February 28, 2015

This week in TV Guide: February 27, 1960

Only three cities in the United States have ever hosted the Winter Olympics – Lake Placid, New York; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Squaw Valley, California.  Yes, the 1960 Winter Olympics were held in California, a fact that puzzled me no end when I was a boy, reading about the heroic exploits of the U.S. hockey team that year.  Of course I knew there were mountain ranges in California, but it still seemed a strange choice for the Winter Games, and as this issue of TV Guide sees them come to a conclusion, it’s worth spending a moment on just how this unlikely site was chosen as an Olympics host.

It was in 1955 that Squaw Valley was selected for the 1960 Games - "a town with no mayor, and a ski resort with just one chairlift, two rope tows, and a fifty-room lodge."  In fact, there was only one resident of Squaw Valley, a man named Alexander Cushing, who also happened to head the "group" bidding for the Games.  Through an ingenious campaign, Cushing managed to convince first the United States Olympic Committee and then, in a massive upset, the International Olympic Committee, that Squaw Valley was the place for the Games.  This was despite the fact that none of the facilities he included in his bid* even existed yet.  Had he been unable to pull it off, Cushing probably would have gone down in history as one of the great land swindlers of all time, and we'd be seeing his story on an episode of The FBI.

*Seen in a massive 3,000 pound model of Squaw Valley that Cushing commissioned for the IOC, a model so big that it had to be housed in the U.S. Embassy in Paris, where the final vote was taken.

But pull it off he did.  With only four-and-a-half years to get ready, he wasted no time hiring the best people, including famed Olympic course designer Willy Schaeffler, to construct a venue from scratch - everything from freeways, hotels and motels to access roads, bridges and arenas.  The result was a huge success, a spectacular resort venue that continues to thrive today, and a Games that scored a host of notable firsts, including the first to be televised.

Which brings us to this week's coverage, seen on CBS Saturday and Sunday.  Unquestionably Saturday's highlight is the live broadcast of America's upset gold medal victory in hockey.  As would be the case 20 years later, a team comprised of college players, cheered on by a rabid home crowd, takes on and defeats the giants of international hockey: Canada, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.  You can see that historic final game, against the Soviets, beginning here, with Bud Palmer doing the play-by-play:


CBS looked at the Games as a news event as much as a sporting one; Walter Cronkite was the anchor for the network's coverage, with Chris Schenkel and event experts joining in.  Douglas Edwards filled in for Uncle Walter on the Sunday night late news, which Cronkite helmed until taking over for Edwards on the weekday evening news.

***

This week's starlet is another destined to make it big, or at least one who has a successful career.  It's Shirley Knight.  The 23 year-old actress is primarily known for her many guest appearances on TV: G.E. Theater, Playhouse 90, Matinee Theater, Johnny Staccato.  She's under contract to Warner Brothers for both television and movies, and says she'll "work every day they'll let me until I'm 65."

And she does work.  Later that year she'll appear in her third movie, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, for which she'll get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.  In 1962, her fifth movie, Sweet Bird of Youth, will garner her another Supporting Actress nomination.  Her TV appearances will net her eight Emmy nominations and three victories.  A pretty good career, don't you think?  Probably even more successful than they could imagine over at TV Guide.

***

SOURCE: BROADCASTING AND CABLE
The irony note of the week comes from an article on ABC's smash hit, The Untouchables.  Executive Producer Quinn Martin is the brains behind the rookie show's success, the first of many hits ascribed to Martin during a long and successful career.  One of the complaints about the show surrounds what Martin calls "dramatic license," when the Untouchables are shown capturing Ma Barker and her gang.  In real life (yes, there was a Ma Barker in real life), it was not Eliot Ness and the Untouchables, but the FBI, who captured Barker and her bankrobbing sons.  Martin understands the FBI's ire at this; "After all, the FBI gets its appropriations based on the job it does, and it's understandable that they'd object to credit being given to someone else."

If Quinn Martin had any lingering feelings of guilt about cheating the FBI out of proper credit, hopefully he was able to even the score when it came to one of his longest-running hits: The FBI (1965-74).

Martin has other problems with The Untouchables - the estate of Al Capone, the first victim of Ness' squad, is suing Martin for a million bucks for using his likeness for profit without the family's permission.  The show faces pushback from Italian-American groups for its negative portrayal of Italian-Americans.  Critics claim the show's too violent.  But it's a lot easier to take when you're producing a hit.  Martin stays with The Untouchables for only a year, but his success and influence in television lasts a lot longer.

