March 29, 2014

This week in TV Guide: April 5, 1958

When, the cover asks, will we see new movies on television?  Back in April of 1958, could one possibly have imagined that someday you'd be able to pay to see a movie on television the same day it premiered in theaters?  Or that the quality of some home theater systems would eventually rival that of a movie house?  That there would be entire networks that would show only movies, uncut and without commercial interruption (for a fee, of course)?  Or that you didn't even need television, just a machine into which you could put a tape or a disc and watch your favorite film, any time you wanted, usually less than a year after it premiered on the big screens?  This, I think, is one of the biggest ways in which we've changed the way we think about television, as a form of entertainment.  You don't even have to read the article - the headline says it all.

I do read the article, of course - it's part of my service to you, the loyal reader.  And the consensus is: television is hurting the theaters.  As our story opens, theater bigwigs are gathered in Mike Romanoff's Beverly Hills restaurant trying to figure out how to keep "new" movies - defined as those produced since August 1, 1948 - from making it to TV.  The Sindlinger research organization estimates that movie exhibitors have lost $50,000,000 due to movies being shown on TV, and that to release the post-'48 movies would be "'suicide' for the entire movie industry."

TV Guide, of course, isn't so sure about that.  Yes, it's "probably true" that old movies on TV have had an effect.  But there's also the high price of movie tickets (which in 1961 was $0.69), the increasing number of "boisterous youngsters" turning a trip to the theater "into an unpleasant experience," and that movies just might not be as good as they used to be.  And then there's the "dilemma" for talent guilds (actors, writers, producers, etc.) - on the one hand, they'd love to get the revenues that would come from selling newer movies to TV.  At the same time, they fear the effects on their business if television really is that harmful to the industry, so much so that if the studios decide to sell newer movies to TV, the guilds could strike.  In between are the television stations themselves.  They want the new movies, yes, but they point out that with over 10,000 already available, they can afford to wait for awhile.

Who knows where it will all end?  Well, of course, we do.  As I said at the top, I wonder if they could have imagined it?

***

Gail Storm probably isn't that familiar to most readers today.  She's on the cover because of her eponymously-named series, which also went by the subtitle Oh! Susanna.*

*And what a clumsy thing that seems to be.  The opening credits contain both The Gale Storm Show and Oh! Susanna.  It's hard enough to come up with a title for a program, let alone two.

In the pages of this week's TV Guide, she's conducting interviews with five journalists - entertaining, cajoling, firing off one-liners, and using her considerable charm.  In between, she consults with her maid, deals with press agents and photographers, asks her mother to put on a pot of coffee, all while tossing off amusing bon-mots.  Pete Rahm, of the st. Louis Globe-Democrat, notes that "Miss Storm is as wordy and polite as she is beautiful," and notes her diplomatic answer to his question about the popularity of her two series - My Little Margie and Oh! Susanna - "What she really said in her roundabout way was: 'You dope - nobody liked Margie but the people.  You bonehead - nobody but the same people watch Susanna.'"

It's no surprise that Storm is able to handle things with such a positive manner.  In her later years, Gale Storm fought an ultimately successful battle against alcoholism.  According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, she once made the remarkable statement that "During my struggle, I had no idea of the blessing my experience could turn out to be! I've had the opportunity to share with others suffering with alcoholism the knowledge that there is help, hope, and an alcohol free life awaiting them."  As I say, remarkable - I have great, great admiration for anyone who can embrace suffering and turn it into a positive, not only for herself, but for others as well.  An admirable, remarkable woman indeed.

***

Some highlights from this New York edition of TV Guide:

Saturday:  NBC presents Bob Hope's latest special, his trip to Moscow.  The monologue takes place at the American embassy, while Bob narrates films of Russians skiing and sledding, takes a look at modern apartments, tours St. Basil's, and chats up three popular (and, knowing Hope, good-looking) Russian actresses.

Sunday  It's the final round of The Masters, and CBS' cameras will be covering the final four holes, with John Derr and Jim McKay behind the mics. Up against The Masters, NBC's Omnibus presents a 90-minute adaptation of Christopher Fry's elegant verse comedy "The Lady's Not For Burning," starring Christopher Plummer and Mary Ure in the story of a lovely young woman believed to be a witch.  The title makes for a memorable pun by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher many years later when, in assuring the Conservatives that she will not make a U-turn away from her economic agenda, she tells them that "The lady's not for turning."

Tuesday: In the day, Lonesome
George Gobel was big stuff.
Monday:  An interesting appearance by Jack Lemmon in Alcoa Theatre's "Loudmouth."  Lemmon plays a practical joker who finds himself suspected of murder after playing a joke on the police.  Like so many movie stars of the time, Lemmon earned his acting chops on television, and even though he's already an Academy Award winner, he also appears frequently on Alcoa Theatre - his last regular TV gigs before becoming a full-time movie star.

Wednesday:  The King of Swing, Benny Goodman himself, stars in a color special on NBC, hosted by Today's Dave Garroway and featuring Harry James, Ella Fitzgerald, the McGuire Sisters, Jo Stafford, Ray Eberle, Teddy Wilson, Red Norvo, and Bambi Linn and Rod Alexander.  If you don't recognize all those names, trust me - this is one major league big-name cast.  As my wife would say, "too bad they couldn't get someone famous."

Friday:  Speaking of movies on television, as we were at the start, WCBS presents the New York television premiere of James M. Cain's noir classic The Postman Always Rings Twice (from, ironically, 1946), starring John Garfield and Lana Turner.  Even though neither Garfield nor Turner are among my favorites, it's miles ahead of the Nicholson-Lange remake.  There's a real elegance to the movie's ending, a noir ending if ever there was one.  Garfield and Turner have gotten away with the murder of Turner's husband (played by Cecil Kellaway), when an auto accident kills Turner and leaves Garfield on trial for supposedly murdering her.  Even though he's innocent of this crime, he realizes that both he and Turner are paying the just price for Kellaway's murder - after all, as he puts it, "the postman always rings twice." 

***

Regular readers know that Christmas editions of TV Guide are among my very favorites, particularly because of how TV used to program for the season; Christmas Eve in particular was filled with church services.  Easter, on the other hand, always seems to have had a lower profile - or so I thought.  But this edition gives us a look at how Easter was covered in 1958, and I daresay it's going to present quite a different picture from what we'll be seeing in about three weeks.  Some of that could be because this is a New York edition, but I think a lot of it has to do with how the culture itself has changed over 55+ years.

The day starts at 7am (ET) with WCBS' coverage of the Easter service from St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Manhattan.  They follow this at 10 with the Solemn Pontifical Mass at Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston, presided over by Archbishop (and future Cardinal) Richard Cushing.  At 11, WCBS carries another Episcopal service, this time from Washington's National Cathedral, while WRCA, the NBC affiliate, broadcasts from Christ Episcopal Church in Cincinnati.  Later on, WRCA presents a 30-minute feature on Easter Vigil* services throughout France.  Later in the evening, WNHC in New Haven carries a Solemn Benediction and Easter music from the Channel 8 studios.  Oh, and then there are some of the regular Sunday religious shows, such as the Christopers program on various stations.

*A note for Catholic liturgical buffs - we're so conditioned to the "New Mass" being that introduced following the Second Vatican Council, we might be puzzled to see reference here to the "restored" liturgy - in fact, the liturgical services for Easter week had recently been heavily revised by Pius XII.

In addition to those church services, there are plenty of Easter-themed programs.  For example, WCBS has Hill Number One, which still pops up from time to time, a story about GIs preparing to storm a hill during the Korean War, known primarily as the film debut of James Dean, while WRCA's Frontiers of Faith presents "This Prisoner Barabbas," starring Richard Kiley and Vera Allen, with George C. Scott as Pilate(!)*.

*Not to be confused with Hallmark Hall of Fame's "Give Us Barabbas," seen in the last couple of issues.

