell didn't fare nearly as well as a singing boxer as this guy; he didn't do as well in the ring either, losing a lopsided 15-round decision to Clay/Ali.

Curious to see?  Here's the entire show, via YouTube.


***

TV Guide movie critic Judith Crist takes on a couple of Frank Sinatra flicks this week, and finds them both more than acceptable.  First up is Guys and Dolls, Wednesday night on ABC.  I've always found this movie problematic, not least because of the casting of Marlon Brando as Sky Masterson*, but Crist finds "Sinatra's way with a song and Brando's - yep, he croons it himself - compensate" for any flaws."  Sinatra never cared for the casting, either - he thought he should have had the lead role, rather than playing second fiddle Nathan Detroit, and got his revenge by making one of Masterson's signature songs, "Luck Be a Lady Tonight," a standard of his concert repertoire.

*To paraphrase Bette Midler, I never miss a Marlon Brando musical.

On the flip side, we have Sinatra in a far more serious role, that of the drug addict in Otto Preminger's The Man with the Golden Arm on ABC Sunday night.  As Crist points out, while this kind of a story might have been more common by 1967, in 1955 it was very much cutting edge - so much so that the movie was denied the industry's seal of approval, akin today to being released without a rating.  Sinatra was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor for this flick, which Crist praises as "gritty with truth, glistening with cinematic effectiveness."

As to the rest of the week, Crist says, "proceed at your own risk" to Under Ten Flags (Tuesday, NBC), a World War II mix of "secondary characters, muddled fact and fantasy, forays into sex-ploitation and inconsistencies" that not even Van Heflin and Charles Laughton can overcome; Good Neighbor Sam (Friday, CBS), a sex farce with Jack Lemmon that leaves "the inevitable implication that marriage is a dirty joke"; Back Street (Saturday, NBC), the third "and hopefully last" version of Fanny Hurst's weeper novel; and The Caretakers (Thursday, CBS), a "cheapjack movie that attempts to give its tawdry melodramatics significance by spouting sententious pieties about mental illness that are as insulting to the medical profession as they are banal for even a near-literate audience."  But what do you really think, Judith?

***

Some quick hits for the week:

Sports:  NBC airs the final two rounds of the Bob Hope Desert Classic, which used to be one of the signature events of the early season (Arnold Palmer was a five-time winner) but now, under the name Humana Challenge, attracts the attention of the golfers' relatives.  In the NBA on ABC, Oscar Robertson and the Cincinnati Royals take on Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics.  Purdue plays Michigan in the Big Ten Game of the Week, and Minnesota battles Indiana in local coverage.

Variety:  Orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant is the guest star on Saturday's Lawrence Welk, Steve & Edie, Rowan & Martin, and the Kingston Trio join Andy Williams on Sunday, and Vicki Carr and Fred "Herman Munster" Gwynne share the spotlight with Danny Kaye on Thursday.

News:  Sunday afternoon's 21st Century examines how man might explore and colonize the moon.  A locall KSTP documentary asks: "Venereal Disease: a Problem in Minnesota?" (ewww...).  National Geographic (CBS, Tuesday) takes viewers on a tour of Alaska, less than ten years a state, and later that night CBS Reports examines the growing problem of air pollution.  Thursday morning, NBC interrupts the Today show for a live press conference by Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin, who's in London on a week's tour, brought to us via Early Bird satellite.

Celebrity Game Shows:  On the Sunday afternoon edition of Password, it's Shelly Winters vs. Barry Nelson.  Sunday night's What's My Line? broadcast features the aforementioned Password's Allen Ludden and Phyllis Newman joining regulars Arlene Francis and Bennett Cerf.  As for the weekly daytime shows, Dick Gautier, Gisele MacKenzie and Michael Landon are the guests on PDQ, Virginia Graham and Nipsey Russell are on Password, Barry Sullivan and Betty White appear on You Don't Say!, Audrey Meadows and David Susskind (!) are on Match Game, and Hollywood Squares, of course, has the biggest guest list of all: Cliff Robertson, Patti Page, Dana Wynter, Van Williams, Don Rickles, Noel Harrision, Wally Cox, Rose Marie and Charley Weaver.  Note who's missing from that lineup?  Paul Lynde wasn't a regular yet.

Debuts:  The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour isn't the only newcomer this week: on Wedensday, John Astin makes his debut as the new Riddler in Batman.  The Riddler's out to rob a bank by flooding the underground vault, and threatens to demolish Gotham police headquarters unless the city legalizes crime.  I could make a comment here about Congress, but I think I'll pass.


Oddity of the Week;  On Sunday afternoon a couple of NBC affiliates, WDSM in Duluth and KROC in Rochester, broadcast a tribute to Pablo Picasso, hosted by French film star Yves Montand and telecast live via Early Bird satellite.  The program is a combined exhibition of Picasso's work from Paris and Dallas-Fort Worth, followed by an auction of the artist's 1960 work "Femme couchée lisant," which is being donated from his own personal collection with proceeds to benefit the restoration of art damaged during the recent floods in Florence, Italy.  We are told that the bidders are in New York, London, Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth.  The picture of "Femme couchée lisant" at right comes courtesy of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, which notes that the painting was acquired in 1967.  I presume this tells us who won the auction. . .

***

There wasn't much of interest in the sports section; the most interesting coverage actually comes in the features section, where Stanley Frank lets fly on how sports has sold its soul to television, and is the poorer for it.  This is another of those pieces that I think is worthy of its own space, which you'll be reading here in the not-too-distant future.

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