December 2, 2017

This week in TV Guide: December 2, 1961

What with sexual harrassment dominating the entertainment headlines these days, it seems appropriate to take a closer look at the headline on this week's cover, "Why Television Is Tough for a Woman," and see if it gives us any insight into the cultural mores of the day.

There are a variety of answers offered, some of them more plausible than others. Mike Dann, head of programming at CBS, says it's because primetime is currently dominated by action-adventure shows. "How many female Perry Masons can you think of?" he says, a fact which apparently didn't stop the show from casting Bette Davis as a substitute for an ailing Raymond Burr in a 1963 episode.

A comedy writer who recently failed at a sitcom pitch that would hve starred "one of the established Great Ladies of TV" says that "men are tired of shows that women dominate," which is probably the most honest answer you'll get. A few seasons ago, women were everywhere: Eve Arden, June Allyson, Loretta Young, Barbara Stanwyck. But no longer, and one producer says it's because well-known female stars command too many dollars - for a star like Young, "it ends up costing you $5000 a week more just to have them int he first place," leaving little in the budget for other casting decisions. And then there's the fact that many big-name women (and some big-name male ones as well) are being pushed out of the market by the young, cheaper Troy Donahue-Doug McClure-Edd Byrnes types favored by Warner Brothers. One producer offered a Zsa Zsa Gabor and Ginger Rogers as possible leads, but the network instead went for young Cynthia Petter to star in Margie. "We frequently take stories written for characters in middle age and knock 15, 20 years off their ages," says Alfred Hitchcock Presents producer Joan Harrison. "It's what you have to do these days."

Shirley Booth and Gertrude Berg still have their own series, but as producer William Dozier points out, these are more character leads than glamor parts. Barbara Stanwyck, who was furious last year when her award-winning anthology series was cancelled, is philosophical about it now. "Maybe it will come around to our turn again." She's right, of course. Today nobody would look twice at a female Perry Mason, nor do they blink at female stars of action-adventure shows. Unlike the movies, television does offer leading roles for mature women, often with a higher quality script than they can find in on the big screen. It's a welcome development, as long as it's believable. It isn't always, which leads to an entirely different discussion than the one we're having now. Let's just say that, at least for now, youth rules.

◊ ◊ ◊

I'm always stressing the importance of reading things in context, of understanding what we see here not through contemporary eyes, but how it would have appeared at the time. That's why this week's documentary on Japan, "East is West" (Monday, 7:00 p.m., NBC) is so intriguing. It comes at us from a number of angles; it's only been 16 years since the end of the very bitter conflict in World War II, and yet in three years Tokyo will have a spectacular success with the Summer Olympics. The "foreignness" of the Far East is also in a state of transition; we think of its architecture, its gardens, its music and forms of dress and things like geishas, but the influence of the West in the post-war era is increasingly evident: rock music, television antennas, Western forms of dress like high heels and nylons, and of course a growing technology industry.

Japan's status vis-a-vis the United States has changed as well - they've become a strategic ally in an increasingly Communist-influenced area, with Red China, North Korea, and North Vietnam all in the spotlight or on the horizon. The fact that this documentary is in color, in prime time, underscores its importance. I wonder whether or noth this was part of the reintroduction of Japan to American viewers, trying to move beyond the lingering memories of the war (remember, most of the series about WWII tend to focus on the European theater), to win acceptance of them as one of the "good guys" and to open the area to further Western influence. Perhaps it isn't so significant, but it's interesting nonetheless - and after all, the Orient has always fascinated.

NBC offers another documentary on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. that, I think, underscores this sense of time and place. It's "Sentry Abroad," an episode of the occasional series Now...In Our Time. The Close-Up recalls that it's the 20th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and shows how the American network of overseas bases, manned by the Strategic Air Command and NATO, among others, is designed to proted the United States from a similar attack. This isn't just tine-filler, a Big Picture type of puff piece on the military - this is a program airing on a significant date in American history, at a point almost exactly between the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the tests from CONELRAD and its successor, the Emergency Broadcast System, remind us that the fear of a surprise attack from the Soviet Union is a very real one. A program like this is designed to reinforce a sense of confidence in the government's ability to protect us from such an attack. I wonder at this point if the networks felt they were being exploited by the government, or if they were doing their civic duty as Americans? I suspect the latter rather than the former.

◊ ◊ ◊

Let's see - what else have we got? Sunday night (9:00 p.m., NBC) CITGO, which back in the day was known as Cities Service, sponsors "Highways of Melody," billed as "the first of a Series of one-hour Specials saluting this land of ours." A land which, not concidentally, you really need to discover via road trips that can be faciliated through the use of the sponsor's product. What a coincidence! The host is Gordon MacRae - a big voice for a big country, you might say - with guests Dorothy Kirsten, Dolores Gray, Connie Russell, Eddy Arnold, the Brothers Four, and the West Point Glee Club.

On Wednesday night at 7:30, CBS's Breck Golden Showcase presents Oscar Wilde's thriller "The Picture of Dorian Gray," with a stellar cast including George C. Scott, Susan Oliver, and Louis Hayward, narriated by Sir Cedric Hardwicke, and "introducing" John Fraser as Dorian Gray (despite the fact Fraser'd already created a pretty good career for himself in England, including a BAFTA nomination for - believe it - The Trials of Oscar Wilde.)

