March 28, 2015

This week in TV Guide: March 26, 1960

Hanging around for another week in the early '60s, courtesy of the television stations of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  I've long contended that the very early '60s, perhaps up to as late as 1965, are far more an extension of the 1950s than they are their own decade, and I think the programs from this issue support that contention - even though we're only three months into the new decade.

For example, the very first page in the programming section - at 9:00am CT, NBC has that old warhorse, Howdy Doody.  But there's a twist - the show's now survived to enter the color era and the space age.  Could Buffalo Bob and the crew have imagined that back in 1947, when the show started?  By the way, this is the last season of Howdy Doody; it goes off the air in September, to be replaced by Shari Lewis and Lambchop.

Another example can be seen on this week's cover: Donna Reed*, the star of the eponymous sitcom now in its second season.  The Donna Reed Show ran for eight seasons, and despite the fact that six of those seasons took place entirely in the 1960s, it's commonly lumped in with the rest of the cultural milieu of the 1950s.  You can say the same thing about The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, although in this case the show is clearly a product of the '50s, with seven of its fourteen seasons running during the decade.

*And, although the accompanying article describes Reed as having "long been acknowledged as one of the loveliest stars in Hollywood," that's a very unflattering picture of her on the cover.  Such an obviously forced, frozen smile.  No sparkle in the eyes.  You'd think a professional photographer could have gotten something better out of her, don't you?

Both Donna Reed and Ozzie and Harriet ended their runs in 1966, and were widely perceived as dinosaurs, relics of an era that, if it in fact ever existed, was long gone by then.  Looking at the prime-time schedule for then, we can see police and spy dramas, science fiction, wars and westerns, but the typical sitcom has turned away from the family and toward young marrieds (Love on a Rooftop), concepts (Occasional Wife, It's About TimeCaptain Nice, Mr. Terrific, Gilligan's Island).  Of the remaining shows, Lassie and My Three Sons are among the only ones that really hearken back to the '50s, and even those changed with the times.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves - this is 1960, not 1966, and there's plenty more for us to appreciate without looking ahead six years.

***  

Saturday afternoon NBC provides coverage of an NBA playoff game.  It's either going to be the seventh game of the Eastern finals between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia Warriors, the seventh game of the Western finals between the St. Louis Hawks and Minneapolis Lakers, or the opening game of the championship round if both division finals have finished.

I mentioned this series last week, but I'm pointing it out again for another reason, one tying in to our lead discussion.  Of the four teams remaining in the playoffs, only the Celtics still represent the same city; the Philadelphia Warriors moved to San Francisco and then Oakland, where they're known today as the Golden State Warriors; the St. Louis Hawks moved to Atlanta, and the Minneapolis Lakers would, in a few weeks, head west to Los Angeles.  It's understandable that one might be confused by this, since both Philadelphia and Minneapolis have since gotten new teams; it's even more confusing when one considers that Wilt Chamberlain, star of that Philadelphia Warriors team, moved with them to San Francisco and then was traded back to Philadelphia to play for that city's new team, the 76ers.

In fact, looking at the NBA of 1959-60, there are a stunning number of differences.  There are only eight teams, as opposed to today's 30; St. Louis is as far west as the league goes; only six teams (as opposed to 16) make the playoffs, and the whole thing was over by April 9.  This year, the playoffs don't even start until April 18.

By the way, in case you're wondering, the game shown was the first game of the finals, and it was played not on Saturday, but Sunday (the game was also shown in the Sunday listings, just in case).  Boston defeated St. Louis, 140-122.

***

Tony Curtis says he's through with television.  The movie star, fresh off of a string of hits including The Defiant Ones, Some Like it Hot, Operation Petticoat and Spartacus, is appearing Tuesday night on NBC's Startime in the title role of "The Young Juggler," which will be his third and - he says - final appearance on TV.

"'The Young Juggler' isn't a TV show," Curtis maintains,  Comparing it to his two other TV roles, he says, "They're films.  The fact that they're shown on TV for the first time is only incidental.  And I've come to the conclusion, as long as you're going to make films, why make films for TV?  Why not just make films, period?"

He first went into television, he says, "to see what could be done with a 26-minute film."  And it's the length, more than anything else, that turns him off from the medium.  "[R]ight away  the sponsor wants to put three commercials into the show- one at the beginning, one at the middle and one at the end.  I said no.  The middle one would have come smack in the middle of the second act.  so we had to work it out to where they're putting shorter commercials in between the acts instead.  It makes more commercials, but they don't give anybody time to go to the kitchen."

That's not all.  "Then they wanted me to do a trailer, 30 seconds of Tony Curtis coming on and saying, 'Hello, I'm Tony Curtis.  Be sure and watch me in "The Young Juggler" on Ford Startime.'  And I said no again.  I said, 'It's that word Ford.  I'm a performer, not a car salesman.'  I said, 'If you want me to sell cars, give me 10 percent of the agency or the distributorship or whatever it is.'  I said, 'If I wanted to go into business, I'd open a cigar store.'"  Ah, the delights of being selective and demanding - it can only happen when you're a star.

