April 9, 2016

This week in TV Guide: April 7, 1956

There's nothing terribly earth-shattering about this week's issue, so let's do what I like to do most when I've got a new issue of TV Guide - just skip around and see what's what.

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For example, two new soap operas premiered last week on CBS, and they're unusual in that they run for 30 minutes, rather than the traditional 15-minute format (a carryover from radio; you notice a lot of shows fit into that category). You might have heard of them: As the World Turns and The Edge of Night. Incidentally, The Edge of Night started out as "the daytime version of Perry Mason," with Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner writing it, but the notoriously temperamental Gardner pulls out due to "creative differences,"* and the character of the heroic lawyer is changed from Mason to Mike Karr, played by John Larkin, who played Mason on the radio.

*According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, those differences include Mason having a regular girlfriend, which throws into question that intriguing relationship with his secretary, Della Street. That's something Gardner, who jealously guarded Mason's image, would never agree to.

Speaking of the great lawyer, there's an interesting item in this week's Hollywood Teletype: "If everybody can agree on the contracts, Fred MacMurray will wind up as lawyer Perry Mason in the new CBS hour-long detective series." Color me naïve, but I've never heard anything to suggest that producers were that close to hiring MacMurray. I'd read that he was one of those "considered but rejected" (Efrem Zimbalist Jr. being another), and I've seen the screen test William Hopper took for the role before he was chosen as Paul Drake, but most of the stories I've read over the years talk of Raymond Burr being Gardner's choice. I wonder if Gardner vetoed MacMurray as Mason - that wouldn't surprise me a bit. I like Fred MacMurray a lot, but he's not Perry Mason.

In the New York version of the Teletype, we read that Dinah Shore may be dumping her twice-weekly 15-minute show (which airs Tuesday and Thursday evenings on NBC, filling the remainder of the half hour occupied by John Cameron Swayzee's News Caravan) in favor of an hour-long Tuesday night show. Dinah's been doing the quarter-hour show since 1951, but she figures now may be the time to expand. Another idea: keeping the current show, and adding a number of hour-long specials in addition. As it turns out, nothing could be finah than Dinah at an hour: The Dinah Shore Chevy Show starts up this October, and runs until 1963, and her rendition of "See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet" becomes a part of pop culture lore.


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Let's make sure we take care of the cover stories. First, we'll go down south to Nashville, and visit the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry is already an American institution, having started in 1925, and what's surprising about its transition to television is not that it's happened, but that it took this long. The 1955-56 fall season brought about the premiere of the Opry on ABC, where once a month it substitutes for Ozark Jubilee, another Country-Western program, and in rural areas (which, remember, make up a much larger part of America in 1956 than they do today), it is absolutely slaughtering the competition, Perry Como and Jackie Gleason.

This week's article takes a kind of quaint approach to the whole thing, pointing out that these Country stars are just as business-savvy as anyone - hardly surprising considering how successful the Grand Ole Opry has been over the years; and when you think of how big Country music has become as a business, I think it shows these "hayseeds" have always been pretty shrewd business people.

The cover picture of Garry Moore, host of the quiz show I've Got a Secret, along with the show's two female panelists of the time, Jayne Meadows and Faye Emerson (much better looking than the male panelists, Bill Cullen and Henry Morgan) doesn't really have anything to do with the inside story. That's about the "secret" files of I've Got a Secret, which aren't really that secret. What is a secret, or at least something many of you might not have known, is that IGAS was created by Allan Sherman, the singer-comedian who was Weird Al before Weird Al, best-known for the hit single "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah." This week Sherman talks about some of the up to 4,000 secrets he receives each week - people with 12 toes or 13 fingers or no eyebrows, but also people with relatives who came to America on the Mayflower or shook hands with Abraham Lincoln, a man who went over Niagara Falls in a rubber ball and lived to tell about it, the first man to cash a Social Security check, or the woman who won the first Miss America pageant. By the way, Sherman says, if you have 40 toes he'll take you, but if it's only 12, don't bother.

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Gordon Sinclair, the legendary Canadian journalist who in 1973 will become famous south of the border for his editorial on behalf of America at a time when the rest of the world is taking potshots at her, writes this week about the state of Canadian television. Television in Canada is "green," as it was in America a few years before, and "there's no doubt that the future is just as bright" as in America, but you'll have to excuse Canadians if their shows are still a little rough around the edges. "Our scripts are pedestrian, our crews are inexperienced and our directors seem hesitant to direct. Or even to suggest to performers older than themselves how to play a scene better."

