December 12, 2015

This week in TV Guide: December 12, 1964

Few entertainers have been more associated with Christmas than Bing Crosby, and so it's no surprise that there's a feature story on Der Bingle this week. Leslie Raddatz's article isn't about that part of Crosby's career, though - it focuses on the entertainer in the second half of his career. Now 63, with a young family far from Hollywood, working not in the movies but on his first weekly series (in which he portrays a retired singer), Crosby has mellowed for real; not the faux mellowness that his persona has always projected, the facade behind which was a driven, aloof man who was a mystery even to his friends, but a man who seems to have come to terms with life and his place in the industry.

"Why am I doing this series?" he tells Raddatz. "I have to do something. I wanted to stay in the business, and there didn't seem to be any feature pictures available." His production company, which continues to produce television series*, has employees who need to be paid. "What are you going to do - say, 'Go to hell?' I still have time to play golf, hunt and fish. But there are certain things I have to do."

*Ben Casey and Slattery's People at present, and Hogan's Heroes in the future.

He takes immense pride in his family, especially the children from his second marriage, and worries about his older boys from the first, all of whom have had personal troubles of one kind or another. He recently shot an episode of the show with one of those sons, Gary, who will pen a tell-all book after Crosby's death that, at least temporarily, shatters the Crosby myth with charges of abuse and bad parenting.

A few years ago I attended a talk by Gary Giddins, the jazz expert who at the time was promoting the first volume of his Crosby biography, and someone asked him his opinion of Gary's accusations. He was inclined to disbelieve him; Gary was a particularly troubled individual, and Giddins said there was absolutely no evidence to corroborate the accusations he'd made. Not only that, the story didn't match up to the known facts about Bing, nor did it find favor in what others said about him. That's not to say that Crosby was perfect; he himself admitted that he'd made mistakes with his first family, and friend and songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen remarked that "There must be something in him that no one has fathomed yet." He could indeed be difficult, distant, enigmatic - but for a generation his personality, whether real or not, was soothing and charming, and it just didn't seem like Christmas without a Bing Crosby show. This year, his Yuletide Clambake takes place on his sitcom, after which it will become a fixture on The Hollywood Palace, before moving to NBC, and then CBS. His place in the Christmas landscape has yet to be replaced.

***

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: Guests are comedian Alan King, singer Anita Bryant, Italian tenor Daniele Barioni, the Marquis Chimps, the comedy team of Stiller and Meara, British ventriloquist Arthur Worsley, the Fabulous Echos vocal-instrumental group and Con Conwally's balancing act.

Palace: Folk singer Burl Ives introduces Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy and Edgar's 18-year-old daughter Candy; operatic soprano Anna Moffo; singer-dancer Ann Miller; comic Pat Henry; Rih Aruso, bicycle-balancer; and Liana Stanek, Vienese trapeze artist.

I'm going to go with the Palace this week for a number of reasons, none of which might have been evident at the time this issue went to press. First, Burl Ives is less than a week from having introduced one of his biggest hits, "Holly Jolly Christmas" on last week's Rudolph. He's not doing that this week, of course, more to the chagrin of the MCA, the label that put out the Rudolph soundtrack, but he is doing perhaps his biggest hit, "Big Rock Candy Mountain." Second, we get to meet Edgar Bergen's daughter "Candy," or Candice Bergen, as we would know her today. He and Charlie are always a big hit. Add Anna Moffo and Ann Miller, and you've got more than enough to overcome Alan King and Anita Bryant. For the second week in a row, give the nod to the Palace.

***

This week, Cleveland Amory takes on Wendy and Me, the successor to The Burns and Allen Show. It's produced by George Burns and features Burns in a supporting role as the owner of an apartment building in which lives Wendy (Connie Stevens) and her husband Jeff (Ron Harper). Wendy assumes the Gracie Allen function, even though she's married to Ron instead of George, and Connie is nowhere near as talented as Gracie. Other than that, the show should be a smash, right?

Burns, says Amory, is an actor "out of it," a commentator on the action rather than a participant in it. Burns was one of the foremost proponents of breaking the fourth wall and addressing the viewer directly, and he uses that shtick to make fun of the show, the cast, the entire production, and himself. Amory's not a big fan of it, nor does he have much good to say about the commercials, which are introduced by Burns. One particular commercial gets to him - a car ad narrated by Col. John "Shorty" Powers, who came to fame as the Mission Control communicator for the Mercury space missions. The commercials tout "inexcusably fast driving," according to Amory, who finds them "taxing, to say the least, to the average taxpayer." Fortunately, he says, "The program itself, we are happy to say, is better. It's not our favorite, but neither is it a complete miss - actually, it's one of those near Mrs."

The Mrs. is Stevens, who is not the greatest actress ever - "She also has a way of delivering her lines as if they were beeps on a beeper phone," and giving her "the benefit of a couple of long doubts," she "comes close to making up for the fact that almost every plot we've seen is an obvious and often wearing blend of mistaken identity and missed connections."

The rest of the cast, particularly J. Pat O'Malley as the handyman, is fine, or at least adequate. But I get the impression that Amory will hardly be surprised that Wendy and Me makes it for only the one season.

***

On Saturday night, Lawerence Welk and his Champagne Music Makers ring in yuletide with a program of Christmas music, including "Little Bells and Big Bells," "Jingle Bells," "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "Winter Wonderland" and "Frosty the Snowman." Based on past Welk shows, I wouldn't be surprised if next week's show featured more sacred music. Of course, I could just get up and look at the issue, since I'll be covering it here next week, but that would spoil all the fun. Besides, I'm lazy.

