December 4, 2021

This week in TV Guide: December 5, 1964

I have a friend who, for the last 30 years without fail, has called me on November 1 to leave a message on my voicemail: "Let the holidays begin!" For him, it was the best time of the year; putting pumpkins and haystacks on the doorstep, other decorations throughout the house, and before long it would be Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, and then New Year's. Yes, it is the best time of the year.

I'm not quite as quick on the draw as my friend is; for me, it starts to sink in on Monday of Thanksgiving week. But there's no doubt that by the time we reach the December 5 issue of TV Guide, the holiday season is in full swing, and our television programming reflects it. There's not a lot this week, but what there is is big time, beginning with the very first airing of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, on Sunday afternoon's General Electric Fantasy Hour* (4:30 p.m. CT, NBC). The debut is accompanied by a full-color feature story with color pictures; in it, we learn that each figure cost upward of $5,000 to make, and it took 100 technicians and 22 room-sized sets to make the 25-year-old song into a reality. Even an eyebrow out of place could cost the production a week's worth of expenses to reshoot.

*It airs in the afternoon partly because it's a family program, partly because there's not yet the connection to adult nostalgia that there will be in years to come, partly because there's no doubleheader football showing on a regular basis, and mostly because this is the regular timeslot for GE's other big weekly show, College Bowl. It also preempts Meet the Press, for what it's worth.

This year will be the 58th broadcast year for Rudolph, and I wonder if anyone could possibly have imagined that when it started out? Says Arthur Rankin of producers Rankin-Bass, "When a film takes a year to make and costs a half-million dollars, you can be sure you won't see it on TV every day." No, but what about every year?

It's a bit early for other Christmas specials; we haven't yet created the avalanche of cartoons that will signify the toy-buying season; the only other one at present is Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol—but the other event this week spells quality as well. It's the movie We're No Angels, presented on Wednesday Night at the Movies (8:00 p.m., NBC), and those of who you haven't seen it really should. It tells the story of three criminals (Humphrey Bogart, in a rare comedic appearance, Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray) who escape from the infamous Devil's Island penal colony in French Guiana on Christmas Eve, and become involved in the lives of a good-hearted but hapless dry goods store manager (Leo G. Carroll), his wife (Joan Bennett) and their daughter (Gloria Talbott). The trouble begins when the absentee owner of the store, who's also the villain of the piece (Basil Rathbone, all but twirling his mustache), shows up unexpectedly.

The movie, directed by Michael Curtiz (who was also responsible for Casablanca and White Christmas, among many others), is perfect for anyone who can't take the saccharine sweetness and sickly sentimentality of the Hallmark/Lifetime made-for-TV schlockfests; the three escapees are, respectively, an embezzler (Bogart, wry with a hint of menace) and a pair of murderers (Ustinov, chewing the scenery wonderfully, and Ray, the wackiest of the three), and the tone throughout is that of a very dark, very funny comedy. By the way, did I mention their pet viper, Adolphe? You should check this out—I don't believe you'll be disappointed.

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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: Scheduled guests include Sophie Tucker; Sid Caesar; Jerry Lewis; drummer Gary Lewis (Jerry's son) and the Playboys, instrumental quartet; the folk singing [Chad] Mitchell Trio; singer-dancer Piccola Pupa; and comic Bob Lewis.

Palace: Phil Harris is the host and his guests include Ginger Rogers; comedian Bill Dana; the McGuire Sisters, who do a medley of their hits; singer Gary Crosby; the Jubilee Four vocal group; Dwight Moore and his mongrels; and the Merkys, acrobats.

Tough one this week. The headliners are solid on both programs—stars (Jerry Lewis and Phil Harris), sons of stars (Gary Lewis and Gary Crosby), comedians (Sid Caesar and Bill Dana), vocal groups (the Chad Mitchell Trio and the Jubilee Four). Ultimately, the tiebreaker goes to Ginger Rogers (even without Fred Astaire) and the McGuire Sisters, and that gives the slight edge to the Palace..

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's weekly 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 shows of the era. 

This week, Cleveland Amory sets his eyes on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. And for once, Cleve has good things to day in his review. I think, that is; sometimes it can be hard to tell. His description of Jim Nabors' Pyle is "a goof-off, a goldbrick and pea-brained knucklehead - and, on the occasions when he is late, a late goof-off, goldbrick and pea-brained knucklehead." In addition, however, Nabors is "as fine a broad comedian as your screen has mustered up this season."