Canadians produce 38 hours of network television each week, ranking third behind Hollywood and New York. Canadians have produced stars of American television, including Lorne Greene, Gisele MacKenzie and Barry Morse. Canadian shows have their share of curvy females, including Joan Fairfax and Shirley Harmer. But American television is still more popular than many home-grown shows; Robert Montgomery Presents is particularly successful. Sinclair suggests Canadian television will one day thrive - after all, even the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the government-run entity that "frowns on press agentry and commercial exploitation" hasn't been able to completely subdue the spirit of Canadian TV.

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ALL: HADLEY TV GUIDES
There's some real star power in this week's shows. On Saturday night's Ford Star Jubilee (CBS), Orson Welles and Betty Grable make rare television appearances in the comedy "Twentieth Century," written by the famed Broadway duo of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Welles would come to do a lot of television in the last couple of decades of his life - remember those cheesy appearances on the Dean Martin roasts and the commercials for Paul Masson wine? ("We will sell no wine before its time.") - but in 1956 he was still a star, known for The War of the Worlds and Citizen Kane and The Third Man, and still two years away from his noir classic Touch of Evil. Ah, one has to pay the bills, however, and Welles was always looking for money for his latest projects, many of which sadly never came to fruition. As he once famously said, "I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can't stop eating peanuts."*

*By the way, if you're interested in absorbing article on Welles, check out this New Yorker piece by Alex Ross from last year. It truly seems as if Orson Welles could only have been a character concocted in an Orson Welles movie.

On Sunday afternoon the American composer Norman Dello Joio premieres his opera "The Trial at Rouen" on NBC Opera Theatre. It's Dello Joio's second crack at rendering an operatic version of the story of Joan of Arc. His first, "The Triumph of St. Joan," premiered in 1950, but Dello Joio was never happy with it, and eventually reworked the story (but neither the music nor the libretto) into the 75-minute opera (plus commercials) that you'd be seeing on television. There's yet a third version to come, however, as Dello Joio will add some of the music from the 1950 version to the 1956 version while creating some new scenes and expanding on others, resulting in the 1959 version, also called "The Triumph of St. Joan." Many of the critics of the time will consider it to be the best of the three versions of the story.

Sunday night CBS' G.E. Theater presents Judy Garland in an informal one-woman show, performing a half-hour of songs she's never before done in public, and backed by pianist Leonard Pennario and choreographer Peter Gennaro (who did Annie, West Side Story and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, among other Broadway hits). It's introduced by G.E. host Ronald Reagan.

If you happen to own the boxed set of Studio One episodes that came out a few years ago, you'll have seen the Rod Serling political drama "The Arena," airing Monday night on CBS, with Wendell Corey as an ambitious young senator dealing with the legacy (and feuds) of his father. You might also know that this is substandard Serling, one of the episodes that helped drive him to create The Twilight Zone. The problem, as he writes in his 1957 collection of television plays Patterns: Four Television Plays With The Author’s Personal Commentaries, is not a new one: interference from the network and sponsors. His reaction, however, shows us the direction he is already considering going:

I was not permitted to have my Senators discuss any current or pressing problem. To talk of tariff was to align oneself with the Republicans; to talk of labor was to suggest control by the Democrats. To say a single thing germane to the current political scene was absolutely prohibited. So on television in April 1956, several million viewers got a definitive picture of television’s concept of politics and the way government is run. They were treated to an incredible display on the floor of The United States Senate of groups of Senators shouting, gesticulating and talking in hieroglyphics about make-believe issues, using invented terminology, in a kind of prolonged, unbelievable double-talk… In retrospect, I probably would have had a much more adult play had I made it science fiction, put it in the year 2057, and peopled the Senate with robots. This would probably have been more reasonable and no less dramatically incisive.

I suspect this episode was included in the DVD collection because 1) it was Serling, and 2) it was in fairly good condition. There are certainly better episodes that could have been chosen.

There's not too much of note on Tuesday, but there is a note on CBS' $64,000 Question that "As of the 43rd show, emcee Hal March has given out $544,608 and nine luxury automobiles." On Wednesday Imogene Coca, the female side of the team that made Your Show of Shows such a success, makes her dramatic television debut in CBS' U.S. Steel Hour. Thursday we see another of those shows that we likely won't see today, The All-American Homemaker of Tomorrow show, sponsored by Betty Crocker, with the aforementioned Hal March on hand to crown the winner (or whatever they do). No word on whether or not this program continues today. The week concludes Friday with Edward R. Murrow interviewing pollster George Gallup on Person to Person, about the exotic art of measuring public opinion. It was probably just as accurate then as it is today.

