November 15, 2014

This week in TV Guide: November 18, 1961

It’s Thanksgiving week in this issue, and though I might have covered some of this terrain in past posts, it’s worth looking again at some of the week’s themed programming.

It all starts on ABC Saturday night with Lawrence Welk’s holiday extravaganza, and continues on the same network Tuesday night when Westinghouse Presents “An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving” with Gene Barry and Eddie Foy Jr. as Currier and Ives, and various guest stars (Richard Kiley, Olympic figure-skating champion Dick Button and singer Betty Johnson) popping out of reproductions of the duo’s famed prints.

CBS’ Red Skelton offers up his Thanksgiving show that night, with Red and guest Ed Wynn portraying Freddie the Freeloader and his pal Muggsy, planning to carve the turkey at a skid-row mission only to find that the turkey’s already gone by the time they get there. He’s followed by Garry Moore’s variety show, featuring the entire cast decked out as Pilgrims, singing “Happy Thanksgiving Day.” The following night on NBC, Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall celebrates the holiday with Gwen Verdon, Dorothy Collins, Paul Lynde and the Kane Triplets singing group.

The real fun is on Thursday, when both CBS and NBC head around the country to cover the parades. NBC’s annual broadcast of the Macy’s parade is hosted by sportscaster Lindsey Nelson, Ed Herlihy and Buster Crabbe. The first half-hour of the broadcast is a circus held in front of the grandstands in Herald Square. The parade follows, with celebrities, balloons, floats, bands, the Rockettes and more!

CBS’ parade triple-header is unique for the use of CBS newsmen to provide coverage. Robert Trout anchors the Macy’s parade, while evening news anchor Douglas Edwards and Gene Crane report on the Gimbel’s parade in Philadelphia, and Harry Reasoner and Bob Murphy do the honors in Detroit. Captain Kangaroo is back in the studio in New York overseeing the whole thing.

And if there are parades, can football be far behind? ABC’s cameras are at the Polo Grounds in New York for morning (10am CT!) coverage of the AFL battle between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Titans, followed by the college showdown between bitter rivals Texas and Texas A&M. Meanwhile, CBS follows its parade coverage with the traditional Turkey Day game between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions.

The day’s special coverage comes to an end in late afternoon; KSTP has a live local presentation of a holiday concert by the Minneapolis Choralaires at 4:00, followed at 4:30 by NBC’s Home for the Holidays, starring singers Patrice Munsel and Gordon MacRae, trumpeter Al Hirt, dancer Carol Haney, and the Brothers Four. It sounds like a very pleasant way to spend the time between courses.

***

Aumont and Thulin in a scene from
the broadcast - in color!
Sunday night’s Theatre 62 on NBC is “Intermezzo,” a live adaptation of the 1939 movie starring Ingrid Bergman and Leslie Howard. The small screen version features Ingrid Thulin and Jean Pierre Aumont, and as AP writer Cynthia Lowry will note, its “thin plot” shows on TV. “Without the stars of the original movie, the bare bones of this thin little plot were painfully visible.” TV remakes of well-known theatrical movies, usually done as live teleplays or given the “live” look by using video tape, were a staple of 50s and 60s television. They were inexpensive, particularly if they had fallen into the public domain, they didn’t require a completely new script, and they came with built-in name recognition. In fact, ABC was to try an entire series of these remakes in the late 60s. Some were better than others, but few seldom made much of an impression. (See Lee Radziwell in Laura, for example.)

There was another angle to these adaptations, however, one illustrated in a terrific story told by Stephen Battaglio in David Susskind: A Televised Life. Seems Susskind and his partner, Al Levy, took out an ad in the trade journal Variety announcing, with a straight face, that they were about to produce a live television version of Ben-Hur. Well, anyone who’s seen the movie can attest to how ridiculous an idea this was – try to imagine chariot races, sea battles, earthquakes, and the Crucifixion – all done live, in a small television studio, in two hours (minus commercials). But nobody’d seen the movie yet – MGM had just announced plans to go into pre-production, and knew well that any talk about a TV version of Ben-Hur could do serious damage to the studio and its plans. It was, of course, a ploy by Susskind and Levy – in return for “abandoning” the TV idea, their company received the rights to TV remakes of a dozen well-known MGM properties – Mrs. Miniver, The Philadelphia Story, Ninotchka, and others. I still smile at the absurdity of staging Ben-Hur on television – but then, who would have thought they could recreate the sinking of the Titanic?

