January 16, 2016

This week in TV Guide: January 16, 1965

Well, I wanna tell ya, in 1965 there was no doubt that Bob Hope was, as the cover says, an American Institution - and had been for quite some time. It is not lightly that we dress someone in a red, white and blue tie and pose him as the Statue of Liberty, after all. And yet, to some - as Terry Teachout pointed out in this essay from last year - Hope is, today, a forgotten man.*

*I wrote about that Teachout piece when it first came out, though I'm not of a mind to go back and look up what I wrote back then. What Teachout wrote was thoughtful and provocative, as he usually is, but as I've thought more about it, I've come more and more to disagree with it, as you'll soon see.

What makes a man an institution? As Dwight Whitney writes, it's more than whether or not you're funny. Hope "has long ceased to be a mere jokesmith, quipster, and all-around funny fellow." He is a man who has traveled to virtually every country in the world, often at Christmastime. He is a man called upon by the State Department to use his prestige in the cause of international diplomacy, as in the case where he facilitated a Japanese Little League team getting their visas in time to come to the Little League World Series. He is a man who can glibly throw spears at politicians from all parties and still have them love him. He receives 50 requests a week to appear at benefits for hospitals, churches, homes for juvenile delinquents. "He considers them all, then agonizes because he can do only a few." He does all this - and more.

I think the Hope-Crosby Road movies are very funny. Watching Hope's TV specials (or listening to his radio programs) I can take him or leave him; some of the jokes work, others don't. Not any more, at any rate, although the audiences of the times seem to have appreciated them. He stayed around too long, as his last shows will attest; but then, how many performers really know when it's time to say good bye?

Times change, as to tastes. One commentator on Teachout's article remarked that he didn't find Hope funny, but then he didn't think Dick Van Dyke or Bob Newhart were funny either. His taste ran more toward Seinfeld, to which another wrote that Seinfeld was old news, that he wasn't funny either. You can accept Teachout's thesis that Hope's main flaw was that he wasn't a "Jewish comedian," but my hunch is it as much more to do with our short-attention-span generations, where except for slights (real or imagined), nothing that happened more than 36 hours ago is worth mentioning. Hope forgotten? Yes, as are most of the Founding Fathers and U.S. presidents (well, perhaps Grant's Tomb was a little hasty), Johnny Carson, Peter De Vries, Sinclair Lewis, Jackie Gleason and - for the latest generation - even Jerry Seinfeld. Playwrights, poets, novelists, movie stars, television heroes, political leaders, religious figures - their time always seems to come and go, when a society doesn't care to remember its history.

Bob Hope may not be the funniest man in the world to modern ears, but in context he was at the top. He was a great humanitarian, an institution at the Academy Awards, a Godsend to the troops. You just don't forget someone with the body of work he has. Even if you don't respect his humor, you respect his accomplishments, and to the extent that he is forgotten, it says little about him - and a great deal about us.

***

ALL: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
No "Sullivan vs. The Palace this week; usually, it's because ABC's found some reason or other to bump The Hollywood Palace, but this time it's CBS', fault - Ed makes way for the network's annual showing of The Wizard of Oz, hosted by Danny Kaye. It's easy to forget that in the days before DVDs and VCRs and all-movie cable channels, the showing of a movie like The Wizard of Oz could be quite an event. In its early broadcast years, it was shown as part of pre-Christmas festivities , but starting in 1964 it was moved to January, which is where it is this year. I was surprised to learn, in a somewhat jumbled and repetitive article from the always-reliable Wikipedia, that the movie has never been shown on local television - it's always been broadcast either on an over-the-air network or on cable. I guess it's true that you learn something new every day if you're not careful.

Anyway, I digress, It's too bad Ed didn't show up for the battle this week, because it's the first anniversary of The Hollywood Palace, and to celebrate they've brought back the host of that first show, Bing Crosby. Bing welcomes his co-stars from his ABC sitcom, Beverly Garland and Frank McHugh, the King Sisters, ballet dancers Jacques d'Amboise and Catherine Mazzo, comedian Corbett Monica, the Three Rebertes acrobats, and Leonardo, who does some always-welcome plate spinning. Bing's joined for a skit by previous Palace hosts, including George Burns, Liberace, Cyd Charisse and Tony Martin, Gene Barry, Ed Wynn, Debbie Reynolds, Groucho Marx, Buddy Ebsen, Phil Harris and Bette Davis. I think I'd have to give the week to Palace even if Ed was on.

