September 2, 2017

This week in TV Guide: September 7, 1957

The beginning of September brings its own milestones, a couple of which we'll see over the weekend, along with notable programs sprinkled throughout the week. We'll start things off, however, with a slice of real life: Nat King Cole, whom some are comparing to Jackie Robinson.

As the first black performer to star in his own regular, major network program, more than a few people are looking to Nat to clear away racial prejudice from television the same way Robinson revolutionized baseball in the '40s. If this is to be the case, though, Cole is a most reluctant leader. "I don't want to crusade," he says. "Any prejudice against the Negro in TV has been mostly passive. If I try to make a big thing out of being the first and stir up a lot of talk, it might work adversely." The passive prejudice takes many forms, he says, mostly network brass wary of the unknown. "They thought sponsors would be afrai of a Negro whose show would go into the South. They were afraid to take a chance so they never experimented." He tours extensively through the South, often despite criticism by other black performers, and performs before segregated audiences.

His show began at 15 minutes for its first season before expanding to a half hour, and he's enjoyed the television experience so much he's planning to cut down on touring and nightclubs to stay with it if possible. Unfortunately, it isn't - although The Nat King Cole Show is able to pick up regional sponsors, and most of the guests agree to work for scale (or sometimes for no pay at all), the failure of NBC to secure a national sponsor ultimately dooms the show. Cole himself decides to pull the plug on the show; the final episode airs on December 17. Says Cole memorably, "Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark."

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And now for those September milestones. They begin Saturday night on CBS with the Miss America Pageant, live! from Atlantic City (9:30 p.m. CT). Bert Parks emcees the pageant, while the television broadcast hosts are Douglas Edwards and former Miss America Bess Myerson. For the first time, all contestants will be seen live on TV, with films of the elimination contests shown, and then the ten semifinalists will battle in the talent competition, before the five finalists square off in the Q&A round by Parks, where they demonstrate their "poise, character and personality." The winner, Miss America 1958, is Marilyn Van Derbur, Miss Colorado, one of the more extraordinary women to hold the title. Over the years she'll become a familiar face hosting parades, pageants, and other specials on CBS and NBC, as well as giving talks around the country, but she'll become even more well-known, and perhaps contribute even more, with her frank public discussion in 1991 of incest and abuse which she had suffered for years at the hands of her father. It is an remarkable public disclosure that she makes, detailing - without malice - years of darkness and split personalities, completely hidden to a public that knew her only as a beautiful and gracious pageant winner and personality, in hopes that it might provide help and .

On Sunday it's the conclusion of the U.S. Tennis Championships at Forest Hills, New York, what's now known as the U.S. Open. Only amateurs were allowed to compete in tennis' Grand Slam events back in the day, so as not to despoil the purity of the sport; hence, since the tournament wasn't "open" to just anyone, it wasn't called the Open. On the women's side, the winner was the remarkable Althea Gibson, one of the great pioneers of sports. The previous year, she had become the first black tennis player, man or woman, to win a major championship, taking the French title. In 1957 she will win both Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships, and be voted Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year, a triple she repeats in 1958. I've often thought that she, and not Billie Jean King, would have been far more worthy of having the National Tennis Center named after her. Perhaps we should start a campaign to have the change made? Australian Mal Anderson, a very good player who makes it as high as #2 in the world, makes the U.S. Championship his only major win - as an unseeded player, no less.

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One of Ed Sullivan's first great on-air challenges came from Steve Allen, who left Tonight to take over an NBC variety show which, at the beginning, aired opposite Ed. It didn't run as long as Ed's, of course, but then Allen said his goal was never to conquer Ed, but to coexist with him, which he did for three seasons. Let's see who gets the best of the contest this week.

Sullivan: Tonight's entire show orignates from New York's Madison Square Garden, where the "Ice Capades of 1958" is the special feature for this evening. Other guests include comedienne Jean Carroll; singers Marion Marlowe, the Chordettes, Jimmie Rodgers and Della Reese; and Jackie, English Balancer.

Allen: Steve's guests are the recently crowned Miss America of 1958; singer Steve Lawrence; comedienne Martha Raye; songstres Eydie Gorme; cartoonist Milton Caniff; actor Robert Young; and TV actress Marion Lorne, who will be seen starting next Sunday in the new "Sally TV series. Caniff will be talking 2ith Steve about Steve's part in his comic strip "Steve Canyon."

If you like ice shows, I think you'll like Sullivan this week; otherwise, if you turn over to Steve, you'll get Marilyn Van Derbur, Steve and Eydie, and Robert Young. And while I knew Steve Allen had made himself into a fictional detective solving murder mysteries, I had no idea he was also a cartoon character in someone else's comic strip. No question this week: Hi-Ho, Steverino!

