June 10, 2017

This week in TV Guide: June 8, 1968

Salvador Dali's view of television is decidedly surrealistic, and yet after the events of the past week, it must have seemed normal by comparison.

The week before, Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Los Angeles after claiming victory in the California primary. Saturday, June 8, is the day of Kennedy's funeral, and after a Requiem Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, his casket is loaded onto a train for the journey to Washington, D.C. and burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Were the circumstances less serious, the journey of the funeral train could be called a fiasco. Massive crowds turn out throughout the route; two people were killed and five injured in New Jersey when they were hit by a train travelling in the opposite direction, and another man was electrocuted (but survived) when he came in contact with the electrical wires running overhead. The train pulled into Washington more than four hours behind schedule, and Kennedy was laid to rest after a candlelight motorcade through the darkened city.

For television, the day was one of incredible stress. Following the Saturday morning funeral (itself a massive undertaking which could only happen with pool coverage), ABC's Frank Reynolds broke the "utterly fantastic development" that James Earl Ray, the accused assassin of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been apprehended in London. Sadness builds upon sadness; such was the madness of the moment that Ray's arrest occurred while the widow of the man he was accused of murdering, Coretta Scott King, was in St. Patrick's attending Kennedy's funeral. The networks had planned to return to regular programming at about 7:30 p.m. ET, but complications in getting Kennedy's casket into the observation car meant the train got off to a late start, the accident in New Jersey held things up further, and the crowds (estimated at perhaps a million) forced the train to travel much slower than anticipated. Back in the studio, commentators were left struggling to find things to talk about; David Brinkley memorably threw in the towel around 7:00 p.m., saying, "We're simply waiting here. There is nothing new to report."

SOURCE: PAUL FUSCO
When the cameras did find something to show, however, the scenes were often memorable. Crowds in Baltimore spontaneously sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," Boy Scouts along the route held flags and saluted, gospel choirs sang, people stood with their hands over their hearts while tears ran down their cheeks,others silently held up signs thanking Kennedy. It was a memorable scene, and served to sanctify the chaos from earlier in the day. The train finally rolled into Union Station in Washington a little after 9:00 p.m., and the burial occurred at a gravesite illuminated by TV lights.

According to Broadcasting magazine, "ABC, which started Saturday coverage at 9 a.m., continued to 11 p.m.; CBS-TV, which started at 8 a.m., also signed off at 11 p.m.; NBC-TV began coverage at 8 a.m. Saturday, continued until 1 a.m. on Sunday." Coverage throughout the week was extensive, though (naturally) not continuous as had been the case with his brother, President Kennedy); TV and radio stations devoted about 285 hours to the event, compared with 456 hours for JFK. Broadcasting estimated that television's total loss in revenue due to the coverage topped $20 million, with $9 million to $10 million coming from the networks alone. As I wrote last year, the ramifications of the assassination would affect coverage for weeks to come.

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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: Ed celebrates the 20th anniversary of his show with Pearl Bailey; comedians Jackie Mason, Soupy Sales, and Charlie Manna; and singers Earl Wilson, Jr. and the Kane Triplets. Also: taped congratulatory messages from a host of stars.

Palace: Host George Burns presents the King Family, operatic tenor Enzo Stuarti, singer Lainie Kazan, English music-hall comics Desmond and Marks, and Baby Sabu, performing elephant.

We haven't had a situation quite like this before. As we saw above, Palace would wind up being preempted on Saturday night (along with the rest of network prime time programming), so Ed's up against something of a straw man this week. (And I wonder how festive his show was, considering that Sunday was the National Day of Mourning as designated by President Johnson.) Nonetheless, here we are, so we might as well compare them.

As I see it, neither show's lineup is all that special, but the celebrities congratulating Ed probably give his show the most star power. Combined with Pearlie Mae and Jackie Mason, it's enough to give Sullivan the edge in a lackluster week.

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A couple of weeks ago we looked at the May 18 issue, and now the readers are weighing in - through the Letters to the Editor.

