January 23, 2016

This week in TV Guide: January 25, 1958

Well, look who's back: Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. It's been four years since their legendary Your Show of Shows went off the air, and in the meantime both have tried solo efforts without being able to duplicate its success. Now they're together again, for Sid Caesar Invites You, a new Sunday night effort. They say this will be a bit different from Your Show of Shows, which was a 90 minute variety program. This will be shorter, at only 30 minutes, and will stick to comedy.

There will also be some new bits, and anyone expecting to see the same skits and characters as in the old shows will be mistaken. "We looked at some of the old Caesar-Coca kinnies [kinescopes] a couple of weeks ago," says producer Hal Janis, "and it was like looking at museum pieces. Sid and Imogene both have grown as comedians in the past seven years."

It would be nice to say that the new show was a smash, making time stand still and all that, but it would also be untrue. Someone once said it's difficult to catch lightning in a bottle twice, and whatever magic it was that made Caesar and Coca a smash in the early '50s no longer exists in 1958. Sid Caesar Invites You lasted but four months, and though both stayed in show business for many, many years, neither ever reached the heights that they once had, back when television was young.

***

No single dominant moment this week, so let's spend our time doing something we don't do often enough: just see what's on TV.

On Saturday it's one of those this-happens-to-me-all-the-time instances, Perry Mason's "The Case of the Haunted Husband." "After Mason arranges bail for a woman charged with auto theft, a man's body is found in her hotel room." The woman, quite sensibly, is now charged with murder, despite the fact, as Mason's defense will show, that the police barely investigated the case at all before lighting on the most obvious suspect. There will be no bets taken on the outcome of the case.

So when did
Miss Manners
get married?
Here's an interesting sign of the times on Sunday's Ed Sullivan show - among Ed's guests (the next-to-last mentioned, in fact) we find "Buddy Holly and the Crickets, a rock-'n'-roll group." Notice that they aren't "the rockin' Buddy Holly and the Crickets," or "Buddy Holly and the Crickets, rock-'n'-rollers." No, they're just "a rock-'n'-roll group." "That'll Be the Day" had hit #1 on the charts just four months previously, with "Peggy Sue" following up at #3, and this is already the second appearance for the group on Sullivan, their first having come only the month before. In all likelihood, Buddy Holly was far better known than the listing in TV Guide would suggest; even so, this issue captures him on the very cusp of superstardom. Thirteen months later, he would be dead.

Something else on Sunday night, G.E. Theater. In this episode, Alan Ladd makes a rare television appearance as a frontier sheriff running for reelection, who discovers he's losing his hearing. Because he's afraid the town's criminals would take advantage of his disability if they knew, he decides to keep it a secret. It's an interesting question, whether or not the voters deserve to know about the health of their sheriff, who's also a candidate. It's understandable why he might not want to reveal his growing deafness, but things like that have a way of becoming a slippery slope, and once you use one excuse, it's easier to use another, and another. Should he resign and let his deputies take over? Not having seen the episode, I'm not sure how I feel about the ethics involved - what about you?

For Monday we'll take a look at a show from north of the border, on CKWS, which offers the type of program we're only too familiar with in this country: a political talk. This one is from John Wintermeyer, a member of the Ontario Liberal Party. I'd love to be able to report that Wintermeyer went on to become Prime Minister or something like that, but he never rose higher in the political world than leader of the party in Ontario, a position he held until 1963. The talk runs for 30 minutes and is followed by a rerun of The Millionaire, which Wintermeyer might have been envious of since he was also Shadow Finance Minister.

Tuesday's Schlitz Playhouse of Stars (10:30pm, CBS) gives us an example of the interesting relationship between theatrical movies and television. It's "The Lonely Wizard," starring Rod Steiger. Steiger is far from an unknown quantity; in 1954 he'd copped a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for On the Waterfront, and he's acted in many big screen movies before and since. In the early '60s Steiger's talent really comes to the forefront: a nomination for Best Actor for The Pawnbroker in 1964, an evil politician in Doctor Zhivago in 1965, an Oscar for Best Actor for In the Heat of the Night in 1967. At this point in time television was thought to be a medium for young actors on their way up (Charlton Heston, Clint Eastwood), or veterans on their way down. Steiger doesn't really fall into either category; although he's certainly a star on the big screen, his best days in movies are still ahead of him and he's not too big a name to appear on the small screen. Above all, Steiger is a working actor, one who always wants to be active, and for him a role is a role is a role, whether in movie theaters, Broadway stages, or television studios.

