March 8, 2014

This week in TV Guide: March 18, 1961

Perhaps no star demonstrates the change in popular culture over the last 60 or so years more than Ingrid Bergman.

In 1950 there were fewer stars bigger than Bergman, who had appeared in a string of hits including Intermezzo, Casablanca, Joan of Arc and The Bells of St. Mary's, and had won an Academy Award as Best Actress for Gaslight.  She then became involved in a scandal - an affair with director Roberto Rossellini (they were both married to other people at the time) which left her pregnant, and her reputation in tatters.  Her adultery got her denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate (as "a horrible example of womanhood") and disinvited from The Ed Sullivan Show, and she remained in something of an exile even after winning her second Oscar in 1958 for Anastasia.  It wasn't until 1958, when she made a triumphant appearance as a presenter at the Oscarcast, that she returned to the American spotlight, and even then the lengthy ovation she received from the audience was controversial - some felt it amounted to a tacit endorsement of her past behavior.

This week, Bergman prepares for a rare television appearance, in the drama Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman's Life* on CBS Monday night.  Gilbert Millstein's profile only alludes to that scandal, remarking that "in the last two decades, she has been successively praised, blamed, boycotted, picked over, analyzed, adjured, sympathized with, litigated over and clasped once more to the public breast without any noticeable erosion." Bergman herself says that "Everybody feels that you belong to them.  I would have liked to have my own problems in peace, but it was not to be and I could not change any of it."  Having played a nun in The Bells of St. Mary's and a saint in Joan of Arc led people to view her not as a woman, but through the prism of the roles she played.

*Written by John Mortimer, better known as the creator of Rumpole of the Bailey.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
And that is just one of the ways in which we see the massive cultural changes over these years.  It's hard to imagine, for example, that the public, cynical as they now are, would feel so betrayed by an actress' personal life.  For that matter, adultery itself doesn't have the cache it used to, Tiger Woods notwithstanding.  The old saying, "there's no such thing as bad publicity" seems to be more true now than ever. Hugh Grant's indiscretion a few years ago was played mostly for laughs, and probably helped Jay Leno's career more than anything else.  With the advent of reality television to go along with the fanmags, embarrassment and public ostracism are things of the past.

The fallout over Ingrid Bergman's scandal was probably excessive (didn't the Senate have anything better to do?) but it came from a period in time when there was a common moral code, a sense of right and wrong that was generally accepted by a majority of the public.  If people lacked charity in their reaction, it could be said that their hearts might have been in the right place.

Ultimately, though, it's time to live and let live.  Ingrid Bergman, her elegance and her talent, are back - and we're the more fortunate for it.

***

Preempted by the Bergman special on Monday is The Danny Thomas Show, and here we have another example of how things have changed, albeit a smaller, less monumental one.  It has to do with our cover girl, Marjorie Lord, co-star of the Thomas show, and its origin goes all the way back to 1956.

In that year, Jean Hagen quit the Thomas show, then known as Make Room for Daddy.  For the show's first three seasons Hagen had played Margaret Williams, wife of Thomas' character Danny Williams.  But Hagen had tired of the role, and of Thomas*, and took a hike.  She was written out as having died, and the show's fourth season concerned Danny's search for a new wife.  Enter Lord, who as nurse Kathy O'Hara quickly captured the hearts of Danny and his kids.  At the end of that fourth season, the two were engaged.

*Rumor has it that so great was the antipathy between the two, Thomas (who also produced the show) refused to put the Hagen episodes into syndication once the series had accumulated enough to comprise a successful package.

Typically, this would have set up an episode surrounding the wedding, perhaps to kick off the new season - a sure-fire ratings winner that would have been heralded as the television "event of the year," or some such nonsense.  Shows from The Farmer's Daughter to Get Smart to Andy Griffith to Rhoda and beyond* have played that chestnut.  But not in this case.  No, as the fifth season started, Danny and Kathy were already married, and looking for a bigger place to live.

*Not to mention Luke and Laura.

I don't know why that decision was made (perhaps some of you out there do), but I approve wholeheartedly.  I've never liked the cloying sentimentality that accompanies those "very special episodes"; when I was a kid (just to prove to you how warped my childhood was), I used to envision Andy Griffith's marriage to Helen being broken up by some kind of air raid by a foreign power.  Why the Soviets would choose to invade some hick town in North Carolina is beside the point; what matters (besides the fact that I had the Legos and the model airplane bombers to play it all out) is that I derived great satisfaction from seeing everyone's plans laid to waste.

Anyway, we read that the ratings for the Thomas show skyrocketed following the introduction of Lord as his wife, so perhaps he figured the show didn't need to resort to the gimmick of a wedding episode.  Whatever the reason, the idea of a program passing up that kind of a ratings bonanza is something we're not likely to see happen in television today.

