August 5, 2017

This week in TV Guide: August 3, 1963

I wonder what it must have been like as a writer on The Dick Van Dyke Show with Morey Amsterdam as a member of the cast. It's a rhetorical question, of course; I'm sure there are plenty of books and articles out there that can tell you exactly who the show's writers were, what they'd done in the past and what they'd go on to do in the future, how they felt about working with Amsterdam and the rest of the cast members. My point is that Morey Amsterdam is known as the man of a million jokes - more jokes than anyone alive, in all likelihood - and Dick Van Dyke himself estimates that Amsterdam is responsible for "Thirty percent of all the humorous lines in the script." Richard Deacon, who plays the beleaguered Mel Cooley, producer of "The Alan Brady Show" and perpetual foil for Amsterdam's character Buddy Sorrell, says that learning to work with Amsterdam was a real challenge. "I'm a disciplined actor who adheres to every word of script. But not Morey the ad-libber. He wings it. At first this caused me great confusion. Now I'm used to him and I respect him, but occasionally his genius still unnerves me. Like no matter what naybody says he'll always top them. I keep telling him: 'Morey, can't I just please have the last word once?' But it never happens." He even sits in on the rewrite sessions, and if you had someone with his talent at your disposal, wouldn't you want him there?

It's no wonder Morey can come up with the stories, not when you listen to him talk about his own adventures, like his encounters with the all-time great gangster Al Capone, who used to frequent the saloon where Amsderdam was MC. "Capone loved me. He'd pick me up and drive me to his house, which was behind a night club in Cicero. There I'd play Italian songs for him and he'd cook spaghetti for me and other buddies. One night Charles G. Dawes, Vice President of the United States, came in and requested I join his table. Later Capone picked me up as usual. That was the one night in my life that I had dinner with both the Vice President and the president of vice."

Morey's no stranger to television, having appeared on several series over the years, and he knows a good one when he sees it. He praises the cast, the way they get along together, the way they all work together to make the show a success. And as for Mary Tyler Moore, whose role on the show seems to be increasing over time, "She's the most talented glamor comedienne in our business and I adore her."

So that's what I mean when I wonder what it must be like to work as a writer for a show that Morey Amsterdam's on. It's gotta be tough. I mean, you might figure it's unlikely you can write anything as funny for him as he could write himself (his joke file is mostly in his head; "It's quicker for me to create new jokes than to look up oldies anyway."), that in fact he can probably write lines for the rest of the cast that are funnier than the ones you come up with (and, says Van Dyke, "He smooths over occasional rough spots we have with regard to temperament"). I'd be so insecure, I'd worry that he wouldn't think the material I wrote for him would be good enough, which probably explains why I'm at home writing this instead of in Hollywood writing scripts for hit sitcoms.

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Aside from the obvious, one of the reasons why the starlet features are so often included in my TV Guide essays is that they tell us more than just who made it in Hollywood and who didn't. They also tell us a lot about the era: how actresses were marketed, the words that were used to describe them, the traits that were thought acceptable for them to base their careers on. We also learn about how perceptive the writers were as judges of talent, based on the number of women profiled whose names remain mysteries to modern readers, or whose careers wound up modest at best.

SOURCE ALL: HADLEY TV GUIDES
This week, I present you with an actress who is a certifiable star of the era, one whose name will still ring a bell with people - especially men - of a certain age. It's Carol Lynley, former child model, previously in Return to Peyton Place, currently making Under the Yum Yum Tree, and focused on one thing: stardom. "Not my husband, not my daughter, not anybody - nothing is going to stand in my way," she says. "I want to be a glamorous movie star who can act. I'm not a housewife. I tried it and found it just wasn't for me." Her husband, who's seen the change come over her in the last few years, says she's now the complete movie star, and won't stand in her way; he's filed for divorce.