On Friday, Westinghouse Presents (CBS, 9:00 p.m.), the successor to Studio One, has "Come Again to Carthage," with Piper Laurie starring as a nun given permission to a week with her dying father. Maurice Evans is the father, Ann Harding the mother, and Ina Balin, Arthur Hill, and Joan Hackett among the cast. It sounds to me a lot like the kind of play that used to be on the Hallmark Hall of Fame.

Notice something interesting about these three shows? They all have a title sponsor, a of the days when advertisers and ad agencies, not network executives, dominated the television schedule. There's also Voice of Firestone, Armstrong Circle Theatre, The U.S. Steel Hour, The Bell Telephone Hour (which airs opposite Westinghouse Presents), Kraft Music Hall and others. What does this mean? Could be that when an advertiser's name is attached to the program, and that the sale of the advertiser's own product is essential to the expenditure of the advertiser's money, the advertiser takes a greater interest in the contents of said program and its ability to please the audience and/or lend prestige to the advertiser's association with the program. That's the positive spin on it; we'll have to think about it and maybe return to the discussion another day.

◊ ◊ ◊

The highlight of the sports week comes in Philadelphia on Saturday, with the 62nd Army-Navy football game. (12:15 p.m., ABC)* We're still living in the era when both Army and Navy are considered part of college football's elite; in fact, in a couple of years Navy will finish as the #2 team in the country, led by Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach. Each team comes to the matchup with records of 6-3, and President Kennedy is on hand, along with 100,000 other spectators; true to tradition, JFK will spend one half on each team's side of the stadium, though the Navy vet can hardly be called neutral. In a tough, hard-fought contest, the Midshipmen come out on top, 13-7.

*Ever notice how it's never called the Navy-Army game? Not sure why, unless it's alphabetical. Maybe one of you out there knows the answer.

You might find yourselves puzzled by the rest of Saturday's sports. At 1:30, NBC's NBA game of the week has the Chicago Packers taking on the Syracuse Nationals from Syracuse, and the first thing most of you are probably thinking is: Who vs. Who? Easy answer: the Packers are an expansion team, changing their name to Zephyrs for the 1962 season before moving to Baltimore and becoming the Bullets; they're now the Washington Wizards. Likewise, the Syracuse Nationals would depart for greener pastures following the 1963 season, and they're now known to one and all as the Philadelphia 76ers. And now you know the rest of the story.

But did you know the story of the National Bowling League? It's true; for one season, a gentleman by the name of Leonard Homel had the idea of trying to turn the very popular sport of bowling into a team event, with two divisions comprised of five franchises each.* The Minneapolis franchise was known as the Twin Cities Skippers (after all, there are 10,000 lakes in Minnesota), and today they're taking on the San Antonio Cavaliers (2:30 p.m., WCCO) in a match taped November 24. It's a good thing this match was taped, for the NBL struggles from the very beginning. Unable to secure a national television contract, and with most of the top bowlers unwilling to move from the Pro Bowlers Association, the league is never able to secure a stable financial footing. San Antonio folds on December 17, just over two weeks after this broadcast; Omaha, Kansas City and Los Angeles follow suit. Meanwhile, the Skippers make it to the end of the season, losing in the finals to the Detroit Thunderbirds. After that, the entire league goes under. It's a footnote in America's professional sports history, and you can say you know about it because of TV Guide.

*In fact, with a total of 10 teams, it's bigger than the NBA, though not healthier.

◊ ◊ ◊

This week's starlet is 19-year-old Carole Wells, also known as older sister Edwina on NBC's National Velvet. She's not worried, as the article puts it, about "playing third string behind a child and a horse" - she's got a seven-year contract with MGM, and she's already done two features for them. (Lizzie and A Thunder of Drums.)

Young Carole is quite posed: "I've known I wanted to be a star since I was three years ago, but I guess I'm not quite ready for it yet." Once her family moved to California, she became friends with fellow actress Lurene Tuttle (Father of the Bride), moved quickly through commercials and sixteen TV guest spots before becoming part of the National Velvet cast. She's also dabbled in singing, with Capitol is bidding against MGM to sign her up.

And what happened to our Carole? Well, I don't know that she became a "star," exactly. She did appear in over a hundred television shows, plus another series, Pistols and Petticoats. She also did ten movies, and that singing career did blossom, as she performed in light opera productions throught the country. She's been an author, a teacher, and worked in various humanitarian projects. In other words, there's more than one kind of star that can shine.

◊ ◊ ◊

WCCO has a Saturday afternoon program at 12:15 called Hobby and Handycraft. I wonder if this morphed into the Woodcraft Hobby Show, a much-loved program when I was growing up, that aired in the same timeslot. In many ways the show functioned as a 15-minute infomercial for the Woodcraft Hobby store on Lake Street - I mean, look at what they're featuring, just in time for Christmas! Racing sets and trains! - but there was more to it than that. They did features on remote control airplanes and boats, building models, and woodburning. Many a kid who watched the show found a hobby they would live with for the rest of their lives. Now, I don't know if this was the same show or not - this one is a half-hour rather than 15 minutes - but I can't see it without being reminded of Woodcraft. The show isn't on anymore, of course; Woodcraft itself closed a few years ago, although there's a chain that goes by the same name that isn't related. But it just goes to show that you can sell product and give people something more than just a few minutes of entertainment at the same time.

