June 4, 2016

This week in TV Guide: June 2, 1956

Surprise! Although I told you a couple of weeks ago I didn't have the first issue of the "new, improved" TV Guide - you know, the one with more color and more features - it turns out that not only do I have it, I'm looking at it right now.

Is this a case of lying, or as they put it nowadays "willfully misleading"? Does this mean you should never trust this writer again, never take what you read at this site at face value? Unfortunately (because this would be a great story), such is not the case. Instead, we have a situation where yours truly has forgotten what is in his collection, meaning that we come to Friday, the day before this piece is due, suddenly discovering that the review that had been written for tomorrow is in fact supposed to go up next week, which means much scrambling and vamping ahead. Well. If there's one thing this blogging gig has taught me, it's how to write on a deadline.

Having said all that as a precursor, let's dig into this issue and see what it has to offer. And don't worry; you can be sure that whatever you read here can be absolutely, positively trustworthy and believable - or my name isn't Joe Isuzu.


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On Saturday night, Ford Star Jubilee (CBS, 7:30 pm CT) presents a musical version of John Hersey's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Bell for Adano, starring Barry Sullivan and Anna Maria Alberghetti. This is at least the third adaptation of Adano I can think of; the first was the 1945 movie starring Gene Tierney and John Hodiak, the second a 1967 Hallmark Hall of Fame adaptation with John Forsythe and Murray Hamilton, which I think I may have mentioned previously - I know I've got the TV Guide issue in which it appears.

And so I wonder why this story happens to be so popular that it was adapted so often? Well, aside from the fact that it has good bones, having won a Pulitzer, I think you might be able to look at what the story is about, and the circumstances under which each adaptation appeared. The story's theme, that of American troops in an occupied Italian town winning the trust of the residents by replacing the town's bell (melted down by the Fascists) during the war, demonstrates not only the nobility and compassion of Americans, but their desire to return a sense of freedom and dignity to war-torn countries. In other words, it's a perfect story for the Cold War

The movie, which came out the same year as the book, is understandable enough, being an attempt to capitalize on the award-winning success of the book. By the time we get to 1956, though, such an adaptation can be a seen as a powerful message* used in the competition with the Soviets for the hearts and minds of the people. The same message could be applied to the 1967 version, coming as it does during a tumultuous time when both Vietnam and the battle for civil rights were tarnishing the American image overseas. As the always-reliable Wikipedia notes in its description of the book, "Another possible reason it was so well received was that the novel portrays the American army in a positive light and shows how democracy is inherently superior to Fascism. At the conclusion of World War II, the American people were anxious to believe that they had made the right decision to go to war, and then to occupy Italy."

*Much the same way in which sitcoms were used to demonstrate the higher standard of living afforded by capitalism, which even the working class could enjoy.

Which brings up another point: do stories like this have a domestic use as well? You'll recall how the UN-sponsored series of dramas shown in the early '60s by ABC were designed in part to increase support among the American people for the UN and its activities; in particular, Carol For Another Christmas was an overt attempt to convince Americans of the justification for international involvement. What with Vietnam ripping the country apart, could it be that this kind of show was done to create a sense of national pride, the idea that we could do something right, and to portray American soldiers in a more favorable light?

Could be. And then again, it could be that it was simply a good story and it was easy to obtain the rights to it. Like the mystery of the Tootsie Pop, we may never know.

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Whenever there's a TV Guide from this era, one of the more interesting projects is to look through the weekly televised boxing matches in search of fighters who actually amounted to something other than Marlon Brando's lament that he coulda been a contendah. On ABC's Friday night Fight of the Week we get one, in the pivotal heavyweight contest between #2 ranked Hurricane Jackson and #4 Floyd Patterson.

It's an important fight because Rocky Marciano's recent retirement has left the heavyweight crown vacant, and the winner is expected to lay claim to the #1 ranking. Though he has a lower ranking than Jackson, it is Patterson who is being groomed for the title, having won 16 consecutive fights, and Jackson is billed as his toughest opponent yet. It is a tough fight, with Patterson surviving to win a 12-round split decision, and five months later he will knock out Archie Moore in the fifth round to win the heavyweight championship.