***

Up until the last few years, the Jerry Lewis Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy was a Labor Day weekend staple, but it wasn’t always such. On Saturday afternoon, Channel 11 presents “High Hopes,” a one-hour variety show hosted by Lewis, on behalf of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Jerry’s guests include singers Jaye P. Morgan*, Gogi Grant, Connie Stevens and Vivienne Della Chiesa, singer-dancer Donald O’Connor, and actors Richard Boone, Robert Fuller and Barry Sullivan, while Art Linkletter interviews the MDA poster girl.

*Probably better known now as the foul-mouthed panelist who once flashed her breasts on The Gong Show.

That’s the centerpiece of a very quiet Saturday afternoon. The college football game of the week is a Big Ten matchup between Wisconsin and Illinois on ABC. Channel 4 has bowling from the short-lived National Bowling League (Twin Cities Skippers vs. San Antonio Cavaliers), Frank Stranahan takes on Peter Thomson in All-Star Golf, and NBC’s NBA Game of the Week features the Chicago Packers and Detroit Pistons.

The Packers played in the International Amphitheater,
better known as the site of the 1968 Democratic
National Convention 
You might not recognize the Packers other than as a football team in Green Bay, and there’s a good reason for it. They’d entered the NBA in just a month before, as the first modern-day expansion team. They only lasted a year as the Packers before changing their name to the Chicago Zephyrs for the 1962-63 season. They then changed again, but this time it was more than just their nickname – picking up and moving lock, stock and barrel to Baltimore to begin anew as the Baltimore Bullets. In 1973 they would change again, moving from Baltimore to suburban Washington, D.C. and taking on the moniker “Capital Bullets,” which lasted for a single season before they morphed into the Washington Bullets. They’re now known as the Washington Wizards, and through all that time they’ve won a grand total of one NBA championship.

As for the city of Chicago, they weren’t without NBA basketball for too long. In 1966 there would be another expansion team, this one named the Bulls. In the 80s they would draft Michael Jordan. They would win six NBA titles (third most of any team) in a span of eight years. They have once again emerged as a title contender. All this without changing their nickname, their city, or even their logo.

***

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDES
Dot Smith has dozens of TV credits to her name, but she’s still about a year from true stardom. Who is Dot Smith, you may ask? Well, she’s a willowy blonde from Baton Rouge, LA. She’s tall (5’6”, which is still above the average height, although I’m not sure she’d be considered that tall today), and since her move to Hollywood in 1959, she’s been in everything from Checkmate to Route 66 to Dr. Kildare. She’s compared in appearance to Loretta Young, Marilyn Monroe and Rosemary Clooney. She’s called “a beauty with her own ideas,” with the provocative statement that “Men put women up there, on a pedestal. But women insist on coming down here, to a man’s level. They defeat themselves.”

That’s who Dot Smith is. Her married name is Doris Bourgeois. That doesn’t help much, though, does it? Let’s just go with her stage name. You’d know her as one of the stars of The Beverly Hillbillies – Donna Douglas.

***

Fashion tips from Michi Weglyn, costume designer on Perry Como's show:
  • Solid, unpatterned colors for short women. Avoid contrasts between tops and bottoms. 
  • Beige or tan-colored shoes give the illusion of longer leg lines. 
  • The long-necked look flatters all women, particularly shorter girls. “No frills and fancy collars. A simple scoop neckline and an up-sweep or close-cropped hairdo give an illusion of neck length. All these rules also apply to women who have trouble keeping slim.” 
  • V-necks and three-quarter sleeves make women look matronly. Better to go with the sleeveless look. If you have trouble keeping slim, avoid chiffon and jersey – they have no body. Satin fabrics reflect light and emphasize heaviness.
  • Despite the style of Jacqueline Kennedy, avoid long opera gloves unless you have thin arms. Otherwise, they call attention to fleshy areas. 
  • Avoid the sack or blousy dress. “It’s an unflattering style, distorting rather than enhancing.” 
  • Don’t follow Paris fashions – they’re for the few. 
  • Men should avoid long coats, which make them look shorter and older. Shorter coats make legs appear longer. [I disagree with this, by the way. Unless the coat comes over the buttocks, you wind up looking like a waiter.] 
  • Stick to pleatless trousers with neat, tapered lines – it makes men look “chunky.” [I don’t particularly agree with this either, but I have both pleated and flat fronts in my wardrobe.] 
  • On the other hand, stay away from the too-tight trousers of teen idols. 
  • Tone down the jewelry. Some singers wear “enough jewelry to anchor the Queen Mary.” 

What difference does a good wardrobe make to the TV star? Her boss, Perry Como, looks “at least 15 pounds lighter and 15 years younger on TV – and without any makeup.” Who else can make that claim?

***

Cindy Adams, the famed New York Post gossip columnist, was a regular contributor to TV Guide in the 50s and 60s. This week, she gives us an update on TV stars of the 50s. Nowadays people draw a blank at most of these names, but even in 1961 these stars, who were such big names, are threatening to fade into the background.