All is not so heavy, though.  WOR's The Easter Story tells the history of Easter-egg dying (not really the "Easter story," if you ask me), and then WPIX has live coverage of the traditional "Easter Parade" up and down Fifth Avenue, while WRCA has a celebrity Easter luncheon from the Hotel Gotham, hosted by commentator Arthur Van Horn and his wife, columnist Phyllis Battelle.  And later that afternoon, NBC Opera Company presents Mozart's delightful comedy Cosi Fan Tutte, which doesn't have anything to do with Easter or religion, but is a fun special nonetheless. 

***

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
Finally, in the "Back in the Day" category: here's the value of "The Big Wheel" showcase prize package on next week's The Price Is Right:
  • Rocket Deluxe Golf Cart: $21.95
  • Excello Rotary Riding Mower: $299.50
  • Raleigh Bicycle: $59.95
  • Chrysler Windsor 4-Door Sedan, with push-button torque-flight transmission and white sidewalls: $3,472.55
  • Chrysler 300-D Convertible, with the same options plus custom-conditioned air heater, power steering and other power equipment: $5,703.40
  • Total value of the showcase: $9,557.35.
I'm too lazy to do it, but perhaps one of you readers out there might take it upon yourself to calculate the value of similar products today?

March 25, 2014

We can be heroes, just for one day

Originally posted at Our Word and Welcome to It on June 4, 2008

The nice thing about collecting vintage TV Guides is that you never know what you're going to find when you open the pages. The latest series of acquisitions to the Hadley library includes the issue of April 27, 1974. Watergate and cynicism are riding high at that point in time, along with the rise of "relevant" television. Against that backdrop, writer Edith Efron hosts a roundtable discussion on the question of "What makes a hit" television program. Among the participants is the famed television producer of the 60s and 70s, Quinn Martin (The Fugitive, The FBI, The Streets of San Francisco, among many hits). In the course of the discussion, Martin talks about the values he imparts in his programs, one of which is the belief in heroes:
We're hitting the great heartland of America, and they want shows where the leading man does something positive, and has a positive result. Every time you go against that, you can almost automatically say you are going to fail. . . I believe in heroes myself. And I know that people sitting in American living rooms will just not accept an antihero, or a bad protagonist.
The conversation continues as to what makes a hero, and again Martin is firm in his belief that being a hero requires heroic actions. He's joined in the discussion by Star Trek guru Gene Roddenberry, and Grant Tinker, creator of the Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart shows:
Efron: Didn't the relevant shows tend to be antiheroic shows?

Martin: I'm nt sure. The ones I remember [young, idealistic, public interest lawyers and activists]. . . had heroic people - but they were all involved in very heavy material.

Roddenberry: But were they heroes? Were they faced with jeopardy? Going around and helping people is not being faced with jeopardy. They weren't heroes.

Tinker: No, they weren't heroes. The Storefront Lawyers, all those shows had protagonists who were social-worker types. They were all antiheroes. . . They were cheek-turners. I can't remember a cheek-turner who has ever made it in TV.
This is a fascinating discussion on many levels. For one thing, it shows how much television has changed. The antihero - that is, the protagonist who doesn't act in the classic hero mold - is now pretty much the de rigeur lead in most television shows. And for Quinn Martin, who couldn't imagine the American public identifying with a bad protagonist - well, suffice to say that he would not have been able to imagine the taste of the American public today.

But I want to come back to this talk about heroes, because it ties into an article written a couple of weeks ago by James Bowman. The topic: Indiana Jones and the death of the traditional hero.

Now I know what you're thinking. "Who, you might ask, could possibly be more heroic than Indiana Jones?" I thought the same thing; I've always had a soft spot for Indy and his larger-than-life adventures. Yet I'll concede the point to Bowman, at least in part. For, according to Bowman, Indiana Jones has changed the landscape of the movie hero - and not for the better:
[Jones] was outwardly a man among men, just like the movie heroes of old when played by John Wayne or Gary Cooper. But it quickly became apparent that, underneath that fedora and leather jacket, there beat the heart of a superhero — someone whose adventures could not have taken place in the world as we know it but only the comic book world formerly confined, cinematically, to Saturday morning serials. Since then the cartoon hero has proven to be a particularly stubborn growth in the cinematic garden, a hearty weed which hoovers up all the nutrients and starves more delicate flora. He is the kudzu of the movie culture, the zebra mussel that has taken over a whole entertainment ecosystem. Today, apart from anti-heroes and victim heroes, it’s cartoon heroes all the way. And now we welcome back the prototype of the cartoon hero if he were a hero indeed. Perhaps we’ve forgotten what real heroes look like.
From here, Bowman discusses the general slide of the movie itself into a form of social amusement for teens, with disasterous results: "the taste of the American 8th grader has become the world’s taste." This state of perpetual adolesence, Bowman concludes, has led to the denigration of true heroism - with the cartoon hero being the only hero most people see, it becomes harder and harder to appreciate what a truly heroic act is, and the kind of courage and sacrifice that heroism requires in real life:
But if you go back and look at the best John Wayne movies — The Searchers, say, or Stagecoach or Red River or Fort Apache or The Sands of Iwo Jima or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance — they are full of difficult moral choices. The hero fails at least as often as he succeeds and he sometimes dies. It’s a lot like real life. We admire the John Wayne hero just because he’s not a Superman — or an Indiana Jones.
Ah, but it's too black-and-white for us today. And that's the true irony of it, for back in the smarmy, cynical 70s, we ridiculed Quinn Martin and his like for creating simplistic, one-dimentional characters. Efrem Zimbalist Jr., the hero of The FBI, was a cardboard creation, we said, too good to be believable. Now, we live in a world where our heroes have traveled 180 degress, and we embrace them precisely because they're too good to be true. Heroism is just another means of escapism, something with which we need not concern ourselves in our daily lives.

Oh well. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Unfortunately, the reverse is also true, for as time goes on, things often change beyond recognition.

***

And by the way, for those of you wondering about the title of this piece, here is the original reference point.

March 22, 2014

This week in TV Guide: March 25, 1961

It's possible you might be getting just a bit tired of 1961, since we've spent most of March there. To tell the truth, regardless of my affinity for the year I'm getting a bit tired of it as well. However, you deal with what you have, and for some reason March was never one of the big months in my collection.  Therefore, we're back to '61 one more time!

Unfortunately, in many respects this week's issue looks a lot like last week's.  NBC telecasts the NIT championship from Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon (Providence defeats Saint Louis 62-59), Channel 11 covers the championship of the Minnesota State High School basketball tournament Saturday night, and on Palm Sunday evening Hallmark Hall of Fame presents James Daly in "Give Us Barabbas."  Armstrong Circle Theatre is on both weeks, and Paul Hartman, subject of a feature story last week, is a featured player this week in NBC's Bell Telephone Hour on Friday night.

Don't despair, though - there are certainly enough differences for us to be able to squeeze something interesting out of this week.

***

For example, Gary Cooper.  Coop is, in the words of TV Guide, "what few actors become in their own lifetimes - a living legend."  He's profiled in TV Guide this week because of his appearance on NBC's Project 20 documentary series on Wednesday night, as host and narrator of "The Real West,"   Project 20 uses a "still-picture style" familiar to us today in the works of documentarians like Ken Burns.  Although Cooper figures only 25 or 30 out of the more than 100 movies he's done have been Westerns, he knows that "people still seem to think of me as a Western actor," and for good reason: movies like High Noon (for which he won the second of his two Oscars) have made good use of his laconic, dignified style.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
He has a love for the West, and Westerns, and looks with some bemusement at the state of the Western on television.  "I would say that the majority - not all, but the majority - of Western shows on TV are sort of laughable.  They get to wearing not one but two six-shooters and some of them even strap some kind of trick gun to their leg and these people would be laughed right out of any authentic western town say between 1850 and 1880 or 1890."  That's one reason why he's accepted the Project 20 assignment, "It's authentic.  It deals only in still pictures and it tells the story of the West as it really was,"  because, "if those people shot themselves up as much as they do on some of these TV shows they never would have got the West populated."