Fine, too, is Frank Sutton, who up to this point has been seen most often as a small-time crook in shows like The Untouchables and Naked City, playing Pyle's foil, Sergeant Carter*. Sutton's sputtering reactions to Pyle's naïve bumbling, says Amory, have "that wonderful rage in reserve—the quiet, low-voiced, clearly enunciated third-degree burn."

*Not to be confused with Sergeant Carter on Hogan's Heroes.

Each week's show features at least one "epic" moment, such as the time when Carter, in desperation, tries to get the sleeping Pyle to sign a receipt. "Write your name," he whispers to Pyle, only to find out later that this is just what Pyle has written: "Your Name." Just as epic, though, is Amory's imitation of Pyle's thick Southern accent; "Naow, thayut's sneaky. Whut I done wuzn't sneaky," he writes at one point, and if Amory had written on a computer with spellcheck, that sentence would have broken it. My impression is that Amory doesn't see Gomer Pyle as great art, let alone great television; it's fun television, though, well worth an evening's viewing.

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It's the last day of the college football season, and NBC's game of the week is the Egg Bowl between Mississippi State and Ole Miss (1:45 p.m.), neither of which are having a very good season. So if that's not to your liking, the NFL has a Saturday game to offer as well, with the Green Bay Packers taking on the Chicago Bears from Wrigley Field (1:00 p.m., CBS). They're not having stellar seasons either, but it's something different. Besides, your alternative is the Miss America Rodeo—or Miss Rodeo America, as it's actually known—from Las Vegas (1:00 p.m., NBC), although I'll admit it might be fun to see Miss Alabama trying to wrestle steers with that sash and swimsuit on.* In fact, the most interesting football note is in the TV Teletype section, which notes that in two weeks ABC will be televising the Liberty Bowl, from inside the Atlantic City Convention Center in New Jersey—coincidentally, the venue of the Miss America pageant. Maybe they should have held the Miss America Rodeo there instead of Vegas.

*Oh, you mean it isn't that kind of Miss America?

On Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings travel to Yankee Stadium to play the New York Giants (1:00 p.m., CBS), followed by the Los Angeles Rams vs. the 49ers in San Francisco, joined in progress at around 3:30 p.m.; it's the last CBS doubleheader of the season. Meanwhile, on the AFL side of the ledger, the Boston Patriots play the Kansas City Chiefs (2:30 p.m., ABC). Maybe you're better off with Rudolph.

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It's still a little early for weekly shows to be running their Christmas episodes, but that doesn't mean they aren't worth watching. On Saturday, The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo (7:00 p.m., NBC), which was born in the wake of the success from last year's Magoo's Christmas Carol, presents the fourth and final part of "Robin Hood," with Magoo in the role of Friar Tuck, and Howard Morris voicing Robin Hood. That's followed by NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies, and a true classic, the crime thriller Bad Day at Black Rock, featuring a brilliant performance by Spencer Tracy and a nasty one by Robert Ryan. 

The weekend continues with Sunday's Wonderful World of Color (6:30 p.m., NBC), with the conclusion of "Big Red," starring Walter Pidgeon. That's followed by The Bill Dana Show; I've talked about him from time to time, always favorably, usually when he's playing his José Jiménez character. José's taken up many occupations, most famously an astronaut, but here he plays a bellhop, spun off from Make Room For Daddy, where he was an elevator operator.* 

*Ironically, one of Dana's costars is Jonathan Harris, who would later indeed go into space, in a manner of speaking.

Monday night begins with No Time for Sergeants (7:30 p.m., ABC), the unsuccessful sitcom adaptation of the very successful play and movie, both of which starred Andy Griffith. The TV version offers us Sammy Jackson, who graces this week's cover along with his series girlfriend, Laurie Sibbald. After that, you can opt for Andy Williams (8:00 p.m., NBC), and his guests in this pre-Christmas show are Robert Goulet and Bobby Darin. And speaking of ABC, what would Christmastime be without Der Bingle? This isn't his Yuletide clambake, though, but a regular episode of his single-season sitcom (8:30 p.m., ABC), in which he portrays a retired singer named Bing Collins. Hmm.

One of the more interesting shows of the week is Sounds of Freedom, a half-hour film on WCCO Tuesday night (6:30 p.m.): "The Rev. Bob Richards and his family tour Germany, France and England comparing America's modern supermarkets to the food markets in these countries." It only took me a moment to surmise (correctly, as it turned out) that this might be the same Bob Richards who—well, you might know him better for this: 

Yes, Richards was the first athlete to appear on the cover of the Wheaties box, as a result of his accomplishments as a three-time U.S. Olympian. From there he went on to become an ordained minister, physical fitness advocate, and political activist.