Regarding the article on Dr. Karl Menninger about television as "the comforting presence," Michael Cohen of Tucson, Arizona wasn't too impressed. Says Mr. Cohen, "has it really come to the point where we must praise the medium for its 'comforting presence' and soothing blue light?" True; the idea of television as effective "white noise" must have been discouraging to TV's inventors.

Speaking of discouraging, the members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences must have felt that way after reading the reviews of May 19th's Emmy show. Mary S. Fox of Des Moines, IA has this shaggy dog tale to tell: "My little dog Missy and I watch TV together. When the program isn't very interesting, I usually play solitaire while we watch. Last night, after 15 minutes of the Emmys, Missy brought me a deck of cards." Meanwhile, Ken Kimball of San Diego thinks he knows what the problem was: "I hear the Emmy Awards show was planned by KAOS." To Frances Amen of Wyckoff, N.J., it was the "Dud of the Year," while George L. Smith of Seaside, Oregon calls it "the yearly comedy of errors," and Nicholas J. Nerangis of Peoria, Illinois says it's a case of "the best shows of the year [being honored] by the worst show of the decade." I guess we know the answer to the question "Will it play in Peoria?" Barbara Berry of Danbury, Connecticut thanks her television for breaking down during the show, and Doug Schueler of Stamford, Connecticut asks the pertinent question: "There's certainly nothing like a tight, well-organized, well-staged and well-presented Emmy Awards show. When are we going to get one?" Finally, Renee LeWinter of Brooklyn has something good to say, I think. She thinks she should get an award "For conspicuous bravery in having survived the Oscar, Emmy, Tony, Golden Globe and Grammy awards shows." Ah, everyone's a critic.

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Let's take a look at the week, in no particular order.

Monday features an interesting episode of Danny Thomas' anthology show The Danny Thomas Hour. (8:00 p.m., NBC) "The Demon Under the Bed" is the story of Charlie Castle, an actor at a crossroads: "He may lose his voice - and his career. Fascinated by Castle's predicament, photographer Phil Pearson tags along as Charlie visits his daughter, his ex-wife and the stages where he once played starring roles." Bing Crosby stars as the actor, Mary Francis Crosby is his daughter, Joan Collins his ex-wife, and George Maharis the photographer. It's the last show of the series though, so catch it while you can.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
There's a Hitchcock double-header highlighting this week's movies, albeit on different channels and different nights. Mediocre doesn't begin to describe Marnie, the Tuesday night offering on NBC; it's an "old-fashioned and naive" story that Hitch seems to take much too seriously, the "psychiatric cliche of the frigid kleptomaniac." Crist sums it up thus: "Disappointing as Hitchcock, run-of-the-mill as television trivia." Last, but best, is To Catch a Thief, Wednesday on ABC, with the unbeatable combination of Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, and Monaco as a stunning backdrop. Judith Crist, in her review, reminds us that though it's fluffy diversion, "Mediocre Hitchcock is, we keep saying, better than none." On Thursday, WCCO preempts the CBS programming (Cimarron Strip, 6:30 p.m.) for the Peter Sellers movie The Mouse That Roared, the "tale of a small, bankrupt country that declared war on the U.S. - in order to lose and then receive financial aid from the victorious Americans." Sounds like there's a lesson in there somewhere.

Signs of the times: on Wednesday NET introduces the premiere episode of one of it's longest-running public affairs programs. Black Journal, which as Tony Brown's Journal will be on PBS, on and off, until 2008. The show is "designed to provide Negroes and whites with a continuing view of what's going on in black America." That's on top of Tuesday's WCCO report "White Progress - Black Reaction," and Wednesday's Black Voices on KTCA. These and other shows like them are a reminder of how big the racial issue is in 1968 America. Kind of like 2017 America, isn't it?

Following "White Progress," a CBS News Special entitled "Youth in Politics" examines the growing political activism of "the kids who rejected alienation" to become "a dynamic force in politics," according to producer Gene Deporis. Nowhere is that dynamic force more apparent than in the insurgent campaigns of the two Democratic senators, Eugene McCarthy and, of course, Bobby Kennedy. I wonder if they changed it?