Speaking as we were a moment ago of national pride, Patterson was responsible for quite a bit of it during his career. After he lost the title to Ingemar Johansson in 1959, the nation rallied around him in his attempt to regain the crown, which he did in a 1960 rematch, and retained in his third bout with Johansson in 1961. In his two bouts with Sonny Liston (in which he lost the title in 1962 and failed in to regain it in the 1963 rematch), he was portrayed as the good guy to Liston's thug. He also fought Muhammad Ali twice, losing both times, in the days before Ali was lionized by the public, when he was still seen as a smart-assed big mouth; Patterson, by contrast, was seen as quiet and dignified, a man who refused to use Ali's Islamic name and instead referred to him as "Clay." The second fight with Ali was his last, retiring with a record of 55 wins against eight losses and a draw, and he was seen as a gentleman to the end.

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A local note here, and isn't it odd to find a Texas TV Guide providing you with a note about a Minneapolis television and radio personality. Edward R. Murrow's Person to Person (CBS, Friday, 8:30 pm) visits with Cedric Adams and his wife from their home in Edina, Minnesota. Here's part one of the interview:


I think Murrow gets it about right with his description of Adams and his influence in the Upper Midwest. He was enormously popular in the area - I don't think beloved would be too strong a word - up until his sudden death in 1961. He was before my time, although I'm sure I must have heard him in the background from time to time (I was only nine months old when he died, so give me a break!), and I don't know how well he's remembered by our short-attention-span generations of today, but it's hard to go to an antique store or browse through old TV Guides or newspapers from the area without running into a reminder of him. There are books, record albums, articles - you name it. His newspaper column was read by thousands, in a time when people actually read newspapers, and his shows on TV and radio were heard by thousands more.

I think what I miss the most about someone like Cedric Adams - perhaps it would be better to describe it as the hole left by the passing of someone like him - is what he was not. He was not loud, brash, controversial, vulgar. He was warm, humorous, funny (they're not always the same thing), and very big-time for a place like Minneapolis in the '50s. Here, for example, is his interview with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, while he appears here in this "Christmas Sing with Bing." He was a major figure not only locally, but with the CBS network (this is one of the broadcasts from his regular five-minute network program), being one of the most popular personalities at one of their most powerful affiliates.

I'll leave you with my favorite Cedric Adams bit - this priceless collection of bloopers and outtakes from his radio program. Can you listen to it without laughing?

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There's an interesting article (featuring one of those new color photos of which TV Guide promises we'll see a lot more) about Armstrong Circle Theater, the long-running anthology series which began in 1950 on NBC and will continue there until 1957 before moving to CBS, where it will run until 1963.

(Boy, I'm listing to that Cedric Adams blooper reel I mentioned above; it's really hard to concentrate on this while listening to that.)

For the first few seasons, Circle Theater was a fairly conventional anthology, but beginning in 1955 with the takeover of David Susskind as producer, the show became, in his words, all about "actuals," that is, stories "which dramatize truth rather than fiction." The term eventually coined to describe programs like this was "docudrama," a word which let the viewer know that the story was based on real people and events, but was presented in a dramatic form rather than as a documentary. It's always been a controversial method of storytelling, in that sometimes the "drama" portion of the program takes precedence over the "true" parts, and such was the case during Circle Theater's lifetime as well, albeit in a more mundane fashion: "The Third Ear," a drama about wiretapping, aroused the wrath of the Private Detectives Association of America (who knew such a thing existed?), complaining that the program slandered the good name of all private eyes, while an episode about a young couple who bought and ran a small-town newspaper was cited by a critic as showing "people in a small-town newspaper plant [who] would never act as depicted." This despite the fact the episode's writer had worked closely with the couple on the script.

Susskind describes the challenges of portraying such real people, who usually have final approval over the script: "Naturally, most people whose lives are to be unveiled prefer that only good things be said about them." Challenges also abound for those subjects when they're brought on the show for a short talk at the end of the episode, Susskind relating how some talk too fast (a problem when your show is broadcast live), while others just can't seem to get their lines right no matter how much they rehearse. One of the biggest challenges, however, was in finding the type of story to do - Susskind rejected "the Horatio Alger bit - you know, stories of poor little boys who worked hard and grew up to win fame and fortune." The decision was made to select subjects as topical as possible.

