April 18, 2015

This week in TV Guide: April 13, 1963

He's one of the most influential men of the 20th Century, although most of his damage was done behind the scenes.  His fingerprints are all over the concepts of urban development.  His battles with mayors, governors and even presidents were legendary, and it was the rare man who didn't succumb to at least a little trembling at the mention of his name.  His accomplishments, for good as well as ill, were legion.  He's the subject of this week's CBS Reports on Wednesday night: "The Man Who Built New York," Robert Moses, where host Bill Leonard quizzes him on his ideas, his critics and his accomplishments, as well as his reputation as "someone hard to argue with."

If you watched Ric Burns' magnificent documentary New York about 15 years ago, you know the name well, for no discussion of New York City can be had without talking about Robert Moses.  He's been called the most polarizing figure in the history of urban planning, and his concepts were a blend of genius and utter contempt.  It is Robert Moses who developed the modern superhighway, the spaghetti pattern of on- and off-ramps that often approached art in their intricacy; it is Moses who, with his contempt for mass transit, helped create the modern suburb.   Moses designed Jones Beach State Park as a haven for those trying to escape the city, accessible by freeway, and then designed the overpasses low enough that buses couldn't use them, in order to keep the riffraff away.  He created landmarks such as the Triborough Bridge, and ordered the destruction of landmarks such as the original Penn Station.  He did more than any man since Henry Ford to not only popularize but make essential the automobile, yet he himself did not drive.  He tore through neighborhoods to build roads and housing projects, he refused to help Walter O'Malley build a new stadium in Brooklyn to keep the Dodgers but gladly pushed for the construction of Shea Stadium at the site of his 1964 World's Fair.  He started out as a reformer and ended by treating "the people" with scorn, while never holding elective office.

Moses was hugely influential in urban planning, and if you look at just about any large urban city in America you'll see his influence.  I could see it when I lived in Minneapolis, every time I drove through the slums and run-down areas that lined the freeways - freeways that had been built by tearing down thriving ethnic neighborhoods, replacing them with miles and miles of concrete and fences.  The irony is that Moses' creations, designed to alleviate congestion on the roadways, actually wound up causing more congestion; as the roads and bridges went up, they encouraged more and more traffic, often making the projects outdated before they'd even finished.

At the time of this profile, Moses is controversial, but still feared by politicians, and his accomplishments (including that upcoming World's Fair) are generally praised, if sometimes grudgingly.  But the tide is turning - the following year, his plan to demolish Greenwich Village in favor of the Mid-Manhattan Expressway is vetoed by city government, and Jane Jacobs takes direct aim at him in her classic book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. But it is probably Robert Caro's massive Pulitzer-winning biography of Moses, The Power Broker, that seals the public's perception of him.  Its subtitle is "Robert Moses and the Fall of New York," and it comes at a time when the city is in crisis, when its finances are collapsing, crime is spiraling, subway cars are enveloped by graffiti, and decay is everywhere.  This, says Caro, is his legacy; this is what Moses hath wrought.

By then Moses has fallen from power; Nelson Rockefeller is the first politician - federal, state or local - to outwit the master, and Caro captures perfectly the puzzlement of the man who, oblivious to his own ruthless, bullying legacy, simply can't understand why people don't understand that he did what he had to do - what he knew was best for New York, and for America.

I tried to find some video from that CBS Reports program, but failed.  It would have been nice to provide some balance with this video, the episode of New York entitled "The World that Moses Built"


***

April 14 is Easter Sunday and, unlike what we see (or don't see) on television today, the morning is filled with special programming.

Channel 7, WNAC in Boston, presents a program at 9:30am ET on the Shroud of Turin - if that sounds familiar, it's because I also noted it in a TV Guide from 1959.  Yep, same program.  At 10, WBZ has Our Believing World, a half-hour of sacred music performed by the Boston University Seminary Singers.  Also at 10, CBS has Missa Domini, an hour of Easter music by the University Chorale and chamber orchestra of Boston College conducted by C. Alexander Peloquin, including three of Peloquin's own compositions.  And as if that weren't enough, the ABC stations in the area have live coverage of the Easter Solemn Pontifical Mass from Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston, celebrated by the renowned Richard Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston.