The Bell Telephone Hour (9:00 p.m., NBC) will have a fabulous Christmas show in a couple of weeks, but this week's show isn't bad: it's hosted by the great French entertainer Maurice Chevalier, with the equally great jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain, opera star Teresa Berganza, Stanley Holloway, and the puppet cast of "Les Poupees de Paris."

Besides We're No Angels (which I just finished watching a few minutes ago), Wednesday brings us The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (6:30 p.m., ABC), in which Rick and his frat brothers decide the "dancer" Bubbles La Tassle (Mamie Van Doren, who else?) would make a fine housemother for the fraternity. Am I wrong to think this bears a faint resemblance to Working Girl? On The Beverly Hillbillies (7:30 p.m., CBS), the Drysdale's new English butler (Arthur Treacher) mistakenly reports to the Clampetts instead, and on The Dick Van Dyke Show (8:00 p.m., CBS) Rob's not about to admit to Laura that she was right when she warned him about catching a cold while playing golf. Danny Kaye's guests this week (9:00 p.m., CBS) are Tony Bennett, Imogene Coca, and the singing Clinger Sisters. And by the way, on The Tonight Show (10:30 p.m., NBC), one of Johnny's guests is the very same Pete Fountain who appeared on Bell Telephone Hour last night.

Danny Thomas no longer has a regular series, but he's back on Thursday for his second special of the season (7:30 p.m,. NBC), with a cast including Jimmy Durante, Joey Bishop and Eddie Fisher. (Next week, we'll see Danny on the cover of a much earlier TV Guide, and ask if anyone remembers him anymore.) If you want to see it, that means you'll have to pass up the nighttime version of Password (8:00 p.m., CBS), with Paul Anka and Rita Moreno as the celebrity panelists. Have I mentioned before that Paul Anka was a very good, very intense Password player? And on KTCA's educational show Town and Country (9:30 p.m,), it's "Christmas plants for the home."

Friday night means Jack Paar's primetime show (9:00 p.m., NBC), taped in London, with Judy Garland, Robert Morley, and Randolph Churchill, Sir Winston's only son. This episode features a wonderfully entertaining, slightly tipsy Judy riffing on Marlene Dietrich in a wickedly funny bit.

Yes, I know the label on the clip says it was from November 25, but I believe this is a reference to when the show was originally recorded, not broadcast. Besides, November 25 was a Wednesday. 

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Finally this week, Friday is also the night for Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, which three weeks out of four was a dramatic anthology series, while the fourth week featured a Hope comedy special. He'll be doing his Christmas show in this time slot shortly, but tonight's episode (7:30 p.m., NBC) is "The Shattered Glass," in which "Five years ago, talented young architect David Vincent turned to the bottle after his girl friend Helen married another man. Now Helen's husband is dead, and David hopes to resume the romance." If any of this sounds the least familiar (and as my friend Mike Doran would point out, the world is filled with coincidence), let's skip ahead three years to the science fiction show The Invaders. The protagonist of that series is also an architect, also named David Vincent, who accidentally stumbles on an alien invasion after getting lost on a deserted road.

Now, my theory on this is that Vincent was drunk from one of his bouts with the bottle after Helen dumped him, which explains his getting lost. It's also why the authorities suspect Vincent merely thought he'd seen a flying saucer, when it was probably something else entirely. And, needless to say, it's one of those aliens who winds up killing Helen's husband, after which Vincent becomes conflicted, since the very aliens he's been trying to out are responsible for reuniting him with his lost love, and decides to give up the fight for good. Or maybe Helen's one of the invaders. Or perhaps after her husband dies, she marries a doctor in Indiana and becomes known as Helen Kimble.

That's the great thing about television, isn't it? Absolutely anything's possible. No wonder it's the (Chrysler) theater of dreams. TV  

December 3, 2021

Around the dial

e've got a full slate of stories to look at At bare-bones e-zine, Jack's Hitchcock Project focuses on the seventh-season episode "What Frightened You, Fred?", an excellent and taut story starring R.G Armstrong, Ed Asner, and Adam Williams, and directed by Paul Henreid.

I think I've mentioned this before, but a great episode title can do wonders, and if you're an occasional viewer of Love That Bob, an episode called "Grandpa Meets Zsa Zsa" is going to be hard to turn down. Find out if Hal agrees with our instincts at this week's The Horn Section.