Cooper makes quite an impression in this unbylined piece, his engaging manner belying his stolid reputation.  He's "easily at home in a $250 Savile Row suit as in a $2.50 pair of blue jeans, and  can, with exactly the same natural aplomb, order cracked crab and white wine on the French Riviera or a hamburger and a cup of coffee at a Montana roadhouse."  He exhibits an easy, friendly style; when asked about his reputation, he explains how he came by his strong, silent persona: "I learned very early in my career that nothing you ever say gets quoted verbatim by the press.  So for many years I just clammed up and didn't say anything.  I guess now I've reached the age where I don't particularly care.  Anyway, I talk."

This is a rare TV appearance for Cooper, the first "role" he's ever played aside from playing himself on variety shows and awards presentations.  He's not sure about the medium: "What I object to about television is not the shows so much as that box you've got to watch them on.  It's small and it's the best there is.  It seems to me manufacturers could make much better TV sets than they do."  As for future appearances, "I've pretty much stayed away from television and I don't know that I'll ever really get into it on a serious basis.  It looks to me like just too much hard work."

Sadly, these words are truer than perhaps even he imagines.  I don't know when this interview is conducted, but the month before it appears, in February, Cooper is told by his doctor that the cancer which originated in his prostate and since spread to his lungs and bones is terminal.  Less than a month after the issue hits the newsstands, at the Academy Awards presentation, Cooper is too ill to accept an honorary Oscar, which is accepted for him by his friend James Stewart.  One month later, on May 13, 1961 - less than two months from the date of this issue - Gary Cooper dies.

***

Keeping with the theme of Hollywood and TV, there's Alfred Hitchcock on the cover.  Last year, he and the production team behind his NBC series Alfred Hitchcock Presents put out a modest little move called Psycho, which turns out to be Hitch's biggest hit, earning him his last Academy Award nomination for Best Director.  How do you follow up something like that?

By doing what you do best.  After a year of slumping ratings, Hitchcock has returned to his roots, emphasizing "the strange and bizarre kind of murder tale that is Hitch's particular pet."  People have gotten used to him being offbeat, he says, and so the answer is to become more offbeat, even macabre.  He's filmed episodes written by his Psycho partner Robert Bloch and short-story master John Collier, stories that "might curdle the blood of a werewolf."

There's a catch to this kind of success, though, as Hitch points out.  "I can't make just any picture I want to.  I've got to make a suspense picture.  If I don't the audience keeps waiting for the body to be found.  Same with television.  I've got to have the surprise, the twist ending."  Which is, he says gleefully, that the husband can get away with murdering his wife.  Until the coda, that is, when Hitchcock generally dispenses some sort of retribution that suggests the killer didn't get away with it after all.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents premiered in 1955; it's now in its sixth season.  By 1962 the show has expanded to an hour (retitled, appropriately, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour), and will run until 1965, one of the longest-running anthology series in TV history.

***

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
It's unusual for a network to schedule two documentaries in a single week, let alone two from the same documentary series.  But that's what NBC does this week with Project 20.  Gary Cooper's "The Real West," wasn't even the first Project 20 of the week - that honor goes to the previous night's "The Story of Will Rogers," narrated by Bob Hope.  This one is something of a departure from the series' modus operandi, in that Will Rogers left plenty of film footage of his career, in addition to the still photos that are Project 20's bread and butter.

Later that same Tuesday, ABC presents a look at the first two months of the Kennedy Administration in it's Close-Up! episode "Adventures on the New Frontier."  It's impossible to miss the optimism of these days; a young, vital administration, manned spaceflight aiming for the moon, new advances in technology, and television itself a growing medium.  And, notwithstanding the space program, the majority of these advances were simply designed to make life easier - kitchen appliances, color TV, automotive amenities.  There was a feeling that we could do anything.  Just take a look at the advertising of the era (and maybe sometime we will) - do we get that excited about much today?  And do we have that much confidence?

***

Here's another similarity to last week's edition: Robert Goulet.  This week, he's appearing on NBC's Omnibus Sunday afternoon, in a show entitled "An Omnibus of Songs."  His costars are Edie Adams and Broadway actor Myron McCormick, and the trio perform all-American music from the Victorian era to today.

Omnibus follows another music program on NBC, as NBC Opera Theatre presents Moussorgsky's Boris Godunov, featuring one of the greats to sing the title role, Giorgio Tozzi.  At only two hours, it's a truncated version of the opera, but anything to get a chance to hear Tozzi sing. The original broadcast was in color, but incredibly, here's a B&W kinescope of the whole program:


You say you want more music?  Well, over on Channel 11 the pianist Miklos Schwalb is the guest on the half-hour World Artist's Concert Hall.  Not to be left out of the mix, CBS has Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour at 4pm, followed by G-E College Bowl, pitting RPI against Fordham - which at halftime features a discussion of college admission requirements by the presidents of Notre Dame, Bates and Colorado College.  College Bowl was only a half-hour show; couldn't have left much time for a significant discussion.

See what you miss when you give over the whole weekend to televising sports?

***

ABC's The Untouchables is in the crosshairs again this week, but for once it's not the show's violence that's the focal point.   Or not exactly, at least.  This time it's the program's portrayal of Italian-Americans.

To flash back for a moment: in last week's issue, we learned that "several hundred members of the Italian-American Democratic Organizations of New York" had picketed in from of ABC's New York headquarters, protesting how the series portrayed Italian-Americans.  They were led (naturally) by a politician, New York Rep. Alfred E. Samtangelo that "The 21,000,000 Americans of Italian ancestry on whose behalf these pickets parade . . . will not permit ABC-TV to commercialize on crime and to paint America to the world as a nation of violence, shooting and murder" - all committed, one supposes, by Italian-Americans.  Samtangelo concluded that this was "our first step toward our objectives in cleaning up the TV industry."

This week we find that Liggett & Myers's the biggest sponsor of The Untouchables, has announced it will not renew its sponsorship of the show for next season, along with two other shows - Adventures in Paradise and Asphalt Jungle.  L&M denies that this decision has anything to do with a threat from the longshoreman's union to refuse handling any of L&M's products as long as they sponsored the show - it is, they insist, due to ABC moving The Untouchables to a less desirable time slot.  Needless to say, "industry executives who have been close to the situation privately pooh-poohed this explanation, alleging that the boycott was the real reason."

In other words, we have not one but two flashpoints at play here - not just the ever-popular "violence on television" argument, but the "politically-correct-defamation-of-ethnic-groups" card as well.  I suppose one could draw a contemporary parallel if a current show portrayed organized crime as being run by Hispanics, or a show on terrorism in which the bad guys were exclusively Muslims.  It's pretty easy to imagine the outcry that would create!  And yet it says something about the culture of the times that an ethnic group such as Italians would be outraged by The Untouchables.

Ultimately, there's a compromise: Desi Arnez's production company agrees not to create any more Italian-named fictional hoodlums*, to emphasize the Italian-American Nick Rossi in his role as Ness' right-hand man, and to underline the "formidable influence" of Italian-Americans in reducing crime.  I dunno, that sounds to me like something between pandering and condescending.  Did people really think all Italians were members of the Mafia?  I know that things were rough at the turn of the 20th Century, but by 1961?

*The Untouchables always had a tenuous hold on the facts, with their stories arousing the ire not only of the aforementioned Italian-Americans, but the FBI as well, who claimed that ABC was crediting Ness' men with accomplishments that should actually have gone to the FBI.

But then, Frank Sinatra was upset about this as well - as I recall, he even challenged Desi Arnez to a fight over it.  So if the Chairman of the Board takes offense at it, then maybe I shouldn't downplay it.

***

There's also an update here on the ongoing feud between Ed Sullivan and Jack Paar.  It all starts with Sullivan's objection to paying out thousands of dollars to entertainers to appear on his show, only to then have them turn up on Paar's Tonight for the minimum of $320.  Not, Sullivan stresses, that he has a problem with them talking with Paar; it's the performing part of their visit that bothers him.  He goes on to announce that anyone who does his act on Paar for $320 will only get that amount from him as well.

