As longtime readers know, I don't like to get too personal; unlike some bloggers, I don't view this as an online diary. Nevertheless, when it suits the storyline, I do drop some details here and there, and this will be one of those times. For some reason, when I was a kid the idea of a Golden Birthday was a big deal. My childhood friend Scott Gunner (if you're reading this Scott, hi! Missed you these 40 or so years) and I had birthdays within two days of each other, and so both of them would have fallen in the week covered by this issue. I had the trump card though, for while he turned 10 on May 10, I not only turned 8 on May 8*, it was also the year 1968. That must be some kind of Royal Flush of Golden Birthdays.
*Which ends any chance I ever had of keeping both my birthday and my age secrets. Why do we do these things to ourselves?
We might have had a party that year, or it might have been transferred to a Saturday in order to make a bigger day of it. I remember having had both kinds of parties, so for all I know I might have had two that year. But in looking at the listings for May 8, I can tell that I wouldn't have missed much by doing a party instead of watching the tube. Oh, there are shows that I would watch now - The Avengers on ABC at 6:30pm CT*, and syndicated reruns of Burke's Law, Perry Mason and Alfred Hitchcock Presents on Channel 11, but what about the rest? Best on Record, hosted by Andy Williams on NBC, is on at 8:00 - it's a concert presented by the season's Grammy winners, in the days before the Grammys were actually broadcast live on television. He & She, the one-season sitcom on CBS now appreciated as a before-its-time sophisticated comedy, would have been too sophisticated for us. No, just going by my memories of watching television at the house in which we then lived, if we were watching it at all we might have had The Virginian and Run For Your Life on NBC, or possibly The Beverly Hillbillies on CBS. There was a late movie on Channel 11 that might have been watched if it had been on a weekend or if school had been out for summer, A Song to Remember, the "biography" of Frederic Chopin. I wouldn't have been interested in it, but considering I was once dragged to the theater to see Song of Norway, one of the worst movies I've ever been subjected to, I can't rule it out either.
*At eight, would I have been old enough to appreciate Diana Rigg in a leather catsuit?
At any rate, it's something I haven't thought about for years, and now I have - thanks to this issue.
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: The show expands to 90 minutes for an 80th-birthday salute to Irving Berlin. Joining Irving and Ed are Bing Crosby, Ethel Merman, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Robert Goulet, Fred Waring and his Glee Club, the Harry James Orchestra, the Peter Gennaro dancers, and the comedy team of Morecambe and Wise.
Palace: In the first rerun of the season, host Sammy Davis Jr. welcomes Diana Ross and the Supremes, comedians Jack Burns and Avery Schreiber, actress Raquel Welch, jazz dancer Baby Lawrence, and Joey Bishop, who makes an unscheduled walk-on.
Well, we haven't had one of these in awhile! It's good to be back, and what a week. Talk about living legends - Irving Berlin! Crosby! Merman! Goulet! Now, it's true that Ed also has the insufferable Diana Ross and the Supremes, making one of their sixteen appearances on the show. (What they have to do with Irving Berlin is beyond me.) But then, they're on Palace as well, so there's no relief! The rest of Ed's lineup, especially Fred Waring and the Harry James Orchestra, are top talent but don't, I think, speak to later generations in a significant way. Morecambe and Wise are very funny, but an acquired taste.
On the other hand, I was never a big fan of Burns and Schreiber, and as for "actress" Raquel Welch*, remember - I was only eight. And the Palace has the Supremes too. What are the odds?
*Best Raquel Welch story: she was a co-presenter with Dean Martin on an Academy Awards show, and they were due to give the award for special effects. "There are two of them," Deano said. The audience roared. They knew what he meant.
The one difference this week might be Sammy Davis Jr. The only problem is that there isn't enough of Sammy - if it was just him for the whole hour, singing and dancing, there wouldn't be much doubt - even though he's singing "Talk to the Animals." (On the other hand, speaking with the years of experience, I'm not sure you can ever say there isn't enough of Raquel Welch.)
But for all that, it's hard to beat Ed and Irving Berlin, and when you throw in Crosby singing "White Christmas," I think that pretty much seals the deal. It's a week for legends, and Ed takes first place.
The Kentucky Derby is this week, still one of the major events in the sports world, and herein lies yet another story that winds up being even more interesting than the event itself. The race is broadcast at 3:00pm Saturday on CBS in a one-hour show that cuts away much of the fat that is present in today's coverage, and the race is won by Dancer's Image, a length-and-a-half ahead of Forward Pass.
Or at least Dancer's Image appears to have won the Derby.