On Wednesday it's Date With the Angels, a sitcom that had been pretty much forgotten until star Betty White staged her career comeback a few years ago. With White suddenly a hot commodity, it didn't take long before this series, as well as White's Life With Elizabeth, found their way onto DVD and into stores. It's actually the last show of the series; the show wasn't a great experience for White, who called the show "run-of-the-mill" and said that it "was the only time I have ever wanted to get out of a show.Next week White will resuscitate her old variety series, which will fill out the rest of the season.

ALL: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
Thursday, it's Ronald Reagan's former wife and the future star of Falcon Crest, Jane Wyman, host and occasional star of NBC's Jane Wyman Presents the Fireside Theater (10:30pm). She's not in this week's episode, a story of mystery and intrigue. In "A Guilty Woman," Jan Sterling is paroled from prison after having served seven years for the murder of her fiancee. She's released to the custody of her good friend Virginia Grey, but as time progresses Jan "begins to realize something new" about Virginia. Do you suppose there may be some doubt as to who committed the murder?

Speaking of murder, on Friday, ABC's The Court of Last Resort (8:00pm) presents us with one of those real-life moments. The cases in the series are based on the real-life Court of Last Resort, founded by Perry Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner to investigate crimes for which the wrong person might have been convicted. The most famous case which the Court investigated was that of Dr. Sam Sheppard, the Cleveland osteopath who'd been convicted in 1954 of murdering his wife, but the Court of Last Resort investigated many such cases, the findings of which were often written up in Argosy magazine, and Gardner remained committed to the Court until his death in 1970.

This week's episode is "The Phillip Huston Case," in which the Court takes on the case of a man convicted of a shotgun killing. Eager to keep the Court from digging too deeply, the authorities offer Philip Huston parole in order to fend off the investigation. A parole, like a pardon, implies a certain degree of guilt; a similar situation actually occurred in the Sheppard case, when Sheppard's new attorney, F. Lee Bailey, began to find out things that made state officials too uncomfortable and they likewise began to float the idea of such an offer. Under Bailey's prodding, Sheppard made it clear he was going for broke - guilty or innocent. He was eventually acquitted in a retrial in 1966.

***

Care for some sports? On Saturday afternoon at 2:00pm, dueling telecasts of what would have been seen as minor sports back in the day: CBS presents an "ice hockey" matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins from Boston Garden, while NBC counters with pro basketball, pitting the Minneapolis Lakers and New York Knickerbockers from Madison Square Garden. At 9:00pm CKWS, the Canadian station, has CBC's Hockey Night in Canada with the Chicago Black Hawks and Montreal Canadians from the Montreal Forum.

Not an ad for
boxing!
At 4:00pm, it's ABC's All-Star Golf, with a match between two top players of the day, Mike Souchak and Stan Leonard. There are several golf series similar to this in the late '50s through the mid '60s, shows such as Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, where the world's best played on courses around the world, and Big Three Golf, which featured Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. It's before tournament golf becomes the dominant form of televised golf, and the appeal lies in the format, which features two name golfers in a head-to-head match, with all the "dead spots", i.e. the time it takes for the players to walk from one shot to the next, cut out, allowing the match to be edited into an attractive, one hour package.

At 4:30pm, NBC covers what's still considered a major sport - horse racing - with the Royal Palm Handicap from famed Hialeah Park in Florida. It's very rare today to see significant coverage of any horse racing aside from the Triple Crown races and the Breeders Cup at the end of the season, but in the late '50s a race such as this, which must have been considered a big race, is a pretty common sight on Saturday afternoon television.

There's still prime-time boxing to look forward to as well. ABC's turn comes on Wednesday, when Wayne Bethea fights Young Jack Johnson in a heavyweight bout, while on Friday NBC has light heavyweights Yvon Durelle and Tony Anthony. I wish I could tell you these fighters went on to become big names in the business, but - no.

