Since the death of Dorothy Kilgallen the previous November, the What’s My Line? crew from Goodson-Todman has been engaged in “The Great Woman Hunt,” a furious search for a permanent replacement for Kilgallen, who had been with the show since its inception in 1950. So far the seat has remained in the possession of a rotating cast of guest stars – everyone from Kitty Carlisle (a stalwart of Goodson-Todman’s To Tell the Truth) to Dr. Joyce Brothers, with magazine publisher Helen Gurley Brown, TV Guide critic Judith Crist, columnist Sheilah Graham, and actresses Joanna Barnes, Joan Fontaine and Dina Merrill thrown in. Even Muriel Davidson, the author of this article, has been considered for the list. It’s a tough gig, though, coming into a long-running show with a veteran cast – as host John Daly puts it, “If she doesn’t fit into our family, we’ll just freeze her out.”
At press time there are three clear contenders for the seat. There’s Phyllis Newman, another veteran of To Tell the Truth, married to legendary Broadway composer Adolph Green; charming, bubbly and very girlish (and I mean that as a compliment), always having to tilt her head upward slightly during the Mystery Guest segment so her mask wouldn’t fall off. Sue Oakland is a surprise finalist; married to TV producer Ted Cott (David Susskind’s cousin), she’s got both beauty and brains: “Besides being breath-takingly beautiful and gowned, she is a near-genius, with a Master’s degree in political science from Columbia University and with one lovely leg up on a Ph.D.*
*Her Master’s was in the inside workings of the United Nations; her Doctoral dissertation was “The Function of Television on the Presidential Election Campaign of 1968.
And then there’s society columnist Suzy Knickerbocker, whose nameplate will eventually simply read “Suzy” rather than the letter-crunching “Miss Knickerbocker.” Her real name is Aileen Mehle, and passing mention in the article is made of her having a 22-year-old son. That son, Roger, is an Annapolis graduate and naval officer, and on the Christmas episode of WML, on which his mother is a panelist, he appears as the Mystery Guest.
The tongue-in-cheek question remains: “Can a girl be found who can win the hearts of a great, established family, still grieving the loss of one of its most beloved members? . . . Or will her struggle for acceptance bring about the destruction of the entire, proud, 16-year dynasty?” In the end, despite the producers’ vows, none of the ladies above – or anyone else, for that matter – wind up filling Dorothy’s seat. WML is starting to show its age, “developing creaks of the Nielsen in its venerable beams,” and it will leave the air in September 1967, with a run of 17 ½ seasons – at the time the fourth-longest-running non-news series of all time, trailing only The Ed Sullivan Show, The Original Amateur Hour and Lamp Unto My Feet. Whether the right fit was never found, or time just wound up running out, that fourth seat on the panel will continue to be filled with rotating female guests until the very end.*
*Or almost the very end; the final show features a panel of Arlene Francis, long-time guest Martin Gabel (Arlene’s husband), former regular Steve Allen, and Bennett Cerf. Host John Daly himself plays the Mystery Guest.
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..
Palace: Host Bing Crosby and son Gary, comedian Henny Youngman; singer Rosemary Clooney; Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, dancer-choreographer Hugh Lambert, comedy xylophonist Roger Ray, and the Band of the Fiji Military Forces.
Sullivan: Satirist Allan Sherman; the Supremes and the Dave Clark Five, rock ‘n’ roll groups; Richard Kiley and Joan Diener, appearing in a scene from “Man of La Mancha”; actor Menasha Skulnik; golf champion Ken Venturi; comics Stiller and Meara; and juggler Ugo Garrido.
“Those are both pretty good,” my wife said when I read this week’s lineups to her. “I think you have to give a very slight edge to the Palace. They’ve got Bing Crosby, even with that talentless Gary, and besides, it seems like the Supremes were on with Sullivan every other week.” Hard to argue with that, not if you want to have a successful marriage. Besides, with Bing and Rosie you’ve got a White Christmas reunion, and Bergen and Charlie are always funny. Maybe if it had been the Stones instead of the Supremes – but, alas, we’ll never know. The winner: Palace, by the slimmest of bouffant hairdos.