◊ ◊ ◊

Finally, a different kind of TV Jibe, and one that all of you should be able to ace. It's the "Test Your TV Knowledge" test, guaranteed to "accurately test your knowledge and rate you against the experts." The answers follow; according to quizmaster Bill Baur, anyone caught trying to peek at them before finishing the text "will be struck by lightening." Ready?

1. How tall is Jim Arness?
     a. 6'10"     b. 5'2"     c. 11'3½

2. How many good-looking, young, blond boys and girls have leading roles in
     realistic adventure shows?

     a. 14     b. About three     c. 16,381

3. What is Rita Rascle's real name?
     a. Pamela Glunk     b. Vilma Smirker     c. Sandra Blubber

4. With all the outcry against violence on TV, "The Untouchables" is going to
     become an animated cartoon with funny animals in place of villains.

     a. True     b. False     c. Perhaps

5. Who receives more fan mail than any other TV performer?
     a. Bulwinkle Moose     b. Rod Serling     c. Bruce Cabot1

Answers: 1. None of these. Jim Arness is actually 7 inches tall. Next time you turn on Gunsmoke take a ruler up to your set and measure him.

2. There are no realistic adventure shows.

3. a. Pamela Glunk. It's a shame you never heard of Rita Rascle; you might have guessed this one.

4. b. False. The Untouchables already is an animated cartoon. It is very skillfully done.

5. b. Rod Serling. A great deal of this mail is from neighboring planets.

Score:  Count 16 points for each right answer.

  0-32
You do not own a television set.

  48-80
You watch TV constantly. You are kind, considerate, a thoughtful companion and you weigh 127 pounds.

  100
You peeked. Watch out for bolts of lightning.

6 comments:

  1. Between this article & PISTOLS 'N PETTICOATS, Carole Wells made an appearance on one of the last episodes of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER called "The All-Night Party". She played the date for Wally Cleaver, played by then-17-year-old Tony Dow, as I'm sure most of Wally's dates by then were played by actreses older than he was so that they would not fall under child labor laws. Herb Rudley, later Herb Hubbard on THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW, played the date's father, who has to be convinced that nothing bad will happen to her at their all-night graduation party. Of course something does go terribly wrong, so Wally has to smooth out the situation with his date's dad.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Is it me or does anyone else find the image of Edwin Newman enjoying the company of a geisha as incongruent as David Bowie and Bing Crosby singing Christmas carols together ion ABC??

    ReplyDelete
  3. And speaking of the Syracuse Nats, my father and maternal grandfather used to be "mini-shareholders" (maybe $10 a share?) of the team (a la the Packers). As a 5 year old living nearby I have a fond memory of attending Nats doubleheaders at the Syracuse War Memorial--Nats vs the Rochester Royals followed by the Boston Celtics vs the Philadelphia Warriors (left for SF and opened the way for the Nats to become the 76rs) led by Wilt Chamberlain. Dolph Schayes even came to my house once! Such was the small city NBA in the early 60's in the Northeast.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Couldn't slip away without mentioning Carole Wells' most famous TV appearance, if one can call it that. It came in 1966 on the game show Password, taped at the now late CBS Television City in Hollywood. She played agains Gilligan himself, Bob Denver. The episode is notably remembered for Bob almost not getting one particular word-"Skipper"! By the time the episode aired, Pistols 'N' Petticoats would make its' debut. Both shows ended at the end of the TV season-with Gilligan giving up its' ghost so that Gunsmoke would live on.

    To JD, I know it sounds a bit bizarre, but seeing as though Eskimos hardly ever enjoy enchiladas, I'm pretty sure Mr. Newman did as best in the company of that Geisha as he could-if only to give NBC News a foothold in the Far East by the time a show called I Spy debuted in the fall of '65. BTW, Bing's Xmas specials mostly aired on CBS or NBC.

    Westinghouse Studio One, Kraft Television Theater, Four Star Playhouse and The Millionaire (Singer Sewing Machines), Red Skelton and Yancy Derringer (Johnson's Wax) and What's My Line (Stopette, Kellogg's, etc.) are all fine examples of sponsors' relationships with programs. Same thing with Lassie and The Donna Reed Show, both sponsored by Campbell's Soup. Look for these in history books (and on YouTube and DailyMotion), for they are now no more than dreams remembered. Part of a civilization WENT with the wind.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now come along and visit with the Clampett family
      As they learn the simple pleasures of the hills of Beverly
      That includes the products of the sponsor of the week
      The cereals of Kellogg's
      Kellogg's of Battle Creek

      Delete
    2. K-E-double-L-O-double-good Kellogg's Best to You!

      Delete

Thanks for writing! Drive safely!