Monday night on NBC, Jonathan Winters returns for a holiday-themed special, with guests Eileen Farrell, Peter Nero and Louis Nye. Winters plays one of his famous characters, Maude Frickert, hawking her Christmas cards, and Nye and Williams team up for a sketch about Santa's Madison Avenue marketers.

And the late-night movie on WTCN Wednesday is that old favorite, Holiday Inn, with Crosby and Fred Astaire as two song-and-dance men fighting over the same woman. Bing wins in the end, as we knew he would, but personally I've always wondered about the longevity of the match with the fickle Linda Mason, who threw Bing over for Fred and then throws Fred back over for Bing. Maybe I'll write more about that someday.

Thursday night it's Perry Como's Christmas special on Kraft Music Hall (NBC), which sees Perry making the trip over to Rome, where he welcomes opera star Roberta Peters, Burr Tillstrom and his famous puppets Kukla and Ollie, the Boys Town of Italy Choir, and the Sistine Chapel Choir, which has come to be known in recent years as the "Sistine Screamers." Let's just say their musicology, which had shown a slight improvement in recent years, remains suspect. Nonetheless, I suspect it was a very nice program.

On Friday it's the second showing of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, the first great made-for-TV Christmas cartoon and one of my personal favorites, and a surprisingly faithful rendition of the Dickens story. What I particularly like about this, besides Jim Backus of course, is that they have Magoo playing Scrooge pretty straight (just a couple of Magooisms about bad eyesight), and the music, by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, is first-class - but then it would be, coming from these Broadway veterans. The wonder is that the cartoon's producers were able to get them. How did they ever allow this to disappear from the networks for so long?

There are some local programs that deserve mention as well; Sunday afternoon, independent WTCN has a half-hour program on behalf of the Salvation Army, with appropriate music from the Salvation Army band and the North High School chorus. And throughout the week, WCCO's Around the Town program presents Christmas concerts from local choirs.

***

David Lachenbruch is back to give us a preview of "the new look for color TV," which will include larger tubes - 23 and 25 inches, to augment the "old reliable" 21 incher. However, because of the improvements in technology, these larger tubes will fit into slimmer cabinets, meaning they'll work better in your living room. They're brighter too, due to the use of new chemicals, and more rectangular.

However, there's a drawback to this larger, clearer picture tube, and that's the price. "The least expensive Motorola* set with a 23-inch color picture is list-priced at $625, while Zenith's first 25-inch sets are quoted at $795 and $895, and RCA's have a suggested retail price of $850." On the other hand, the 21-inch sets now run for less than $400, so there is that.

*Motorola, Zenith and RCA, for you youngsters out there, used to make television sets.

And there's the first stirrings of Japanese sets coming on the market, 16-inchers, but they're not portable, and they're only a little less expensive than the cheapest 21-inch sets. There are rumors that Sony is coming out with a new "Chromatron" tube, though American manufacturers doubt it can be mass-produced at low-enough cost, and the initial tests were disappointing.

About 2.5 million color sets have been sold since the introduction of the color set in 1954, but manufacturers are betting that more than 2,000,000 additional families will make the plunge in 1965. Color television, it appears, is here to stay.

***

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
I'm going to take a pass on this week's cover girl, Julie Newmar; frankly, I've never been a fan, finding her style - personally as well as professionally - pretentious and mannered. So let's go instead to the Starlet of the Week, 18-year-old Sherry Alberoni. Actually, she's already had more than 15 minutes of fame, having been a Mouseketeer at age 8, as well as a veteran of movies, television series, and commercials. Sherry is one of those people the rest of us hate, one who will eternally look younger than she actually is; right now, the article's nameless author says, she looks about 14.

Sherry was up for what would have been her biggest role, that of the title character in Lolita, but then something went wrong: her mother read the book. "Why, no one in our neighborhood would have spoken to us," her mother says in explanation for why she didn't allow Sherry to go after the role. Sherry herself says she'll give up acting if ever there comes a time when "I'm miserable because I didn't get some part."  As a backup against that time, she's attending Santa Monica Community College, taking courses in theater arts and typing.

Sherry Alberoni's greatest future fame will come as the voice of  "nasty rich-girl Alexandra Cabot" in the cartoon Josie and the Pussycats, as well as other voice work, a recurring role in Family Affair, and periodic Mickey Mouse Club reunions. Did she need those typing classes? I don't know about that, but it sounds as if she's written a pretty successful life for herself.

***

Finally, from the Teletype: "Currently in production at Desilu is the pilot for a 60-minute, science-fiction, color series called Star Trek, with Jeffrey Hunter as a spaceship captain." Also, NBC has signed comedian Don Adams for a pilot, "and the network has in mind a comedy property called Get Smart, about a non-too-competent secret agent." Wonder if anything ever came of them?

3 comments:

  1. Magoo's Christmas turned up in the 1965 TV Guide I just covered as well. I was surprised that NBC put it up against a new episode of The Flintstones; guess adults had to watch James West or nothing!

    Just watched Miss Newmar's then-current series on DVD, MY LIVING DOLL. There wasn't much chemistry between her and star Bob Cummings, though I suspect the time slot opposite BONANZA was the biggest factor in its quick cancellation.

    WENDY AND ME was re-run on CBN in the mid-80's. It probably looks better with the passage of time, but I'd imagine in 1964 it paled in comparison to Burns' prior series and the shtick of commenting on the action didn't look too fresh after Dobie Gillis had also been addressing the audience for several seasons. Being opposite the Lucy Show and Andy Williams probably didn't help.

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