***

What about culture? It's here this week as well, starting on Sunday with what sounds like an intriguing episode of CBS' morning show Camera Three. It's a play entitled "Mark Twain's Nightmares," and notes that for most of his life, Twain suffered from nightmares. (I did not know that.)  In this scenario, one of Twain's dreams yields a meeting with some of his own characters, critics and biographers. Interesting idea.

Sunday afternoon, it's an episode of NBC's Omnibus, surely one of the most fascinating, and missed, shows in television history. Hosted by Alistair Cooke, it combined music, drama, comedy, science - really, anything you could think of - in a program that was not only educational but entertaining as well. Think of it as what PBS might have been. Anyway, this week it's a special 90 minute presentation of Offenbach's comic opera La Perichole, based on the production being done by the Metropolitan Opera, staged by and co-starring Cyril Ritchard, who would also be familiar to TV viewers of the time as Captain Hook in Mary Martin's Peter Pan. And on Monday night, it's ABC's venerable Voice of Firestone, with two of opera's best-known stars, soprano Lisa Della Casa and tenor Cesare Valletti.

In fact, the number of music programs on TV this week is almost, though not quite, staggering. Lawrence Welk has two programs, his eponymously-named one on Saturday and the Top Tunes version on Monday. Arthur Godfrey has a couple as well; besides his regular variety show, there's Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. We've also got regular series by Perry Como (NBC), Red Foley's Country Music Jubilee (ABC), Polly Bergen and Your Hit Parade alum Gisele MacKenzie as well as the aforementioned Your Hit Parade (all NBC), Dinah Shore (NBC), Patti Page (The Big Record, CBS), Pat Boone (ABC), Tennessee Ernie Ford (NBC), Rosemary Clooney (NBC), Frank Sinatra (ABC), Patrice Munsel (ABC) and Country Hoedown (CBC), and I'm sure I'm missing some. That's in addition to variety shows hosted by Steve Allen, Ed Sullivan and Red Skelton. It's almost impossible today to think of what kind of talent you'd need to fill all those shows, let alone who they'd be.

***

Finally, a brief mention of what might otherwise have appeared as little more than a footnote. It's the 7:00pm sports on WTRI, Channel 35, an ABC affiliate in Menands, a suburb of Albany. As you know if you read the Monday TV listing, I generally include the name of the local newscaster, sportscaster, etc. when it's included. And at 7:00pm on WTRI, we begin a 15 minute sports update hosted by Howard Cosell. Now, it's not unusual for a local anchor to step up to the big time, and Cosell had a relationship with ABC since the mid-50s. In fact, I'm not suggesting Cosell was broadcasting from WTRI; if anything, the show was probably emanating from WABC in New York. Still, could anyone in 1958 have looked in on this show and imagined Howard Cosell would have become the sensation he did?  I'm not making it up - I'm just telling it like it is.

11 comments:

  1. Glad you have a Guide from my home area, Mitchell. Did it carry all upstate cities or just Syracuse, Binghamton, Watertown, Utica and Albany (Eastern NY Edition)?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi John! Let's see, this issue has Syracuse, Rochester, Schenectady, Watertown, Albany, Binghamton, Utica, and Kingston ON. A very interesting lineup!

      Delete
  2. And I vividly remember going outside on a Saturday night in the dead of a Finger Lakes winter to turn the antenna north to Canada so my dad and I could watch Hockey Night in Canada from CKWS.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Channel 8 in Syracuse (CBS) eventually swapped channel allotments with WHEC in Rochester (Channel 5-CBS) when the ABC affiliate (Channel 9 in Syracuse) opened in 1962 to avoid next-channel interference. Channel 35 outside of Albany eventually became WAST-Channel 13.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was wroc tv the nbc affiliate that became channel 8.Channel 13 wokr went on the air the same day as wnys channel 9.When wsyr tv came on the air in 1950 it was on channel 5.It switched to channel 3 in august 1953.Channel 5 was allocated to the rochester nbc station.

      Delete
  4. Sitting here at the keyboard with this week's Chicago edition at hand.

    More or less in order:

    - Sid Caesar's show was as short-lived as it was for three major reasons:
    (1) Dinah Shore
    (2) The G.E. Theatre
    (3) ABC's lack of affiliates to carry it.
    Three strikes and out ...