At Silver Scenes, the Metzinger Sisters take a gander at The Entertainers, the 1964-65 variety series that boasted a trio of rotating hosts: Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett, and Caterina Valente. The Entertainers may be an example of one of those shows that sounded better in practice; I wrote about its troubled season a couple of years ago.

Inner Toob has a fun look at John Astin's portrayal of Gomez on The Addams Family, and the crossover potential with other Astin characters, including his version of The Riddler in Batman

Nothing sells like courtroom drama; remember that what's interesting in legal dramas is not the lives of the lawyers, but the cases they try in court. In a continuing seres, David looks at three memorable such episodes from the world of Comfort TV.

Stepping away from the exclusive world of classic TV for a moment, it's time to wish a happy blog anniversary to Gil at one of my favorite blogs, Realweegiemidget. And you can't beat the blogathons she hosts, a couple of which I've been privileged to be in.

At Cult TV Blog (or, as John now calls it, "That Blog Where the Bloke Who Never Wears a Shirt Blogs about TV and Tries to Stay on the Subject"), it's a look at a Freudian episode of The Tomorrow People, and I'll take John's word on the analysis of the episode.

One of the more controversial periods of The Twilight Zone is the brief era of videotaped episodes, made necessary in order to cut costs and meet the budget. At Shadow & Substance, Paul invites your vote on which taped episode was the best; taken as a whole, they're really pretty good.

At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence provides us with a handy guide to the Christmas movies appearing this year on Turner Classic Movies. I think I've seen 14 or 15 of them, most of which I enjoyed quite a lot. Of all the cable stations we're without since cutting the cord, I'd say that I miss TCM the most, although having The Criterion Channel more than makes up for it. Japanese noir, anyone?

Speaking of noir, The Last Drive-In begins a series of 31 flavors of noir on the fringe. As it happens, I've seen a few of these as well, and I urge you to check them out—they're the perfect antidote to those Christmas movies over at Hallmark. TV  

December 1, 2021

Toscanini and the NBC Symphony, April 3, 1948

From the YouTube channel Free the Kinescopes, it's a televised performance by Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra, with the Robert Shaw Chorale, in a live broadcast from April 3, 1948. On the program: Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. 

There are a number of things to note, besides the now-unthinkable idea that a television network would actually have its own symphony orchestra, led by one of the world's most famous conductors. For one, the broadcast comes from NBC's famed Studio 8-H in New York City (now home to Saturday Night Live), which makes for a very intimate setting, with the small audience right on top of the action. 

Given its beginnings as a radio orchestra (it was founded in 1937), it's no surprise that announcer Ben Grauer, although he appears on camera, functions essentially as he would if this were a radio broadcast, standing in front of a microphone and reading from his script. Not too fancy, perhaps, but certainly effective.

And note as well how Maestro Toscanini, though he was one of the most famous (and intimidating) conductors of his era, has to wait until Grauer has finished his introduction before launching into the downbeat. Even then, television called the shots.


November 29, 2021

What's on TV? Wednesday, November 29, 1961

One of the things I noticed in today's listings was a little note in the description of the U.S. Steel Hour story "Tangle of Truth." "Taped from a live broadcast," it says, and of course it's because of the time difference because we're out here in Oregon this week. No, what's interesting is that, here in late 1961, we still have weekly (or every other week, in the case of the U.S. Steel Hour) shows that are broadcast live. As I've mentioned before, live television is really a different animal from film or tape; by now, other than soap operas and news and sporting events, live broadcasts are pretty much limited to prestige drama anthologies and variety shows that try to capture the energy of live performances. They're not completely gone in 1961, but they're becoming fewer and farther between.

November 27, 2021

This week in TV Guide: November 25, 1961

In 1962, Bob Dylan adapted a Canadian folk tune called "Peter Emberly" into a song which he titled "The Ballad of Donald White." It's not one of his more well-known songs, and he didn't perform it often, possibly because he only wrote the lyrics.

The song begins:

               My name is Donald White, you see,
               I stand before you all.
               I was judged by you a murderer
               And the hangman's knot must fall.
               I will die upon the gallows pole
               When the moon is shining clear,
               And these are my final words
               That you will ever hear.

In Anthony Scaduto biography of Dylan, a friend named Sue Zuckerman recounts the story behind the writing of the song. Zuckerman "recalls watching television* with [Dylan and Suze Rotolo] one night (February 12, 1962). The program was about crime and capital punishment—a film called 'A Volcano Named White.' A 24-year-old black man was sitting in his prison cell in Texas talking about his life, its oppression, his cries for help that were ignored, until he finally killed somebody and was now waiting to be executed. "Bobby just got up at one point," Miss Zuckerman says, "and he went off in the corner and started to write. He just started to write, while the show was still on, and the next thing I knew he had this song written, Donald White."