***

Saturday:  NBC's World Wide 60 presents the comings and goings of two of the world's more important figures: Dwight D. Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev.  The American and Soviet leaders are touring the world, vying for influence in various countries.  Ike's in the midst of his South American tour and, just finished a trip to Brazil, is headed for Argentina.  Khrushchev, meanwhile, is in Asia, visiting India, Burma and Indonesia.  NBC continues its coverage of Eisenhower's "Journey to Understanding" with another special on Thursday.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
Sunday:  Pompous program of the week: the Archibald MacLeish drama "The Secret of Freedom," on NBC Sunday night at 7:00 ET, opposite Ed Sullivan on CBS.*  The drama, starring Tony Randall, Kim Hunter and Thomas Mitchell, tells the story of a woman who wonders whether Americans "have lost their souls" when a school tax referendum is defeated in her town.  If this sounds a lot like the tactics that school referendum proponents use to this day, it is.  I don't suppose there's anything in the script about holding the schools to accountability.

*Even then, prestige shows were stuck opposite popular programs.

Monday:  Bing Crosby returns to ABC with another special, this one co-starring Perry Como, dancer-singer Elaine Dunn, singer Sandy Stewart, and Bing's singing sons Philip, Dennis and Lindsay.  The Crosby Boys, as they were known professionally, were around in the '50s and '60s, and actually appeared on more than just their dad's shows.

Tuesday:  Another one of those daytime specials that used to crop up from time to time.  This one, Woman!, runs at 2pm CT on CBS, with Helen Hayes hosting a documentary on the problems of old age.  I like the thought that homemakers watching television are capable of appreciating more than just soap operas.

Wednesday:  Armstrong Circle Theater presents a drama dealing with two topical issues: drugs and beatniks.  "Raid in Beatnik Village" tells the story of cops on the narcotics squad going undercover to bust dope dealers.  Juvenile delinquency is a big deal in the '50s and '60s, and although this drama probably would feel dated today (particularly with reference to "narcotics"), I suspect it's a pretty accurate depiction of the societal anxiety around the coming counterculture, something that would become much, much bigger by the end of this decade.

Thursday:  Speaking of The Untouchables, tonight's episode is part two of an exciting story pitting Ness and the Untouchables* against the attempted assassination of FDR in 1933.  As in real life, Roosevelt escapes unscathed, but Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak is shot and killed.  The official story has generally been that Cermak, like Texas Governor John Connelly thirty years later, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, but there are revisionist historians, including the writer of this episode, suggesting that the mob had a contract out on Cermak, and that he was at least as much of a target as Roosevelt.

*And please tell me why there isn't an alt-rock group out there called Eliot Ness and The Untouchables?  Or Tao Jones and The Industrial Averages, for that matter?


SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
Friday:  Art Carney was on a lot more than just The Honeymooners, and tonight he stars on yet another live production, "The Best of Everything," on NBC at 7:30pm.  Actor Roddy McDowall and musical-comedy star Betty Garrett join Art to satirize "the American custom of handing out awards at the drop of a hat."  Considering that I'm writing these words the day after yet another bloated Academy Awards show, they seem more prescient than ever, don't they?

***

Finally, the big news of the week is that Jack Paar has returned!  You may remember that back on February 11, the controversial Paar had walked off the set of The Tonight Show during taping, because NBC had censored a story he'd told on the show the night before, having to do with some confusion over the initials W.C. - meaning, depending on the two main characters in the joke, either "Wayside Chapel" or "Water Closet," i.e. bathroom.  We wouldn't bat an eye at the story today, but literal bathroom humor was a no-no back then.

To compound the debacle, in place of the censored joke NBC substituted a five-minute news broadcast, right there in the middle of the show.  They could have just had the show end five minutes early, I suppose, which might have meant fewer people would have noticed anything was missing.  In any event, Paar complained that the amorphous term "censored" was leading people to speculate that Paar had told a story that was genuinely dirty.

Paar's spectacular walkout dominated the headlines for three weeks, until NBC board chairman Robert Sarnoff and president Robert Kintner flew down to Florida, where Paar had decamped to avoid the press.  According to TV Guide, the pair "were able to sweet-talk [Paar] back into the fold with an alacrity that bordered on the miraculous."  Paar's walkout "lasted just about as long as it takes to get a Florida tan," and Dwight Whitney somewhat cynically speculates that Paar's return will be "one of the most sensational 'comebacks' in entertainment history."

