July 19, 2014

This week in TV Guide: July 15, 1961

The brooding visage on the cover of this week's TV Guide is not that of Dave Garroway, although it would appear to be a perfect match for the sidebar teaser on the left.  No, on the cover you see Gardner McKay, star of Adventures in Paradise.  More about him later.  First, here's Garroway.

David Cunningham Garroway, the subject of Richard Gehman's multi-part profile, is one of the pioneers of television, a man of immeasurable influence insofar as on-camera persona is concerned.  He is a very complex man as well, a troubled man, and for once the psychoanalytical angle that Gehman so likes to use comes in handy.

Garroway is the star of NBC's Today Show, or to be more precise, The Dave Garroway Today Show, as it is currently known.  His friendly demeanor, inquisitive mind and engaging personality all combine to make him one of the first big stars in the new medium.  Today reflects that personality perfectly.  Would that today's Today (a cumbersome handle, to be sure) had as much variety and innovation as Garroway's did.

And yet the Dave Garroway that millions see every weekday morning is a far cry from the offscreen Garroway.  It's sometimes said that when TV viewers see a personality on their sets often enough, they come to feel as if they actually know that person.  In Garroway's case, those viewers probably know as much about him as his friends and coworkers do.  Garroway is almost painfully shy, far preferring the company of his cars and telescopes to human interaction.  He used to disguise himself before leaving the house, and he has a bomb shelter in his Manhattan townhouse, along with a bottle of Secanol in case of nuclear war.  He tells Gehman that his anxieties actually make him better on TV, where "he can be himself" in the unblinking eye of the camera lens.

I described Garroway above as the host of Today; actually, that will be true only for another two days.  Come Monday morning, John Chancellor will take over as host of the new, hard-news version of Today.  Garroway had made the announcement in May, a month after his wife had committed suicide by swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills, that he would be leaving the show in October, or earlier if possible.  He cites the need to recharge his batteries, to get away from the entertainment business for awhile.  The article promises that part two will tell why Garroway really left Today; unfortunately, I don't have that issue.  (But if you think I should have it, in order to finish the story, I'll gladly give you my PayPal address.)

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
I've harped on Richard Gehman's writing style for some time.  I've often felt he was unnecessarily sarcastic; a snarky writer who makes his own cleverness too much a part of the story.  And yet perhaps this time, as I suggested earlier, the subject is a perfect match for the writer.  His opening paragraph is certainly as good as anything you'll read in classic TV Guide.*

*When I mentioned this to my wife, she asked if today's TV Guide even has any writing; she thought maybe all they did was compose captions to pictures.

In these troubled and abandoned days, some of the more troubled and abandoned among us celebrate the birth of Christ by behaving much like the very Romans who crucified Him.  A bacchanalian Christmas party given three years ago by the staff of the Today show would have delighted a contemporary Edward Gibbon.

Gehman goes on to discuss Garroway's obvious boredom and discomfort in these surroundings, taking it for as long as he could before getting up and disappearing.  He continues,

In "The Day of the Locust," the late Nathaneal West said of his protagonist, "He was really a very complicated young man with a whole set of personalities, one inside the other like a nest of Chinese boxes."  The phrase might have been written for Garroway, who is a very complicated 48.  Nobody knows it better than he.  For 14 years, off and on, he has been seeing a psychiatrist in an effort to learn what is inside those boxes.  And what the has learned is that there are more boxes.

What I particularly like about those paragraphs is that Gehman assumes his readers will recognize the name Edward Gibbon, that they will know who Nathaneal West was and perhaps might even have read his writing.  It doesn't strike me that he's forcing these references; he's simply respecting his audience.  TV Guide always prided itself on being more than a fan magazine, with readers who were a far cry from those who read the other rags; writing such as this tends to confirm that assumption.

Dave Garroway's story is a sad one, and it's not just because one of the pioneers of television is virtually unknown today.  He appeared on various media off and on through the years, hosting a science show on NET, several radio programs on both coasts, and occasional guest appearances in various series, including on Today show anniversaries.  He was married three times; the first ended in divorce, the second (as we saw above) with the suicide of his wife in 1961; his third to an astronomer, not surprising given his interest in that field.  He underwent heart surgery in 1982 and, suffering from complications as well as his continuing battle with depression, killed himself with a single blast from a shotgun later that year.  He was only 69 years old.

Here's a clip from the beginning of Today in January, 1952.



