*By the way, have you spotted "Nina" yet?
It's no surprise that Richard Gehman would take a snarky approach to this article on Gleason, the first of a three-part profile of the star. "One can gauge the depth of his lonliness by how high Gleason flies," is the psychoanalytic subheading to the article. The premise continues as Gehman accompanies Gleason on a cross-country train junket to promote his new variety show.
So what evidence does Gehman use to back up his diagnoses? Well, first of all Gleason likes people - he'll spend five or ten minutes with anyone who asks for an autograph, and during the whistle-stop tour, he personally greets everyone who shows up to see him. He drinks heavily, when he drinks at all - he sometimes stops for weeks or months at a time. He's been known to overindulge in the same way with food. His explanation: "I'm thirsty and I'm hungry."
He loves to hold court for hours wherever he is. most frequently at Toots Shor's in New York. Writes Gehman, "his bombast conceals sensitivity and tenderness, and his leafily prodigal behavior is is rooted in a mulch of loneliness and awareness of the essential tragedy of the human condition." While visiting him at his hope in Peekskill, New York, Gehman observes the other Gleason: more contemplative, moodily musing on his broken marriage, his less-than-ideal childhood (deserted by his father, orphaned by his mother), his hard road to stardom.
I still think that Gehman, in an effort to avoid the fan-mag tenor that the magazine now proudly displays, errs on the side of psychobabble, but there's no denying the power of this paragraph that concludes part one of his profile: "It sometimes occurs to me, as I think of Jackie Gleason sitting there in that voiceless, empty house, that all his activities, his businesses and his productions, his performances and his plans, are no more than ways to erase the dark brown loneliness from which he knows he never will escape. And the same can be said for all that abandoned gregariousness."
A couple of big specials provide the highlights for the week. First off, it's Dinah Shore with her inaugural show of the year, Sunday night at 9:00 pm (CT) on NBC. Dinah's been associated with NBC for a dozen years, and this will be the first of nine specials she'll do for them this season. This really is a special though, a one-woman show of just Dinah singing with Frank DeVol's orchestra.
Sid Caesar's signed up for nine specials this season as well, and his opener is on ABC Tuesday night at 9:30 pm. Unlike Dinah, Sid has a regular cast of characters appearing with him, including - get ready for this - our friend Paul Sand of the Second City Troupe.
Looking at this week's regular shows, we find plenty more entertainment. Ttony Bennett is the headline guest for the aforementioned Gleason on his Saturday night show (CBS), and later that night Lawrence Welk and his Champagne Music Makers take over on ABC. On Sunday, Ed Sullivan's guests include Connie Francis, Louis Prima and Sergio Franchi. Tuesday on CBS, Red Skelton welcomes Kay Starr and Jackie Coogan, while later that night on the same network, Garry Moore has familiar faces Alan King, Nancy Walker and Dorothy Collins. It's an all=-star lineup on Perry Como's NBC show Wednesday: Lena Horne, with jazzmen Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz, as they try out the new Brazilian dance the Bossa Nova* with choreographer Carol Haney. On Thursday, again on NBC, Andy Williams has special guest Martha Raye. Finally, Jack Paar's Friday night show (NBC) has husband-and-wife Gordon and Sheila MacRae, Woody Allen, and the Harlem Magicians, a rival of the Harlem Globetrotters. I remember that team; they used to appear on television occasionally, and they were to the Globetrotters what homemade hamburgers are to the ones you get at a restaurant - good, but not as good. When I saw them, they were called the Fabulous Magicians, and their headliner was the great dribbler (and former Trotter) Marques Haynes.
*Don't like dancing? Don't blame it on me.
More football Sunday, although the pro games vary depending on where you live, due to the NFL's blackout rule. If you're in the Dennison area, CBS gives you the Redskins-Cardinals game at noon; if you're in Wichita Falls, you get the Cowboys, playing at the same Cotton Bowl against the Eagles. If you live in DFW, your only choice is the AFL game on ABC, pitting the New York Titans (before they became the Jets) and the Houston Oilers. Otherwise, the week's highlights are ABC's Wide World Of Sports on Saturday afternoon, with auto racing from Trenton and horse racing from Paris, and a middleweight bout between a couple of unranked fighters that night, also on ABC.
Last week I previewed getTV's new Monday night schedule, which features reruns of the Merv Griffin Show. It's fitting, therefore, that this week's issue has a profile of Merv, written by Edith Efron. This is the pre-talk show Merv, and Efron's profile is, shall we say, much kinder than the Gleason article. Griffin, at the time 37, is a man of many talents - classical pianist, jazz musician, pop singer, movie actor, composer, game show emcee - and now, waiting for the next phase of his life, he admits "I don't have a fixed image."