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And that's not all the programs of note for the week:

If Miss America isn't your cup of tea on Saturday, then you might want to check out NBC's Your Hit Parade (9:30 p.m.), with the long-time cast replaced by an all-new (and younger) set of performers: Jill Corey, Virginia Gibson, Tommy Leonetti, and Alan Copeland, and new musical director Don Walker. The show's finding it increasingly difficult to deal with rock 'n' roll (how many different ways, after all, can one stage "Hound Dog"?); next season the show will move from NBC, its home since its radio debut in 1935, to CBS, and it will leave TV after that season.

Sunday evening at 6:00 p.m., CBS's Lassie arrives at a milestone of its own, as Jon Provost makes his series debut as "The Runaway." "A runaway orphan named Timmy makes his way to the Miller farm. Lassie finds him in the barn, but the little boy refuses to tell Ellen who he is or where he omes from. He's afraid of being sent back to the orphanage." Provost will remain on the show until 1964; in syndication, the show will be known as Timmy & Lassie. I don't know that I ever saw Lassie live myself, at some public appearance; I don't think that I did, but I did have an autographed picture of her with Ranger Corey, my favorite Lassie companion. Following Lassie, it's the final episode of the season for My Favorite Husband; next week in the same time spot, it's the debut of Bachelor Father, starring John Forsythe, which has a pretty successful run until 1962.

On Monday, Studio One's tenth season opens with "The Night America Trembled," (9:00 p.m., CBS) a very entertaining and reasonably accurate representation of Orson Welles' famous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast. The program - today, we'd probably call it a docudrama - is given added gravitas by using Edward R. Murrow as host, and the program features a cast of soon-to-be big names including James Coburn, Ed Asner, Vincent Gardinia, and Warren Beatty. Despite the fact that Welles' presence hangs over the production like a London fog, he's never mentioned by name; in fact, none of the actors involved in the production are. The always-reliable Wikipedia speculates that this could be due to a lawsuit that Wells is currently involved in with the network. Although I think most representations of this story tend to overplay the extent to which it caused a panic among the general population, it remains a singular story in American history, and a wonderful chapter in the career of the country's most talented Enfant terrible. Monday also sees Voice of Firestone celebrate the start of it's 30th season; it began on NBC radio in 1928 (it remained on radio until 1956) and launched a TV version in 1949, which moved to ABC in 1954. The great Robert Merrill is tonight's guest (8:00 p.m.)

On Tuesday the aforementioned Nat King Cole Show (NBC, 9:00 p.m., but interestingly enough not on KSTP, the NBC affiliate in the Twin Cities) features Ella Fitzgerald in a show from Las Vegas. In fairness to KSTP, I ought to add that the NBC affiliates in this issue are all over the place on Tuesday night, so it's hard to tell what's supposed to be on; in place of Nat's show, Channel 5 shows the syndicated Dr. Hudson's Secret Journal. Meantime, Greer Garson makes a rare television appearance in the ABC drama Telephone Time at 8:30 p.m.

ABC's prestige show Disneyland celebrates its fourth anniversary on Wednesday (6:30 p.m.) with one of Disney's classics, "Peter and the Wolf," shown in its entirety. I di.n't know this, but the composer of "Peter and the Wolf," Sergei Prokofiev, apparently played the piece for Walt Disney (or "le papa de Mickey Mouse," as Prokofiev described him to his sons) during a visit to America in 1938. According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, Disney at one point apparently considered including the animated "Peter" in Fantasia, which would have been interesting indeed.

On Thursday, the second season of CBS's Playhouse 90 begins with "The Death of Manolete," (8:30 p.m.), which is, shall we say, not one of the legendary series' more distinguished efforts despite a quality director (John Frankenheimer) and star (Jack Palance). The story of the death of Spain's greatest bullfighter never hits the mark in a production which Billboard said gave Manolete a "posthumous goring." Most of the problems, as Martin Grams details in this very good story, point to an episode rushed into production before it was ready in order to beat a similar bullfighting story being prepared by G.E. Theatre. Oh well, they can't all be winners - which isn't good news if you're a bullfigher.

Finally, Friday's Person to Person season premiere sees Edward R. Murrow visiting lawyer Robert Kennedy. (9:30 p.m, CBS) Interesting, isn't it, how you're seen when your brother isn't yet president and you're not yet attorney general. For one thing, you don't get to use a middle initial.