Naturally, Paar - who never met an argument he didn't want to get involved in - strikes back.  After the comedian Myron Cohen cancels an appearance on his show, Paar announces that he wanted NBC to put him on head-to-head against Sullivan - and we'd see who gets the bigger ratings.  The two men then agree to debate the issue on Tonight March 13.

Of course, the debate never comes off.  Sullivan says Paar "welched out," changing the terms of the debate; Paar counters by calling Sullivan "a liar" on the March 13 show, which gets the biggest ratings in the history of Tonight.  Incredibly, each man goes on to claim defeat - Sullivan says Paar outmaneuvered him, that he has no chance in the propaganda war, that Paar was quicker and wittier and had changed the terms of the debate to highlight this.  Paar, on the other hand, suggests that he's lost the press fight, but that his viewers appreciate his "brave and courageous" stand.  He adds that while the two men could no longer be friends, he'd drop the issue if only a couple of Paar's guests could go on the Sullivan show for the "going rate" (as opposed to the minimum $320).

If this all sounds a bit childish, consider the sources.  Paar probably had to take time off from other feuds to engage in this one with Sullivan, who for his part sounds petty and threatened.  I seem to recall a picture in Life magazine portraying the two men as puppets - why, yes, it's right here:


Somehow, I don't think they made anyone forget the Kennedy-Nixon debates.

March 21, 2014

Top Gear remembers Ayrton Senna

This is a bit of a change of pace, I know, but the timing is right. Today would have been the 54th birthday of Ayrton Senna, arguably the greatest Grand Prix driver ever. Senna was killed in an accident during the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994; already a legend, what kept Senna from then becoming a myth more than a man was the way he had lived his life, as you'll soon see.

There are many reasons why I ranked Top Gear number one on my Top Ten list, but amidst the wackiness and absurdity and dumb fun, one of the things the show does best is to draw out the romance of cars and the humanity of those who drive them.  Never was that more apparent than in this tribute to Senna from four years ago on the occasion of his 50th birthday.  James May introduces the piece as "a slight change of mood," but even though the show's off-the-wall humor is replaced by an uncommon solemnity, the underlying theme is no different than it has been on so many occasions.

There is something magical about the automobile - always has been.  And when someone drives a car, as Senna did, doing things that few people had ever seen done before, then we take note that this is a special person.  It is right that we should honor people like that, for their accomplishments, for doing things that we would like to do but can't, for doing what we might not have even considered possible.  He was human, as we all are, oftentimes for better and occasionally for worse, and we remember him for his extraordinary humanity.  But when he got behind that wheel, Ayrton Senna ceased to be human; he was a visible representation of a gift that had been given to him and which he sought to make the most of, and in doing so he guaranteed that we would never forget him.

So here's Top Gear's remembrance of Ayrton Senna, which says much about both the man and the program.

March 18, 2014

Reader mailbag - The Untouchables

It's question time! From the electronic mailbag, Jeff writes to ask:
I have watching The Untouchables on ME-TV and been wondering what happened to Jerry Paris (Martin Flaherty) on the Series. At first he was a major character in every episode, then his appearances got smaller & smaller. Then he totally disappeared. They explained it the returned to run the office in Boston. I wonder did he just happen to land the part of Jerry on the Dick Van Dyke Show and left or was it something else? I noticed all the other Untouchables became background characters after that. Was this the producers idea or Robert Stack? Stack was known as one of the "nice guys" in Hollywood so it would seem strange he would want to hog all the action. What do you think?

My first thought was that Jeff's got good taste in classic TV - The Untouchables is a favorite of mine as well.  Not great drama in the sense that we think of other shows from the Golden Age, but a lot of fun nonetheless.

I've never read anything that explains why Jerry Paris left The Untouchables.  I do know that the show was under frequent pressure from Italian-American groups regarding its portrayal of the Cosa Nostra as being dominated by Italian-Americans, and that the Rico Rossi character (played by Nick Georgiade) was created to counteract the criticism and serve as a positive image for Italian-Americans.  Now, does that mean that the producers might have downgraded Paris' role (and his replacement, Anthony George, whose character was actually killed off) in order to emphasize Rossi?  Or did Paris really just leave for the Van Dyke show? Or is there another answer out there?

I'm thinking that one of you good reades - Mike Doran, perhaps? - might have some additional information on this.  Anyone?

March 15, 2014

This week in TV Guide: March 23, 1968

We are, in a sense, revisiting this week's issue, having used it once before in last year's discussion on the content of Saturday morning children's programming.*  And that was an interesting topic, but by no means does it exhaust the material at hand.

*I just love it when I link to myself.  Because, as they say, if you won't do it, nobody else will.

***

One of the great controversies of the 1950s surrounded Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth's sister, and her romance with the divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend.  A marriage between the two was vetoed by the Church of England, which at the time forbade divorce and remarriage (head of the church: Queen Elizabeth), and in 1960 she married the photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, who upon marriage became Earl of Snowdon.  Tonight, CBS Reports presents "Don't Count the Candles," a photographic essay by Lord Snowdon on aging.  In addition to pictures depicting ordinary people dealing with various aspects of getting older, there are interviews with people at both ends of the aging spectrum, from Twiggy to Noel Coward to Field Marshal Montgomery.

For her part, Margaret turned out to be the black sheep of the royal family, having scandalous love affairs, saying outrageous things, and in general embarrassing the rest of the family at every opportunity.  My mother always thought Margaret did those things on purpose, and while I don't know whether or not there's any empirical data proving this, it doesn't require an advanced degree in psychology to suggest that Maggie was getting back at Liz for what happened with Townsend.  The only thing that could have made this story better was if the stymied Group Captain went on to become a rebellious rock musician, but such was not the case.

Eventually, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon divorce (a delightful line from the always-reliable Wikipedia notes that their marriage was "accompanied by drugs, alcohol, and bizarre behaviour by both parties such as Snowdon's leaving lists between the pages of books the princess read for her to find, of 'things I hate about you'"); Snowden goes on to marry (and divorce) the former wife of film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, while Margaret never remarries, but carries on a, shall we say, colorful life.

As was the case with the Ingrid Bergman story last week, what we see here (albeit in a far more tangential way, since Margaret is mentioned nowhere in the listing*) is more evidence of how perspectives on marriage have changed over the years.  It was one thing for Margaret, not even the heir to the throne, to scandalize Church and Country by marrying a divorced man; it is, apparently, something else that the current heir is, in fact, married to a divorced woman with whom he apparently conducted an affair while married to his former wife.  Again, no judgement here, merely observation.

*But if you insist on a television link, the subject of Margaret's later relationship with Roddy Llewellyn was once brief fodder for an episode of We Interrupt This Week, a show I looked at a couple of days ago.

***

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..

Sullivan: Scheduled guests: singers Jimmy Dean, Nancy Sinatra, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Spanky and Our Gang; comedians George Carlin, and Lewis and Christy; magician Dominique; and Charlie Cairoli, clown act.

Palace:  Host Phil Harris introduces Bill Dana as Olympic skier José Jiménez; England's Hendra and Ullett; Sid Miller and Rose Marie; comic magician Jacques Ary; singers Abby Lane, Philip Crosby, and the rocking Hollies.

This is from the short-lived, ill-advised period when ABC moved Hollywood Palace from Saturday to Thursday night.  In the new timeslot, it found itself up against Dean Martin, which is probably why it didn't last there very long.  Regardless of what night it's on, though, I don't think there's a lot to choose from this week.  I like Jimmy Dean, and George Carlin could be very funny at this stage of his career; I always liked Dana's José Jiménez character, but I have my doubts about the rest of the lineup for what was billed as "Comedy at the Palace."  Sometimes you just have weeks like this.  Verdict:  Push.