*WPIX in New York.

On Wednesday night at 8:00 PT, we see the original telecast of that documentary, The Volcano Named White, produced by Seattle's KING-TV and broadcast on its sister station, Portland's KGW. Scaduto's description of the show isn't quite on the mark; White's crime occurred not in Texas but in Washington State. But the bones of the story are there: on December 24, 1959, Don White was accused of the murder of two people, strangers he had never met: a white great-grandmother and a black longshoreman. White was arrested and tried for the crime, and in May 1960 a jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death. Today, he sits on death row in the state prison at Walla Walla, waiting while his appeal follows the process.

The story, narrated mostly by White himself, examines "the shortcomings of society which contribute to the creation of a criminal and killer" through the environment in which the 24-year-old White grew up: an intolerable childhood spent with an unbalanced foster mother, in and out of reformatories and jails, receiving medical treatment in various institutions. And yet White is also a talented writer and painter with an IQ of 120. And so the question is raised: how does a man like this wind up a brutal killer in the death house? 

You can see how Dylan would be tempted to romanticize White's plight, at a time when the civil rights issue is front and center. Look at how Scaduto accepts the  narriative that White sits imprisoned in Texas—don't things like this always happen in the South?

In fact, the murders which White committed aren't quite as romantic as the folk ballads would have it. In 1962, White appealed his death sentence to the Washington Supreme Court; the Court decision denying his appeal includes White's own description of the first murder, that of Mrs. Alice Jumper (my apologies to anyone who might be bothered by the graphic language):



As I was passing the laundry room, I looked in and noticed a white woman doing something with some clothes. She was either folding or hanging up clothes. I decided to go into the laundry room to use the head. The woman had her back to me as I entered the door and was standing over by one of the dryers. I walked past the woman into the back and tried the door to the head but it was locked. I then turned around and started back out. When I got even with the woman I just punched her with my fist knocking off her glasses and knocking her to the floor. The glasses slid across the floor to a spot near the door. The woman wasn't knocked unconscious by my blow and she grabbed me around the legs and by one hand. I then lifted her up off the floor real fast and fairly high so that her legs flew up in the air. I then dropped her and her head hit the cement floor before the rest of her body. The woman still wasn't unconscious and was trying to get up. I then picked her up and took her back into a small storage room. I laid her down on the cement floor on her back with her head toward the door. She still wasn't unconscious so I hit her three or four times with my fists in her face. She didn't move anymore then except she sort of raised her arm and I removed her watch and ring. I then started to leave but then came back to where she was lying. I had earlier torn off her panties and had ripped her dress so when I got back into the room I had sexual intercourse with her. I had intercourse with her for about a minute but did not reach a climax. I would describe this woman as being about 45 or 46 yrs. of age with grayish black hair and with a stocky build. I don't remember what kind of clothes she was wearing. As I walked back out of the storage room, I noticed the woman's glasses laying near the door. I picked them up and put them in a laundry tub nearby. 

To top things off, White would, later that day, murder black longshoreman Willie Leroy Dixon at Seattle's Yesler Terrace Housing Project. Keep in mind that this murder, as well as the subsequent murder White committed, occurred on Christmas Eve. White was convicted of first-degree murder in Mrs. Jumper's death, and second-degree murder for the death of Dixon.

White's appeal does not claim innocence; the above, after all, comes from his own confession. Instead, the appeal is based on several technical issues, including White's confession having been recorded without his knowledge, and the refusal of the trial judge to permit psychiatric testimony that had been obtained under the influence of truth serum, which would have enabled the jury to "better understand the basis of the psychiatrist's opinion that [White] had a psychotic reaction which was chronic, recurrent, and episodic." Although White's appeal was denied and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to get involved, a subsequent appeal was upheld in U.S. District Court, overturning White's conviction and ordering a new trial, which occurred in 1966 and resulted once again in White's conviction, and this time a sentence of two concurrent life terms. Washington Governor Daniel Evans commuted White's sentence to time served on June 30, 1972. 

Bob Dylan's song ends with the following lines:

               But there's just one question
               Before they kill me dead,
               I'm wondering just how much
               To you I really said
               Concerning all the boys that come
               Down a road like me,
               Are they enemies or victims
               Of your society?

To the best of my knowledge, neither Dylan nor anyone else wrote a song upon White's release. 

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There are other, less volatile, programs on this week. 

