Richard Gehman's profile of Burr this week alludes to his life as "one long series of heartbreaking tragedies," most of which didn't actually happen, but there's a significant line in this section, in which Gehman remarks that "few of Burr's friends know anything about him." It's likely that, in retrospect, what they did know of him might not have been so. Lest you think I'm hammering Burr, I'm not, or at least I don't mean to. It is, however, impossible to write about him without picking up these small pieces, which appear in so many articles about him, and contrast them with what we've since learned about him.
Raymond Burr is one of my favorite actors, just as Perry Mason remains one of my favorite series. And the comments from Burr's colleagues on Mason demonstrate why he was so well-liked on the set. He's a practical joker, for one thing, his favorite victim being Barbara Hale, who plays Mason's devoted secretary Della Street. He's good to the crew, with "a desire for everybody to be happy, to be wanted and to belong," leading one person to refer to the Mason set as "the happiest company in Hollywood."
He's also loyal, and not afraid to fight for what he believes in. When William Talman, who plays Mason's nemesis Hamilton Burger, was suspended from the show following a morals charge (later dismissed), Burr was outraged and fought CBS constantly until Talman was reinstated. And Ray Collins, who plays Lt. Arthur Tragg, remained listed on the opening credits even after his health prevented him from appearing on the show. This was, of course, also at Burr's "request."
This article is the first of a three-part series on Burr's life; subsequent parts will go into detail on the more dubious assertions about Burr's past. In later years, articles will elaborate on these events, but they'll also discuss Burr's devotion to visiting American troops in battle areas, and his continuing commitment to his colleagues. A mensch indeed.
Here's an interesting little slice of life, airing live on Sunday afternoon on Channel 11 - the championship game of the State Catholic High School Basketball Tournament.* Yes, back in the day (and maybe still, in some areas) parochial high schools competed in their own tournaments, separate from that of the public schools.
*Although, given the program's five-hour running time, I have to think Channel 11 was showing more than than one game.
The reasons for this are numerous, and obvious, in 1961: private schools are able to attract students from a larger geographic area than the average high school*, giving them a "recruiting" advantage; Catholic schools are part of a culture that is, in general, less assimilated into the mainstream, etc. The differences between the Catholic tournament and the "real" tournament, played later in March, are there as well: the public school tournament is held in Williams Arena, home of the Minnesota Gophers and shrine of basketball in the state, before crowds that would rival those of contemporary NBA teams, with a Saturday night championship game viewed on statewide television; the Catholic tournament is held in the smaller St. Paul Auditorium and finishes on Sunday afternoon.
*Nowadays, in many areas, students are free to enroll wherever they choose, which cuts down on the "recruiting" advantage.
It's a small but telling example of how distinct the Catholic subculture was in 1961. I've read stories of dances at Catholic schools where teachers checked students for their baptismal certificates before letting them in, and Protestants who were warned they'd go straight to Hell if they stepped into a Catholic church. One of the major goals of the Second Vatican Council was to encourage ecumenism between faiths and assimilate Catholics into the greater culture; in other circumstances, this could be the jumping-off point for an entire discussion on the effects of the Vatican II vis-à-vis the current state of Catholic culture and practice (or lack thereof). I think we'll just let this speak for itself, though.
I've mentioned before that I'm a big fan of Ernie Kovacs, and this Wednesday Kovacs, along with his wife Edie Adams and a cast of nutty sidekicks including Hans Conried, Pat Carroll and Peter Hanley, appear on CBS' U.S. Steel Hour in the crime drama spoof "Private Eye, Private Eye." Given the description of the show (see below), I would have anticipated a very funny hour; however, a contemporary review labels it "pleasant but bland," a show that "tries very hard to be funnier than it is."
|SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION|
The Play of the Week is one of David Susskind's projects, an attempt to recapture the magic of Golden Age television drama. It isn't a network drama, appearing instead on a syndicated lineup of 100 or so stations nationwide, from 1959 to 1961. (In the Twin Cities it's on independent Channel 9 on Wednesday at 8:30pm.) The quality of programming on Play of the Week is significant, and telling in comparison to that seen on TV today; the premiere episode was Euripides' "Medea" (with a translation by the poet Robinson Jeffers), and later productions were of works by authors as varied as Steinbeck, Sartre and Chekhov.
This week's drama, "Legend of Lovers," is by playwright Jean Anouilh, whose play "Becket" will later be adapted into an Oscar-nominated movie starring Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole. "Legend of Lovers" is an adaptation of the Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice, in this case updated to France in the 1930s, and stars Robert Loggia and Piper Laurie. Again, this is something I'd have a hard time imagining making it to television screens today. Its competition is The Barbara Stanwyck Show on NBC (followed by our favorite Jackpot Bowling Starring Milton Berle), and Peter Gunn on ABC.
|SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION|
*Fun fact: William Saroyan's cousin is Ross Bagdasarian, Sr., whose stage name was David Seville. As in "Alvin and the Chipmunks" David Seville.
And here's something you don't see often: a drama special on a weekday afternoon. It's "Mother and Daughter," an NBC Special For Women airing at 3:00pm CT on Thursday afternoon. It tells the story of a mother worried about her 16-year-daughter's growing independence, and the daughter's belief that her parents "wouldn't understand." It's got a heavy-hitting cast, with Patricia Neal and Arthur Hill as the parents, and Lynn Loring as the daughter. Just to show that this isn't a typical soap-opera story, NBC newswoman Pauline Frederick appears after the drama, interviewing New York City health commissioner Leona Baumgartner.
Wait, we haven't covered the rest of the sports scene yet! Saturday's sports is pretty modest - no Wide World of Sports, no CBS Sports Spectacular, no PGA golf tournament. Channel 11, which has shown Missouri Valley Conference basketball all season, has Saint Louis taking on Bradley. NBC's NBA coverage continues with Syracuse vs. Philadelphia*, and CBS has an hour-long replay of an NFL game between Baltimore and Chicago from last season. Channel 4 follows that football up with a tape of last night's college hockey between North Dakota and Minnesota, bitter rivals then as now, and finishes up with the Big 10 basketball game of the week between Purdue and Illinois.
*For those of you too young to remember, these are the Philadelphia Warriors, who at the end of the next season will move to San Francisco, leaving in Philadelphia a vacuum that will be filled the following season by the new 76ers, who used to be - the Syracuse Nationals.
One of the things I enjoy about these early 60s games is the modesty of the arenas and stadiums in which the games take place, in the days before the arenas had become palaces. That Purdue-Illinois game, for example, is played at George Huff Gym on the Illinois campus. In checking, it turns out that Huff Gym was a formidable place for visiting teams to play in. The Illini have won 81% of the games they played at Huff, which they'll vacate in two years in favor of Assembly Hall, an arena that's newer, cleaner, bigger, and less charming. Huff held less than 7,000, which of course is the main reason it had to go, but the atmosphere in these small arenas, packed with students and filled with college spirit, is impossible to replicate. There are a few of the old buildings still around, but even one of the best, Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota, has been renovated to provide the modern conveniences, and while we should be grateful it's still around, it's still kind of sad to think of those that weren't, and the atmosphere that disappeared with them.
Finally, the odd show of the week is on Friday evening at 7pm on KTCA, Channel 2, the educational station. There's no description of it, just the title: United World Federalists. Is anyone really surprised that a program like this would be on public television?