***

Let's stick with Monday for a moment more, because if you plan on watching Bergman, you're going to have to pass up two other programs that, in our pre-DVR era, you might never see again.  The first one, a novelty more than anything else, is The Play of the Week's presentation of "archy and mehitabel," starring Eddie Bracken and Tammy Grimes.  archy and mehitabel (lower case intentional*) were the creation of Don Marquis, a columnist for the New York Evening Sun, and charmed readers from the beginning.  archy is "a cockroach with the soul of a poet," or as TV Guide puts it, "a flair for free verse," and his sidekick mehitabel is an ally cat "with a penchant for free love."  Together, the two of them have charmed readers ever since with their light poetry and whimsical stories.  Carol Channing costarred with Bracken in the original musical production, and a Broadway version, Shinbone Alley, featured Eartha Kitt as mehitabel (no doubt an audition for her later appearance as Catwoman), with dialogue written by Mel Brooks.

*archy would "type" the stories of their adventures, leaping from key to key on a typewriter.  Since he was unable to operate the shift key, everything appeared in lower case.

If you'd rather wait to get your singing cats from, well, Cats, then you might prefer Bing Crosby's latest special at 8:30pm CT on ABC.  Der Bingle is in France, and his guests include Maurice Chevalier (naturally), tenor Aldo Monaco, and singer-dancer Carol Lawrence.  It's sometimes odd to think of Crosby on television in anything other than a Christmas special, but of course he did a lot of specials throughout the season, and Christmas, as we know, comes but once a year.

Don't see anything to watch yet?  Then try The Barbara Stanwyck Show at 9pm on NBC.  This is a single-season anthology series hosted by Stanwyck, who also starred in almost every episode.  It was released on DVD a few years ago, and while it's not a great show, it's pretty good, and Stanwyck wins a Best Actress Emmy for it.  Tonight's episode is "Adventure on Happiness Street," with Stanwyck as the only recurring character in the series, import-export tycoon Josephine Little.  It is said that the Little character, who appeared in three of the series' 36 episodes, is intended to star in a spin-off series that never comes to pass.  It is a typical Stanwyck character - tough, intelligent, strong, not in the mood to take much guff, but with a sensitive side underneath all that.  Although Stanwyck doesn't get a chance to develop Josephine Little into a series, she will return in a few years with another tough character: Victoria Barkley in The Big Valley.

Finally, CBS follows the Bergman special with its 30-minute anthology series of its own, The June Allison Show.  (And when was the last time a network scheduled a half-hour program in the 9:30 time slot?)  Tonight's feature, "The Secret Life of James Thurber" starring Orson Bean as cartoonist John Monroe (a stand-in for Thurber), is notable in that a few years later the Monroe character returns, played by William Windom, in NBC's My World and Welcome to It.  I've always had a fondness for that title, acting as it was as the inspiration for the title of the motherblog.

***

Enough of Monday, you say.  Wasn't there anything else going on the rest of the week?  Well, let's see.

Ever heard of a series called Follow That Man?  It ran on several networks from 1949 through 1956, and starred Ralph Bellamy as private eye Mike Barnett.*  I've seen some episodes on DVD; it's pretty good.  Not great, but not a waste of time either - Bellamy's almost always worth watching.  Anyway, it pops up in syndication frequently in the TV Guides of this era, usually on a Monday-Friday weekday strip.  In this case, it's on weekdays at 1pm on independent Channel 9.

*One of his sidekicks in the early years was Robert Preston.  Professor Harold Hill himself!

As is the show preceding it, the sitcom Willy.  (Not to be confused with Free Willy, according to Wikipedia.  As if.)  It stars June Havoc as a lady lawyer from New Hampshire now living and working in NYC.  It only ran for one season; I confess I've not heard of it before, and I imagine part of the hook of the show must have been the female attorney angle.

With a name like Hadley, he just has to be good
And then, just to round out Channel 9's pre-matinee movie block, there's Racket Squad, starring Reed (no relation) Hadley as a San Francisco detective busting crime rackets.  (And you thought it was about tennis, right?)  It also ran for a few years in the early 50s; I've seen a couple of episodes of it, too, but as much as I wanted to like it I just couldn't get into it.

Follow That Man and Racket Squad come as part of Mill Creek's Best of TV Detectives set, and if you can find it for less than $10, it's worth picking up.  Most of the shows are fairly forgettable, but there are a number of small treasures in there, including a number of 50s Dragnet episodes, David Janssen as Richard Diamond, and Beverly Garland in Decoy.  (Which was not that great, but when you've got the young Beverly Garland, what else do you want?)  As a sampler package, you're going to find that one or two episodes will give you your fill of most of these series.

One series that did leave me wanting more was, surprisingly, Michael Shayne, which aired on NBC Friday nights at 9pm.  It starred Richard Denning, who had been in Mr. and Mrs. North and would go on to play the governor in Hawaii Five-O, as a tough but suave private detective in Miami.  I wrote about Michael Shayne, and Denning in general, a couple of years ago, and I had occasion to see another of the few available episodes a week or two back.  Perhaps it was because I had low expectations that I enjoyed Shayne; it certainly isn't the greatest PI show ever made, but Denning is winning and the whole thing is fun.  There are more episodes out there on the grey market, but not, alas the complete single season that it ran.