For most of the country, this weekend's top college football matchup pits undefeated Ohio State against bitter archrival Michigan, but you can probably tell by the way this sentence begins that such will not be the case in this week's issue. Yes, out West, viewers are getting the battle for the Apple Cup between Washington State and Washington, live from Seattle. (Saturday, 1:15 p.m., ABC) Washington, winner of last season's Rose Bowl, enters the game with a record of 4-4-1, while Washington State, led by end Hugh Campbell (who will win five consecutive Grey Cup championships as a coach of the Edmonton Eskimos) is 3-6. Maybe it's not Ohio State-Michigan, but it's a tight game anyway, won by Washington 21-17. 

Later Saturday (8:30 p.m., CBS), The Defenders presents an intriguing situation: the Prestons (E.G. Marshall, Robert Reed) defend a man (Edward Binns) who was arrested for a murder committed during a robbery. He then suffered a complete nervous breakdown, and has spent the last 25 years in a mental hospital. He's now being released—and he'll be put on trial for the crime. The premise reminds me a lot of the Naked City episode "Which Is Joseph Creeley?" which I wrote about here. (And, you'll note, my friend David Hofstede cited this episode in his comment on that piece. I love it!)

On Sunday (8:00 p.m., CBS), Ed Sullivan's guests are actor Richard Boone, singers Johnny Mathis, Sophie Tucker and Gloria Lynne, comedians Jackie Mason and Will Jordan, and country singers Deedy and Bill. Later, Hugh Downs appears as himself in Car54, Where Are You? (8:30 p.m., NBC)—Toody and Muldoon (Joe E. Ross, Fred Gwyne) nick Hugh for speeding, and try to leverage it into getting their friend on the Jack Paar show. (Hugh, by the way, fills in for Jack on Tuesday night.) 

One sure way to tell what the hot trends are is to watch kids shows; on Monday, the space race comes to Kukla and Ollie (5:00 p.m., KGW), as Kukla interviews the first "lady astronaut"—Beulah Witch. (Who beats Valentina Tereshkova into space by a good 18 months.) Jimmy Durante, playing himself, is special guest on The Danny Thomas Show (9:00 p.m., CBS), and Dennis Hopper is—what else?—a psychopathic killer on 87th Precinct. (9:00 p.m., NBC) No typecasting at all, right?

If you're a fan of MST3K, or schlock horror movies in general, you'll recognize the premise of Tuesday's Red Skelton Show (9:00 p.m., CBS), which features special guests Marie Windsor and John Carradine: in a sketch called "The Great Brain Robbery," Dr. Prager (Carradine) plans to send a gorilla into space with a human brain—George Appleby's (Red). Next, on the discussion show Family Castle, it's the first seasonal program of the year: a method of wrapping Christmas presents for mailing is shown. (9:30 p.m., KOAP)

A few months ago I wrote about the David L. Wolper documentary series Hollywood and the Stars; Wednesday we see the de facto pilot for that series, Hollywood: The Golden Years (7:30 p.m., NBC), a one-hour look at Hollywood's silent era, culminating with the premiere of The Jazz Singer. Gene Kelly narrates; Elmer Bernstein composed and conducted the music. If you're more interested in the present than the past, Steve Allen gives you a good reason to feel that way: special guest Sophia Loren. (7:30 p.m., ABC)

Some classy entertainment on Thursday, but you'll need two sets to catch them both. At 9:30 p.m. on NBC, Hallmark Hall of Fame presents "Victoria Regina," with Julie Harris as Queen Victoria, James Donald as Prince Albert, and Basil Rathbone as Disraeli. That takes you to 11:00, which means you'd miss all of Yves Montand on Broadway (10:00 p.m., ABC), as the French star teams up with Polly Bergen, John Raitt, Helen Gallagher, and Bobby Van. A pair of great shows, but they'll cost you Sing Along With Mitch and The Untouchables in return.

On Friday, Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic return with a new season of Young People's Concerts (7:30 p.m., CBS; the first in the series to be shown in primetime). Tonight's subject: "What is Impressionism?" No, it's not Rich Little or Frank Gorshin; it's the French composers Debussy and Ravel. (Follow the link to the video.) I'm sure this would be considered way too elitist for kids today. And Dinah Shore takes the prize for star power (9:30 p.m., NBC), with her guests Frankie Avalon, Nelson Eddy, and Milton Berle. And it's all brought to you by S&H Green Stamps!