And yet perhaps it isn't as simple as all that. Her friends - among them movie producer Robert Mirisch and his wife - describe Lynley as a "warm, wonderful person. I've known quite a few starlets, but this one is the most unaffected, down-to-earth of the lot." In the last year and a half, she's done three movies (including Preminger's The Cardinal) and made four major TV appearances, and she's signed two major long-term movie contracts. She says she'll always do television - "an actress is not an actress when she isn't working."

In the years to come, Carol Lynley will remain prominent in movies - Bunny Lake is Missing and The Poseidon Adventure are probably her best-known future roles; on television, through a myriad of over 200 guest-starring roles in shows of the era like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mannix, It Takes a Thief, Hawaii Five-O, Charlie's Angels, Hart to Hart; and on BroadwayThere's also a Playboy spread she does in 1965, which, in the interests of full disclosure, I will note that I have not seen, although I'm sure it makes good use of the charms she puts on display here.

It's true that she never stars in her own prime-time series, never becomes an award-winning actress, but on the other hand people still recognize her name, and her last IMDB credit is as recent as 2006. As she puts it in a 1994 People interview, "‘Guys, what can I tell you? I haven’t committed a murder. I haven’t done porno. I haven’t been married 18 times. I don’t make threatening calls. I have my vices—but they’re all awfully normal." In the world of starlets, that's a pretty good career. After all, an actress is not an actress when she isn't working.

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Some very interesting programs on this week, both in terms of plot and cast. Instead of starting at the front of the issue though, let's begin with the end of the week and work our way back.

On Friday night at 8:30 p.m. (CT), CBS's Alfred Hitchcock Hour presents "Captive Audience" with a stellar cast including James Mason, Angie Dickinson, and Ed Nelson. It's the story of a mystery writer (Mason) who sends his publisher a tape with the plot of his new novel, about a mystery writer plotting to murder his married lover's husband. We see the story acted out as the publisher listens to the recording, and ask ourselves the question: is this merely the plot to a new book, or are we listening to something more? Not surprisingly, the teleplay was written by Levinson and Link (Columbo); unfortunately, at this point we still have to go region-free if we want to see it on DVD in this country.

Johnny Carson's off the entire week, so sitting in the host chair on The Tonight Show is comedian Allan Sherman. What's unusual about this, though - at least to me - is that he's referred to in the listings as "acting host" rather than "guest host." I don't know; perhaps Carson's ill, or indisposed other than being on vacation. It's just that I don't believe I've ever seen that turn of phrase, and it's used for the entire week.

Steve Allen's not off this week, but he might be having second thoughts. The guest on Friday's "Steve's Science Corner" is ant collector Ken Sidney, who tracks down and raises ants. "He brings a sizable portion of his ant herd with him. The ants are distributed over Steve's body while another guest, a hungry ant eater, demonstrates his ability at collecting the little creatures." I don't think I even want to watch that.

NBC's psychiatric drama The Eleventh Hour (9:00 p.m.) features in our look at Wednesday, with George C. Scott and his wife Coleen Dewhurst starring in "I Don't Belong in a White-Painted House," which had to be a provocative drama for 1963. Scott plays a Soviet intelligence officer who's defected to the West, where he's happily living the American dream. But if that's true, then "Why does hie experience these recurring urges to return to the Soviet Union?" The familiar character actors John Anderson and Michael Strong also star.

Wednesday's CBS Reports (6:30 p.m.) is part 3 of "Storm Over the Supreme Court," featuring one of the most controversial decisions in American history, the ban on Bible reading and prayer in public schools. Agree or disagree with it, and you can likely make the case either way, there's no question that the rammifications from these cases continue to echo today. Are things better now than they were then? On that one, I'm going with a negative answer, and personally I'm not at all sure decisions like this aren't part of the reason why. At the time, JFK made the famous comment about how as long as students had to take tests, there'd be prayer in schools. I admire his wit greately, but that one doesn't seem quite as funny anymore.