***

A quick sports note: on Saturday afternoon NBC presents an opening-round game in the NIT basketball tournament, from Madison Square Garden in New York.  There was a time when the NIT was a very big deal; in the early days of college basketball it was more prestigious than the NCAA tournament, and even after the latter became the undisputed crowner of the national champion, the NIT remained a significant title well into the 60s.

One of the main reasons for the NIT's status was that that, in those days, the NCAA tournament was not the massive 68-team event it is today.  In 1961 the NCAA field was probably 22 or 24 teams, all of them either conference champions or independent at-large teams, which meant there were a lot of very good sides left out.  Hence, the NIT.  In 1961, twelve teams made up the field for the tournament, which was played out over a week or so at the Garden, an attraction in and of itself.  The two teams playing in this first-round game, Providence (20-5)* and DePaul (17-7), likely would both make the NCAAs today with those kinds of records.  But when the big tournament is more selective, the smaller tournament prospers.  After all, when the humans are eating filet mignon, the scraps fed to the dogs are still going to be pretty good.

*Providence, in fact, goes on to win the tournament, defeating Saint Louis in the final 62-59.


***

And finally, the U.S. Steel Hour features Oscar winner Shirley Booth in what was then a rare television appearance, in the play "Welcome Home."  The plot line:

Charles and Laura Austin have been planning a trip through Europe for a long time.  But they'll have to sell the house to raise the money.  And if the house goes, so does Jenny Libbott (Shirley Booth), their maid-cook-governess and companion for 25 years.

Don't worry, Shirley.  If the Austins dump you, I know the Baxters will be only too happy to take you on.

3 comments:

  1. Actually, there was one major factor in the Danny Thomas rating spike, which started in 1957:
    That was the year the show was moved (by Thomas and General Foods) from ABC (with approximately 150 affiliates nationwide, dual affiliations included) to CBS (with more than 200 stations).
    Incidentally, during this period the original ABC/Jean Hagen shows were shown in daytime (mainly on Saturday mornings) on NBC.

    Man Against Crime:
    This was a live show in its first three seasons, 1949 through 1952.
    Ralph Bellamy was appearing regularly on Broadway during this period; he'd spend summers on the road with whatever play he was in, and MAC would have a summer replacement.
    Bellamy fell ill briefly during 1951, and that's when Robert Preston came in as Mike Barnett's brother Pat - a fill-in, not a sidekick. In later years Preston cited this experience as the reason he never again wanted to do live TV of any sort, especially not his own series.
    The Man Against Crime episodes in the Mill Creek DVD set come from post-1952, when the series switched to film production. Needless to add, these are the only surviving shows of the series - live stuff is all lost.

    Tomorrow I bring in the TV Guide and see what else they got.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Looking forward to it as always, Mike!

      Delete
    2. Back with the Chicago edition for this week.
      Not a whole lot "new" or unusual this time around, though.

      This is the time of year when the networks's fall schedule were being finalized ("upfronts" were years in the future). Often, series were announced as being "set" for a fall premiere - and then magically vanished, never to be heard from again.
      One such announce was for a sitcom to star Jane Powell; her on-screen husband was to be a handsome leading man of that time - Russell Johnson. This one fell through.
      Meanwhile, Sheldon Leonard's new sitcom, to star Dick Van Dyke, is mentioned as almost a throwaway.
      In between, Bachelor Father gets picked up at the last minute by ABC - its third network in five years.
      Also also:
      The Teletype (which is where I'm getting all this stuff) states firmly that NBC "has scheduled" an hour show called Las Vegas Beat, starring Peter Graves - and if you don't remember that one, it's because it never got on.
      As it happens, I've got the pilot in my DVD wall at home, part of a package of unsold pilots (quite a few of these are available). At the end of the story, Graves appears, along with the other regulars of the proposed series, to pitch prospective sponsors for the show; apparently, this was unsuccessful.
      (Side note: this same package includes Erle Stanley Gardner personally introducing a Cool And Lam pilot film, from his 'A.A. Fair' novels. As you've probably inferred, I love this kind of stuff.)

      That James Thurber pilot from The June Allyson Show wasn't the first one.
      Several years earlier, Arthur O'Connell made a similar show for one of the live drama anthologies. It got some notice because O'Connell bore a marked resemblance to the real James Thurber, but nothing came of it.
      Given the ultimate outcome, probably just as well ...

      This week, Jack Paar was in London with Peggy Cass, sending B&W films back to the USA for Joey Bishop to play on the Paar show (pre-satellite, you know).

      And on The Play Of The Week, the bicycle brought Mornings At Seven, with Chester Morris and Dorothy Gish.

      Don't know my character count, so I'll stop here.
      Any questions?

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And now for something completely different.