November 5, 2016

This week in TV Guide: November 7, 1964

With the first anniversary of John F. Kennedy's death two weeks away, NBC, on Sunday, November 8, debuts the anthology series Profiles in Courage. Based on Kennedy's 1957 Pulitzer Prize winner, the show will, each week, dramatize one of Kennedy's stories of "political deeds performed at great personal sacrifice."

That, of course, is the public line presented for the series debut. In reality, the backstage controversy over the authorship of Profiles in Courage proves to be at least as interesting as the book itself. And, as befits our era, it, too, plays out on TV.

It takes place on the December 7, 1957 episode of ABC's The Mike Wallace Interview; Mike's guest is the infamous political columnist Drew Pearson, author of the syndicated newspaper column “Washington Merry-Go-Round,” and probably the most controversial political writer in the country. During the interview, the subject of Senator John F. Kennedy comes up, and results in the following exchange:

PEARSON: Jack Kennedy is a fine young fellow, a very personable fellow, but he isn't as good as that public relations campaign makes him out to be. He is the only man in history that I know who won a Pulitzer Prize on a book which was ghost-written for him, which indicates the kind of public relations buildup he's had.

WALLACE: Who wrote the book for him?

PEARSON: I don't recall at the present moment, I... [It was Kennedy aide Ted Sorenson.]

WALLACE: You know for a fact Drew...?

PEARSON: Yes.

WALLACE: That the book?

PEARSON: I do know.

WALLACE: Profiles in Courage was written for Senator Kennedy, by somebody else?

PEARSON: I do.

WALLACE: And he got a Pulitzer Prize for it, and...

PEARSON: He did.

WALLACE: And, and he has never acknowledged the fact?

PEARSON: No, he has not. There's a little wisecrack around the Senate about Jack who is a very handsome young man as you know, who some of his colleagues say, "Jack, I wish you had a little bit... uh... less profile and more courage"* And they refer to some of his voting records.

*According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, that line was eventually attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. It's not known if it was followed by a rim shot.

Needless to say, the Kennedys were none too happy about Pearson's nationally televised accusation. Joe Kennedy, the family patriarch, had his lawyer Clark Clifford (accompanied by Robert F. Kennedy) go to ABC and threaten them with a lawsuit unless they issued a retraction. Although both Wallace and Pearson stuck by the truth of the story, the network did indeed issue an apology and retraction (which didn't sit too well with Wallace, but that's another story). Today, it's come to be a more-or-less accepted fact that Profiles in Courage was, indeed, written by Ted Sorenson, who admitted as much in 2008 although he gave JFK credit for "setting the tone and philosophy of the book."

Oh, yes, back to the TV series. Well, regardless of who wrote the book, it contained profiles of eight U.S. Senators (as Kennedy was in the Senate at the time) who had exhibited the said courage, and additional profiles were prepared and approved by now-President Kennedy, during his lifetime, in order to provide enough episodes for the series.It is one of those additional profiles that is the basis for the premiere episode, the story of Senator Oscar Underwood (played by Sidney Blackmer). Underwood was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1924 who insists the party repudiate the Ku Klux Klan, regardless of the damage which the party might suffer, especially in the South. Despite his courageous stand, Underwood fails to convince the Democratic convention to condemn the Klan, and is never a factor in the presidential balloting. Later, facing strong opposition by the Klan, he would decline to run for reelection.

Profiles in Courage runs for a single season, providing 26 such profiles. It's mostly well-received, although it would take a critic with a hide as thick as an elephant's to criticize a television series based on a book by a president who'd been martyred only a year ago. As far as I can recall, it remains the only non-documentary, non-interview, network televisions series to be based on the writings of a former president.

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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: Jimmy Durante headlines this show with comedian Nipsey Russell, singer Jean Paul Vignon, London's rock 'n' rolling Bachelors, comic Richard "Mr. Pastry" Hearne, pianist Ginny Tiu and her singing-dancing company, the juggling Del Ray Brothers, and Brizio the Clown.

Palace: Host Gene Barry introduces two actresses seldom seen on television: Bette Davis and Oliva de Haviland, who do "The Twilight Shore," a dramatic sketch. Also: comics Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, who do a "2000-year-old man" sketch; U.S. Olympic Gold Medal winners; songstress Monique Van Vooren; pantomimist Ben Blue; musical clown Yonely; and the Back Porch Majority, folk singers.

Two good lineups greet us this week. Durante would be enough to give Ed the win most weeks, but Gene Barry, Davis and de Haviland, and Reiner and Brooks are enough to overpower Sullivan and give The Palace a clear win.

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the series of the era. 

One of the things I like about Cleveland Amory is that he seldom makes you wait long to find out what he thinks. This week, he's reviewing a new series called Kentucky Jones, and - well, we'll let Cleve tell you himself:

Dennis Weaver, who spent the better part of his unnatural life in a better part (as Chester in Gunsmoke), is now, in this new NBC show, cast as a veterinarian, of all things. And if, as Matt Dillon's deputy, he had his troubles - among them a boss who never allowed him to stand on his own game leg - now, as Kentucky Jones, with two good gams and a deputy of his own (ably played by Harry Morgan), he has even more troubles, chief among which is that he bears the sole responsibility of guarding the show against the Yellow Peril.