You might recall that a few years ago I wrote about a TV series I once envisioned called The Killers, which shared the title and star (Lee Marvin) from the '60s remake of Hemingway's short story, but nothing else. Tuesday's Dick Powell Theater, "Epilogue," has a storyline that reminds me very much of that. "At a reunion, an ex-Marine tells his former captain that he hasn't forgotten how to kill. He's been keeping in practice by murdering crooks who have been acquitted even thouhg they deserve punishment." That ex-Marine is, in fact, played by Lee Marvin; Ricardo Montalban is his former CO, and Claude Akins is the police lieutenant investigating the series of murders.

On late-nights (11:45 p.m.), KTVI shows reruns of Peter Gunn, and in "Vendetta," Tuesday night's episode, "Seeking revenge against Gunn, gangster Max Grayco orders his thugs to kill Edie," something which we know from the issue we looked at a few weeks ago is a very, very, very bad idea. In one of those little coincidences that I enjoy, opposite Peter Gunn on KPLR is the Million $ Movie "Just Off Broadway" with Lloyd Nolan also playing a private detective - Michael Shayne, who's found himself sitting on the jury in a murder trial. Just how he'd get through voir dire is left for you to decide.

You know how I'm frequently using the phrase plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose - in other words, "the more things change, the more they stay the same"? Here's a case of the exception that proves the rule; it's the Sunday night episode of David Susskind's Open End (10:00 p.m., KTVI), in which the topic of discussion is "The Biggest Hasle in the Country - JFK's Tax Bill." One of the "hassles" about it is the tax cut that Kennedy wants: Republicans, who favor a balanced budget, claim it's too big and the country can't afford it, but Democrats are all in favor of it. JFK campaigned for his cut with the phrase "a rising tide lifts all boats," the essence of which was later used by Ronald Reagan. Yes, sometimes times do change.

And on Saturday morning (NBC, 9:00 a.m.) actor Michael Pollard is a guest on The Shari Lewis Show. It's a long way from acting opposite Lamb Chop to playing C.W. Moss in Bonnie and Clyde and getting an Oscar nomination, isn't it?

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Anyone in the mood for deviled clams? No kidding - travel to the beach with your portable TV, or make a clam pit in your backyard. I've got a recipe here that serves six!


Let me know how it comes out, hmm?

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Finally, some random notes.

There's a note in the TV Teletype that The Magnificent Seven might be made into a TV series, with Yul Brynner as star. It does make it to the small screen, albeit 35 years later.

Bea Benaderet says she enjoys Kate Bradley, her character on the new Petticoat Junction program, much more than Cousin Pearl, the role she plays in The Beverly Hillbillies. "Kate Bradley is a much prettier woman and there will be no resemblance whatsoever except that she and Pearl are both widows." Interesting, considering that Petticoat Junction is a spinoff from Hillbillies; thus, Kate and Pearl do exist in the same universe. other than a character deliberately playing two roles, e.g. an actor playing his own father, is there any other case of one person playing two distinct roles in the same sitcom universe?

And then, The Editors have an interesting idea in this week's As We See It: perhaps it isn't the length of commercials that bother people so much as it is the number of times their programs are interrupted by them. The NFL's said to be experimenting with this very idea this season; longer commercial breaks, but fewer of them per quarter. well, it only took fifty or so years to figure it out.

9 comments:

  1. Had a nice day today: I went to something called the Flashback Weekend, a nostalgia gathering aimed at horror/SF/fantasy buffs, featuring genre stars selling autographs.
    Generally, I'm about a generation or three removed from this; however, I did manage to meet, shake hands with, and secure an autographed photo from one of my early crushes, Brooke Bundy.
    Listen, you take 'em where you can get 'em ...

    - You know what's the difference between "acting host" and "guest host"?
    Nothing. Nothing at all.
    Just two ways of saying the same thing.
    Maybe the TV Guide log writer was bored that week ...
    ... or maybe you're just over-thinking the whole thing ...