And here is a clip from Today's 30th anniversary, Garroway's last television appearance, where Garroway is reunited with the classic Today cast, his old partners Jack Lescoulie and Frank Blair.


***

And now on to Gardner McKay.  He was discovered by Dominick Dunne, who was at the time a producer at 20th Century Fox, and hired to star in a new series Dunne was co-producing, Adventures in Paradise. Standing an imposing 6'5", he cuts a figure that leads Life magazine, in a cover story, to dub him "the new Apollo."  McKay considers himself to still be a rookie when it comes to acting - "I'm no real actor," he tells the unnammed interviewer, "Show me a two-page speech from 'Antigone' and I'd get sick." - but Dunne, who first spotted McKay reading a book of poetry in a coffee shop, says that though he was a nobody in Hollywood terms, "his attitude declared that he was somebody." Despite the criticism of his acting, McKay is unquestionably a star, receiving up to 3,000 pieces of fan mail a week, and is well-liked by the crew that services his series.

Adventures in Paradise is now in its third and final season, but McKay remains untouched by his celebrity; he still drives the same 1958 Chevy convertible he had before Paradise, and he has no press agent, no business manager.  On his weekly salary of over $1,500, he has "a few blue chip stocks and a bank account."  In 1961, "the future burns brightly" for Gardner McKay.

You can see the episode that played on ABC that Monday night, July 17, 1961, right here.  It's a rerun of "The Big Surf," in the first of five parts.  Feel free to check them all out:


Like Dave Garroway after Today, Gardner McKay's life will travel a different route after Adventures in Paradise ends, but unlike Garroway it has a happy ending.  After the series ends, McKay declines to renew his contract with Fox and turns down a chance to co-star in a movie with Marilyn Monroe, who personally lobbied him to take the part.  Giving up acting completely, McKay works in the Amazon for two years and spends time in France and Egypt before returning to Hawaii, where he finds new success as a writer*, publishing several novels, an autobiography, and numerous short stories, as well as writing plays (winning a Drama Critics Circle Award for "Sea Marks").  In addition, he serves for five years as the drama critic for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and teaches a writing class at UCLA.

*I remember once seeing an interview with him, perhaps on Today; he was plugging his latest book, possibly The Kinsmanand mentioned how at first people didn't believe he'd written it himself, until they realized the depth of detail with which he wrote about sailing.

A friend said that he always considered himself a writer rather than an actor, and added that "He hated the fact that he was known for that television series.  It was not the professional or private path he wanted to take."  Gardner McKay was 69, the same age as Dave Garroway, when he died of cancer, a man who by all appearances was able to write himself a happy ending.

***

And now, a word about Julie London, actress and singer.  The word is **sigh**.  If you're of an age where you only remember Julie London as nurse McCall in Emergency, you don't know what you've been missing.

London, who's already had a successful career as a singer, complains of her lack of roles in Hollywood: "Sometimes I think they tend to measure an actress's talents by her - uh - measurements.  If the measurements go beyond a certain point, they figure she can't possibly act."  London's measurements, the unnamed writer helpfully points out, are 5'3", 37-23-36.

London was formerly married to Jack Webb*; the marriage was a good one until the success of Dragnet, with which he became obsessed.  They divorced in 1953, and in 1959 she marries jazz musician Bobby Troup, who also starred in Emergency but is probably best known (as he should be) for writing the song "Route 66," which made a lot of money for both him and Nat King Cole, among others.

*Of course, the irony here is that Webb, who remained on good terms with London, would hire both her and Troup for Emergency.  When it came to television, Webb apparently only cared about getting the right people.

Today, though she continues singing, she still waits for the right role.  "All I really want," she says, "is what every other girl in this town wants - a really good script."

***

There's seldom a great deal of interesting programming in the summer months; most of what we encounter consists of reruns and forgettable summer replacements.  In addition, this issue comes from Southern Ohio, which means I'm not too familiar with the local terrain.  I think, therefore, I'll wrap up with a look at a couple of programs that serve as perfect examples of why TV Guide offered such a window to the cultural world.

The first comes to us on Tuesday night.  I think I've mentioned this before (pauses, enters words in the search engine, reads) - ah, yes, it's right here - the NBC Special For Women series that originally ran on the daytime schedule.  They're now appearing on NBC's summer prime-time schedule over the next six weeks.  "Each taped drama," TV Guide says, "deals with a problem faced by women in America," and concludes with a brief discussion led by NBC news reporter Pauline Frederick.