This week’s lead story is written by British humorist and critic Malcolm Muggeridge, the latest in a succession of distinguished writers that TV Guide employed through the ‘60s and ‘70s in an effort to raise the intellectual image of the magazine. Muggeridge, a leading journalist, social critic and television personality in Britain, is a remarkable individual – a soldier and spy during World War II, a left-winger who eventually because staunchly anti-Communist, an editor with Punch magazine, an interviewer with the BBC, a stinging satirist who became a harsh critic of ’60s permissiveness, eventually converted to Christianity, and was widely credited with bringing Mother Teresa to popular consciousness in the West. Incredible.
He acknowledges that television is often of dubious artistic merit (“The old music hall, as I remember it in my childhood, was, by comparison, a feast of reason and a flow of wit.”), and that the quality “declines visibly year by year.” However, he also cautions against throwing the baby out with the bath water, as it were:
Let it be remembered, however, that, on the same line of reasoning, the invention of printing might be as summarily dismissed. After all, far more type is dedicated to Peyton Place and Playboy magazine than to “Paradise Lost” or “La Recherche du Temps Perdu.” . . . How tragic if, because men could be debauched by “Fanny Hill” and the works of the Marquis de Sade, they had been deprived of the solace of the New Testament and Shakespeare’s plays, which also come to them largely through the printed word!
To critics who charge that television numbs the mind and turns people into what we today would call “couch potatoes,” Muggeridge replies, “Nor is it true that, before television, those who now spend their evenings viewing sat at home doing embroidery or listening to ‘The Mill on the Floss’ read aloud. They were much more likely to be out at the pub studying tomorrow’s racing lineup or swapping dirty stories.” He adds that television may indeed be “a “cultural wasteland, but what about what they replaced? Was that a well-tended garden?”
The fact is, according to Muggeridge, there has been little serious art produced in any media – there has been far more “wealth, talent, skills and endeavor” spent in the last half-century of cinema than produced the Italian Resaissance, but the yield in terms of “enduring worth and interest” is “virtually nil.” Garbo, the Marx Brothers, Chaplin – “these are not the equivalent of even a minor work or art.” A bit harsh perhaps, but not without merit. Rather than being constantly disappointed by television’s output, he suggests lowering expectations – “We do not expect tabloid newspapers to serialize Kierkegaard, or women’s magazines to run extracts from Thomas a Kempis. . . Why, then, should television be expected to manifest its seriousness and concern for culture by every now and again putting on a half-fisted production of “King Lear” or mounting a boring lecture on the French Impressionists?” Far better that TV concentrate on what it does best – news, sports, comedy, soap operas.*
*He had some definite thoughts on those who appeared on television as well, as was shown in a memorable confrontation with Monty Python's John Cleese and Michael Palin on a BBC show in 1979. Maybe we'll talk about that someday.
This is Muggeridge as he came to be known in the late ’60s and ‘70s – an acerbic wit who nonetheless could not disguise an increasing seriousness creeping into his works. And it’s in that spirit that he leaves us with this optimistic note: for as many times that people have stopped him and mentioned how they’ve seen him on television, “not one has ever so much as mentioned, let alone quoted, anything I have said.” If that same “blissful ignorance” applies to all who air their views on the tube, “how splendid!”
I’ve mentioned before how many movies networks and local stations used to run. Today we mostly see made-for-TV flicks on broadcast stations, with theatrical features are relegated to specialty networks or pay cable, but they were all over the dial back in the ‘60s. I don’t think, however, we’ve ever spent a lot of time on the kinds of movies being shown – let’s take a quick look, shall we? Remember, this is just a sample.
WCCO, Channel 4, has a double-feature on Saturday afternoon (since they have no network sports). At 1pm it’s Souls for Sale, which sounds for all the world like one of those American International films*, with Vincent Price starring in the story, based on Thomas De Quincey’s “Confessions of an Opium Eater”, of a man arriving in San Francisco “determined to help an old friend fight the slave trade.” That’s followed at 2:30pm by Curse of the Demon, in which “A girl believes her uncle has been murdered by supernatural means for defying a devil cult.” Dana Andrews, what on earth are you doing in this movie?
*Just checked, and surprise! It’s not. According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, it was produced and directed by Albert Zugsmith, who as a producer put out three classics of their kind: The Incredible Shrinking Man, Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, and Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind.