***

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
Last week I mentioned that in the 60s the National Invitational Tournament was still a big deal in college basketball, and you need look no further than this Saturday to see the evidence.  At 1pm CT, CBS presents the championship game, with the Dayton Flyers defeating the Kansas Jayhawks 61-48.  Later that night, Channel 11 presents the finals of the Minnesota State High School basketball tournament.  And somewhere in there, unseen on television in the Twin Cities, UCLA defeats North Carolina 78-55 to win the NCAA basketball national championship.

The UCLA-Carolina game, played in Los Angeles, tips off at 7pm Pacific time, which means it probably ends sometime around midnight in the East, and is syndicated nationally by SNI.  Channel 11 would usually have picked up syndicated specials like that; it's probably fair to assume that in this case Channel 11 wasn't an option because of the high school tournament.  What's particularly interesting about this is that the title game comes only two months after college basketball explodes on the television scene with TVS' syndicated coverage of the Houston-UCLA "Game of the Century."  Despite the fact that those two teams meet again in the national semifinals (with UCLA gaining revenge convincingly, 101-69), it will still be one more year before the tournament graduates to network television.

It will be the next year that NBC begins national coverage of the NCAA finals, which it will continue to do until 1982 when CBS takes over the contract, and gradually coverage of the tournament will expand until every game is broadcast on national television.  (Classic TV Sports has a great summary of the coverage here.)  As one of the great sporting events in America, it has indeed come a long way from the days when it played second fiddle to the second-tier college tournament, and couldn't even get its championship game on national television.

Other sports: TV coverage of the NBA playoffs begins on Sunday - yes, the playoffs that, in 2014 won't begin until April 19, begin on March 22, and continue on March 24 with a matinee game on ABC between the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons (Celts win 123-116).  Later that Sunday, the ABA playoffs get underway, and Channel 11 provides coverage of the inaugural postseason appearance of the Minnesota Muskies, who defeat the Kentucky Colonels 115-102.  It's the only season for the Muskies, who move to Miami the following year and become the Floridians.  No fear, Minnesota ABA fans - you'll get a new team, as the defending champion Pittsburgh Pipers, unable to make a go of it in the Steel City, relocate to Minnesota.  That only last a year as well, though, after which the Pipers return to Pittsburgh, rechristened as the Condors.  Got all that?

***

Here's a quick look at the highlights of the week:

Saturday:  I've alluded to this before, I'm sure, but we're in a period of time now when there's plenty of golf on TV, only not in the way we're used to seeing it.  Rather than PGA tournament golf that dominates today's TV, networks rely on made-for-TV competitions featuring either familiar, marketable faces (Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, et al) or knockout-style competitions between teams of two golfers, where the losers go home and the winners advance to the next round.  Makes perfect sense; the match is edited down to an hour rather than the two or three that a regular telecast would demand, it finishes up in a single day instead of four, and viewers are assured of seeing golfers they recognize and like.  We saw the former a few weeks ago in Big Three Golf, and today's CBS Golf Classic is a prime example of the later. The pairings, George Archer and Doug Sanders vs. Bobby Nichols and Raymond Floyd, face off at the famed Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.

Also on Saturday: the San Francisco Bay Bombers vs. the Detroit Devils in Roller Derby!

Sunday:  For many years NBC has featured a variety special built around one of the big touring ice shows, the Ice Follies.  Not only does it give Shipstads & Johnson the opportunity to induce us to marvel at large spectaculars staged on ice*, it also gives the network a chance to show off some of its own talent in the role of host.  Last year, for example, Ed Ames, costar of NBC's Daniel Boone, hosted and sang two of his hit songs, "My Cup Runneth Over" and "Try to Remember."  This year, it's the turn of Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, taking time off from their new hit show Laugh-In.  I'd imagine their banter to consist of the usual, with Dan playing the straight man to Dick's dump, befuddled comic; it's that shtick that Cleveland Amory thinks is the weak link in his otherwise glowing review of Laugh-In later in this issue.

*I always thought the ultimate would have been to stage an actual opera on ice.  My favorite idea, borrowing a theme from John Adams, was The Retirement of Gretzky.

Monday:  Armstrong Circle Theatre is a staple of television history.  Alternating with the U.S. Steel Hour, Circle Theatre lasted well into the early 60s, producing docudrama stories of historical events; tonight it reappears more as an advertising tag than as representative of that rich past, but although tonight's presentation is far from the docudrama format, it promises to be a delightful evening nonetheless. It's Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate, the musical version of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," starring the real-life husband-and-wife team of Robert Goulet and Carol Lawrence as the battling lovers Fred and Lilli.  Notwithstanding last year's Sound of Music broadcast, musical comedy is yet another genre that's all but disappeared from television.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
Tuesday:  If Lord Snowden's "Don't Count the Candles" is a meditation on the twilight of life, ABC's documentary "How Life Begins" earlier on Tuesday takes viewers back to the very beginning.  Executive Producer Jules Power predicts that his program will be controversial: "I expect some people to severely criticize this program."  The show focuses on the science of human reproduction, from "the fertilization of the egg, cell division, embryonic development and the delivery of a child."  I'd imagine there was some controversy about the show, complaints that television was dealing graphically with a subject matter best left to parents, and so on.  I also suspect, as Power goes on to say, that there will be many "approving letters from parents, teachers and community leaders who will say it's about time TV dealt candidly with this subject."

Wednesday:  The Avengers presents the new companion to John Steed, Tara King, played by the shapely Linda Thorson.  In tonight's story, Steed and King investigate the Alpha Academy, "where a fanatical headmaster is training youths for the domination of space."  But to do so, they're going to have to deal with the hero of Friday night's Channel 11 movie - see more below.

Thursday: It's the premiere of the 1958 big-screen A Night to Remember, the definitive telling of the sinking of the Titanic, on CBS' Thursday night movie.  Based on the best-seller by Walter Lord, the movie stars Kenneth More as Second Officer Lightoller, one of the officers who performed nobly that night.  I absolutely know that I watched this movie that night - one of the few times I can be that sure about something I watched that long ago.

Friday:  At 8:30pm, NBC's Hallmark Hall of Fame presents James Daly and Kim Hunter in Henry Denker's acclaimed 1961 drama "Give Us Barabbas."  Good luck seeing anything like that today.  And that Channel 11 movie I referred to earlier?  It's I Am at the Stars, the biography of German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun (played by Curt Jurgens), the mastermind of Germany's V-2 rocket who later became one of the brains behind the American space program.  According to Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff, the bitter joke in England was that the movie should have been called, I Am at the Stars but Sometimes Hit London.


***

Finally, a word or two about variety shows, since there are still a lot of them on the air in 1968.  In addition to Sullivan and the Palace, Jerry Lewis, Red Skelton, Jonathan Winters, Dean Martin and Carol Burnett still headline their own shows, and a program like the Kraft Music Hall features rotating hosts (this week: Eddy Arnold hosting "Country Fair").

One of the things about variety shows is that it often forces the most unlikely celebrity pairings, much as they pair odd couples as presenters for Oscar broadcasts.  Case in point is Sunday's Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, with guest star Greer Garson.  That's right, the Greer Garson who won the 1942 Best Actress Academy Award for Mrs. Miniver, and was nominated six other times.  The Greer Garson who narrated the Rankin-Bass animated special The Little Drummer Boy.  The Greer Garson who would have been 63 at the time of this broadcast.  That Greer Garson.

This seemed so bizarre, you might think it had all been made up, but no - here's the evidence:


And here's the second bit:


What makes this even better is the story told by the Brothers at the beginning of the second clip, where they relate how Greer Garson was actually a substitute for the planned guest, Joan Crawford.  It's also quite interesting to hear how happy Garson was to do the show, insisting to an obviously awe-struck Dick Smothers that he call her "Greer."  I suppose this really shouldn't be a surprise; after all, Bette Davis had guested with the Brothers, who - for all the political drama we remember - still ran a fairly conventional variety show.  Besides which, celebrities get to be celebrities by appearing on things like variety shows.

