March 29, 2014

This week in TV Guide: April 5, 1958

When, the cover asks, will we see new movies on television?  Back in April of 1958, could one possibly have imagined that someday you'd be able to pay to see a movie on television the same day it premiered in theaters?  Or that the quality of some home theater systems would eventually rival that of a movie house?  That there would be entire networks that would show only movies, uncut and without commercial interruption (for a fee, of course)?  Or that you didn't even need television, just a machine into which you could put a tape or a disc and watch your favorite film, any time you wanted, usually less than a year after it premiered on the big screens?  This, I think, is one of the biggest ways in which we've changed the way we think about television, as a form of entertainment.  You don't even have to read the article - the headline says it all.

I do read the article, of course - it's part of my service to you, the loyal reader.  And the consensus is: television is hurting the theaters.  As our story opens, theater bigwigs are gathered in Mike Romanoff's Beverly Hills restaurant trying to figure out how to keep "new" movies - defined as those produced since August 1, 1948 - from making it to TV.  The Sindlinger research organization estimates that movie exhibitors have lost $50,000,000 due to movies being shown on TV, and that to release the post-'48 movies would be "'suicide' for the entire movie industry."

TV Guide, of course, isn't so sure about that.  Yes, it's "probably true" that old movies on TV have had an effect.  But there's also the high price of movie tickets (which in 1961 was $0.69), the increasing number of "boisterous youngsters" turning a trip to the theater "into an unpleasant experience," and that movies just might not be as good as they used to be.  And then there's the "dilemma" for talent guilds (actors, writers, producers, etc.) - on the one hand, they'd love to get the revenues that would come from selling newer movies to TV.  At the same time, they fear the effects on their business if television really is that harmful to the industry, so much so that if the studios decide to sell newer movies to TV, the guilds could strike.  In between are the television stations themselves.  They want the new movies, yes, but they point out that with over 10,000 already available, they can afford to wait for awhile.

Who knows where it will all end?  Well, of course, we do.  As I said at the top, I wonder if they could have imagined it?

***

Gail Storm probably isn't that familiar to most readers today.  She's on the cover because of her eponymously-named series, which also went by the subtitle Oh! Susanna.*

*And what a clumsy thing that seems to be.  The opening credits contain both The Gale Storm Show and Oh! Susanna.  It's hard enough to come up with a title for a program, let alone two.

In the pages of this week's TV Guide, she's conducting interviews with five journalists - entertaining, cajoling, firing off one-liners, and using her considerable charm.  In between, she consults with her maid, deals with press agents and photographers, asks her mother to put on a pot of coffee, all while tossing off amusing bon-mots.  Pete Rahm, of the st. Louis Globe-Democrat, notes that "Miss Storm is as wordy and polite as she is beautiful," and notes her diplomatic answer to his question about the popularity of her two series - My Little Margie and Oh! Susanna - "What she really said in her roundabout way was: 'You dope - nobody liked Margie but the people.  You bonehead - nobody but the same people watch Susanna.'"

It's no surprise that Storm is able to handle things with such a positive manner.  In her later years, Gale Storm fought an ultimately successful battle against alcoholism.  According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, she once made the remarkable statement that "During my struggle, I had no idea of the blessing my experience could turn out to be! I've had the opportunity to share with others suffering with alcoholism the knowledge that there is help, hope, and an alcohol free life awaiting them."  As I say, remarkable - I have great, great admiration for anyone who can embrace suffering and turn it into a positive, not only for herself, but for others as well.  An admirable, remarkable woman indeed.

***

Some highlights from this New York edition of TV Guide:

Saturday:  NBC presents Bob Hope's latest special, his trip to Moscow.  The monologue takes place at the American embassy, while Bob narrates films of Russians skiing and sledding, takes a look at modern apartments, tours St. Basil's, and chats up three popular (and, knowing Hope, good-looking) Russian actresses.

Sunday  It's the final round of The Masters, and CBS' cameras will be covering the final four holes, with John Derr and Jim McKay behind the mics. Up against The Masters, NBC's Omnibus presents a 90-minute adaptation of Christopher Fry's elegant verse comedy "The Lady's Not For Burning," starring Christopher Plummer and Mary Ure in the story of a lovely young woman believed to be a witch.  The title makes for a memorable pun by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher many years later when, in assuring the Conservatives that she will not make a U-turn away from her economic agenda, she tells them that "The lady's not for turning."

Tuesday: In the day, Lonesome
George Gobel was big stuff.
Monday:  An interesting appearance by Jack Lemmon in Alcoa Theatre's "Loudmouth."  Lemmon plays a practical joker who finds himself suspected of murder after playing a joke on the police.  Like so many movie stars of the time, Lemmon earned his acting chops on television, and even though he's already an Academy Award winner, he also appears frequently on Alcoa Theatre - his last regular TV gigs before becoming a full-time movie star.

Wednesday:  The King of Swing, Benny Goodman himself, stars in a color special on NBC, hosted by Today's Dave Garroway and featuring Harry James, Ella Fitzgerald, the McGuire Sisters, Jo Stafford, Ray Eberle, Teddy Wilson, Red Norvo, and Bambi Linn and Rod Alexander.  If you don't recognize all those names, trust me - this is one major league big-name cast.  As my wife would say, "too bad they couldn't get someone famous."