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In addition to The Volcano Named White, a couple of other shows merit pullout status. First, NBC's occasional documentary series Now. . . In Our Time presents "The Good Ship Hope" (Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.), a look at the famed American hospital ship (privately financed) that travels around the world, spreading medicine and good will. Ralph Bellamy narrates, and in a separate article writes about the journey that he calls "one of the most dramatic experiences of my life."

The S.S. Hope spent nearly nine months in Indonesia and South Vietnam, "[providing] medical training—and some curing, operative and postoperative treatment" in the area. Bellamy recounts the conditions the doctors found, which left them "in something bordering on disbelief" as they toured Bien Vien Hospital in Saigon, as "hundreds of the lame and the blind were streaming in off the streets," waiting patiently for the doctors to get to them. Hope doctors became involved immediately, helping the overworked doctors treat some of the 2,500 patients they saw every day. From Saigon, the doctors headed to Can Tho, an area in which Vietcong guerrillas operated almost every night, and then to Phung-hiep, where guerrillas had attacked just two hours before. Bellamy describes how the villagers live in fear of the Communists—"[T]hese gentle people want no part of Communism. They are furiously opposing it. They're desperate for help. They are deeply moved by the American help being given through the SS Hope." It is, indeed, quite a story.

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Hope of another kind is the message of Billy Graham in his article "Spreading the Word Throughout the World," a tie-in to an NBC documentary The World of Billy Graham, that airs Wednesday at 10:00 p.m., almost as an antidote to The Volcano Named White. The documentary, narrated by Alexander Scourby, tells of how the North Carolina farm boy became a internationally-renowned evangelist and confidant of world leaders and presidents, and shows Graham both on the road and back home in Montreat, North Carolina.

"Christianity," writes Graham, "is a faith with a built-in compulsion to communicate. It is a secret that cannot be kept; a light that cannot be hidden; a dynamic that cannot be contained." Its progress began with the apostles traveling by ship and communicating the message via letters to Asia Minor and Europe; Gutenberg's press carried the Word through books written in the common language of the people. Radio enabled the Gospel to be taken to the ends of the world. And now, television: as the Chinese say, "A picture is worth a thousand words," and television, Graham writes, is the ideal medium to fulfill Christ's command that the Word should be proclaimed throughout the world. 

Graham relates how, during the 14 weeks in which his New York Crusade was televised Saturday nights on ABC, "scores and hundreds of people were brought to Christ and the church." One man, listening to the broadcast in a bar, "left his drink and ran to Madison Square Garden, where he took his place with those deciding for Christ." He then returned to the family from which he had been separated. A pharmacist 700 miles away locked up his store and traveled to New York; he's now studying for the ministry.

Television makes this evangelization possible, Graham says. In an era when the threat of Communism and its dedicated followers is omnipresent, it is only through a moral and spiritual awakening that the threat can be defeated. And Graham is convinced that "television, as the greatest means of communication, has a vast responsibility in the rekindling of spiritual values in the West." What more can you say to that besides "Amen"? TV  

November 26, 2021

Around the dial

Happy day-after-Thanksgiving to you all, and hopefully you've recovered from yesterday's tryptophan coma (which, as we all know, is just an urban legend). Classic television, of course, does not take time off for holidays, so we're back with a reduced, but still potent, trip around the dial.

We begin with Drunk TV (which is how some of you might feel today) and a look at the infamous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, which Paul assures us is "what today's world needs." Find out what's behind his thinking at this very special post.

At Cult TV Blog, John brings us to the insane humor of The Goodies, the 1970s Pythonesque comedy which John calls "stonking good television." We really are going to have to have a conversation someday about what I should be watching with my region-free DVD player.

RealWeegieMidget takes a look at "Cop Out," a first-season episode from Hart to Hart, with the late Markie Post in a guest-starring role. At MANC a few years ago I got to see Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers, who were as charming and witty as they are on TV. Just think: wealthy, good-looking, and smart: Nick and Nora Charles live!

Once Upon a Screen celebrates its tenth anniversary this week, and Aurora takes a look back at some of the blog's hits from the last decade. Take some time to read the highlights, and follow the links to read a lot of terrific writing.

As I'm writing this, I'm also watching Miracle on 34th Street, the greatest Christmas movie ever, which starts with the memorable image of a drunk Santa, portrayed by Percy Helton. At A Shroud of Thought, Terence takes a closer look at Helton's filmography, one loaded with noir and other dark roles.

And speaking of noir, don't miss The Last Drive In and 31 flavors of noir that are sure to draw you in. It may be the most wonderful time of the year, after all, but that doesn't mean everything needs to be merry and bright. TV  

November 24, 2021

Let's give thanks for Thanksgiving!