I think in the end it points out just how strange the 60s were.  It was a time when the old and new guards existed simultaneously, a very combustible combination of two distinct cultures.  Think Richard Nixon appearing on Laugh-In.  You've got Presidents Clinton and Obama doing late-night talk shows, but somehow by this time an appearance like that seems almost natural. Ultimately, there's really no good explanation except that it was the 60s, a decade in which anything could happen - and usually did.

March 13, 2014

Sports, Westerns, Game Shows and More! Don't cry UNCLE - it's just Around the Dial!

We haven't done one of these for a while (my apologies to my partners in the classic TV blogosphere), so let's take a quick look around the dial to see what caught my eye:

Such is the dismal state of baseball today (or, possibly, my increasingly curmudgeonly outlook on it), that I get far more excited by classic games from the past than by the prospect of Opening Day.  So when Jeff at Classic TV Sports shares a list of upcoming offerings on ESPN Classic, I notice it.  In particular, that 1976 ALCS game between the Yankees and Royals is a gritty classic that would have fit in to any era.

As is usually the case, Cult TV Blog is playing to my weaknesses, this time with an episode from the third season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  I vaguely remember this series not capturing my interest during its original run, when I was but a wee lad, but a few years ago I picked up the complete series in one of those ridiculous deals from Deep Discount, and it's been a real kick watching it.  I know that not everyone is a fan of the middle two seasons, when the show takes a hard right turn towards camp, but it still makes for a fun hour of TV.  Only thing missing is Stefanie Powers*, but she's on the Girl From U.N.C.L.E. set that's ridiculously high-priced.

*Around these parts, we all know that Stefanie Powers' middle name is *sigh*.

When The Price is Right returned to television in the 70s (as, appropriately enough, The New Price is Right), I remembered that there had been an "old" TPIR, but only had a dim memory of it.  Fortunately, Dixon at TV When I Was Born tells us all about it, so that we can see just how it differed from the Bob Barker version.  And while I like Bob well enough, I've always thought Bill Cullen was one of the great game show hosts of all time - a host's host, according to many in the industry.  If you like game shows, or even if you don't, be sure to check this out and then watch some of the episodes on YouTube.  I can guarantee you'll wince in pain at the cost of a new car back then.

One show I don't remember from its original run is Maverick, though I'd certainly heard a lot about it in the years afterward, especially when James Garner returned to series TV with Nichols and then The Rockford Files.  Thanks to Cozi, Maverick is back making the rounds again, and Hal at The Horn Section brings us up to speed with his Maverick Mondays review of "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres," one of the classics of the series.  If you're asking yourself whether or not to try it out, go no further than Hal's piece to find out why the answer is "yes."

My friend Andrew Lee Fielding is far too generous in his appreciation for my review of his book The Lucky Strike Papers a couple of weeks ago.  As I said at the time, when you're writing about a book as entertaining and charming as his, you'd have to be a real hack to butcher the review!  But if you haven't gotten the book yet, get it.  And if you don't make his blog a regular part of your reading, do it.  And thanks for the kind words, Andrew!

I don't know why, but for all the classic series I don't remember (or only have the foggiest recolections of), one series that I do recall vividly is The Storefront Lawyers, which morphed into Men at Law.  It was one of those "relevant" shows of the era, but I actually have some fond memories of watching it while eating pizza with my mom, and I thought Robert Foxworth was actually pretty good.  Television Obscurities takes us back to that time with an indepth look at the series, and why it only lasted one season.  Ah, the memories of childhood.

I think I'll call it a wrap for now, but you should check out the sites on the sidebar to see what else is out there.  As for us, come on back Saturday for a look at yet another TV Guide!

March 11, 2014

We Interrupt This Week, 1978

What we have here is that rarity, a program that proves PBS has a sense of humor.

The show in question is We Interrupt This Week, and it was the first game show to be broadcast on Public Television.  I don't think that's really a big deal - when I became a fan of it, during its single season of 1978, I didn't care if it was PBS' one-hundredth game show.  What mattered was that it was thirty minutes of witty, erudite humor.  It came during my PBS/British phase, when I'd discovered the charms of both British programming (The Prisoner, Monty Python) and PBS as a refugee from the single commercial television channel I endured in the world's worst town.

We Interrupt This Week was a mock game show that was hosted by the BBC's Ned Sherrin, who was perhaps the closest host I've seen to John Daly.  (I also loved his word pronounciations.)  It started out, if I'm remembering correctly, as a monthly program called, appropriately, We Interrupt This Month.  When it met with surprising success, it became a weekly series and changed its title accordingly.

I called it a mock game show, but I'm not sure that's either accurate or fair.  The two teams, made up of media celebrities of one extent or another*, did play the game for real, and did score points that, in the end, would determine the winning team.  And the questions were legit, if often ridiculous. The scorekeeping was slightly less capricious than that on another British import, Whose Line is it Anyway?, though Sherrin did echo Clive Anderson with his pronouncement at the beginning of each show that "My decisions will be arbitrary, prejudiced and final."

*In the original monthly version, the sides were called the "Home" team and the "Home Away From Home" team.  When the show started its weekly run, the teams were simply labeled "Home" and "Visitor" or "Guest."  That "Home Away From Home" moniker tells you a lot about the show's sense of humor.

It was great fun seeing celebrities not always known for having senses of humor* - Jeff Greenfield, Richard Reeves - in a battle of wits not only with the other team but with the sardonic Sherrin, who in the tradition of quiz hosts always managed to have the best lines.  As far as I can tell, this is the only recording of the program - at least it's the only one I could find, so I'll let you be the judge.  It's been a long time since I've seen this show - I was reminded of it by running across it in last week's TV Guide listing - but I find it holds up just as I'd remembered it, if you can put yourself back into the headlines from 1978.

*It also showed which of them were smarter - or perhaps stupider - than you thought.  Watch this and judge for yourself.

March 8, 2014

This week in TV Guide: March 18, 1961

Perhaps no star demonstrates the change in popular culture over the last 60 or so years more than Ingrid Bergman.

In 1950 there were fewer stars bigger than Bergman, who had appeared in a string of hits including Intermezzo, Casablanca, Joan of Arc and The Bells of St. Mary's, and had won an Academy Award as Best Actress for Gaslight.  She then became involved in a scandal - an affair with director Roberto Rossellini (they were both married to other people at the time) which left her pregnant, and her reputation in tatters.  Her adultery got her denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate (as "a horrible example of womanhood") and disinvited from The Ed Sullivan Show, and she remained in something of an exile even after winning her second Oscar in 1958 for Anastasia.  It wasn't until 1958, when she made a triumphant appearance as a presenter at the Oscarcast, that she returned to the American spotlight, and even then the lengthy ovation she received from the audience was controversial - some felt it amounted to a tacit endorsement of her past behavior.

This week, Bergman prepares for a rare television appearance, in the drama Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman's Life* on CBS Monday night.  Gilbert Millstein's profile only alludes to that scandal, remarking that "in the last two decades, she has been successively praised, blamed, boycotted, picked over, analyzed, adjured, sympathized with, litigated over and clasped once more to the public breast without any noticeable erosion." Bergman herself says that "Everybody feels that you belong to them.  I would have liked to have my own problems in peace, but it was not to be and I could not change any of it."  Having played a nun in The Bells of St. Mary's and a saint in Joan of Arc led people to view her not as a woman, but through the prism of the roles she played.

*Written by John Mortimer, better known as the creator of Rumpole of the Bailey.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
And that is just one of the ways in which we see the massive cultural changes over these years.  It's hard to imagine, for example, that the public, cynical as they now are, would feel so betrayed by an actress' personal life.  For that matter, adultery itself doesn't have the cache it used to, Tiger Woods notwithstanding.  The old saying, "there's no such thing as bad publicity" seems to be more true now than ever. Hugh Grant's indiscretion a few years ago was played mostly for laughs, and probably helped Jay Leno's career more than anything else.  With the advent of reality television to go along with the fanmags, embarrassment and public ostracism are things of the past.