In fact, Circle Theater isn't on this week, so I can't tell you what the topic is.* But as the '50s turn into the '60s, those topics increasingly turn to Communism: it's oppression, and stories of escape from its tyranny, as you can see in this rare complete episode dealing with the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, which hasn't even taken place yet as of this issue, but will break out in October.

*Armstrong Circle Theater was never a weekly program; at this point it's alternating with Playwrights '56, and once it moves to CBS it will partner on alternate weeks with The United States Steel Hour.


It's interesting how so many of this week's topics have to do in one way or another with the Cold War, or the attempts of television shows to serve as rallying points through educating the public about the threats of Communism. It was a much less cynical time.

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Building on that remark about cynicism, Tuesday night is the first anniversary of the quiz show The $64,000 Question, which will become one of the casualties of the Quiz Show Scandals. I don't know if the show was already fixed at this point, but if not now it will be soon.

That feature on the front cover about Sid Caesar and Janet Blair has to do with her becoming the third leading lady (after Imogene Coca and Nanette Fabray) on Caesar's comedy show. She accepted the gig with Caesar not only because of his tremendous creativity, but because it's a regular job on an established show, and her friends feel "this is the break that is going to" make her a big star. Ironically, Caesar's Hour, which airs on NBC, will take the summer off (customary for variety shows) before returning in September - but the "established show" will leave the air in May 1957.

Dan Jenkins reviews two new soap operas, and says they serve a purpose: "They are, for the most part, remarkably well played, at times with a dignity and restraint beyond the call of duty." Sounds promising. The two new entrants are As the World Turns and The Edge of Night. World ran for 54 years on CBS, while Edge, on CBS and ABC, ran for a mere 28 years. Piker.

And last but certainly not least, the new format for TV Guide. Circulation now tops 4,000,000, and as Editor Walter Annenberg points out, the magazine publishes "1712 pages of television program information" in 40 editions from coast to coast. As television grows, so too will TV Guide. In this edition we do see a few more color pictures and a more modern (for the times) look. It's a work in progress, but an improving one. 

Next week I'll be sharing a completed crossword puzzle that stands as a monument to when classic television was contemporary, but I want to show you this week's puzzle for another reason. It's the very first TV Guide puzzle, and as such if you look closely at the page you'll notice something missing: the answers to last week's puzzle. Because there wasn't one. And you don't see that very often.



Unlike next week's crossword, it's only partially filled in, so if you want to take a shot at completing it, have at it. I can promise that the answers will be available next week!

5 comments:

  1. Cedric Adams' "breakups" kept popping up on Kermit Schafer's Blooper albums over the years too, including some of the bloopers in your link. He seemed to have the same sense of humor that Lowell Thomas had, and in fact Thomas willingly shared the tapes of his breakups/bloopers with Schafer for inclusion in the blooper albums; they were life-long friends. One of the last blooper releases, 100 Super Duper Bloopers (a 1977 K-Tel 2-LP set) includes one from each broadcasting legend.

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  2. Kermit Schafer's Blooper albums- man, that takes me back. I still remember the one where Herbert Hoover was pronounced Hoobert Heever, and the one where the baseball player was hit by a pitch and was taken in for an x-ray of his head - 'The x-ray showed nothing.'

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    Replies
    1. That was Yogi Berra...

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    2. No, it was a newspaper headline that appeared after Dizzy Dean was beaned at an All-Star Game:

      X-RAYS OF DEAN'S HEAD SHOW NOTHING

      Not long ago Decades ran an old Dick Cavett Show wherein Diz told the story on himself.

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    3. No, it was a newspaper headline that appeared after Dizzy Dean was beaned at an All-Star Game:

      X-RAYS OF DEAN'S HEAD SHOW NOTHING

      Not long ago Decades ran an old Dick Cavett Show wherein Diz told the story on himself.

      Delete

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