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This week's review is of Date with the Angels, the ABC sitcom with Betty White and Bill Williams as the happily married couple Gus and Vickie Angel, and according to reviewer R.J., it "would appeal more to this wicked old viewer if it had a little more devil in it."

As we all know by now, happily married couples - at least on television - "cannot exist without a pair of unhappily married neighbors and a pair of cynics for friends." Once you know this, then all you have to do is see the premise, presented in the first few minutes of each week's episode, and "before you can say "Plot!" you know how the rest of the story will unfold. It is, as R.J. points out, "harmless enough fun," but "the joike is more often on one of the friendly married couples than on Gus and Vickie."

Which brings us to the moral of the story, and the review, one which Don Fedderson, who would go on to produce My Three Sons and Family Affair, among other series, perhaps took to heart: "bring his Angels down to earth and show us how funny they are with their halos down."

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On the cover this week is Janette Davis, the new producer of Arthur Godfrey's TV show. As far as I can tell, the significance of this for us is twofold: (1) it shows that Godfrey is still a big name in television, and in the public's mind, and (2) it emphasizes that being a female at the higher echelon of television production (or a "girl producer," as she's referred to in the article) is still a relatively unusual occurrence.

Not one, but two potential starlets this week. The first is Martha Hyer; she's appeared on Lux Video Theatre four times, a pleasant diversion from working in Westerns. I think she qualifies as a starlet - her best years are ahead of her, with appearances in several Oscar-nominated movies, as well as her own Supporting Actress nomination for Some Came Running in 1958. She also makes frequent appearances on television in series such as Alfred Hitchcock before retiring at age 50, a very good career behind her.

The other candidate this week is Dana Wynter (left), another familiar face on television, especially in the '60s. TV Guide calls her "Britain's Lovliest Export," via South Africa. Her appearances have been few but talked about, from Robert Montgomery Presents, Playhouse 90, and Studio One on television, to The Invasion of the Body Snatchers in the movies. She says that she only works when her husband, Hollywood attorney Greg Bautzer, wants her to work.* She'll continue to appear on television throughout her  career, and stars in the series The Man Who Never Was with Robert Lansing in 1967. She will be known as one of Hollywood's most elegant stars.

*Bautzer is her first husband, a distinction the writer makes perhaps because she is Bautzer's third wife, his first being Buff Cobb, who later married Mike Wallace. Got all that straight? (Isn't Hollywood wonderful?) In fact, they remain married until 1981, and he is her only husband.

And last but not least, one of the news-and-notes pieces gives us a starlet in the making, one who'll be more successful than most. "CBS will try star-making with Junior Miss. They signed an unknown named Sandra Dee for the lead role of Judy. They say she sings, dances and is delicious."

2 comments:

  1. Back from the DVD Wall, having spent some of last night rewatching "The Night America Trembled".
    (Alpha Video DVD called Mars Invades The Earth!, paired with a Lights Out! called "The Martian Eyes", as well as a really ancient cartoon called "The Rocketeers" - but that's another story ...)
    As noted, Orson Welles's name is never mentioned; his functions are filled by Alexander Scourby, who definitely had the voice for it.
    As for all those actors who later became well-known ...
    ... well, that's the point - in 1957, they were all at the starting gate.
    Warren Beatty and Warren Oates, two of the poker players, are "blink-and-you'll-miss them", as Ed Asner is at the radio studio.
    The three drunks who go off the rails at the bar: Tom, Dick, and Harry, played (in reverse order) by Fred J. Scollay, Vincent Gardenia*, and Tom Clancy (not the novelist, but the fraternal Irish folksinger).
    (* TV Guide was as prone to typos as anybody, never more so than with newbie actors - you should see some of the variants they came up with for young Telly Savalas.)
    Side Note:
    Ever hear the original radio broadcast itself?
    It's available on CD from several sources.
    Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre On The Air, in The War Of The Worlds.
    Listen closely and you'll hear Ray Collins in three different roles.
    Also in a threefer is Kenny Delmar, before he became Fred Allen's Senator Claghorn; one of his three is "the Secretary of The Interior", who sounds an awful lot like FDR (and not a little bit like Claghorn ...).

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  2. A DATE WITH THE ANGELS was supposed to be a little more "devilish", so to speak...the focus originally was to be on Vicki Angel's interior life, and her dreams and fantasies coming to life with her in the center role.
    However, the show's sponsor--Plymouth--was unwilling to back a show with a lead character who was so "unconventional" and insisted on a more traditional sitcom setup. And as much of a car buff I am...I have a small twinge of joy when thinking about Betty White outliving Plymouth.

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!