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More of the week's variety shows:

Carol Burnett has come to the end of her first season, so she's in reruns Monday night (9:00 p.m., CBS). Her guests are Nanette Fabray and Art Carney, and one of the skits has Harvey Korman bringing a mermaid (Nanette) home to meet the folks (Art and Carol).  Showcase '68 is the summer replacement for The Jerry Lewis Show on NBC (7:00 p.m.), and it's billed as a cross-country talent show hosted by Lloyd Thaxton, whose list of previous discoveries includes Roger Miller, Trini Lopez, and Sonny and Cher. Meanwhile, Showtime, the summer replacement for The Red Skelton Hour (Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., CBS), stars Shelly Berman as this week's host, with his guests Shirley Bassey, Matt Monro*, Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band, comics Hope and Keen, German juggler Berg Garden, and Parguayan musical group Los Paraguayos. Maybe we should have put this show up against Sullivan. CBS has another talent/variety show debuting at 8:30 p.m., College Talent, hosted by Dennis James, with Bob Hope as this week's guest.

*Two singers with a little experience doing James Bond themes.

John Davidson hosts the first of his three turns on Kraft Music Hall (Wednesday, 8:00 p.m., NBC), with Estelle Parsons, Pete Barbutti, and soft-rock group Harpers Bizarre. In an embarrassing attempt to be relevant, there are also interviews with students at NYU, USC, Notre Dame, SMU, Cal-Berkeley, and Northwestern, and there's a segment where the studio audience gets to control the action on stage via push-button voting. If you'll allow me an editorial comment, it shows how far Music Hall has fallen that a hack like John Davidson is trying to fill the role played by Bing Crosby (on radio), Milton Berle, and Perry Como. Dom DeLuise has his summer replacement show an hour later on CBS, with Kaye Hart, and the Three Degrees. Best that you stick with To Catch a Thief.

Dean Martin presents his last show of the season Thursday at 9:00 p.m. on NBC, before handing the hosting reins over to Joey Heatherton, Frank Sinatra Jr., and the Golddiggers. For the season finale, Deano welcomes Jimmy Stewart, George Gobel, Shecky Greene, and singer-dancer Wisa D'Orso. And over at ABC on Friday night (6:30 p.m.), Dick Cavett presents highlights from his daytime series, including Groucho Marx and Dionne Warwick.

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SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
Finally, those giant thumbs on this week's cover, courtesy of Salvador Dali.

"Why thumbs?" our interviewer, Edith Efron, asks him.

"Thumbs?" Dali responds. "Very adequatt for looking at TV. Shape. Thumbnail. Like TV."

"Why just thumbs? Why not other fingers?"

"One feenger sufficient," Dali replies.

He then goes on to discus television in general.

"Mysalf, never watch televeesion. Don't like TV. Only one very leetle minute."

"You never watch it at all?"

"Watch it upside down! Through moiré filter."

"Through taffeta?" replies the increasingly puzzled Efron.

"Taffeta filter. Changes completely. Is possible to see whatever my own brain creates."

"What does your brain create?"

"Liquid television! My last invention. Put liquid on hands. TV appear! DNA proves that origin of life . . . TV will one day becoming correlated with DNA. Everything mechanical will collapse except cybernetic machines!"*

*Don't let anyone at Apple read this, or it might give them ideas.

He then explains what it's like watching television upside down. "Everything in my brain. Project my brain on the screen. Vary aggreable! My brain is very superior of every other medium." Dali goes on to describe what's wrong with today's television programming. "TV for masses. Don't like masses. Only like minority. Masses never cultivé, never good taste. TV should be for to shock them. Force them theenk. But nevair to please them. TV is for aristocrats to show them what they don't understand."

"Why make them watch what they wouldn't like?" says Efron, struggling to hold on to the interview.

"Masses need enigmas. Like religion. Must give them enigmas."

"Do you consider yourself a priest?"