A time out now to explain the premise of Kentucky Jones, after which Amory's quips will make more sense. Prior to her sudden death, Jones and his wife had arranged to adopt a nine-year-old Chinese orphan, with the admirably American name of Dwight Eisenhower Wong. The newly widowed Jones tries to reverse the adoption, but it's too late, and Wong (Rickey Der) is waiting at the airport to head to his new home. Wong, Amory says, is "the greatest master of intrigue since the late Fu Manchu, but

in contrast to the late Fu, "Ike," as he likes to be called, knows right from Wong. But from the first meeting, when Kentucky arrives at the airport with a hangover and Ike tells him "Lover of wine is cousin of goose," it is obvious that we are in for an Orient express. And when Ike is around, the chances of any mere Westerner getting the better of him are - can you stand one more? - purely occidental.

We know Amory likes Morgan, and he likes Weaver, "a fine actor," as well. What he doesn't like, though, are the writers, who seem to prefer symbolism to actual writing, and don't pay much attention to Kentucky's actual job, treating horses. Even storylines that show promise are ruined by the heavy-handed writing, as when Ike throws his beloved abacus ("Man without abacus is junk without sail") into the fire because his teacher wants him to learn math without it. A little of that speechifying can go a long, long way, and the following episode, in which Ike struggles with his girlfriend (!), leads Amory to describe it as "a bit much for us to take as a steady diet." Concludes Amory, and from the sounds of it I'd be forced to agree, Kentucky Jones, "with or without abacus, was junk without fail."

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Last week we read about the imminent demise of Les Crane's controversial late-night talk show on ABC; this week, let's travel back in time, a little less than a year, to read the fanfare that accompanied the show's kickoff on Monday, November 9.

Topics as well as guests will hold the spotlight when Les enters the late-night sweepstakes. A variety of moods will prevail: leading proponents of opposing views will come face to face; excerpts from Broadway and off-Broadway shows; comedy acts and other light entertainment; and taped interviews with prominent personalities. Tonight's guests include heavyweight boxing champ Cassius Clay.

Well, we all know how this turned out; the main mood prompted by the program depends on whom who ask. "Despair," if you talk to the ABC executives looking at the ratings, "Anger" if you listen to the viewers who complain about Crane's brash personality and the controversial issues. At that, I suspect the network still would have preferred "Anger" to the "Apathy" that most potential viewers felt. The best way to describe ABC's experiment? "Yawn."

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Look - there's even a soundtrack album!
And then there's one of the highlights of the week - ABC's Thursday night documentary Sophia Loren in Rome. "Miss Loren shows us her apartment and the square it overlooks, the Piazza del Compidoglio, designed by Michelangelo. We move on to the Appian Way, still lined with ancient ruins but now dotted with exclusive villas, one of which belongs to [movie star Marcello] Mastroianni. He chats about Rome and describes its best known boulevard, the Via Veneto." The score for the program is by Academy Award winner John Barry.

This is one of a series of travelogues which ABC did in the mid-60s; others included Elizabeth Taylor in London and Inger Stevens in Sweden. I don't know how good the program is, but with Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, and Rome, does it really matter?

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It's been a while since we've taken a look at TV Guide advertising, so why don't we finish up with some of these visuals? I find it quite interesting that ABC is already using the "Wide World of Entertainment" tagline for its prime-time schedules, long before it was used as a title for the network's late-night block of programming in 1973.


90 Bristol Court was an attempt by NBC to construct three separate sitcoms - Karen, Harris Against the World, and Tom, Dick and Mary - within a common setting, the apartment complex 90 Bristol Court, where all the principals lived. Despite the opportunity for crossover, the only thing the three shows shared (aside from the address) was cast member Guy Raymond, who portrayed Cliff Murdoch, the complex's handyman. Of the three, Karen was the only series to survive the entire season. As Wikipedia points out, when the address is spelled out as Ninety Bristol Court, the initials form those of the network, NBC. No other series (or network) can make that claim.


Football, of course, is big in Texas. It behooves KXII, an affiliate of both ABC and CBS, to let its viewers know it has all the bases covered: college on Saturday, pro on Sunday.


I always enjoy these ads for local programs. Donna's Notebook, hosted by Donna Colburn, ran on KAUZ through the early '70s. I don't suppose there's anything special about it; in the feature-driven world of today's local news, you can probably get these kinds of tips just about anywhere, and yet these were a staple of almost every local station back in the day. There's something quite charming about them.


Finally, an advertisement for the aforementioned Profiles in Courage. It's one of the few series I can think of (The Twilight Zone is another) where the emphasis isn't on the series itself, nor the actors, but the man responsible for the concept of the series. And tonight's episode isn't even from the book!


I was originally going to say that tonight's story wasn't even one that John Kennedy wrote, but then, apparently you could say that about all of the profiles in courage, couldn't you?

1 comment:

  1. One of the few men not thrilled to be that close to a Bond Girl....

    ReplyDelete

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