April 19, 2014

This week in TV Guide: April 23, 1966

A mostly interesting "compilation of opinions about Andy Williams" is Dwight Whitney's cover story, which leads off this week's clip-filled TV Guide review.

I'm usually suspicious of articles like this, which consist of no original writing whatsoever, just a collection of quotes that could have been dug up (and probably was) by a research assistant.  However, it's a refreshing change from the celebrity hit pieces we read so often in this era of TV Guide, filled with snarky quotes from anonymous sources.  This one reads more like an authorized biography, as we get quotes from friends, family, and past and present co-workers, telling the story of Andy's rise to his current celebrity.  There's the odd sour quote, but the image that comes through is of a pretty good guy, one who's certainly ambitious and wants to succeed, but doesn't seem inclined to run over people in order to get there.

The most interesting thing to come from the story is how difficult it was for TV people to figure out what to do with Williams.  Is he an urbane sophisticate, dating back to the time when he and his brothers performed with singer Kay Thompson?*  Or is he the farm boy from Iowa, the kid in a tuxedo on a tractor, as he once put it?  Is he hip, simple, down-home, what?

*Fun fact: Although she had a successful singing career and was a mentor to Andy, she's best-known today as the author of the Eloise kids' stories, supposedly based on her goddaughter, Liza Minnelli.

The producer of his first television special, Bud Yorkin, puts it best when he says that "all he has to do is be himself."  He can control the audience now, Yorkin says, because "At last he is in charge."  And you know what?  Simply being Andy Williams led to a pretty good career for Andy Williams, didn't it?

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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: comic Shelly Berman, satirist Allan Sherman, Metropolitan Opera soprano Roberta Peters, dancer José Greco, the rock 'n' rolling Dave Clark Five, the singing Kessler Twins, gospel singer Steve Sanders, magician John Moehring, comics Hendra and Ullett, and dancers Brascia and Tybee.

Palace:  Host Victor Borge introduces singer Jane Powell, choreographer-dancer Peter Gennaro, comedian Irwin Corey, the singing Kim Sisters, and the Brothers Kim, instrumentalists, and Irish trapeze artist Gala Shawn.


This is from one of Victor Borge's funniest routines, phonetic punctuation.  Although the clip's not from the Palace, this is one of the bits he would have done on the show.  I think Borge is terrific - always liked him, always thought he was funny.  However, I'm not sure even he would have been enough to propel this week's Palace past Ed.

Quick quiz: who was the most frequent guest on the Ed Sullivan show?  If you answered Roberta Peters, you'd be right.  She appeared with Ed 65 times, more than anyone else.  It's a testimony not only to the lost era of what Terry Teachout calls "middlebrow culture," but to the charm of Roberta Peters, who made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera when he was only twenty years old. Here's a sampler of her work:


Besides Peters, Ed has a very strong lineup, what with Shelly Berman (who actually impressed me more as a dramatic actor than a standup), the wonderful Allan Sherman, and the great dancer José Greco (whom we read about on this site just a week ago).  I think we've got a winner here: Sullivan takes it this week.

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Can you believe it?  ABC's Wide World of Sports celebrates its fifth anniversary this week.  What's fascinating about the clips shown in this special is how vividly it brings to life what kind of sports people paid attention to in 1966.  There's Valery Brumel setting the world high-jump record, Bob Hayes with the 100-yard dash world record, and Jim Beattie becoming the first man ever to run a sub-four-minute mile indoors - all track and field events, none occurring during the Olympics, which is about the only time America pays attention to these events nowadays.  Peggy Fleming, who's yet to win the Olympic gold, is featured in her recent victory at the U.S. Championships, and Scotsman Jim Clark wins the 1965 Indianapolis 500, while Arnold Palmer takes the crown in the 1962 British Open, before American stars routinely made the trip overseas to compete in the tournament.

These events - track, golf, figure skating, auto racing - were, along with boxing, staples of Wide World for many years, and they're part of the reason I was such an avid fan of the show growing up.  I got to see sports that weren't normally on television, often from exotic locales, sometimes live, almost always with a sense of drama and importance.  There was, indeed, a feeling that these were on TV because they were special, as were the people competing in them.

Today, you can get most of these events pretty much any time you want, on any one of the all-sports networks out there.  We've become used to them, or (as is the case with track) we've ignored them.  In other words, seeing them on TV isn't special any more.  And that's unfortunate. Here's a clip from a typical 1966 edition of Wide World:


As I write this, on April 16, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are getting ready to start.  As this issue of TV Guide goes to press, they're getting ready to end.  At 1:30pm CT on NBC, it's Game 1 of the Final, between the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens.  Detroit's trying to win its first cup since the 50s, while Montreal looks to make it seven out of the last eleven years.*  The Wings take the opener in Montreal, 3-2; they'll also win Game 2 two nights later by the score of 5-2.  Heading back home for two games, and only two wins away from the Cup, they'll lose the next four, and won't appear in the finals again until 1995.