Two days later, Dancer's Image was disqualified - the first and only winner in the long history of the Derby to be DQ'ed - because traces of Butazolidin showed up in the post-race urine test. Bute, as it was know, was an anti-inflammatory that the horse had been given because of lameness in his right front ankle. It was a common drug, legal in many states and at many tracks. But in Kentucky, at Churchill Downs, it could only be administered "as long as it was no longer present in the horse’s urine at the time of a race." Although it appears as if the drug was given to Dancer's Image on the Sunday prior to the race, it was still in the system; thus, the horse was disqualified and Forward Pass awarded the win.
It was a controversial decision at the time, and remains so today, for those in the game and others who remember it. Rumors and conspiracy theories abound, the most common of which being that the horse's owner, Peter Fuller, was being blamed for his outspoken support of the civil rights movement; he'd donated the purse from a previous race to Coretta Scott King following the assassination of her husband. It's a theory that Fuller himself believed; he fought the disqualification, and possession of the Kentucky Derby trophy, into the early '70s before exhausting the appeals process.
As for Forward Pass - well, he went on to win the Preakness as well and headed to New York trying to become the first horse since 1948 to win the holy grail of the sport, the Triple Crown. Then as now, it was an almost mythic quest, sure to galvanize the attention even of those who scarcely paid attention to horse racing. He didn't win that day; Stage Door Johnny came in first and Forward Pass second. I wonder, though, how people would have reacted if he had? It would have been a hollow victory, for sure, not unlike the home run records held by Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Most of all, it would have obscured what would have been a laudable accomplishment by the horse, winning two of the three legs of the Triple Crown. Fortunately, perhaps, we'll never know.
The story of the '68 Derby is full of the intrigue that continues, in both sports and culture, to this day. Was the test a false positive? Were there irregularities in the process? Was Fuller being punished by the track in the Southern state for his political leanings? We'll probably never know this for sure either, but it's a controversy that couldn't have been predicted when the listing appeared in the TV Guide that week. another rude intrusion of the real world into the world of sports.
On the cover this week is the cast of Mission: Impossible. It's currently part of Hadleyvision's Saturday night lineup, and it's been a pleasure to revisit. Or visit, as the case may be; though I know all the favorite punchlines from M:I ("Good morning, Mr. Phelps...This tape will self-destruct in five seconds."), and I remember the actors vividly, I can't actually remember any of the episodes, so it's been a win-win. I love the intricacy of the plots, and the way they diminish the personal lives of the stars - I mean, except for the interior of Jim's apartment at the beginning of each episode, you don't know much of anything about these people, which means the soap opera elements are virtually non-existent.
*Hill, an Orthodox Jew, refused to work on the Sabbath, which meant his hours on set could be severely limited. This had been agreed to at the beginning, but to be charitable, I don't think either he or the producers realized how difficult this would be in practice. He only lasts the first season before being replaced by Peter Graves.
However, all good things have to come to an end, and after the third season Landau and Bain both leave the series after a joint contract dispute. It, more than the departure of Hill, kind of shatters the illusion of a closely-knit team, one so tight that members were willing to risk their lives in non-sanctioned missions when asked to by the leader or when one of them was in trouble. Their roles are replaced by other actors (most notably Leonard Nimoy in place of Landau), but it does serve to remind us that in this show it's the plot, not the characters, that is most important.
Right now, though, everything's hunky-dory. Landau talks about the challenges of being a Method actor, and shares a humorous story about working with James Arness. "Landau: "All I need is 30 seconds for the germ, the impulse to come through. Then I'm ready to go." Hobson: "How do other actors do it? Jim Arness, for instance?" Landau: "I must say I don't think Jim needs 30 seconds. In terms of the gamut of emotions he goes from A to D at best.") Bain compliments him perfectly, both personally and professionally, and makes some intriguing observations of her own. (Asked about M:I's social significance, she replies, "There are some interesting points made. The use of appearance, for instance. The willingness to accept externals. The way people react without question to a person simply because he wears a uniform. . . I might say 'I have here the papers.' You don't know what papers. But you're going to take them just because they're 'the papers.' You accept the external fact without question.") I was always sorry when the two split, because I thought they were so good together.
M:I will continue as one of the most entertaining series of the era, but it's during the second and third seasons, the glory years that began with the arrival of Peter Graves and ended with the departures of Landau and Bain, that make the show so much fun. Bain is never anything less than alluring, and Landau, who's played so many heavies during the course of his career, is both brilliant and menacing - and often both at the same time. It's great to see his commercials on MeTV.