Some of you may know that we've been in the process of relocating, once again. During the lifespan of this blog, I've written from seven different homes, and this one makes it eight. There's an air of permanance about this one, and though I've said that before, this time I mean it. 

Anyway, everything's gone resoundingly well, for which we're quite thankful. And it's appropriate to feel that way, seeing as how tomorrow's Thanksgiving Day. It's one of my favorite holidays, second only to Christmas, filled with happy memories of parades, football, and food. Since last year's celebration was pretty much a fizzle (thanks to the virus and our politicians), there's a feeling that Thanksgiving is back this year, and given that we're not completely settled in yet, I hope you'll indulge me in a flashback to a couple of Thanksgivings ago

As we know, it's all too easy to take these kinds of things for granted; hopefully, you'll spend the day with family and friends, and take the meaning of the day to heart. 

l  l  l

t's been said that in New York, people refer to it as the "Macy's Day Parade," such is the identification the parade has with Thanksgiving. There are other, and older, Thanksgiving parades; Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Houston come to mind. And, if you ask me, the telecast of the Macy's parade has suffered over the years; the floats and bands and balloons almost seem to take second place to the pop stars and dancers lip-synching their way through Herald Square. If I wanted to torture myself that way, I'd watch the Grammys. (I don't know if MTV has music anymore, but if it does. . .) And with the current crew from Today doing the announcing, the parade sometimes becomes unwatchable.

But I come here not to bury the Macy's parade, but to praise it. No matter how bad the coverage may be (and whether you watch it on NBC or CBS, it's equally bad), I still have to catch a few minutes of it while flipping back and forth between the other parades. And when you strip away all that's annoying, it's still magically colorful. (Probably the best way to see it is to go to New York and view it from a point where the pop stars aren't warbling.) Take a trip through the years with the ads below, most of which have a prominent mention of the television coverage.

There was no TV for the first parade, though. I wonder if anyone thought it would last.

No parade was held between 1942 and 1944 due to the war. I'm guessing this might have been from the first year without the parade; having the balloons enlist is a clever way to make the point that everyone needs to sacrifice for the war effort.

This ad for the 1954 parade is just fun, don't you think? It sums up the magic of Thanksgiving and Christmas all in one. Believe it or not, the parade was first televised in 1946; you can see that by 1954, it's become an integral part of a company's advertising strategy.

The 1963 parade went on as scheduled, even thought it was six days after the assassination of President Kennedy, and the day after Lyndon Johnson's speech to a somber joint session of Congress. The rationale was to try and keep the day as normal as possible for children. All of the floats were adorned with black mourning streamers.

McDonald's was a sponsor of the telecast in 1965; it looks kind of like kids were supposed to color this in, doesn't it? And take a look at the vintage version of the Golden Arches at the bottom. Remember when all McDonald's looked that way?

An ad for the 1968 parade, from WRGB-TV in Albany, New York.

The 1982 parade; Bullwinkle is in the parade for the 22nd time, despite the fact that Rocky and Bullwinkle haven't been on network TV since 1964. The years may change, but the characters stay the same.

Garfield the cat appeared for the first time in the 1984 parade, as did Raggedy Ann, at least this incarnation. As the small print says, be sure to "See it live or on NBC-TV.!

Here's the poster for tomorrow's parade. It's filled with the iconic images from history; the Tom Turkey float (which from that angle inspires thoughts of the NBC Peacock—coincidence?), the elves, and, of course, Santa. And speaking of iconic, there's Snoopy in his space suit, throwing back to the famous image of him that became so popular around the 1969 moon landing. And notice the things you didn't see on the other posters: the web address and hashtag. 

Even though I complain about them, the parades are one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving. Thanks to those miracles of technology, you can see the Macy's parade, as well as those in other cities, via streaming video (in the case of Macy's, the cameras from other locations probably make for a better viewing experience). Whatever, wherever, and however you watch, I hope it lends to the pleasure of your day, and that you all have a peaceful and most thankful Thanksgiving Day! TV  

November 22, 2021

What's on TV? Tuesday, November 25, 1958

I don't know much about the history of Nebrasa television, other thank that glorious moment in 1975 when it turned out that NBC had spent upwards of $1 million to design a new logo that was, except for the colors, an exact duplicate of the sylized "N" that Nebraska public television used. It was tremendously embarrassing, and it served NBC right; they should never have gotten rid of the snake logo in the first place. Anyway, this week's edition covers the Nebraska/South Dakota/Iowa area, America's heartland.