*How times have changed, part 1,458: the Canadiens, winners of more Stanley Cups than any other team in history, last won the Cup in 1993 - their longest drought in team history.  The Wings, on the other hand, have won four during that span, the most recent coming in 2008.  Neither club is favored this year, but who knows?
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And now, another episode of "Random Notes."

Our latest installment of "when television used to show classy dramas," presented without comment: Wednesday night's Hallmark Hall of Fame on NBC is "Lamp at Midnight," the story of the epic conflict between Galileo and the Catholic Church.  The 90-minute drama, based on the play by Barrie Stavis, stars Oscar winner Melvin Douglas as Galileo, with David Wayne, Michael Hordern, Hurd Hatfield and Kim Hunter.  There's a nice color feature on the production in the shiny-page section.

Remember that passing mention I made a couple of weeks ago about Lady Bird Johnson's program on ABC, spotlighting her campaign to beautify the nation's capital?  According to the Teletype, MGM has released the soundtrack to that special on an LP, as part of its "Sound of History" series.  And by golly, thanks to eBay, you too can enjoy a copy of it.  Hasn't come out in CD yet, though.

On Monday night at 9:00, Duluth's WDSM, Channel 6, is the only station carrying what must be a syndicated telecast of the world middleweight boxing championship fight from Madison Square Garden, pitting champion Dick Tiger against welterweight champ Emile Griffith.  In an unpopular decision booed by the fans in the Garden, Griffith takes the title with a unanimous 15-round decision.  Here's the first part of the fight (you can see the rest at YouTube); decide for yourself.


Maybe it's just me, and the memory playing tricks, but I always thought the summer rerun season came later in the year, in May or (in some cases) even June.  And yet here we are, in virtually the last week of April, and the reruns are starting.  Flipper, The Farmer's Daughter, The John Forsythe Show, The Addams Family, McHale's Navy and Daniel Boone are among those "beginning a series of reruns," while Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall airs its last show of the season, and Sing Along With Mitch returns "for a series of warm-weather reruns."  Keep in mind that there were more episodes per series back then, oftentimes over 30*, and this suggests there weren't that many reruns shown outside of the summer season.

*Of course, as a series progressed through several seasons and accumulated inventory, the annual number of episodes produced would generally go down, the gaps being filled in with episodes from years past.  Not quite as easy to do today, with so many shows serialized.

The variety series is often a clue as to when summer actually arrives.  Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, Dean Martin and others would usually take the summer off, with their slots being taken by those Summer Playhouse anthologies I mentioned a couple of days ago, or a variety series hosted by a new young comic or singing star.  (Glen Campbell!  Vic Damone!  George Carlin!)  Jackie, Red and Dean are all on this week (albeit with a few reruns sprinkled in), so don't make those summer vacation plans quite yet.

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A couple of weeks ago I had an email from a reader asking about cheesy sci-fi movies that aired on television in the early sixties.  Too bad we weren't looking at this issue, because there are a number of candidates for MST3K this week.

Saturday night alone features Attack of the 50-Foot Woman on KMMT, The Electronic Monster (WCCO), Blood of Dracula on KSTP, and the legendary I Was a Teen-Age Werewolf starring Michael Landon) on WDIO*, which also carries Horrors of the Black Museum on Sunday night.  By the time we get around to Friday we've got another batch, including The Soul of a Monster (KSTP) and The Tingler (KEYC).

*Giving new meaning, one supposes, to chewing up the scenery.

I don't ever remember watching these movies when I was a kid; maybe I was too timid, or perhaps I just wasn't that interested.  I never watched Star Trek or The Twilight Zone on their original runs, either.  I don't know how many of these stations had movie hosts, ala Swengoolie on MeTV.  And I suspect many of them were of about the same quality as this:


Nevertheless, it's one of the things I miss about television today - the local aspect of it.  Let's face it - there's very little local about local television; it's mostly impersonal, corporate.  We've talked before about local kids' shows, and local movie hosts are part of that heritage.  Not every station had them; perhaps most of them didn't.  The local variety show is a thing of the past, most stations don't even show movies nowadays.  Out of the hundred or so channels we get, most of them are national networks, leaving us with, for our local content: news and commercials.  Not exactly the way we'd want to be remembered to future generations, I suspect.

2 comments:

  1. In the Spring of 1966, some segments on "Wide World Of Sports" (like the Sebring highlights) were being shot in color, and that Fall, new theme music and a new opening (in color) were introduced (the entire show would "go color" within the year).

    Besides the sports you mentioned, gymnastics also got it's first national TV exposure (outside of the 1960 Summer Olympics) on "Wide World". I recall that around 1980, "Wide World" came to a World Gymnastics championship in Dallas and Jim McKay noted that "Wide World" first did the Worlds in 1961, which were in Dallas and half-filled a 4,000-seat college field house. The Worlds circa 1980 were held in a 16,000-seat arena that had been sold out for weeks!

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    1. I can remember everything from soccer to rugby to F1 racing being so exotic on Wide World. It's like listening to a new radio station (which I've been doing lately) - even if not all of it is good, it's different - which makes a big difference.

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