This week's episode, entitled "The Single Woman," presents the dilemma of Elisabeth Greenway (Barbara Baxley), who "has reached an age where she knows she ought to get married."  She has a beau ready and willing to tie the knot, but "Elisabeth just can't see her way clear to committing herself to him - or any man - for life."  Following the play, Frederick interviews psychiatrist Louis English.

Now, I would love to see how this drama played out.  It gives us a valuable glimpse into the culture of the early '60s, when marriage and a family is still considered the norm for women, and the stigma that's attached to being an unmarried woman - even the idea that she's not quite respectable.  After all, how many times have we heard the phrase "old maid" applied to a woman whom we might think is just coming into her own today?  I'd be curious as to what decision Elisabeth makes, and exactly what role the psychiatrist plays in the discussion.  Is he there to reassure women that the desire to remain single is not abnormal - or does he encourage them to confront their fear of commitment?  Again, talk about a time capsule!

***

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
Did you say time capsule?  Here's a presentation of CBS' Sunday morning religious series Look Up and Live that, with few adaptations, could be presented today.  "The Police," based on the play by Polish writer Slawomir Mrozek, tells the story of a prison rapidly losing its reason for being.  "All the other prisoners, convinced that they were living under 'the best system in the world,' have confessed their crimes against the state, received their pardons and gone home.  Now there's only one prisoner left, and he too wants to confess.  The Commissioner receives this news with a certain amount of regret."

Mrozek, often compared to the Absurdist playwright Eugène Ionesco, is a fascinating character himself.  He was once an ardent Communist, praising Polish authorities for their persecution of religious leaders, and took part in demonstrations defaming Catholic priests.  Following his defection from Poland in 1963, he became a harsh critic of Communism.  The always-reliable Wikipedia offers this quote from him, explaining the change:  "Being twenty years old, I was ready to accept any ideological proposition without looking a gift-horse in the mouth – as long as it was revolutionary. [...] I was lucky not to be born German say in 1913. I would have been a Hitlerite because the recruitment method was the same."  "The Police" was published in 1958 and, I suspect, bears the marks of his growing skepticism of totalitarianism.

He died, just last year, at his home in Nice, France.  Though he was never a religious man, he received a Catholic funeral presided over by  Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, the former personal secretary to Pope John Paul II.

9 comments:

  1. I still remember a review of "Emergency," either from Time or TV Guide, where the reviewer said something to the effect of "Julie London plays the ER nurse, and the way she fills out a nurse's uniform, no wonder the paramedics are all gung-ho for her."

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    1. I think Bobby Troup was once quoted as saying Julie London sold 50 albums and 50,000 album covers.

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    2. I think Bobby Troup was once quoted as saying Julie London sold 50 albums and 50,000 album covers.

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  2. I read this post after reading an article about James Garner that suggested his laid-back acting style was actually derived from his need to overcome stage fright. It sounds as if Dave Garroway did something similar---finding a folksy "naturalness" in front of the camera that eluded him elsewhere---albeit for different reasons. Such a thing isn't so unusual in the performing arts. I have spent many years working in radio, and I have known successful, popular personalities who blossom only when the red light is on. When it's off, they're far different people: quiet and self-effacing, or visibly uncomfortable having to engage people face to face.

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    1. Very interesting observation jb. In a past life, I had to do a fair amount of public speaking and appear in situations where I had to be much more outgoing than I am. In reality, I'm far more comfortable just sitting in front of this keyboard, or deriving pleasure from the company of a small number of friends.

      Footnote: I read your comment just a couple of hours after hearing about James Garner's death. I'll probably have to write a piece about him - he was very much a Maverick.

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  3. When Dave Garroway decided to quit "Today", I wonder if NBC decided to make the change to John Chancellor when it did because the second manned Mercury space flight was scheduled for that week (and would be launched on Friday the 21st) It was manned by Gus Grissom; his spacecraft, Liberty Bell 7, sank after a hatch prematurely blew right after splashdown.

    Maybe NBC wanted "the new guy" to be in place so the large audience watching the flight would see promotional spots about Chancellor on "Today".

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    1. Interesting - I hadn't considered that angle. I know that Garroway had said he'd leave at the end of his contract, or sooner if possible - this might have been beneficial timing for NBC.

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    2. The then-President of NBC, Bob Kintner, was very promotion-oriented, especially when it came to NBC News.

      Kintner had his promotion people put out lots of print ads and TV promo spots not only for Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, but for the network's other top-line correspondents, not to mention "Today" hosts, as well.

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