***

This week, Cleveland Amory takes a trip into the world of spies with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Now, this is another program we enjoy watching, so we have to admit having our feelings hurt a bit when Amory begins his review by noting that earlier in the month, NBC had preempted the show for a White Paper report on "The Decision to Drop the Bomb," and then remarks, "They should have kept U.N.C.L.E. on while they dropped the bomb."

To be fair, though, those first few U.N.C.L.E. episodes really weren't that good, at least compared to when the show found its stride in the last part of the first season and throughout season two. For one thing, the episodes Amory references come from before the producers figured out that David McCallum was just as important to the success of the show as Robert Vaughn.* One contemporary critic commented that it was McCallum's presence that allowed Vaughn to become a more well-rounded character, rather that the generic superspy he was originally conceived as. That, and the fact that McCallum had tremendous appeal to the young female fans of the show.

*In the past I've commented that Robert Vaughn is the only man I know who can make even the hero look and sound smarmy.

In that sense, we can't really disagree with Amory's observation that "for all the fast pace and gimmickry, there just isn't enough charm." Even when the concept is a good one, as was the case with "The Double Affair," the execution is lacking. "But there was also scene after scene which seemed to be building up to something that never happened." Even when it does, he complains, you don't really care about the characters; he's sure one bad guy keeled over not from violent mayhem, but because " he was, we are certain, bored to death."

He does credit McCallum as being better than Vaughn, although not by much, but again - it would be interesting to see if Cleve revisits the series in a year or so. Not during the dreadful season three, when the show becomes a grotesque parody of Batman, but when the balance between thriller and spoof seems to be just right. By then, we feel, Vaughn and McCallum are doing just fine as Napoleon and Illya - and we think he might agree with that.

***

I'm often impressed by the narrow lead time some issues of TV Guide have - take G-E College Bowl, for example, in which the winning college returns the following week to defend its championship. The show airs live on Sunday afternoons, and yet week after week the name of the returning champion can be found in the following week's listing. Assuming the magazine comes out on Thursday or Friday, that gives it only a couple of days to get everything ready. Sometimes, however, especially in cases of the unexpected, we'll run into a listing for a program that never was. Such is the case this week.

On Saturday at 2:00pm Eastern Time, ABC is scheduled to broadcast the AFL All-Star Game, live from the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. In fact, the game was played that Saturday, but not in New Orleans. It's one of the more important events of the civil rights movement, and yet I don't know how much it's remembered today. Thanks to sports documentaries, the details have been pretty well shared by now, but if you're not a sports fan I don't know if you've ever heard the story.

New Orleans in the 1960s remained a racial tinderbox - one of the most racist cities in the South, according to some. In fact, just a couple of weeks prior, the Sugar Bowl had hosted its first game that included a fully integrated team (Syracuse University), a game which had come off without incident. The American Football League had scheduled the All-Star game for the city as a try-out for a possible expansion team; at the time, there were no professional franchises located there. However, as this excellent article points out, New Orleans was headed for a major black eye. Despite assurances by the league and city officials, black players were almost immediately subject to discrimination:

many of the black players were left stranded at the airport for hours when they arrived in town. Once in the city African American players were refused cab service and in some cases those who were given rides were dropped off miles from their destinations.

Other players were refused admittance to nightspots and restaurants, while nearly all were subjected to tongue-lashings and to a hostile atmosphere on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter while sightseeing.  The situation became so uncomfortable for the black players who clearly felt unwelcome that most simply returned to their hotels.

Eventually, the twenty-one black players selected to play in the game - supported by many of their white teammates - voted to boycott the game. League officials, with little time to do anything else, were forced to act quickly. On Monday, January 11 - only five days before the game - AFL Commissioner Joe Foss announced the game was being moved to Houston. It was too late for TV Guide to do anything about it, but the Close-Up remains a reminder of the climate of the times, and of how long it took some things to change.

***

Wednesday is January 20, and we all know what that means every four years - the inauguration of the President and Vice President of the United States. This year, President Lyndon Johnson will take the oath of office for his first full term, in circumstances quite different from those which existed when he became President on November 22, 1963.