"Not a priest. Am Dali. That ees sufficient. TV not need humans to run it. Need brains that are not human. Cybernetics. Very superior to human brains."*

*Undoubtedly the next step in streaming video.

"What's wrong with the present programmers?"

"Afraid to lose job. Full of bureaucracy. No private initiative. All initiative completely lost. Too much pleasing the masses."

There's more, although I confess my fingers are having as much trouble typing Dali's idiosyncratic vernacular as Efron has holding him to the topic. And anyway, can you honestly say that you could possibly add anymore to the topic? How could you - after all, he is Dali.

12 comments:

  1. I think I mentioned this a while back:

    The show you (or the listing) calls College Talent is in fact Your All-American College Show - and it's not a CBS network offering.
    This show was syndicated for several seasons by Colgate-Palmolive, using the barter system: C-P provided the show free to stations, in exchange for half the commercial minutes; the stations got to sell the other minutes and keep all the money.
    Barter was having a mini-golden age at this time; Colgate-Palmolive got several seasons out of YA-ACS (one year they got Arthur Godfrey to be the host).
    To carry this, WCCO bypassed the rerun cycle of Good Morning, World, which was being cancelled anyway.
    Here in Chicago, WGN-ch9 was YA-ACS's home for each of its seasons.

    I remember Showcase '68 as being Lloyd Thaxton's first attempt to jumpstart his career again after his syndicated dance party was dropped.
    Thaxton ultimately went behind the cameras full-time, as a producer of shows like David Horowitz's consumer show, Fight Back!
    By the way, the winner of the Showcase competition was something that was unheard of in'68 - a soul group: Sly and the Family Stone.

    As for Salvador Dali:
    I think Dick Cavett summed it up best when he had Dali on his show along about this time.
    Dali had been carrying on for a bit, unintelligible as ever, when Cavett suddenly turned to him, stuck his thumbs in his ears, wiggled his fingers, and pointedly said: "Boojie-boojie-boojie!"
    Dali did not respond positively; apparently he didn't catch the Groucho Marx homage.
    I guess you had to be there ...

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    1. By this time, Sly and the Family Stone had their first big hit, "Dance To The Music"

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  2. *puts envelope to forehead*
    ''An upcoming post''... ''An upcoming post''.
    opens envelope

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  3. This Just In:

    Adam West has passed on, age 88.

    What else is there to say?

    (...but you'll probably find something ...)

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    Replies
    1. You and Bobby are both right - I'll have to put something up for Wednesday. R.I.P.

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  4. Thank you for this retrospective, Mitchell. Being 14, I remember it well. I met RFK when I was 11 when he was campaigning for US Senate in NY. All of 1968 was as surreal as Dali's cover take.

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    1. Now, that's something I'd like to hear more about!

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  5. If I had a dollar for everytime I heard someone say, "I never watch television." I'd be a very rich man. I watch television all the time, I'm watching a Columbo right now.

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    1. I'd be rich too - and I'd use the money to buy more DVDs of TV shows...

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  6. Dali created the dream sequence in Hitchcock's Spellbound.
    I always thought Dali would of made a great villain in the Adam West's Batman TV series.

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    1. Ooh, that's a brilliant idea! He would have controlled minds through projecting subliminal thoughts into TV shows!

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    2. In August of 1983, The Edge Of Night began a storyline about Monticello's new cable-TV system, which transmitted from a skyscraper in town called - wait for it -
      The ISIS Building.
      The owner of the cable company, a nasty guy named Louis Van Dine, was using subliminal messages to his subscribers in order to influence the outcome of Monticello's general election.
      This was an early storyline from Lee Sheldon, who took over as head writer after Procter & Gamble unceremoniously dropped Henry Slesar, who'd held the post for over a decade.

      Several doughty souls have managed to track down almost every EON episode from about '81 to the end of the run in '84, and put them up on YouTube.
      This has enabled me to rewatch this story, from its start-up in August '83, through to its conclusion in November of that year (Election Day took about a week and a half of shows).
      By that time, of course, EON was already setting up the next big whodunit, which took up most of 1984 - but that's another story (so to speak ...).

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!