    - By the way, did you notice the picture in the color section of Sid and Imogene jumping?
    The photographer, Philippe Halsman, did many portraits of famous people for the covers of TV GUIDE, LIFE, and other magazines.
    Halsman's habit was to ask his subjects to jump into the air, so he could catch them in mid-air.
    Eventually, Halsman collected these pictures into his Jump Book, which, as it happens, was reissued late last year.
    Halsman did not limit himself to show business stars; many of the jumps were taken by politicians, judges, industrialists (it was, as they say, a Different Time ...).
    TV GUIDE often used the jumps in the magazine; when Halsman's book was first published, TVG did a spread of some of the more popular ones.

    - According to my sources, Schlitz Playhouse Of Stars aired on CBS on Friday nights at 9:30 EST; The Tuesday slot you cited was local affiliate time.
    So we're back in Delayed Broadcast Land again. Apparently, your edition covers a number of cities in upstate New York. NBC and CBS got there first, and ABC had to scramble, so there would have been a lot of mix-and-match scheduling.

    -Court Of Last Resort was an NBC series during this season, airing Friday nights at 8. (ABC picked up the reruns a year or so later.)
    So if an ABC station is showing it in '58 - well, see what I said about mix-and-match scheduling above.

    As to the real Court Of Last Resort:
    Erle Stanley Gardner ended his involvement with the CLR in 1960 because of the press of his other commitments (meaning mostly Perry Mason).

    In the CLR TV series, the real-life members of the court were portrayed by actors.
    Erle Stanley Gardner was played by Paul Birch, who would be best-known in these parts from the first two seasons of The Fugitive; he was Lt. Gerard's inordinately patient captain.
    The real Erle Stanley Gardner looked and sounded more like Edgar Buchanan (the other Court members were given similarly idealized castings).

    - Sports Focus with Howard Cosell was an ABC network show, their latest attempt to fill the rest of the half-hour before John Daly's newscast.
    Interestingly, channel 7 in Chicago didn't carry the Cosell show at first. Instead, there was a local show hosted by Bob Elson, the voice of the White Sox. When baseball season came around, Ch7 picked up the Cosell show (which ended around the end of summer).

    ReplyDelete
  5. Quick follow-up:

    I went to the DVD wall and picked out "the Case Of The Haunted Husband", from Perry Mason's first season.
    Sometimes I forget that it took the Mason team quite a while to build up their visual style.
    They filmed the first season at 20th-Fox studios, using standing sets that you can see in just about every low-budget second feature Fox made from the late '40s on.
    CBS and Erle Stanley Gardner's Paisano Productions rented the space to facilitate speedy filming; the casting was done mainly from the second tier as well.
    The trial judge here was played by Sydney Smith, a name that would be more familiar to the Old-Time Radio buffs in the crowd.
    Smith's best-known radio role - one he played longer than any other actor - was Ellery Queen.
    The story goes that Sydney Smith so identified with the Queen role that he took to booking personal appearances as Ellery Queen - without first clearing them with Fred Dannay and Manny Lee, who, after all, created and owned the character.
    In later years, Sydney Smith took his distinguished looks to shows where they needed folks who looked like that; for several years he was part of the regular rotation of judges on Perry Mason (six times total, in the first couple of seasons).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've enjoyed his roles as the judge - one of the great things about Perry Mason is that, as someone wrote, the judges seemed as interested in the histrionics as everyone else!

      Delete
  6. Rod Steiger's career reminds me of British actors, who will do a serious dramatic play one week and a silly sitcom the next--and not see any issue at all. It's a nice attitude, and I wonder why American actors aren't the same way.
    Those Canadian political talks you mentioned--I remember seeing them when I got the CBC back in the 80s. They aired whether there was an election or not, and they were provided for free. (The U.S. is one of the few countries that doesn't provide free political talks.) Does any of our Canadian viewers know if candidates can buy airtime, because I don't remember any Canadian political commercials?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Until the late 1960's, regular-season games on "Hockey Night In Canada" were joined in progress.

    In the 1959-60 season, the games were joined in progress at 9 P.M. Eastern time, which was around the time them middle period of the game began.

    It's my understanding that playoff games generally were shown in full.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I seem to vaguely recall having seen a couple of playoff games from the late '50s-early '60s. One suggested the game was joined in progress, but the other clearly started with the drop of the puck. I wonder if at some time they joined the playoff games in progress as well?

      Delete

Thanks for writing! Drive safely!