For example, two baseball All-Star Games? Yes indeed; as sportswriter Melvin Durslag explains, for the last four years Major League Baseball has put its stars on display twice a year. Although the fans enjoy seeing baseball's best face-off to determine league supremacy, the reason behind the game has always been to fund the players' pension fund, and starting in 1959, a second game was added to boost the fund. This year's first game was played on July 10 in Washington, D.C., and the second game is scheduled for this Monday at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The managers remain the same, and with the exception of a few additional players, so are the rosters.
The twice-a-year format has gotten mixed reviews at best; while the revenue is appreciated, players are concerned about the increased possibility of injury. Fans seem to be tiring of it as well: 1960's second game, at Yankee Stadium, drew less than 40,000.* As for the future, the National League favors playing two, while the American has reservations. There seems to be a sense, though, that the days of two All-Star Games may be numbered.
In fact, the doubters are right. After Monday's game, televised by NBC at 12:45pm ET and won by the Americans 9-4, the Midsummer Classic will return to one game, where it remains to this day. And with the explosion of televised baseball and the advent of interleague play, the game seems to carry less fan interest than ever.
The All-Star Game was created by Chicago Tribune sportswriter Arch Ward, as part of the 1933 Chicago "Century of Progress" World's Fair. Ward was the brainchild behind another all star format, one designed to benefit the Tribune charities: an annual game matching the NFL champions and a collection of all-stars from the last season's college football seniors.
Thus was born the College All-Star football game, which kicked off for the first time in 1934 and will be played for the 29th time Friday night at 9pm ET on ABC, live from Soldier Field in Chicago. The concept probably sounds absurd today: pitting a team of professional champions against college seniors, no matter how good those rookies may be, gives every indication of a mismatch. And yet such was not the case for the first few years, when pro football was not yet the giant it is today, and the college game was still the more glamorous and popular of the two. The Stars more than held their own for those first years, winning six of the first 17 contests (with two ties) and often keeping the score close in the years in which they lost.
This year's game pits an all-star team led by future pro stars Roman Gabriel, John Hadl, Lance Alworth, Merlin Olson, and Heisman winner Ernie Davis against the Green Bay Packers, coming off a 37-0 destruction of the New York Giants in the 1961 NFL Championship and featuring a roster with an astounding 10 future Hall of Famers, including Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Jim Ringo, Willie Wood and Henry Jordan. With that kind of talent, it's no surprise that the Packers easily best the All-Stars, winning 42-20.
It's too bad. As a kid I always looked forward to this game, one of the few night games on television, and on a Friday night to boot. With the exception of the years when the Packers played, I loved rooting for the underdog college stars, always hoping for that one year when they would shake up the pros. It was, between the years when the old Chicago Cardinals departed for St. Louis and when the Bears vacated Wrigley Field, the only game played at Soldier Field. It was an event, a game with its own charm and atmosphere, and its departure, like the watering down of baseball's All-Star Game, leaves something of a void in at least one sports fan's life.
***One more sports note before we go on to another farewell. Or actually, I guess this could fall into that category as well. It's CBS' Saturday afternoon Game of the Week between the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees, from Yankee Stadium. It's preceded by a 90-minute broadcast of one of the Yankees' great traditions: Old Timers' Day. They still do this in New York, and it's still a great tradition though it's not carried on national television anymore, which is a pity.
Looking at the lineup for the three-inning game is like flipping through the record books: Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Grove, Hank Greenberg, Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson, Dizzy Dean. Many of these players were relatively recently retired, and so they were still able to actively participate in the game. What a treat that was, back when baseball was still the national pastime and giants still roamed the earth.
In an issue from last year, we read a profile of Gardner McKay, star of Adventures in Paradise. At the time, McKay freely admitted "I'm no real actor," and the discussion continues this week, now that his series has been cancelled. "I read a lot about my so-called 'quality,' he says. 'Let me tell you, in Hollywood when an actor is needed but not understood, it is suddenly discovered he has "quality." The minute he is no longer needed he is dismissed as a nut.'"
Although McKay sounds bitter, confused would probably be a better word for it. About the tendency of people to refer to him as an "enigma," he replies "That means perplexing, baffling, a person who talks in riddles. It's true I don't have a disciplined mind, my thoughts do tend to wander, but I have always said what I think as best I could. You know, for three years I have been castigated by the press for not saying what they want me to say. I am sick of it."
In fact, McKay - who frankly has more going for him than acting; he is also a writer, a sculptor and a photographer - is fed up with the whole Hollywood scene: "I hate television series, uniforms of any kind, agents, business, the practice of law, career women and Hollywood - which isn't really a place but a state of mind that has to be corrected if any measure of contentment is to be achieved." So why is he still around? His reply is honest and frank: "Because I don't have the guts to get out and because nobody has offered me $150,000 a year to go and search my soul elsewhere."
The Gardner McKay story has always revolved around his handsome features rather than his acting chops; Life magazine once called him "A New Apollo." Actor Herbert Marshall said "His rare quality is being attractive to both men and women. And compared with other TV actors, his ability to act is about average." Regarding his ability, McKay complains, "Maybe I'm not the greatest actor in the world, but nobody has given me much help to improve. I had a long line of directors who were more concerned with keeping the front office happy than working with the actors. When I suggested acting lessons, I was told to forget it because it would make me even more introspective." No wonder he felt the way he did.