The fallout over Ingrid Bergman's scandal was probably excessive (didn't the Senate have anything better to do?) but it came from a period in time when there was a common moral code, a sense of right and wrong that was generally accepted by a majority of the public.  If people lacked charity in their reaction, it could be said that their hearts might have been in the right place.

Ultimately, though, it's time to live and let live.  Ingrid Bergman, her elegance and her talent, are back - and we're the more fortunate for it.

***

Preempted by the Bergman special on Monday is The Danny Thomas Show, and here we have another example of how things have changed, albeit a smaller, less monumental one.  It has to do with our cover girl, Marjorie Lord, co-star of the Thomas show, and its origin goes all the way back to 1956.

In that year, Jean Hagen quit the Thomas show, then known as Make Room for Daddy.  For the show's first three seasons Hagen had played Margaret Williams, wife of Thomas' character Danny Williams.  But Hagen had tired of the role, and of Thomas*, and took a hike.  She was written out as having died, and the show's fourth season concerned Danny's search for a new wife.  Enter Lord, who as nurse Kathy O'Hara quickly captured the hearts of Danny and his kids.  At the end of that fourth season, the two were engaged.

*Rumor has it that so great was the antipathy between the two, Thomas (who also produced the show) refused to put the Hagen episodes into syndication once the series had accumulated enough to comprise a successful package.

Typically, this would have set up an episode surrounding the wedding, perhaps to kick off the new season - a sure-fire ratings winner that would have been heralded as the television "event of the year," or some such nonsense.  Shows from The Farmer's Daughter to Get Smart to Andy Griffith to Rhoda and beyond* have played that chestnut.  But not in this case.  No, as the fifth season started, Danny and Kathy were already married, and looking for a bigger place to live.

*Not to mention Luke and Laura.

I don't know why that decision was made (perhaps some of you out there do), but I approve wholeheartedly.  I've never liked the cloying sentimentality that accompanies those "very special episodes"; when I was a kid (just to prove to you how warped my childhood was), I used to envision Andy Griffith's marriage to Helen being broken up by some kind of air raid by a foreign power.  Why the Soviets would choose to invade some hick town in North Carolina is beside the point; what matters (besides the fact that I had the Legos and the model airplane bombers to play it all out) is that I derived great satisfaction from seeing everyone's plans laid to waste.

Anyway, we read that the ratings for the Thomas show skyrocketed following the introduction of Lord as his wife, so perhaps he figured the show didn't need to resort to the gimmick of a wedding episode.  Whatever the reason, the idea of a program passing up that kind of a ratings bonanza is something we're not likely to see happen in television today.

***

Let's stick with Monday for a moment more, because if you plan on watching Bergman, you're going to have to pass up two other programs that, in our pre-DVR era, you might never see again.  The first one, a novelty more than anything else, is The Play of the Week's presentation of "archy and mehitabel," starring Eddie Bracken and Tammy Grimes.  archy and mehitabel (lower case intentional*) were the creation of Don Marquis, a columnist for the New York Evening Sun, and charmed readers from the beginning.  archy is "a cockroach with the soul of a poet," or as TV Guide puts it, "a flair for free verse," and his sidekick mehitabel is an ally cat "with a penchant for free love."  Together, the two of them have charmed readers ever since with their light poetry and whimsical stories.  Carol Channing costarred with Bracken in the original musical production, and a Broadway version, Shinbone Alley, featured Eartha Kitt as mehitabel (no doubt an audition for her later appearance as Catwoman), with dialogue written by Mel Brooks.

*archy would "type" the stories of their adventures, leaping from key to key on a typewriter.  Since he was unable to operate the shift key, everything appeared in lower case.

If you'd rather wait to get your singing cats from, well, Cats, then you might prefer Bing Crosby's latest special at 8:30pm CT on ABC.  Der Bingle is in France, and his guests include Maurice Chevalier (naturally), tenor Aldo Monaco, and singer-dancer Carol Lawrence.  It's sometimes odd to think of Crosby on television in anything other than a Christmas special, but of course he did a lot of specials throughout the season, and Christmas, as we know, comes but once a year.

Don't see anything to watch yet?  Then try The Barbara Stanwyck Show at 9pm on NBC.  This is a single-season anthology series hosted by Stanwyck, who also starred in almost every episode.  It was released on DVD a few years ago, and while it's not a great show, it's pretty good, and Stanwyck wins a Best Actress Emmy for it.  Tonight's episode is "Adventure on Happiness Street," with Stanwyck as the only recurring character in the series, import-export tycoon Josephine Little.  It is said that the Little character, who appeared in three of the series' 36 episodes, is intended to star in a spin-off series that never comes to pass.  It is a typical Stanwyck character - tough, intelligent, strong, not in the mood to take much guff, but with a sensitive side underneath all that.  Although Stanwyck doesn't get a chance to develop Josephine Little into a series, she will return in a few years with another tough character: Victoria Barkley in The Big Valley.

Finally, CBS follows the Bergman special with its 30-minute anthology series of its own, The June Allison Show.  (And when was the last time a network scheduled a half-hour program in the 9:30 time slot?)  Tonight's feature, "The Secret Life of James Thurber" starring Orson Bean as cartoonist John Monroe (a stand-in for Thurber), is notable in that a few years later the Monroe character returns, played by William Windom, in NBC's My World and Welcome to It.  I've always had a fondness for that title, acting as it was as the inspiration for the title of the motherblog.

***

Enough of Monday, you say.  Wasn't there anything else going on the rest of the week?  Well, let's see.

Ever heard of a series called Follow That Man?  It ran on several networks from 1949 through 1956, and starred Ralph Bellamy as private eye Mike Barnett.*  I've seen some episodes on DVD; it's pretty good.  Not great, but not a waste of time either - Bellamy's almost always worth watching.  Anyway, it pops up in syndication frequently in the TV Guides of this era, usually on a Monday-Friday weekday strip.  In this case, it's on weekdays at 1pm on independent Channel 9.

*One of his sidekicks in the early years was Robert Preston.  Professor Harold Hill himself!

As is the show preceding it, the sitcom Willy.  (Not to be confused with Free Willy, according to Wikipedia.  As if.)  It stars June Havoc as a lady lawyer from New Hampshire now living and working in NYC.  It only ran for one season; I confess I've not heard of it before, and I imagine part of the hook of the show must have been the female attorney angle.

With a name like Hadley, he just has to be good
And then, just to round out Channel 9's pre-matinee movie block, there's Racket Squad, starring Reed (no relation) Hadley as a San Francisco detective busting crime rackets.  (And you thought it was about tennis, right?)  It also ran for a few years in the early 50s; I've seen a couple of episodes of it, too, but as much as I wanted to like it I just couldn't get into it.

Follow That Man and Racket Squad come as part of Mill Creek's Best of TV Detectives set, and if you can find it for less than $10, it's worth picking up.  Most of the shows are fairly forgettable, but there are a number of small treasures in there, including a number of 50s Dragnet episodes, David Janssen as Richard Diamond, and Beverly Garland in Decoy.  (Which was not that great, but when you've got the young Beverly Garland, what else do you want?)  As a sampler package, you're going to find that one or two episodes will give you your fill of most of these series.

One series that did leave me wanting more was, surprisingly, Michael Shayne, which aired on NBC Friday nights at 9pm.  It starred Richard Denning, who had been in Mr. and Mrs. North and would go on to play the governor in Hawaii Five-O, as a tough but suave private detective in Miami.  I wrote about Michael Shayne, and Denning in general, a couple of years ago, and I had occasion to see another of the few available episodes a week or two back.  Perhaps it was because I had low expectations that I enjoyed Shayne; it certainly isn't the greatest PI show ever made, but Denning is winning and the whole thing is fun.  There are more episodes out there on the grey market, but not, alas the complete single season that it ran.