Friday:  Speaking of movies on television, as we were at the start, WCBS presents the New York television premiere of James M. Cain's noir classic The Postman Always Rings Twice (from, ironically, 1946), starring John Garfield and Lana Turner.  Even though neither Garfield nor Turner are among my favorites, it's miles ahead of the Nicholson-Lange remake.  There's a real elegance to the movie's ending, a noir ending if ever there was one.  Garfield and Turner have gotten away with the murder of Turner's husband (played by Cecil Kellaway), when an auto accident kills Turner and leaves Garfield on trial for supposedly murdering her.  Even though he's innocent of this crime, he realizes that both he and Turner are paying the just price for Kellaway's murder - after all, as he puts it, "the postman always rings twice." 

***

Regular readers know that Christmas editions of TV Guide are among my very favorites, particularly because of how TV used to program for the season; Christmas Eve in particular was filled with church services.  Easter, on the other hand, always seems to have had a lower profile - or so I thought.  But this edition gives us a look at how Easter was covered in 1958, and I daresay it's going to present quite a different picture from what we'll be seeing in about three weeks.  Some of that could be because this is a New York edition, but I think a lot of it has to do with how the culture itself has changed over 55+ years.

The day starts at 7am (ET) with WCBS' coverage of the Easter service from St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Manhattan.  They follow this at 10 with the Solemn Pontifical Mass at Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston, presided over by Archbishop (and future Cardinal) Richard Cushing.  At 11, WCBS carries another Episcopal service, this time from Washington's National Cathedral, while WRCA, the NBC affiliate, broadcasts from Christ Episcopal Church in Cincinnati.  Later on, WRCA presents a 30-minute feature on Easter Vigil* services throughout France.  Later in the evening, WNHC in New Haven carries a Solemn Benediction and Easter music from the Channel 8 studios.  Oh, and then there are some of the regular Sunday religious shows, such as the Christopers program on various stations.

*A note for Catholic liturgical buffs - we're so conditioned to the "New Mass" being that introduced following the Second Vatican Council, we might be puzzled to see reference here to the "restored" liturgy - in fact, the liturgical services for Easter week had recently been heavily revised by Pius XII.

In addition to those church services, there are plenty of Easter-themed programs.  For example, WCBS has Hill Number One, which still pops up from time to time, a story about GIs preparing to storm a hill during the Korean War, known primarily as the film debut of James Dean, while WRCA's Frontiers of Faith presents "This Prisoner Barabbas," starring Richard Kiley and Vera Allen, with George C. Scott as Pilate(!)*.

*Not to be confused with Hallmark Hall of Fame's "Give Us Barabbas," seen in the last couple of issues.

All is not so heavy, though.  WOR's The Easter Story tells the history of Easter-egg dying (not really the "Easter story," if you ask me), and then WPIX has live coverage of the traditional "Easter Parade" up and down Fifth Avenue, while WRCA has a celebrity Easter luncheon from the Hotel Gotham, hosted by commentator Arthur Van Horn and his wife, columnist Phyllis Battelle.  And later that afternoon, NBC Opera Company presents Mozart's delightful comedy Cosi Fan Tutte, which doesn't have anything to do with Easter or religion, but is a fun special nonetheless. 

***

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
Finally, in the "Back in the Day" category: here's the value of "The Big Wheel" showcase prize package on next week's The Price Is Right:
  • Rocket Deluxe Golf Cart: $21.95
  • Excello Rotary Riding Mower: $299.50
  • Raleigh Bicycle: $59.95
  • Chrysler Windsor 4-Door Sedan, with push-button torque-flight transmission and white sidewalls: $3,472.55
  • Chrysler 300-D Convertible, with the same options plus custom-conditioned air heater, power steering and other power equipment: $5,703.40
  • Total value of the showcase: $9,557.35.
I'm too lazy to do it, but perhaps one of you readers out there might take it upon yourself to calculate the value of similar products today?

7 comments

  1. Not surprised Dave Garroway hosted the Benny Goodman special. Garroway was a huge jazz fan, and his interest in the music probably led to his being hired to host that show.

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  2. Today, there are still "Boisterous Youngsters" going to the movies who ruin the experience for everyone else!

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  3. I thought a "Gentlemen's Agreement" existed among major film producers that kept post-1948 movies off of television.

    The agreement more or less "broke down" over the next two or three years. By 1961, some major studios' post-1948 movies were being syndicated to local TV stations, while NBC acquired a number of "major" post-1948 (actually, most were made in the mid-to-late fifties) movies for the soon-to-be-legendary "Saturday Night At The Movies".

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  4. Arnold Palmer won the 1958 Masters - and while the tournament was affected by rain, it finished on Sunday, not Monday. (The tournament you described where Player beat Palmer and Coe by a stroke on a Monday finish was actually the 1961 Masters.)

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    1. Good grief. You're absolutely right, of course - I'm being punished once again for trying to do too many things at the same time when it's often a struggle to do just one. Deleted the entire section. Thanks for the catch.

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  5. "The Price is Right" sweepstakes retail value in 2014 U.S. dollars is (drumroll) $78,424.* (*Both 1958 amounts and 2014 amounts rounded off to the nearest dollar. Your actual amounts may vary. Tax and license were the responsibility of the winner. Do not try this at home. Except in Nebraska. You'll be billed later.)

    ReplyDelete

And now for something completely different.