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Finally, there's a small ad on the bottom of Wednesday's listings referring to the social event of the year, perhaps the television event of the year, with the provocative question: "How much will you see?"

That event is the marriage of the Academy Award-winning actress Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier of Monaco, and everybody who's anybody will be heading over there to cover it. At the end of this week's What's My Line?, John Daly mentions that both Dorothy Kilgallen and Arlene Francis will be in Monaco to cover the wedding (Dorothy for the New York Journal American, Arlene for her Home show on NBC), and a worldwide audience estimated at 30 million tunes in for the formal ceremony on April 19.

It's an interesting mix of attendees; with Rainier as a head of state, a vast assemblage of diplomats and other heads of state are present, while Grace's status as Hollywood royalty attracts such luminaries as Cary Grant (who costarred with her in the Monaco-based To Catch a Thief), David Niven, Gloria Swanson, Ava Gardner and Aristotle Onassis, and her wedding dress is designed by MGM's Helen Rose.* In essence, this is Charles and Di before Charles and Di.

*According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, this dress was the inspiration for that worn by Kate Middleton for her wedding to Prince William.

There are actually two marriage ceremonies; the first, a civil ceremony required by law, was held on April 18, while the Catholic Nuptial Mass, the televised event, was held the following day at St. Nicholas Cathedral. I'm not sure about the answer to TV Guide's question of how much viewers will see, but here's a look at what the shouting was all about.

6 comments:

  1. Orson Welles appeared on tv again that fall in something that more people have probably seen than anything else he ever did on tv: an episode of I LOVE LUCY, for which he was paid $15,000. "Lucy Meets Orson Welles" had a plot where Lucy became Orson's magic act assistant, but she thought she would be performing Shakespeare with him. It can still be seen today on both tv & DVD.

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    1. According to WABC Radio's Dan Ingram, Orson Welles was the only voiceover artist to receive "triple scale" for his voice work. Ingram was among those who received double-scale.

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  2. "So, Chip, where were you the night Ernie broke Uncle Charlie's lamp?" Yeah, I don't see Steve Douglas as Perry Mason either

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  3. Sometimes I wonder just when people stopped looking things up ...

    - Erle Stanley Gardner stopped trying to write the Perry Mason radio show early on (Quote from ESG: "As a soaper I stunk.") He handed the radio show over to Irving Vendig, who was in charge for the whole radio run.
    CBS wanted to move the Mason soap to TV, but Gardner wasn't having any; he held out for prime time, while giving Vendig his blessing to create his own show, which became The Edge Of Night.

    - In 1956, Fred MacMurray was four years away from "Steve Douglas".
    At that point, he was deep in his Western/Noir phase, playing as many heavies as good guys (The Caine Mutiny being the prime example).
    Erle Stanley Gardner wasn't much of a moviegoer; he was leaving the production end of the TV Mason to Gail Patrick and her husband Cornwell Jackson.
    It was Fred MacMurray's own decision not to do Mason, because the idea of a weekly TV hour was daunting to him (How he got talked into My Three Sons is another story).
    And anyway, once Uncle Erle saw Raymond Burr's screen test and shouted "That's Perry Mason!" - game over.

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    1. Honestly, I'd thought I'd written this back at the time ...

      A quote from The Case Of The Real Perry Mason, Dorothy B. Hughes's biography of Erle Stanley Gardner:

      By the first of April,1956, it looked like Fred MacMurray would be Perry Mason.
      In a memo to (Cornwell Jackson, Gardner's literary agent, and his wife Gail Patrick)... on April 9, "Apparently Fred MacMurray ... will probably be selected."
      ... (Gardner) had never seen MacMurray ... and didn't know who he was ...(and) wanted to know if any of his movies were currently showing so that he could look him over.


      So there too.

      Delete
    2. Honestly, I'd thought I'd written this back at the time ...

      A quote from The Case Of The Real Perry Mason, Dorothy B. Hughes's biography of Erle Stanley Gardner:

      By the first of April,1956, it looked like Fred MacMurray would be Perry Mason.
      In a memo to (Cornwell Jackson, Gardner's literary agent, and his wife Gail Patrick)... on April 9, "Apparently Fred MacMurray ... will probably be selected."
      ... (Gardner) had never seen MacMurray ... and didn't know who he was ...(and) wanted to know if any of his movies were currently showing so that he could look him over.


      So there too.

      Delete

Thanks for writing! Drive safely!