His self-image, as it is, is much more positive than it used to be, when he weighed 80 pounds more than he does today. As the weight dropped, his career took off; the novelty song "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" was a million-seller, after which he met Doris Day and wound up in movies, then met Tallulah Bankhead and wound up as part of her Vegas show, then would up on radio and television, and most recently a four-week gig as one of NBC's substitute hosts on The Tonight Show during the interregnum between Paar and Carson. So impressed with Griffin was NBC that they signed him to a contract for his own talk show, scheduled to begin October 1. That show will last, with a brief break in 1963-64, all the way to 1986.
Colleagues call Merv "warm," "talented," "clever" and "ingenious," and those last two perhaps help to describe Merv's future successes in the business world. There was the real estate deal in Atlantic City where he got the better of Donald Trump, just one of the shrewd deals that made him a major success in real estate. And we can't forget the two game shows that he developed and produced before selling them off for a good chunk of dough - Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! If memory serves, he even wrote the theme to Jeopardy! It was said that when he died, his net worth was $1 billion. In any event, next to Gene Autry, Merv Griffin was perhaps the most successful mogul in show business. And reading this article, we can say we knew him when.
The starlet of the week is actually a bona fide star, Sally Ann Howes, From the British music halls to Broadway to television variety shows and frequent appearances on such game shows as Password, she's become a familiar face to television viewers. This week, the elegant and stylish Miss Howes demonstrates "the beautiful trends for fall."
Best ad of the week has to be this odd comic strip-style feature for The Lloyd Bridges Show, an unusual anthology series in which Bridges played a newspaper reporter who, each week, would imagine himself in the role of the person about whom he was reporting. Later on it switches to a more conventional anthology, but I find this technique quite interesting. It's not as Walter Mitty as it sounds; more like the reporter trying to picture what must have happened in a given situation. Was he subconsciously testing himself, trying to figure out how he would have handled that situation? Given that the show only ran for one season on CBS, we'll never know. I'm only surprised the cartoon doesn't have a thought bubble connecting him to the scene he's imagining.
One of the enduring mysteries of life is why we so often behave in a manner that runs contrary to what we say we want. That's no different with television, of course, where people claim to want quality programming while routinely ignoring it when it's offered. Dr. Herbert Kay, Director of the Center for the Study of Audience Reactions, thinks he knows why such things happen.
According to Dr. Kay, viewers drawn to family sitcoms are well-aware of their flaws and shortcomings, but their main reason for watching them is to "escape from crime, violence, brutality, uninhibited sex,* and other unwholesome or unhappy situations." Thus, while fans of such shows may describe them as "down-to-earth" and "true-to-life," what they really want is to escape that very quality, in favor of shows that offer happy endings and morals to the story.
*1962 style, anyway.
On the other hand, and this I find quite interesting given my own predilection for realism on TV, those who denigrate such shows as "trite" and "unpredictable" are drawn to shows that are not necessarily realistic, but "asks him to believe that it's realistic and could happen." Therefore, such a viewer might find himself (or herself) watching a show such as Car 54, Where Are You? - a show that you might consider silly - because it doesn't make any pretensions or try to insult the viewer's intelligence. "Look," it says to the viewer - "we're going to try to make you laugh through slapstick and farce. Take us or leave us on those grounds."
It's always been typical of television executives that as soon as a style or format becomes a hit, imitation will follow. Look at how many different versions of Friends swamped the airwaves. To a point, this is good thinking, because viewers do show a preference for new shows. However, they also put a premium on entertainment and production values, which means that a shoddy or cheap copy will be seen as just that, and sent fairly quickly to the garbage bin.
In short, the message is that while networks are often criticized for offering their viewers the television equivalent of junk food, they're simply acknowledging what they've known for some time now, something that researchers are only beginning to figure out - there's a difference between what viewers say and what they do, and programmers understand this. They've seen the trends, they've looked at the ratings, and they're doing nothing more than giving the viewers what they want.
Finally this week, a few quick notes from the Teletype section, since we haven't been there lately.
In New York, there's the report that NBC will soon be launching a new Goodson-Todman game show, the five-days-a-week Match Game. Good move - it runs for seven seasons on NBC, then after a hiatus of four years is revived by CBS, where it runs for another six seasons, plus two or three more in syndication.
CBS Reports plans to focus on the current campaign for governor of California, pitting incumbent Edmund "Pat" Brown against former Vice President Richard Nixon. We all know how that turned out; Brown, the father of current Governor Jerry, narrowly edged out Nixon, putting him into political retirement (or not, as the case may be), while Brown, four years later, would confidently predict another victory, this time against former actor Ronald Reagan. With a margin of nearly one million votes, the laugh was on him.
NBC Opera is presenting a new Gian Carlo Menotti composition on March 3. Unfortunately, the Teletype doesn't bother to mention what it is,but thanks to the miracle of the Internet, we're able to tell that it's Labyrinth, not one of Menotti's bigger productions. From the sound of it, I think I'd rather like it; however, unlike Amahl, Labyrinth was never intended to be anything other than a television production, one specifically designed to take advantage of the techniques and opportunities offered by TV. It has never been performed again.