***

A quick sports note: on Saturday afternoon NBC presents an opening-round game in the NIT basketball tournament, from Madison Square Garden in New York.  There was a time when the NIT was a very big deal; in the early days of college basketball it was more prestigious than the NCAA tournament, and even after the latter became the undisputed crowner of the national champion, the NIT remained a significant title well into the 60s.

One of the main reasons for the NIT's status was that that, in those days, the NCAA tournament was not the massive 68-team event it is today.  In 1961 the NCAA field was probably 22 or 24 teams, all of them either conference champions or independent at-large teams, which meant there were a lot of very good sides left out.  Hence, the NIT.  In 1961, twelve teams made up the field for the tournament, which was played out over a week or so at the Garden, an attraction in and of itself.  The two teams playing in this first-round game, Providence (20-5)* and DePaul (17-7), likely would both make the NCAAs today with those kinds of records.  But when the big tournament is more selective, the smaller tournament prospers.  After all, when the humans are eating filet mignon, the scraps fed to the dogs are still going to be pretty good.

*Providence, in fact, goes on to win the tournament, defeating Saint Louis in the final 62-59.


***

And finally, the U.S. Steel Hour features Oscar winner Shirley Booth in what was then a rare television appearance, in the play "Welcome Home."  The plot line:

Charles and Laura Austin have been planning a trip through Europe for a long time.  But they'll have to sell the house to raise the money.  And if the house goes, so does Jenny Libbott (Shirley Booth), their maid-cook-governess and companion for 25 years.

Don't worry, Shirley.  If the Austins dump you, I know the Baxters will be only too happy to take you on.

March 6, 2014

US-USSR hockey, 1960 Winter Olympics

A little late with this perhaps, but I just ran across this footage today: CBS' coverage of the first period of the US - USSR hockey game at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, CA, with - I believe - Bud Palmer at the mic for the play-by-play.  (There are several versions available; this one appears to be the complete game.)

A few observations: first, Bud Palmer isn't exactly an unbiased announcer, is he?  But I always enjoyed listening to his work.

As was the case with the 1980 Miracle on Ice, this isn't the gold medal game; the medals were decided based on the overall record of the teams in the medal round.  The US finished with a perfect 5-0 record in that round, followed by Canada at 4-1, and the Soviet Union at 2-2-1.  The US actually clinched the gold with their 9-4 victory over Czechoslovakia the next day.  (By the way, the corners on the ice surface are really deep, aren't they?  It makes the rink look almost rectangular.)

And did you notice the sunshine streaming across parts of the ice and the crowd?  Olympic regulations of the time required all events to be held outside (or, more precisely, they couldn't be held "under a roof"); thus, Blyth Arena  was constructed with one complete side open (the one facing the camera).  The Olympic rings were attached via cables, and ropes were hung down in an effort to cut down on the sun's glare on the ice.  I don't know how you all feel about it, but I think it's kind of neat.  And with the success of the NHL's Winter Classic, why not have all the skating events outside?  The arena in Cortina for the 1956 games did this to great effect.*

*Not to mention it's appearance in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only.


Al Michaels, eat your heart out!


Cross-posted to Our Word and Welcome to It.

March 4, 2014

Lucky Us

The Lucky Strike Papers: Journeys Through My Mother's Television Past
by Andrew Lee Fielding
(BearManor Media, 264 pages, $22.58 paperback)

When it comes to books about the world of classic television, readers can be forgiven for feeling they're walking into a minefield.  Some books are little more than glorified fanzines that capably demonstrate the author's enthusiasm for his subject but can be painful to read; others are dry scholarly tombs that give readers all the facts (and I do mean all), but little of the fun behind them; there are episode guides that offer little insight into what makes a television series special; and there are those that somehow manage to completely remove an era from its cultural context.

Happily, The Lucky Strike Papers is none of these.

What it is is a charming, affectionate survey of a particular time in the history of both America and television, with Andrew Lee Fielding as our tour guide.  It's partly a biography of the author's mother, singer Sue Bennett, who appeared on several television series during the 50s and 60s, but it's much more than that.  By taking Ms. Bennett's career as his starting point, Andrew Fielding takes us through post-war America, and gives us a colorful look at the nascent television industry and some of its milestone characters and programs.

In case you haven't noticed yet, I liked this book.  A lot.

Remember those pitfalls I mentioned at the beginning?  Well, the reason The Lucky Strike Papers doesn't fall into any of them is because Fielding is a writer who knows how to tell a compelling story, bringing to life people as varied as bandleader Kay Kyser, who brought his Kollege of Musical Knowledge to radio and television before becoming a Christian Science practitioner; future talk-show hosts Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas, who performed with Sue Bennett and remembered her fondly; Snooky Lanson and Russell Arms, with whom Bennett sang on Your Hit Parade, the legendary program sponsored by Lucky Strike cigarettes (hence the book's title), and many more.

In doing so, Fielding avoids the mistake that so many writers make when they're too close to their subject - he's given us not a rote recitation of his mother's career in every detail, nor a loving hagiography, but an adventure through a stunningly exciting time in the history of media, with Bennett's television career as the impetus that guides us through various milestones while giving us a real look at the context in which these adventures take place.  We make stops in cramped television studios, vast theaters converted for use by the new medium, the early technical wizardry of location shooting, and even the use of the famed ocean liner United States as a floating set for Hit Parade.  And this tells us so much more about the world of the 50s, when popular music told stories, when transatlantic travel was the epitome of glamour, and when Americans learned about the miracle that allowed flashing images to enter their living rooms.

In other words, this is right up my alley.

I find it interesting that reading books about television can often be more informative than watching television itself.  Programs on the history of TV sometimes devolve into a kind of home movie - and people of my age still remember the stab in the pits of our stomachs when the next-door neighbors invite us over to see the movies from their recent vacation.  Books, on the other hand, can only capture still photos, snapshots of a specific moment frozen in time, and they have to rely on words to fill in the rest.

And Fielding does this with a style that I found very enjoyable to read.  It's not only well-written, but Fielding has a distinctive approach, using a narrative voice that's almost quasi-documentary in tone.  It's very effective, giving the reader the sense of flipping through the pages of a scrapbook and reading the captions written on the backs of pictures.  In doing so, he generates a warmth not only for the age, but for the people participating in it.  He makes it come alive, which is one of my tests as to how good a book is.

Another is whether it makes me want to learn more, to know the people whose stories it tells.  And Fielding does just that.  By the end, I wanted to know Sue Bennett, to be able to talk with her and ask her about those times and her particular place in television history.  That's not possible now, but in Andrew Lee Fielding's book, we meet her through her son, and his love not only for his mother but for her life in television, and television itself, is the next best thing.

***

Now, a moment of full disclosure - I link to Andrew's blog, The Lucky Strike Papers, and I've linked to several pieces he's posted.  One day I got a very nice email from him, asking if I'd be interested in a copy of his book.  Well, I wrote back, it just so happens that I've already got your book.  Unfortunately, it's packed away in one of forty or so boxes, waiting to be transported from North Carolina to Texas.  But I'm really looking forward to reading it, since I enjoy the blog.

We've corresponded several times since then (Andrew is nothing if not a gentlemen, and he's been gracious in thanks when I've linked to him.  In fact, I should be thanking him for providing me with such interesting things to read.) and The Lucky Strike Papers has always been the number two book on my stack of upcoming reading material.  But then there was the whole JFK anniversary, and Christmas, and something always seemed to be coming up.

Finally, I'd had enough.  I put aside a book that I was in the middle of (I haven't finished it yet), and pulled Andrew's to the top of the list.  I didn't have many doubts that I'd like it, but what if?  Could I be honest and objective about a book if it wasn't any good?

I think you know the answer to that.  I don't go out of my way to offend, but I've never pulled any punches on this blog either.  And when I say I can highly recommend The Lucky Strike Papers, you know that I've not been compromised in any way.

This book is good.  Buy it.  Read it.  Read the blog.  Enjoy them - I'm pretty sure if you're reading this now, you will.