May 24, 2014

This week in TV Guide: May 20, 1961

You've probably seen the series in the listings I post from time to time.  During its span of morning reruns it's called The McCoys, but in its prime-time lifetime it was known by its real title, The Real McCoys.  The great Walter Brennan, who has to be one of the lesser-remembered three-time Oscar winners (seriously: more than Tom Hanks!) starred as the McCoy patriarch, and Richard Crenna portrays his grandson, Luke.

If you only know Dick Crenna from his appearance in the Rambo movies, you're missing an actor who had a long and distinguished career in radio, television and movies.  Prior to his six-season turn as Luke, Crenna had done seven seasons on the successful comedy Our Miss Brooks with Eve Arden, and even before that he'd been a fixture on radio, having "appeared in nearly every important radio show extant" according to this week's cover story.  In these earlier roles, he'd been typecast as "knuckleheaded adolescents," but he's broken the mold in The Real McCoys, and he'll go on to put it even further behind him with his starring role as a state senator in Slattery's People (two Emmy nominations), and a long string of television and movie appearances (including a very funny spoof of his Rambo character in the underrated Hot Shots! Part Deux movie).  Even if you don't recognize his name, his solid, strong, craggy visage probably rings a bell.  Always liked him as an actor.

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There's not a lot to rock our world in this week's issue, so we're probably looking at a lot of hit-and-run notes.  But here's one that gave me a momentary pause - a note in the Teletype that a previous movie commitment will probably prevent Marilyn Monroe from doing an NBC adaptation of Somerset Maugham's play Rain, costarring Frederic March, directed by Oscar winner George Roy Hill and adapted by Rod Serling.

Now, a little online research suggests there might have been more to it than that - everything from conflicts between Hill and Monroe's acting coach Lee Strasberg to Monroe's supposed mental unstability have been cited as complications that eventually scuttled the production.  One Monroe biographer suggests that Rain "would have shown Monroe’s capabilities as a serious actress."

The real reason this bit attracted my interest, however, is that we've become so accustomed to thinking of Marilyn Monroe in the past tense, as a legend, someone who lived and died tragically, that it's somewhat jarring to read an article in which Monroe appears in the present tense, alive and well, with a television project in the works.  I don't know, perhaps that just makes me old.  I was alive when Marilyn Monroe died, although her name meant nothing to me*; I wouldn't have known her from Bette Davis at that age.  But think about it - if you read an article that talked about a very famous someone, very much alive, whom you knew only as someone who had lived and died long before your own life, wouldn't that attract your attention as well?

*The cult of Marilyn Monroe still doesn't make that much of an impression on me.  She's just never struck me as being that much of a big deal.  Perhaps I just wasn't the right age at the right time, if you know what I mean.


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Another note in the Teletype talks about ABC's plans for a future episode of Wide World of Sports featuring "an experimental baseball game" incorporating many of the suggestions made over the years by baseball maverick Bill Veeck.  Veeck is one of baseball's great characters, former owner of the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns, and current owner of the Chicago White Sox, a team which he will once again own in the 1970s.  In his autobiography Veeck - As in Wreck, he had written of how baseball was being bogged down by its slow pace: "There would be nothing wrong with the now standard three-hour game if we were presenting two-and-a-half hours of action.  We aren't."*

*He wrote this in 1962.  You could write the same thing, word for word, today.

Veeck planned to let fans vote on team's next move.
Among the ideas Veeck has proposed: widening the plate by 25%, thus making the strike zone larger; changing the definition of a walk from four balls to three, and a strikeout from three strikes to two; reducing the time between pitches and between innings; and making the intentional walk automatic, i.e. rather than throwing four pitches wide of the plate, just tell the batter to take his base.*

*Veeck also advocated interleague play.  Oh well, we can't always be right.

In his book, Veeck mentions his plans for the Wide World telecast, which would have been an exhibition game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the White Sox.  "It was only because of my physical condition," he writes, "that the game wasn't played.  Better not to do it at all, I decided, than to go ahead and do a lousy job."  Too bad - I would have enjoyed seeing how that came out.

Oh, more from the Teletype?   Okay - here's a note on "the new CBS comedy series" Double Trouble, with Dick Van Dyke and Morey Amsterdam already signed up, adding Rose Marie to the cast.  That, of course, is The Dick Van Dyke show we're talking about.  I wonder when Mary Tyler Moore comes on the scene?

Another item - "Who Killed Julie Greer?", the opening episode of Dick Powell's new anthology series, is being filmed.  That episode, starring Powell and featuring appearances by Ronald Reagan, Mickey Rooney, Ralph Bellamy and others, will serve as a pilot for one of my favorite shows of the 60s: Burke's Law

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A couple of weeks ago Andy Williams was TV Guide's cover boy.  He's riding high, the star of a very successful variety series.  But that's five years from now, and the article in this week's edition is about "Andy Williams' everybody's favorite summer replacement, is still waiting for a regular show."  Says the author, "the fact that he was still performing in a night club and not singing regularly in television was still one of the medium's mysteries."