Red Buttons once had one of the most successful variety shows on television. It – and he – left TV because, he said, “I was lousy!” In the meantime he went to movies, won an Oscar for Sayonara, and is currently making Hatari with John Wayne.

Jerry Lester, along with his co-star Dagmar, was the star of TV’s first late-night success, Broadway Open House. When the two reunited for a club gig earlier in 1961, the magic of their past success was gone. “Only fire it’d catch is if the [club owners] put a match to the club.” He’s out of show business right now, but don’t feel too sorry for him – he’s part owner of a Florida land company and an Oklahoma oil company. “I make money just sitting here.” Dagmar keeps herself busy with night clubs and personal appearances.

Pinky Lee
Pinky Lee had the highest rated show on television in the 50s, but left the air (according to Pinky) when the show became too expensive to continue. He’s trying for a comeback, with a pilot for a show called Ararat where he plays “a leprechaun who disappears magically through keyholes.” Says Pinky, “I’ll be the talk of the country. Hotter than ever.” History says otherwise – Lee never again reached the heights of his fame in the 50s, and he wound up in regional theater.

George Burns has been keeping himself busy since the retirement of his wife and partner, Gracie Allen.  He's been doing some writing, supervising series, directing.  But who could have imagined that his greatest fame was yet to come?  By the 70s and 80s he'd introduced himself to an entirely new generation of viewers, as a solo act, and won an Academy Award for The Sunshine Boys.

Robert Q. Lewis was a staple on variety and game shows, hosting The Name’s the Same and several variety shows, as well as appearing on radio. He says that his easygoing style went out of vogue, “but by 1962 there’ll be a renaissance and I just happen to have an idea in my pocket.” I don’t know what the idea was, because Lewis never did make it big in another series. He was, however, quite well known for his 40 appearances as a panelist on What’s My Line?

Adams concludes her article with an interesting observation – she wondered if, by 1968, anyone could possibly wonder whatever happened to “Jack Paar? Danny Thomas? Or that fella Brinkley and what was his partner’s name, Chick Huntley? Or James Arness? Or that real old-time favorite – Bob Newhart?” And I’m afraid that, though it might have been unthinkable back then for most people, those names do draw a blank today. Except Bob Newhart, of course – he’ll last forever.

8 comments:

  1. I recently found this webpage thanks to the link from TVObscurities, which is looking back weekly at TV Guide from 50 years ago. I enjoy this weekly look back at TV Guide, as well as other features on your webpage.
    I think you have a typo when you describe back-to-back programs on KSTP as being broadcast at 4:30 & 4:30. You probably meant 4:00 on the first one.
    I'm looking forward to next week's post already!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. D'oh! Corrected - thanks, Jon. Thanks also for your very kind words!
      Mitchell

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  2. Imagine, programs themed entirely around Thanksgiving, without treating it as a mere speed bump on the way to Christmas. Why I never.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know - I never cease to marvel at that. There's just a whole different tenor to that time, particularly the concept of Thanksgiving specials and "Thanksgiving Eve." Love it.
      Mitchell

      Delete
  3. Two questions:

    (1) Didn't NBC carry the 1961 Macy's Parade in color??

    (2) I thought CBS came up with the idea of switching back-and-forth live between three Thanksgiving Parades in the late 1950's; didn't Walter Cronkite in the late fifties once describe all three parades off TV monitors in a New York control room?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll check on the first and let you know, although my first thought is that it was. Better safe than sorry, though. I think you are correct on #2; CBS - at least until the past few years - was always covering New York, Philadelphia and Detroit, and later added Toronto. I really loved those broadcasts - I remember Captain Kangaroo, the Muppets, and BIll Conrad hosting those broadcasts from New York.
      Mitchell

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  4. ABC counter-programmed their AFL game so it started an hour before the NFL game.

    No network today would dare run a big-budget variety special at 5:30 P.M. Eastern time on Thanksgiving day because it would be killed in the ratings by the NFL late-afternoon (4:15 P.M. Eastern kickoff) game in Dallas.

    But back then, there was no televised football at that hour (I think the Dallas Cowboys joined the NFL in 1961 and began their Thanksgiving game a couple of years later).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I was glad to find that one of the things I can confirm from my youthful memory is that the Cowboys game used to start later in the afternoon than if it was a regular doubleheader game (the way they do now). In this coming week's TV Guide, we're looking at a later Thanksgiving day in which the Pokes start their game a good half-hour or hour later than usual. It's sandwiched in-between the Lions game, which was the early start, and the Nebraska-Oklahoma game, which came on around 1:30.
      Mitchell

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