Notes from the TV Teletype:
NET is preparing a monthly television journal "to be produced by and for Negroes." We learn in The Doan Report that the show is Black Magazine of the Air, beginning in mid-June. It winds up being called Black Journal, and under the title Tony Brown's Journal continues to this day.
CBS plans to replace Jackie Gleason for the summer with an ambitious British series starring Patrick McGoohan, called The Prisoner. James MacArthur has been cast as a regular in Jack Lord's new CBS series Hawaii Five-O (Hadleyvision, Thursday night), where he'll play a member of the Hawaiian State Police. American Indian folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie will be costarring with Jay (Tonto) Silverheels in an upcoming episode of NBC's The Virginian. Julie Andrews is preparing an hour-long documentary on the making of her latest movie, Darling Lili, a musical written by William Peter Blatty (!), co-starring Rock Hudson and Jeremy Kemp with music by Henry Mancini. Despite that, the movie is a titanic bomb that almost does in Julie's movie career.
And back at The Doan Report, there's a story that the political satirist Art Buchwald is going to be used as a "guest columnist" on "an hour-long news-magazine of the air" that CBS is planning to air on alternate Tuesday nights in the fall. But who knows whether or not 60 Minutes will be a success?
And now, the rest of the week in brief:
Also on Sunday night, CBS' The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour has a pretty good cast, with Ricardo Montalban, Diahann Carroll and the First Edition. Bonanza features an episode that is Michael Landon's directorial debut - the first of many television episodes he'll helm. And Bishop Fulton Sheen's syndicated show appears on Channel 11 - the good Bishop has the same birthday as mine.
Here's something you wouldn't have seen a few years ago, and the fact that it's popping up on a sitcom underlines how much it's in the cultural consciousness at the moment. It's on Monday night's episode of The Andy Griffith Show on CBS: "Opie and Arnold secretly tape-record a bank robber's admission of guilt, then look for a way to help Andy get legal evidence." I don't recall which Supreme Court decision in particular references the admissibility of evidence, but certainly in the late '60s, with assassinations and riots and civil rights decisions and legal precedents and Miranda and all, it's hardly surprising that the network might insist, even in Mayberry, on the fine points of the law. I suppose kudos are due to the writer who could see in the current environment the potential for a good story.
I started looking through the listings for the week, and I was taken aback by the number of series that are now available on DVD - on Monday night alone, you've got Gunsmoke, The Monkees, Here's Lucy, The Rat Patrol, Andy Griffith, Family Affair, The Big Valley and I Spy, plus series with partial releases such as Peyton Place and Carol Burnett. Then you've got daytime reruns like Dick Van Dyke and Bewitched, not to mention the syndicated reruns on Channels 9 and 11, such as The Patty Duke Show, Gilligan's Island, McHale's Navy, The Twilight Zone, Burke's Law, Perry Mason, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Have Gun - Will Travel and Naked City. You could virtually duplicate entire nights of broadcasting - not just the shows themselves, but the specific episodes. It's this way all through the issue - I won't belabor the point with long lists, I just note once again that nobody could possibly have predicted this back in 1968. As a matter of fact, not even ten years ago I could have looked through this issue, seen the listing for Naked City at midnight, and thought to myself that this was a series lost in the dust of time, one that I've heard about but will never see. How times have changed.
1968, lest we forget, is an election year, and Tuesday marks the Indiana primary. The networks will bring special reports throughout the evening; NBC and CBS will preempt a part of their schedule, while ABC offers five-minute updates between programs. Robert F. Kennedy wins in Indiana, a big victory for him; in a couple of weeks, he'll lose to Eugene McCarthy in Oregon (the first electoral defeat ever for a Kennedy), which makes June's California primary that much more important...
We've already covered Wednesday, but on Thursday Dragnet supplies the corollary to Sheriff Andy Taylor's dilemma: "Frustrated because a judge threw his case out of court, Sgt. Carl Maxwell heads fo rthe bottle and oblivion." Can't see that happening to Andy, not with Opie to take care of - right? Also on Thursday, a good show by Dean Martin, with guests Petula Clark, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and comics Don Rickles and Flip Wilson.
And to wind up the week on Friday, Gomer Pyle, USMC heads to Washington to say "hey" to the President, Kirk battles a Greek god on Star Trek, Judd for the Defense defends a football player (Dan Travanty, who will change the spelling of his last name to "Travanti" and join the right side of the law) charged with murdering his wife, and Bob Hope and Lucille Ball play a drama critic and his playwright-wife in the movie Critic's Choice, from the play by Ira Levin. He wrote that one before Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives and The Boys From Brazil, none of which would have been very good vehicles for Bob and Lucy.
In my opinion, anyway.