For the first time since that date, the nation will have a Vice President, as Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey is sworn in, followed by LBJ himself. After a landslide victory over Republican candidate Barry Goldwater, it is a chance for Johnson to rejoice, to feel the sense of triumph denied him due to his sudden accession to the presidency. As one newsman commented - probably Edwin Newman; it has his puckish sense of humor - Johnson "looked as if he could dance all night, and probably did." And yet, I wonder if the nation had really recovered from JFK's assassination. It's only about 14 months since then, and just as news commentators compared Kennedy's triumphant inaugural trip down Pennsylvania Avenue to his solemn funeral cortege along the same route, it was bound to occur to more than one observer that LBJ's victorious parade could well have been - should have been, his enemies would say - Kennedy's.*

*A brief political interjection: though I'm no fan of Johnson's politics, I've always felt compassion for the man considering how he was treated by so many of the Kennedy loyalists. 

TV coverage of the inauguration is complete, beginning at 7:00am on NBC with Today, and continuing on CBS at 10:00 and ABC at 10:30, leading up to the oath-taking at noon, with musical performances by Leontyne Price and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, followed by the Inaugural Parade  That night, attention shifts to the four Inaugual Balls, so big that even The Tonight Show is preempted in order for NBC to cover them.

Four years later, the scene will repeat itself, with a stunningly different cast of characters. Richard Nixon, thought to be cast into political oblivion, is now President; LBJ, harried and hated, leaves office after choosing not to run for reelection; Robert F. Kennedy, the heir-apparent to Camelot, is dead; Hubert Humphrey, four years a Vice President, barely misses catching Nixon at the end. Not for the first time, nor for the last, does one muse on how nobody possibly could have predicted it.

***

Let's see, it's been awhile since we've had a starlet of the week, hasn't it? Well, let's try Debbie Watson on for size.

Debbie, still 15 at the time this issue comes out (she turns 16 on January 17) is, in the words of "people who should know," one of the "it" girls - that is, whatever "it" is that makes someone a star, she has it. She's the lead in the sitcom Karen, one of the three programs that makes up the umbrella series 90 Bristol Court on NBC*, and even though that series only lasts a year, she'll rebound to star in the 1965-66 version of Tammy, based on the big-screen movies. In 1966 she'll take the place of Pat Priest in Munster, Go Home. And at this point, she is getting a kick out of the whole thing.

She's naive, though, and hasn't seemed quite to understand what it means to star in a TV series. She's been late to a photo shoot, and she's skeptical that being an actress will change much about her life. These things aren't offered as criticisms, but pointed out to show just how green she is. And maybe that's why her career is so short. Her last entry in IMDb is an appearance on Love, American Style in 1971, and after that she retired to what has been by all accounts a relatively satisfied life. And there's nothing wrong with that.

***

A couple of weeks ago ABC telecast the UN drama Carol for Another Christmas, which strongly supports international interventionism, and at the time I mentioned there'd be more discussion to come. That discussion comes in the form of the Letters to the Editor section, which - unlike the reviewers - are strongly positive. Ruth Halfman of St. Louis writes to say she was "greatly moved," while C. Herbert Wolf Sr., who lives in Roswell, New Mexico, calls it the finest sermon he's ever heard, and adds that "it put the Christ in Christmas." George Oliver of Metairie, Louisiana thanks Xerox, writer Rod Serling, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz and ABC itself for "the best Christmas present of the year," and appreciates the lack of commercials.

Not everyone is so sanguine, though; George W. Coughenour of San Bernardino, California congratulates everyone involved for "a wonderful piece of Communist propaganda," and Frances K. Samuels of New Caanan, Connecticut complains that "Rod Serling laid the blame for all the world's wars and ills on the American doorstop."

Perhaps the most ironic letter comes from Linda Love of Pensacola, Florida. In its entirety: "My husband spent the last few months in Vietnam. After seeing this program I won't have to ask why. Thank God we Americans care enough for our fellow man to fight to free him from oppression." Why do I call it ironic? Well, the conventional wisdom, for what it's worth - certainly for Mr. Coughenour, as well as the Scrooge-like character played by Sterling Hayden in the show - is that those who like the show are nothing more than bleeding-heart activist liberals. And yet within three years, many of those same liberals will be marching through the street, chanting "What are we fighting for?" and Muhammad Ali is saying "I ain't got nothing against those Viet Cong." Even the UN turns against the war.