But there's more - at 11, NBC has an Easter service from Pleasant Ridge Presbyterian in Cincinnati, and CBS follows with a service from Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.  And later in the day Channel 12, WPRO in Providence, has a half-hour of Easter music from the Canticum Glee Club at Brown University and the Lincoln School Glee Club, conducted by Erich Kunzel - who will go on to great fame as conductor of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.  There are also musical presentations on ABC's Directions '63 and WBZ's Odyssey program, and at 4:30 Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians are on hand to provide a little popular Easter and spring music.

Finally, at 6:30, it's another of John Secondari's Close-Up! documentaries on ABC, this one on the Vatican.  We see the inner workings of Vatican bureaucracy, a session of the Second Vatican Council, and Pope John XXIII at work in his office.  In an article that appears elsewhere in the issue, Secondari talks of the profound impression the Pontiff left on everyone involved in producing the program - he asked questions of the sound and cameramen, wondering how their equipment worked, asked about the families of the correspondents, obligingly reread a statement when asked if he could do another take, and engaged in his everyday routine - all along seemingly oblivious to the chaos caused by the crew.  "It was not only his appearance of universal grandfather," Secondari writes, "it was the warmth and friendliness which came out to envelop all of us who had invaded what little peace and quite is his."  As they wrapped up their work the Pope blessed cameras and crew, remarking, "It is early yet and I have many things to do before I have earned my midday meal."

John XXIII was already dying of stomach cancer when this program was filmed; less than two months after it is aired, on June 3 "Good Pope John" died at the age of 81.

***

In 1963, when someone talks about sports at this time of the year, there can be only one sport: baseball.  And on the first weekend of the season, the game is in full swing.  You remember last week how I mentioned that the blackout rules of the time prohibited televising major league games into a major league market?  Well, it still holds true in '63: NBC's Game of the Week, featuring Cleveland and Detroit, and CBS' Game of the Week between Baltimore and New York, are seen in Portland, Maine, but if you want baseball in Boston you're going to be watching the Red Sox and Washington Senators battle it out at the then-newish District of Columbia Stadium, with the legendary Sox announcing crew of Curt Gowdy and Ned Martin.

On Saturday night ABC's Fight of the Week, in its final season, has a heavyweight bout between #4 condender Cleveland Williams and unranked Ernest Terrell.  In an upset, Terrell wins a split decision, and in 1965 he'll win a portion of the heavyweight championship after Muhammad Ali is stripped of the title (for fighting a rematch with former champ Sonny Liston rather than taking on a mandatory #1 contender), holding the title until 1967 when he loses a vicious decision to Ali in a unification bout.  Williams, for his part, would also fight Ali for the title, losing via third-round TKO in 1966.

***

The TV Guide Awards are on this week!  Before you get too excited, though, the presentation of the awards is only part of Sunday night's Bob Hope special on NBC, much as the Golden Globes used to be nothing more than a segment of the Andy Williams show.

The bowl given to TV Guide Award nominees - this one
to
Peter Pan, nominated for Best Dramatic, Musical or
Variety Program.
This is the fourth of the five years that the TV Guide Awards were presented, and I took a closer look at them here.   The nominees are an interesting blend of long-running hits, acclaimed but short-lived series, and specials that few people likely saw.  For example, there's the "Favorite New Series" category, comprised of McHale's Navy, The Beverly Hillbillies and The Virginian, all of which went on to successful runs, and Stoney Burke and The Eleventh Hour, which found more favor from critics than they did viewers.

In case you're wondering, the winners: Carol Burnett and Richard Chamberlain for Favorite Female and Male Performers; The Beverly Hillbillies for Favorite New Series, Bonanza for Favorite Series, Bob Hope's Christmas Show for the Best Entertainment Program, NBC's special The Tunnel for Best News or Information Program, The Huntley-Brinkley Report for Best News or Information Series, and Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color for Best Children's Series.  So what do you think?

***

In preparing the "What's on TV?" feature for this coming Monday, I took a good look at ABC's Thursday night lineup.  With one exception, this is a stunning night of television, a veritable who's who* of iconic sitcoms, all of which are deeply ingrained in classic television history.

*I don't know where, but I recall reading once that the only kind of "who's who" is a "veritable" one.

It starts at 7:30pm with The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, which is in its 11th of 14 seasons, and made Ricky Nelson into a teen idol.  That's followed at 8:00 by The Donna Reed Show, in its fifth of eight seasons, which helped define the housewife of the late '50s and early '60s.  At 8:30 it's Leave It to Beaver, the much-loved show in its sixth and final season, and then at 9:00 My Three Sons, which is probably better-known as a CBS show but spent its first five of 12 seasons on ABC.  The sitcom stars conclude at 9:30 with the youngster of the group, McHale's Navy, in its first of (only) four seasons.  ABC's schedule concludes at 10:00 with the hour-long drama anthology Alcoa Presents, the most outstanding feature of which is that it was hosted by Fred Astaire, who also occasionally starred in an episode.

