Rowlf was the first Muppet I remember seeing; I don't think I'd ever seen Kermit at that point. There was something about this dopey puppet that I thought was hilarious, and as I write this I suspect that maybe I liked Rowlf even more than I did Jimmy. The banter between the two was easy; Jimmy always called Rowlf "my old buddy," and Rowlf in turn displayed the typical Muppet humor that would endear them to so many people over the years.
In fact, according to Richard Gehman's profile of Dean in this week's issue, Rowlf's popularity has at times threatened to overshadow that of the boss. During a location shoot, delighted crowds swarmed over Jim Henson to the point that Dean was overheard muttering, not entirely approvingly, "Next thing you know, they'll be calling the dog the star of this here ol' show." If it happens, though, it will only be through Dean's sufferage, because Jimmy Dean is in fact the boss of his show. He knows his audience, he knows himself, he knows what the viewers would buy. In the show's first season, when the network had tried to pass him off as urbane and sophisticated, the show teetered on the edge of cancellation until Dean put his foot down. "Lemme do it mah way," he told the suits, and the ratings took off.
Though he is undeniably in charge, there is an easy camaraderie between Dean and the crew, and his producer acknowledges that nine times out of ten Dean's suggestions for changes wind up improving the finished product. Unlike, say, Andy Griffith's character in A Face in the Crowd, the Dean you see in front of the camera is in essence the same as the one off-camera. Sure, the accent is maybe a bit put on (his wife acknowledges that in real life he "really doesn't have much of an accent." And for all the down-home cornpone humor, he's quite a bit more sophisticated than that. If you have any doubts, check out this clip from his just-cancelled daytime series that aired in 1959:
Believe me, behind that aw-shucks country boy was a shrewd businessman who know exactly what he was doing. The Dean show ends in 1966, and three years later Jimmy Dean sausage hits the shelves. The old country boy didn't do too badly, did he?
Here's a clip of Jimmy and Rowlf doing a typical bit, the only part of each week's show that would be precisely scripted - everything else was pretty much seat-of-Jimmy's-pants.
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: Bette Davis hosts this rerun from February, with guests Bert Lahr; singer Julius LaRosa; comedian Jan Murray; dancer Barrie Chase; the Nerveless Nocks, acrobats; Australian comic juggler Rob Murray; and Les Cinci, a Parisian couple.
Sullivan: In this first rerun of the season, Ed welcomes singer-dancer Juliet Prowse, singer Connie Francis, comics Allen and Rossi, French pop singer Jean Paul Vignon, the Harlem Globetrotters, comedianne Jean Carroll, Country and Western singer Roy Orbison, and the Youngs, a teeterboard act.
Off the top of my head, I don't think I've reviewed either of these shows before, which saves me the possible embarrassment of recommending a show that I'd trashed earlier. So what do we have here? A couple of pretty strong lineups, but in the end I think the Palace earns the nod. Bette Davis is a legend, Bert Lahr a talented man, Barrie Chase both talented and a babe, Jan Murray a very funny comedian, and Julius LaRosa a pretty fair singer. Ed has Juliet Prowse, who's not quite in the same league as Chase, Jean Carroll, who's not nearly as funny as Murray, and Connie Francis, who's not quite as good a singer as Julius LaRosa. Only the legendary Roy Orbison could elevate Ed, but it's too much for just one man. The Palace earns the decision this week.
Throughout the '60s TV Guide prided itself on its serious coverage of the business of television. This week, Edith Efron chats with FCC commissioner Lee Loevinger, author of the choice words that appear on the cover. Loevinger, a former justice on the Minnesota State Supreme Court, is something of a libertarian when it comes to Federal control over the airwaves, setting him apart from his colleagues on the Commission. For instance, Loevinger believes that the separation of church and state (which, we know, never appears in the Constitution) would seem to render moot the FCC's authority to mandate religious programming on local broadcasters.
One wonders what exactly Loevinger thinks the FCC ought to be doing. Mostly, he says, granting broadcast licenses, which is what the Commission was created to do in the first place. But it was that license-granting authority which originally gave the FCC the foothold into regulation of programming, and the problem of how to separate the two - how the FCC can still grant licenses without making subjective judgments regarding the merits of the applicants and their proposed programming. There are no standards for judging, Loevinger complains, which makes the separation between licensure and regulation almost impossible to maintain.
