It's the Steve Allen Show, airing Sunday night at 7:30 ET on NBC, and its list of guests gives you the past, present and future of television - and American culture -all in one hour. The guests are The Three Stooges, singers Connie Russell and David Allen, and comedian Lenny Bruce.
Consider that for a moment. In the Stooges we have the past, a team who started in vaudeville in the '20s and made their first movie short for Columbia in 1934, and thanks to television are enjoying renewed popularity today. Connie Russell and David Allen represent the present, the music styles of 1959. And Lenny Bruce is the future, the "blue" comedian: topical, no-holds barred, nothing sacred. Could you possibly have a better cross-section of twentieth-century American pop culture on one television show than that? It's something to think about, and keep thinking about.
|For those of you scoring at home -|
or even if you're alone.
*Niven's most famous role as an Oscar host has to be the streaker incident in 1974; nobody else could have handled the situation with his panache, although the conductor - was it Henry Mancini? - ordering the orchestra to play "Sunny Side Up" comes close.
This year's winners are a mixed group; Niven himself wins Best Actor for Separate Tables (the only time a host is also a winner the same year), while Susan Hayward takes home the Best ctress award for I Want to Live! The winner of Best Picture, Gigi, sets a record by winning nine Oscars, although it will be broken the next year by Ben-Hur. It's also the last movie until The Last Emperor to win Best Picture without being nominated for any of the acting awards.
So why do we want to remember this broadcast? Well, probably for the misfortune that befell Jerry Lewis, the last of the five hosts. Lewis had been widely praised for his previous hosting turns, and there'd be no reason to think that there'd be any trouble with this one. But - and you might want to make sure you're sitting down when you read this - the show ran short. Producer Jerry Wald miscalculated the timing, cutting too much from the broadcast, and Lewis suddenly found himself being told to vamp for twenty minutes to fill the allotted time. He didn't get that far, of course; the whole thing became such a mess that NBC finally cut away from the broadcast, showing a short film about guns until the Jack Paar show came on.
I can understand that it must have been embarrassing; however, if I could bring Jerry Wald back today, I would. An Oscarcast in less than two hours!
By the way, I've never liked the idea of televising the Oscars on Sunday night. It takes away something from the whole event; Sunday nights ought to be for winding down, getting ready for the work week. When it was on Mondays there was something special about it, the idea that all through the day you had something to look forward to, and somehow it made the day pulse with a little more energy. Even though they can start it earlier on Sundays (nobody's coming home from work) it still runs too damn long. I know, you kids get off my lawn.
The big news in sports is the final round of The Masters golf tournament, played on Sunday in Augusta, Georgia and broadcast on CBS, as it has been every year since 1956.* Coverage is sparse by today's standards: only 90 minutes, covering the last four holes. One of CBS' lead announcers will go on to slightly bigger fame when he gets his own show on ABC: Jim McKay. As for the winner, Art Wall fires a final-round 66, birding five of the last six holes, to win by a shot. The defending champion, Arnold Palmer, finishes third; a teen-age amateur named Jack Nicklaus playing in his first Masters, misses the cut by a single stroke. He'd go on to play in the tournament 44 more times, doing a little better than that.
*That's 60 years for those of you scoring at home, or even... nah, never mind.
Sunday's a pretty good night for TV; in addition to The Masters and that Steve Allen show I mentioned above, Art Carney and the Baird Marionettes star in a charming musical play based on Dukas' "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." You might recognize the music - in fact, you probably would. It's the music that went along with Mickey Mouse's disastrous turn as a wizard in the first segment of Disney's Fantasia.
Told you you'd recognize it!
Continuing a pretty good week of television, at 10pm on Monday CBS airs a notable rerun on Desilu Playhouse. It's "The Time Element" by Rod Serling, and it serves as the defacto pilot for The Twilight Zone (although a Twilight Zone pilot was shot prior to the series premiere). It's the gripping story of a man (William Bendix) who tells his doctor that when he goes to sleep, he actually travels back in time to Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1941, where he attempts to warn the military of the coming disaster. I won't give away the ending, but it's pure TZ-era Serling. See for yourself:
(Incidentally, the very funny movie Rhubarb does a nice job of satirizing the TV commercials that were so frequent and intrusive on baseball games. You can read my take on the movie here.)