By the mid-60s, Curtis' movie career had waned, and he did indeed return to television.  He did The Persuaders! with Roger Moore in 1971, McCoy in 1975, and in a supporting role in Vega$ in the late 70s, and was a frequent guest star for the remainder of his career - including a very funny voiceover as a character named "Stony Curtis" on The Flintstones.

It's interesting that the very things that repelled Curtis from television in 1960 have now disappeared to a large extent, making the medium precisely what the young Curtis might have gravitated to.  Look at all the big names appearing on prestige cable shows on networks such as HBO.  There's no break for commercials (or at least limited ones), no pressure to shill for sponsors (just for the show itself), and it has evolved into a way of telling long-form, in-depth stories that would appear to have been right up Curtis' alley.  Notwithstanding all that, you can't really call Tony Curtis a failure now, can you?

***

Another man destined for movie stardom, Lee Marvin, appears this week on NBC's Sunday Showcase.  He's in the play "The American," which tells the story of Ira Hayes, one of the men immortalized in the famous photograph of U.S. Marines planting the flag on Iwo Jima.*  Controversy has always existed as to whether or not that photo was staged; one of the survivors, Rene Gagnon, acknowledges that the picture taken was of a second flag that was raised (the first one was taken down and kept as a souvenir and a second, larger flag put up - one that "could be seen all across the island"), but that fighting was still going on and the photo was not staged.

*Ironically, Tony Curtis will also play Ira Hayes, in the 1961 movie The Outsider.  That movie is already in pre-production, and Hayes' tribe, the Pimas, chose to cooperate with that version rather than the television show.

Hayes' story is a tragic one; he fought and ultimately lost a battle with alcoholism, attributed at least in part "because he was persecuted both as an Indian and by feelings that he was a bogus hero."  I suspect some of that "bogus" feeling came from the controversy over the picture, and some from the fact that the three surviving Marines (three others were killed on Iwo Jima) were brought back to the United States, "wined and dined," and taken on an nationwide war bonds tour.  It must be difficult to be doing that, knowing that your comrades-in-arms are still slogging through mud, facing enemy bullets.

John Frankenheimer, who will go on to great success as a movie director, is both producer and director of the project, and he's the man responsible for bringing in Marvin, an ex-Marine himself, to play Hayes.  Says Marvin, "I sympathize so much with Hayes.  You know, he never could escape being a hero.  He was buried at Arlington."  I suspect Marvin turns in a powerful performance, as he so often does.

***

Is there anything else worth watching this week?

On Monday, Steve Allen counts among his guests one Johnny Carson, who at the time was hosting Who Do You Trust on ABC; who knew the way in which the names of these two entertainment giants would become intertwined in a couple of years?   John Secondari presents another of his ABC documentaries on Tuesday night, this on the tinderbox that is Korea; ten years after the start of the Korean War, and despite an armistice, 50,000 American troops remain stationed in South Korea.  Comedian and actor Joe E. Brown hosts the Bertram Mills (England) Circus from London in a special broadcast on ABC Thursday night.

And then I probably would have enjoyed Friday night's Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, in which the pair try to get ideas on how to revive Ricky's career from their next door neighbors - Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams.  I bet it was funny - but why speculate?  Here it is:



***

Once again TV Guide asks an expert about the effect of television on children.  This time it's Danny Kaye, who starts out by reminding everyone that "every television set I have ever seen has a little on-off knob."

Danny Kaye already has a reputation for loving and relating to children, as an international ambassador on behalf of UNICEF.  He admits up front that "I don't know" how television affects children, but he does know that the key to television is storytelling, and the stories that children often watch involve "horror and violence, after which good triumphs over evil."  He says that we spend too much time talking about juvenile delinquency (a major talking point in these days), and perhaps should spend more time discussing "adult delinquency."  "We talk about parents' responsibility and we forget that many people actually are not fit to be parents in the first place," adding that "we can and should learn from our children."

Kaye gives those children credit for being able to discern the things they see on TV: "Children, I think, recognize and understand, instinctively, what is true and what is not true.  They are not concerned with rationalizing and posing because they don't know what those things are.  They simply recognize them as being untrue."  With this in mind, "Is it fair, or even intelligent, to point the finger at television and cry out, 'Television is full of violence and horror and it is bad for our children'?  Surely it is not intelligent to crusade against  penicillin or aspirin simply because some people are allergic to them."

After discussing the nature of "gangs," and how the nature of juvenile delinquency has been understood and misunderstood, Kaye ends his refreshing, if provocative, essay with this point: "not all kids are juvenile delinquents, not all gangs are evil, not all television is a bad influence on children . . . most certainly not all entertainers, least of all this one, are experts on the subject."

2 comments:

  1. The backstory on that Lucy-Desi show is pretty interesting. It was the last time they would appear as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, and by that time they were barely speaking and divorce was imminent. There are some great quotes from Edie Adams about the torturous week of filming in Geoffrey Fidelman's "The Lucy Book."

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  2. There were supposedly going to be two more "Lucy-Desi Comedy Hours" filmed and broadcast in the spring of 1960, but the divorce of Lucy and Desi put an end to those shows.

    Ironically, Lucy filed for divorce the day after filming was finished and the divorce was final prior to the broadcast (which aired April 1, 1960).

    I wonder if CBS promoted it as "The Final Adventure of the Ricardos and the Mertzes"??

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