What's the story?  Well, at the outset, Andy declined the projects that were being pitched to him, shows that would have been scheduled against ratings giants such as Gunsmoke.  "I had enough offers," he says.  "Why not wait?"  Maybe it's not a sure thing that Williams will be a smash when the right offer does come along, but it's a pretty good bet - Steve Allen says "I know of no one with higher standards or better musical taste," while Bing Crosby calls him "a fine singer whose scope is limitless...and an appealing person with a great deal of integrity."  Jack Benny, of course, is a little more cautious: he doesn't think Williams is "the greatest thing since Seven-Up," but adds that he's maybe the next best.*

*On MeTV, if you ever catch it - a terrific episode of Benny's show in which he rooks Andy into appearing with him at the grand opening of a supermarket - doing his act while standing on the top of the frozen foods counter.

In any event, when Andy does make the move the next year, he's pretty much the hit that everyone expects.  Bing Crosby's words are true, and remain so for as long as Andy Williams is on TV.

***

Gilbert Seldes
An interesting review of Bob Hope's latest TV appearances by Gilbert Seldes, himself an interesting man.  Seldes was one of the large figures in cultural criticism.  He wrote one of the influential books of the earlier part of the century, The Seven Lively Arts.  As editor of The Dial magazine, he published one of the greatest poems of the Twentieth Century, T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land.  He was one of the early advocates of  television as a cultural institution in its own right, worthy of review and criticism, and eventually made it to TV, as Director of Television Programming for CBS.  One of the shows he helped develop was the landmark dramatic anthology Studio One.

But we're not here to talk about Seldes; rather, it's Bob Hope who's our subject.  Seldes likes Hope, "a good comic actor who has been turned into a comedian, which is a different thing altogether."  And this, for Seldes, is the problem with Hope on television - it's that Hope is capable of more than he's showing.  "The shows in which he appears have no special atmosphere or quality; except that Hope is in them, they are like a sampler of half a dozen other variety shows."

I've read this kind of criticism of Hope before.  His early humor, particularly in his radio days, was sharp, edgy and occasionally suggestive.  On television, however, he's fallen into a rut, "the old reliable who is always doing the same old things."  Seldes doesn't use the word lazy, but others have.  At some point Hope saw the laughs he could get with a golf club, a few wisecracks, and some attractive actresses standing on either side of him, and after that he stopped trying to do anything new.  And while it makes for a successful career, it doesn't necessarily mean fulfilling what you're capable of.  Seldes says the best thing Hope's done this year was his Project 20 Will Rogers documentary voiceover, because it was something different, which he did "with confidence and modesty and skill.  It reminded you that he really has talent, even if no one (and that includes himself) bothers to use it."  Seldes, who confesses to a soft spot for Hope, concludes that Hope "has the talent. It needs only to be shown."

***

One more article from this week's issue, and that discusses Walt Disney's plans to take his long-running show from ABC to NBC.  At one time the struggling network, which helped finance Disneyland, was just grateful to have him on their lineup.  He provided not only credibility, but ratings.  But now, he complains, "I no longer had the freedom of action I enjoyed in those first three years."  The network, pleased with the success of his Davy Crockett series, "kept insisting that I do more and more Westerns."  One of the stories they rejected, he complains, was The Shaggy Dog.  In the light of ABC's turndown, he made a theater movie out of it "and it grossed $9,000,000."  In case you're wondering, that was a lot of money back then.

When ABC axed Disney's Mickey Mouse Club, it was the last straw.  He's been approached by NBC to come on over when his ABC contract expires in 1961, and he has jumped at the chance.  Says a friend, "I never saw such an overnight change in a man."  The freedom from ABC, not to mention the prospect of working in color, has so energized him that he's started working on programs "that can't possibly be shown until 1963."  One idea after another keeps coming from him, making him positively giddy.  "Oh boy!  Color - and no Westerns.  I can do whatever I want.  Do you hear me?  I can do whatever I want."

1 comment:

  1. Just a correction: Our Miss Brooks ran on radio for 9 seasons, with Richard Crenna in the cast, prior to its jump to television. But Our Miss Brooks ran for only 4 seasons on television, not 7 as you indicated, with Crenna absent from the final TV season (along with all the original cast except Eve Arden and Gale Gordon) due to a change in setting/format. Interestingly, the radio show continued to run concurrently with the TV version, but not airing the same episodes simultaneously. Although the radio version continued during the last TV season of the show, with the loss of Crenna and the rest of the cast, the radio show stopped producing original material and just aired re-runs. The radio show went off the air when the TV series was cancelled.

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