Soon McKay will be gone from the acting ranks completely, by his own choice. As we know from last year's piece, his second life as a novelist and playwright will be far more satisfying.
So what about this week's cover? It actually tells not one, but two stories. The first tells how being a game show host can mean big bucks for those who have the knack of "fast talk, good looks and some secret ingredients." In fact, the best in the business can pull down as much as $150,000 a year, "which seems rather high pay for simply being pleasant." But as Mark Goodson, one of the major domos of Goodson-Todman, remarks, the game show host - or emcee, as they prefer to be known - has to have specific qualities: they must be talkers, men who can "keep right on talking for as long as he has to - and enjoy it." He has to be able to listen, rather than simply think about what they're going to do next; Goodson sites the story of an emcee who asked a woman what her husband did, was told that he was dead, and responded with a hearty "Fine!" He also has to be friendly, and be able to communicate it genuinely to both contestants and viewers at home. Then there are the secondary qualities such as timing, thinking quickly on his feet, and being a good "traffic cop."
What is the result of Barbara Benner's big win on Price? So far, she's sold the boat, barbecue, lawn furniture and a set of Royal Worcester china; the breakfront hasn't had any takers yet. Sealtest gave her a $100 credit on her milk bill and paid her $200 for the lemonade, and her sister helped sell the bologna for $180. All in all, she's made $7,130 from her winnings, a little over half of their worth. But that's actually good news; "Out of the boat money, we got enough to pay all the taxes" on the prizes, and she and her husband were able to purchase a couple of modest cars, an electric dryer, some clothes, and some nice dinners. They'll wind up with about $1,000 in the bank, and hope some day to take a cruise.
The lesson then, as now, is that not all is what it seems on game shows. Paying tax on your prizes means many people have to sell some or all of their winnings, and unless you've got a cooperative prize supplier (which many are, nowadays), you might find all that glitters is not gold.
There are some very good movies on the tube this week; let's take a look at some of them, along with the rest of the week's highlights.
On Saturday, Indianapolis' WLW-i, Channel 13, has The Thin Man, the classic comedy-mystery starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. It's the first of six in the series, and in many ways the best. Incidentally, for those of you who haven't seen it, the Thin Man is not William Powell's Nick, but the victim of the movie's central murder. It's a wonderfully fun movie, and it will make you jealous that you can't come up with quips as quickly as these characters can.
Sunday, ABC's Hollywood Special movie is the Agatha Christie mystery Witness for the Prosecution, with a magnificent cast including Charles Laughton (who received his final Oscar nomination for the role), Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Elsa Lanchester. Perry Mason notwithstanding, this is the courtroom drama against which all others are measured.
We're in that period of limbo between the time Jack Paar left The Tonight Show and Johnny Carson took over, so the show's featured guest hosts until Carson's October 1 start date. On Monday, Merv Griffin is back for the week, his second stint as host; I've heard that NBC brass, aware of the critical praise for Griffin's shows and nervous about Carson's ability to keep the audience, seriously debated going with Merv before sticking with Johnny. Don't know whether or not that's true, but in any event I don't think they had anything to worry about. He's going head-to-head against Steve Allen's syndicated talker, positioned to take advantage of any stumble Carson might make as host of Tonight.
On Tuesday, CBS presents a repeat of "Carnegie Hall Salutes Jack Benny," a special from last year. Benny's violin playing was a running joke, but he could actually play - not spectacularly, but certainly better than I can. It's a salute because of the money Benny has raised in benefit concerts for musicians, and also because of the work he and friend Isaac Stern did to save Carnegie from Robert Moses' wrecking ball. Fittingly, Stern is one of the guests on the show, along with Benny Goodman and his sextet, pianist Van Cliburn, opera star Roberta Peters, and conductor Eugene Ormandy leading the Philadelphia Orchestra. What a lineup! Here's an excerpt:
Armstrong Circle Theater was different from other dramatic anthology series of the time in that it tended to focus on docudramas and other stories having to do with current events. This Wednesday's show is no exception, as Arthur Hill and Lydia Bruce star in "Battle of Hearts," a story of how marriage counselors work to save marriages from ending in divorce. The series is hosted by Ron Cochran, who later in the year will find himself the anchor of the ABC Evening News.
It's movie time again on Thursday, with Indianapolis' WTTV showing the John Wayne classic She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Up against that, CBS presents a unique news special - a one hour discussion between two of the great writers of the era, Pulitzer Prize winners and old friends Archibald MacLeish and Mark Van Doren.* What a discussion that must have been.
*Fun facts: MacLeish, according to the always-reliable Wikipedia, is the great-uncle of Bruce Dern, which makes him great-great-uncle to Laura Dern. Van Doren's son, Charles Van Doren, achieved a sizable amount of television fame for reasons we all know.
Finally, the end of the week, and Friday's best, other than the All-Star Game, might well be the CBS western Rawhide, which at this point still stars Eric Fleming as trail boss Gil Favor, but the real star of the show is Rowdy Yates, best-known for bringing to prominence one Clint Eastwood. You probably knew that, though. The theme song was also pretty well-known, but then you probably knew that too.