Was it a stunt or not?  Paar always insisted that his walkout was on the up-and-up; when he left the show, he said that "there must be a better way to make a living than this."  Returning on March 7, he added, "Well, I've looked, and there isn't."  TV Guide's letters section presents a cross-section of viewer mail; the editors noted that 78% was pro-Paar, 22% anti-Paar.  Interestingly, the listings for Tonight this week have Arlene Francis guest-hosting and Bill Wendell sitting in for Hugh Downs as announcer, while "Monday Jack returns from his vacation."  I guess that's one way to put it!

5 comments:

  1. But what about 'The Matinee Idols of Daytime TV'? Don't leave us hanging! :)

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    1. Ah, these cliffhangers are hard to endure, aren't they?? :)

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  2. Testing - one-two-three ...

    Trying to Beat the Machine ...

    OK, I'm safe- I think.

    Early 1960 was typical, I think, of TV of the period, in the variety of shows available.
    Looking through the listings, I note that Channel 7, the ABC station, is giving 90 minutes on Saturday night (10:00 to 11:30) to the Cuban Winter Baseball League, where many US players would go to keep sharp in the off-season (this came to an unceremonious end not long thereafter).

    On Monday night, Darren McGavin is missing from Riverboat because of an accident; Dan Duryea pinch-pilots in his stead (things like this happened quite a bit when they were doing 30-some-odd episodes each season).

    On Tuesday, Red Skelton has Mae West as guest star. Miss West encounters three Skelton characters: Clem Kadiddlehopper, Cauliflower McPugg, and San Fernando Red.
    She describes all this to an interviewer played by William Schallert, who tonight is competing with himself: he's also the resident cop to Philip Marlowe on ABC (see what I said above about 30+ episodes a season.

    The Armstrong Circle Theatre on Wednesday includes in its cast Del Close, who was flown in from Chicago, where he was one of the founding fathers of the Second City comedy troupe.
    Close's character is "Ringo Cat", which pretty much says it all.

    The Untouchables on Thursday, the Cermak shooting show, is an all-time fave of mine, mainly for a mob confab in the first part featuring four actual Capone crew figures:
    Frank Nitti, played by Bruce Gordon (of course)
    Louis "Little New York" Campagna, #2 to nitti during Capone's absence, played by Frank DeKova (later Chief Wild Eagle on F Troop).
    Frank Diamond, a long-term triggerman, played by a young (sort of) Lee Van Cleef.
    .. and last but not least, Bill Skidmore, one of Chicago's great political fixers, played here by Richard Deacon (Dick Van Dyke was a couple of seasons off, but Deacon was already turning up as Fred Rutherford on Leave It To Beaver).
    Truly, you haven't lived till you've heard Deacon, with a paste-on pencil mustache and a nail file, telling his fellow mobsters what will happen if their plans for Mayor Cermak don't come off:
    " ... the bluebellies will come in and shut this shop down , and we'll all have to go and live with Al Capone!"

    Oh, and about "revisionist history" ...
    Many lifelong Chicagoans who lived through that era (my father among them) always believed that Joe Zangara, a native Sicilian, got the man he was after.
    The Untouchables version is fiction, of course: the Mob hitman in this, who wears '30s golfing togs throughout, is played by actor-director Robert Gist - who also appears on Zane Grey Theatre earlier the same evening (back to what I said earlier about 30+ shows a year ...).

    Now to wait for tomorrow's one-day roundup ..

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    1. Congrats, Mike! :) I really like that Untouchables episode as well - for that matter, any episode that Bruce Gordon is in. I swear, he always gets the best lines, doesn't he?

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  3. The U.S. men's hockey team win over Russia in 1960 (like in 1980), did not win them the Gold Medal.

    The U.S. had to play the Czechs on the last day, and had to win that game to insure a gold medal.

    I'm too young to recall this, but I thought I heard somewhere that after the Russia win, CBS changed it's Olympic broadcast schedule for the next day so that instead of a three-hour broadcast from 1 to 4 P.M. Central (2 to 5 P.M. Eastern) there was a two-and-a-half-hour broadcast from 10 A.M. to 12:30 P.M. Central (11 A.M.-1:30 P.M. Eastern) and another half hour from 3:30-4 P.M. Central (4:30-5 P.M. Eastern).

    The idea, based on what I heard (and I'd love to verify it) would have been to carry the final U.S. hockey game live.

    The late-afternoon segment would have been the Closing Ceremonies, which took place from 1:30 to 2 P.M. Pacific time.

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!