    - The Steve Allen Show was in syndication this year, so for all you know, Steve could well have been taking the week off.
    Here in Chicago, Steve was carried by Channel 7, the ABC o&o, six nights a week, Monday through Saturday. At least one show a week was a rerun from some while back; indeed, given that this was summer, it's possible that all this week's show were "blasts from the past" (just guessing here; don't know for certain).
    Besides, these are the days of the syndie bicycle; most likely, we in Chicago got this Allen show a week or two before it ran in St. Louis ...

    - Among the lame-duck shows running out their respective strings before cancellation:
    Car 54, Where Are You? after only two seasons.
    In Sunday's rerun, two Soviet officials are sent to expose American exploitation of its working class; they get stuck with Toody and Muldoon, and hilarity ensues ...
    One of the Russkies is played by Jules Munshin, a Broadway and nightclub star who never quite broke through into movies and TV (Remember On The Town, with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra? Jules Munshin was The Other One.).
    The Soviet Ambassador - that was Gerald Hiken, the cousin of Car 54's creator-peoducer Nat Hiken.
    Gerald Hiken was taking time off from his recurring role as Katz the Butcher, the 53rd Precinct's resident meat marketeer (and this is not an isolated example, from this or many other shows of this period).

    - Still on Car 54:
    Did you know that if the show had been picked up for Season 3, Nat Hiken was going to fire Joe E. Ross and put Al Lewis in the squad car alongside Fred Gwynne?
    According to several books I've read recently (with an assist from Kliph Nesteroff's blog), Ross had become so impossible on the set that Nat Hiken was about to give up altogether.
    How would Muldoon and Schnauser have worked out as partners? NBC made it moot when they dropped Car 54, so there too.

    I may be back with more tomorrow (can you stand the suspense?).

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    1. If that's true, about firing Ross and teaming up Lewis & Gwynne, Nat was just a little bit ahead of his time. I may not have drawn this distinction, when I was a little kid watching "The Munsters" but on repeat viewings, as I got older, I REALLY appreciated the comic timing that Lewis & Gwynne had. They're, in my mind, an under appreciated and underrated comedy duo.

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    2. Al Lewis and Fred Gwynne were old friends from the stage, long before they joined Nat Hiken's repertory back in the Bilko days.
      So was Joe E. Ross, comes to that, but unlike Lewis and Gwynne, he was a burlesque comic with no real acting experience at all.
      On Car 54, his behavior was so wildly inappropriate that his dismissal was more a matter of "when" than "if".
      Anyway, Lewis and Gwynne had more than a decade's friendship before Universal TV came up with The Munsters, so there too ...

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  2. I can only remember seeing Brooke Bundy in the backdoor pilot "Kelly's Kids" from the last season of THE BRADY BUNCH, but I understand that she also had a recurring part as a student in the 1960s drama MR. NOVAK.

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  3. Brooke Bundy played Victor Buono's assistant Gundi on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode "Cyborg," which aired 17 October 1965.

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    1. Jon H and J.R.:

      You might want to drop by David Hofstede's Comfort TV where you can find a post about Brooke Bundy's somewhat extensive TV career.
      ( ... and David missed a few of the better ones ...)

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  4. Well, the cable network Decades is currently running a weekend binge of Alfred Hitchcock Hour, but unfortunately they began with Season 2, so no chance to catch "Captive Audience" this go round.

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  5. Lewis' New York based show had stage actors guest regularly...Pollard created the role of Hugo Peabody in BYE BYE BIRDIE (interestingly, he didn't sing--the movie had Hugo do so because Bobby Rydell played the part). Jerry Orbach appeared on another episode.

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  6. I suspect that KTVI (along with New York's WPIX) was one of the few stations other than owned by Westinghouse that carried Steve Allen's 1962-64 syndicated talk/variety show in late night.

    Most stations supposedly ran it in late afternoon as a lead-in to early-evening local news.

    It's been said that David Letterman was a fan, and that as a teenager, he rushed home from school and quickly finished his homework so he could see a late-afternoon broadcast of the show over an Indianapolis TV station.

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!