TV Guide says that letters are running "about 6 to 1" in favor of the UN series. I wonder, if they were to revisit those letter writers in 1968, how many of them would feel the same way?

***

Finally, a note from Richard Warren Lewis' article on the development of the ABC series Peyton Place. It is said that the idea to air the show twice-a-week was inspired by twice-weekly soap opera Coronation Street "that was aired on British television and earned huge ratings." I'm sure Lewis didn't mean to refer to Coronation Street n the past tense, as if it weren't on television any more. It premiered on ITV on December 9, 1960 and at the time of this article had been on for just over four years.

Peyton Place, which debuted on ABC September 15, 1964, would run to June 1969, and then was resurrected for a daytime run on NBC in the early '70s. Coronation Street, on the other hand, remains a British institution, more than 55 years after its debut and still going strong, with almost 9,000 episodes under its belt. Something which we can all only dream of.

5 comments:

  1. I don't have this particular issue; the following is from memory.

    Each year at season's end, Cleveland Amory (whose friends called him 'Clip' - don't ask) would do a column called "Second Thoughts", whose purpose was self-explanatory.
    This is what he said at that point about The Man From UNCLE:
    "... either it has improved or we were too hard on it; our guess is both."

    As long as I'm here, I'd like to call your attention to a book I got from Amazon a few weeks ago:
    The Case Of The Alliterative Attorney, by Bill Sullivan and Ed Robertson.
    Care to guess what it's about?
    OK, we're back to Classic Perry Mason, but this is the Big Baby right here.
    And by Big - 676 pages, covering the whole TV series and the subsequent TV movies, with interviews with anyone and everyone who was still around for the authors to talk to, plus behind-the-scenes stories about the production.
    Best of all, the authors got access to Erle Stanley Gardner's notes on the various scripts as they entered into production.
    Uncle Erle's close watchdogging of the series was unique for its time (or ever, comes to that), and is frequently cited as a major reason for its long run.
    The book is apparently self-published, but looks better than average for that; there are many pictures from the whole run, but no index.(Of course, an index would likely double the book's page count ...)
    As I said above, I got this from Amazon. It's brand-new (2015 copyright), priced at $35, and worth every penny as far as I'm concerned. (Unsolicited testimonial)
    By the bye, curiosity moved me to check out which Mason aired the week of the subject issue of TV GUIDE, in this case January 20, 1965.
    It's "The Case Of The Lover's Gamble", a really good later show; twisty plot from Jackson Gillis, lots of suspicious guest stars, and a truly unexpected exposure of the culprit. Check it out if you can.

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    1. ...oopsie ...
      I read the wrong date for the Perry Mason episode.
      January 20 was the last day of filming for "TCOT Lover's Gamble"; it didn't air until February 18(another example of how detailed this book is).
      The January 21 episode was "TCOT Golden Venom", which by chance was also a Jackson Gillis script.
      The rest of the comment stands.

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  2. Supposedly, CBS decided rather abruptly to cancel "The Munsters" in the spring of 1966, after production for both Season Two of the TV show and the feature film "Munster Go Home!" had finished.

    I once heard that the cast and producers learned of the news when they were intercepted by a CBS executive upon their return to Los Angeles Airport (LAX) from doing location filming for "Munster Go Home!" in London (which was reportedly the final part of the film to be shot).

    The reason was the abrupt success of ABC's "Batman" in January of 1966.

    It is my understanding that had there been a third season of "Munsters", Debbie Watson would have continued playing Marilyn Munster.

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  3. Didn't NBC carry their entire 1965 Inauguration Day broadcast in color, whereas all of ABC's and CBS's coverage was seen in black-and-white?

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    1. They didn't. At the time, NBC did not colorcast their news programming and news specials (except for a few filmed documentaries). In fact, only about a dozen of their prime-time offerings were in color, including a few daytime and weekend shows. That was more than ABC, which- when their stations were equipped to do so- scheduled just TWO color programs in prime-time during the 1964-'65 season (and only ONE Saturday morning series, "HOPPITY HOOPER"). CBS, because of their spite against RCA and their NBC subsidiary over color telecasting, had an unofficial "no color programming at all" edict since 1960 {although a few specials WERE colorcast that season). All this changed in the 1965-'66 season.....

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