It's no surprise that Loevinger has few friends on the Commission, and most experts remain puzzled as to why the late President Kennedy appointed him to take Minow's place on the Commission. He remains at the FCC until 1968, fighting the lonely fight, his most lasting accomplishment being to encourage AT&T to establish a uniform emergency phone number - 911.
Seeing as how we're only a couple of weeks removed from Michelle Wie's victory at the U.S. Women's Open golf championship, it's probably appropriate to mention that Sunday, July 4 marks the first time the Women's Open has ever been telecast on network television. NBC's cameras are present at the Atlantic City Country Club to cover the challenging last three holes of the tournament's final round, as future Hall of Famer Carol Mann shoots an even par 72 to win by two strokes over Kathy Cornelius.
Across the aisle at CBS, it's the final round of the Western Open from Tam O'Shanter Country Club in Chicago. The Western Open the third oldest tournament on the PGA tour, trailing only the U.S. and British Opens, and in 1965 it's still one of the most prestigious, tournaments on the tour, dating back to 1899. Billy Casper wins the first of two consecutive Western Opens, joining a list of winners that includes Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Walter Hagen. It's now called the BMW Championship, it's no longer played every year in Chicago, and it's played in the fall rather than the summer, a victim to the World Golf Championship tournaments that have mostly served to make golfers richer and more selective in the tournaments they play.
In baseball, the Twins are on over the weekend (versus the Kansas City Athletics) and Friday (against the New York Yankees in a rare home broadcast, one of three or so that Channel 11 would do each season). The Twins, of course, will take the American League pennant in 1965. Saturday's ABC Game of the Week gives us the Yankees and Red Sox in Boston, which goes to show that even back then, the networks never passed up an opportunity to show the Yanks and Sox, and the network also presents a rare Monday matinee between the Yankees and Tigers from Detroit, which makes perfect sense when you figure that most people would have had the day off - after all, the 4th of July was on a Sunday.
Random notes to round out the week:
Fourth of July! There's not much in the way of special programming (aside from the baseball game tomorrow), but two fairly interesting programs airing against each other Sunday afternoon at 12:30pm. First, on Duluth's KDAL, Ronald Reagan narriates a documentary studying the effects of Communist brain-washing on American POW's. I sense a patriotic motive here. Opposite it, ABC's Issues and Answers, displaying something of a sadistic humor, presents an interview with Great Britain's ambassador to the United States, on the 189th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
Pretentious alert: On CBS' Look Up and Live that same morning, William Stringfellow documents his four years living in Harlem and working for the civil rights movement, and through the use of photographs telling the story of a white attorney defending the black ghetto. "To illustrate the dehumanizing experience of ghetto life, members of the Open Theatre Workshop read excerpts from the poetry of Bertolt Brecht, Federica Garcia Lorca and Richard Wright. I should add here that Look Up and Live was part of the network's block of religious and cultural programming on Sundays (seldom ever seen on Channel 4 in Minneapolis, where the accent was on Bowery Boys movies), and as such it was probably of a pretty high quality. Which means it still could have been pretentious.
Celebrity watch: This week's game shows are chock full of celebrities: Buddy Greco and Molly Bee on NBC's What's This Song?; Rita Moreno and Les Crane on the same network's Call My Bluff; Ann Jeffries and Alan Young on CBS' Password, followed by Peggy Cass, Orson Bean, Tom Poston and Kitty Carlisle on To Tell the Truth; and a pair of NBC shows rounding out the day, Dwayne Hickman and Emmaline Henry on You Don't Say!, and Gisele MacKenzie and Bobby Vinton* on The Match Game. And don't forget Steve Lawrence on Sunday night's What's My Line?, joining the stage with regulars Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf and Dorothy Kilgallen.
*Bobby Vinton was a well-known and loved Polish-American singer, perhaps the most famous Polish-American of the time, and I remember Johnny Carson joking about the election of Pope John Paul II, saying that everyone knew something was up when the smoke coming out of the Sistine Chapel spelled out "Bobby Vinton." Polish jokes really died out not long after JPII became pope.
Perhaps more interesting, or at least unique: on the nighttime version of Password Thursday night, the guests are Woody Allen and Nancy Sinatra. The following year Nancy's father, Frank, would marry Mia Farrow. That marriage wouldn't last, but eventually Farrow would hook up with - Woody Allen. Apparently the connection between Frank and Mia wasn't entirely dead though, based on her suggestion that son Ronan might belong to Frank. It's enough to make the head spin.
And that kind of tidbit is why I keep reading old TV Guides.