Late night Sunday, WTCN, Channel 11, has a Hitchcock thriller, Shadow of a Doubt, with Joseph Cotton and Teresa Wright. On Monday it’s the Cary Grant/Franchot Tone comedy Every Girl Should Be Married on WEAU, Channel 13, coupled with Burt Lancaster’s adventurous The Crimson Pirate on WDAL, Channel 3. Tuesday it’s a choice between Loretta Young’s Mother Was a Freshman on KGLO or the WW2 drama Decision Before Dawn, with Richard Basehart heading a large cast, on Channel 9.
Wednesday I’d choose the noir classic The Big Heat on Channel 11, with Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin, in “the story of a policeman who resigns from the force to find the murderers of his wife.” I’m betting on Ford as the former cop and Marvin as one of the killers.
Thursday night CBS has a so-so adaptation of the Broadway hit Mary Mary, which sounds right out of the ‘50s: “The hectic life of recently divorced publisher Bob Kellaway, who has problems with alimony, taxes, the wealthy girl he wants to marry – and his ex-wife.” Where are Rock Hudson and Doris Day when you need them? Probably better to opt for KMSP, Channel 9, and their late-night feature This Woman Is Dangerous, starring Joan Crawford (who is), or another Glenn Ford movie, Plunder of the Sun, on WDAL, Channel 3.
On Friday afternoon Channel 11 has what sounds like an interesting speculative sci-fi picture, The Creeping Unknown, with Brian Donlevy and Jack Warner. “A new rocket is sent hurtling into space with three men on board. When it crash lands in England, there is only one man left on board.” That night Channel 11 is back with another Hitchcock mystery, Saboteur, with Bob Cummings as a man trying to clear himself of starting a fire in a military aircraft plant. And Channel 4 winds down the broadcast week with Charlie Chan at Treasure Island, which stars Sidney Toler and Cesar Romero – but, alas, no Captain Hook.
Quick sports note – the bulk of the week is taken up with baseball (Tigers vs. Indians on NBC’s Saturday Game of the Week, and Twins games against Boston, New York and Baltimore), but the biggest event of the week is in golf - the PGA Championship, from the famed Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. It’s an early appearance for golf’s final major championship of the year, which is usually played in August. It’s also an unplanned location for the tourney – originally it was supposed to take place at Columbine Country Club in Columbine, Colorado*, but severe storms in 1965 had damaged the course, forcing the PGA to swap sites – Firestone had been scheduled to host in 1967, but traded with Columbine. After 54 year old Sam Snead had turned back the clock by leading the first two rounds, the young Al Geiberger comes on during the weekend to finish at even par, good enough for a four-shot win over Dudley Wysong.
*Yes, that Columbine.
A footnote: that night, a few hours after the tournament, former British Open champion Tony Lema and his wife are among those killed in the crash of a small plane flying Lema to Illinois to compete in a Monday event. The 32-year-old “Champagne Tony,” one of the best and most charismatic players on tour, had finished 34th in what turned out to be his last tournament. Had he not died, I think a lot more people would know who he is today.
The show itself is, I think, striking – a look at “The Cultural Explosion” of the 1960s. “More people go to concerts, museums and theaters than ever before – but are we on the threshold of a new Renaissance?” What, exactly, does this tell us about today? It’s very intriguing – after all, we hear constantly about how the arts must appeal to young people, who are increasingly turned off by the arts, and yet when it comes to the ‘60s, we tend to assume that the young dominated the tenor of the decade.
So: were older people driving this cultural boom? If so, why? Was it merely a measure of the post-war disposable income that drove the growth of the consumer society of the ‘50s? Or did they have more influence over popular culture than we might think?
Their offspring, who today represent the demographic most interested in culture (i.e. grey-haired) must have had some of that rub off on them. If so, why haven’t they been able to do the same thing with their descendants? We know that schools played a greater role in art and music back then than they do now – is that the difference? Were they already interested in culture in the ‘60s as well, or did that interest come to them later in life?
If the latter is the case, does it suggest that today’s youth, for whom culture is dead, might yet come around when they get older? Or is it that things have changed so dramatically over the last 50 years that they must be reached earlier, or be lost forever?
Obviously you could write a whole book about this – and yet, when those of us with an interest in the arts read daily about the difficulties faced by classical music organizations, theaters, museums, and more, there’s something depressing about this program, so full of optimism for the future, talking about a culture “explosion” and the possibility of a new age. Who would have imagined that the arts would survive the tumultuous ‘60s, only to run aground on the shoals of the new millennium?
It's About TV is now on Facebook! Please like us and follow for additional content and teasers to upcoming posts!