I've written before about the Saturday night "Murderer's Row" of CBS shows in the '70s, and the Thursday night "Must See TV" on NBC more recently, but this has to rank as one of the most underrated television lineups of all time.  Every one of those sitcoms is well-remembered and loved, with big-name stars and familiar storylines, and each one of them tells us something important about the America of the '50s and '60s.  If you wanted to learn about those times and were limited to watching just these five sitcoms, you could do a whole lot worse.

***

Here's something we haven't done for awhile - a quick look at the celebrities appearing in this week's game shows.  As is generally the case, the celebs are on for the entire week.

Appropriately enough, first up is Your First Impression on NBC, with Steve Dunne, Betty White and Dennis James joining host Bill Leyden.   On CBS' Password, Orson Bean and Susan Strasberg are the duelers, with Allen Ludden moderating the fray.  That's followed by To Tell the Truth, which this week has Carol Channing, Joan Fontaine, Skitch Henderson and Henry Morgan on the panel, and Bud Collyer behind the host's desk.  (From past experience watching game shows, I can assume that Carol Channing was a real pain in the you-know-what.)  Finally, the unlikeliest pairing, on NBC's You Don't Say! - Lee Marvin and Beverly Garland, with host Tom Kennedy.  The oddity isn't Garland, but Marvin - I don't know about you, but I just can't imagine him on a game show.

In the prime-time shows, the nighttime version of To Tell the Truth has Tom Poston, Peggy Cass, Kitty Carlisle and Sam Levenson, while the nighttime Password has Eydie Gorme and Alan King (who was an excellent player).  The cast of I've Got a Secret isn't listed, but I'd assume it's the regular one - Bill Cullen, Betsy Palmer, Henry Morgan and Bess Myerson, presided over by Garry Moore.  And on the granddaddy of them all, What's My Line? (now in its 14th season!), Phyllis Newman and Richard Boone join regulars Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf, and host John Daly, and though it wouldn't have been listed in the TV Guide, the Mystery Guest is Jimmy Durante.

***

Finally this week, the essayist Marya Mannes, serving as guest reviewer for the next couple of weeks, has a very funny and yet insightful look at soap operas which, she says, she became addicted to during a recent brief illness.  Says Miss Mannes, "They relax the brain, suspend belief and elicit continuous admiration for the expenditure of so much production and acting talent on such unending woe."

Her two favored soaps right now are The Guiding Light and The Edge of Night, with occasional look-ins at As the World Turns and The Secret Storm.  In particular, she finds The Edge of Night to be far and away the best, primarily because of its emphasis on law and crime and its use of reason and ingenuity in telling its stories.  She finds it, for the most part, free of the "grotesquely lurid" storylines that populate many soaps, and is "refreshing to find the sentiment occasionally leavened with humor, and some indication that the American female exists outside the kitchen."

On the other hand, there's The Guiding Light and the "bovine dumbness" of the Bauer females, which is only partially made-up for by outstanding performances of Barbara Becker as ex-alcoholic Doris Crandall and Phil Sterling as lawyer George Hayes.  (I think she's got something for lawyers.)  She finds As the World Turns to be "dull but peculiar," describes the two heroines, Penny and Ellen, as "tedious girls," and sees the show as the epitome of what plagues most soap operas: "rampant emotionalism for small reason."  I'm going to have to remember that phrase the next time someone asks me to describe the biggest problem with the Internet.  In fact, one might consider the following to be a kind of "Everything I Know About Life I Learned From Soap Operas":

  • Americans Spend Half Their Time on the Operating Table and the Other Half on the Witness Stand.
  • Nothing Exists Outside the Family Unit.
  • Women with Aprons Are Good Women; They Drink Coffee Every Two Minutes.
  • Bad Women Drink Cocktails and Have Careers.
  • Mothers Who Want Their Grown Children to Stay Home Are Good Mothers.
  • Good Men Must Be Lawyers, Doctors or Business Executives.
  • Nobody Reads Books.
  • Divorce Is Unthinkable.
  • There Is No Happiness Outside the Home.
That would make a great poster, don't you think?  

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