November 27, 2013

Classic Playback: Happy Thanksgiving!

I've offered a few bonus pieces over the last week, so I think I'm entitled to an easy week. Below is a Thanksgiving piece from two years ago, in the first year of the blog. It's a nice cross-section of Thanksgiving programming from the 60s, and it's as good a way as I know to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. Back on Saturday with a brand-new TV Guide review!

Thanksgiving often seems like an underappreciated holiday, serving as little more than a warmup act for Christmas, and people seem eagar to get it out of the way so they can invade the stores in the dawn hours of Black Friday.  (Those stores that aren't actually open on Thanksgiving, that is.) . Back in the day, however, Turkey Day used to get a little more love.  And so this seemed to be a good reason (or at least a good excuse) to dip into the TV Guide archives for a look at Thanksgiving through the early 60s, as seen on TV.

This first picture below above is from Thanksgiving 1962.  Then, as now, the Thanksgiving Day Parade was a mainstay of both CBS and NBC.  As now, NBC was the network of the Macy's Parade, with longtime hosts Betty White and Lorne Greene.  CBS had the Macy's Parade too, but they also specialized in parades from around the country - the Gimbels' parade in Philadelphia (wonder why TVG gives this big press?  It's because their headquarters were in Pennsylvania) and the Hudson's parade in Detroit.  The department stores aren't around anymore, but both Philly and Detroit continue to celebrate the day with big parades. 

I always preferred the CBS coverage - Macy's was OK, but getting to see Detroit and Philadelphia (and later on Toronto's Santa Claus parade) made the day even bigger.  Back in the 60s Captain Kangaroo hosted the overall coverage from New York (William "Cannon" Conrad would perform the same function through much of the 70s), with CBS newsmen and celebrities alternating as hosts in the various cities.  Besides, seeing the Detroit parade would be an early tipoff to the weather for that morning's football game.

The next picture, also from 1962, is for the Pat Boone Thansgiving special.  Pretty good cast, although Peter, Paul & Mary seem a bit out of place.  Or perhaps Pat wasn't as much of a square as people thought. Notice the start time: 4:30 pm (Central time).  Doesn't seem likely any more that a network show would come on at that hour, not with the news saturation that local stations have today.

Here's another late afternoon special from 1961, with Al Hirt and a cast of thousands, or at least the popular singer Gordon MacRae, the opera star Patrice Munsel, and dancer Carol Haney.  "Home for the Holidays" - then, as now, Thanksgiving was the start of the Christmas season.  Notice that these ads prominently boast that the specials are "In Color!"

The holidays are always a time to bring back stars who haven't had regular series for several years.  Bonne was one, and the Old Redhead, Arthur Godfrey was another.  His 1963 Thanksgiving night special promises "a post-turkey pot of tea."  I imagine things were a bit muted that year, since JFK had been buried just three days previous.

Perry Como no longer had a weekly series in 1962, but his Kraft Music Hall appeared several times a year.  Since the show was always on Wednesday nights, his November special was always on Thanksgiving Eve.  (And that's exactly how it was described - putting Thanksgiving Eve on a par with Christmas Eve.)

Of course, you can't have Thanksgiving without football.  Look at how CBS advertises its game between the Colts and Lions in 1965:

I actually remember watching that game (I won't say how old I am now, but I was five back then).  The Colts and Lions battled to a 24-24 tie that pleased nobody.  Nowadays, I imagine the Lions would be pretty happy with that result.  And remember those Seagram's ads that used to appear with every major sporting event?  There were three games played that day; in addition to the Colts and Lions, the AFL game on NBC featured the Buffalo Bills and the San Diego Chargers, and ABC's college action was the traditional battle between Oklahoma and Nebraska.

It wasn't just television shows that advertised for Thansgiving - take a look at this ad for General Electric. I wonder how many families took advantage of the free heat 'n' serve baby dish for every baby born on November 28, 1963.  (Just think - that baby would be 50 today.)

Thanksgiving wasn't only a day, though - traditionally, it was one of the biggest television weeks of the season.  Check out the sidebar on the 1965 cover - from football to the Hallmark Hall of Fame, tributes to recently deceased Stan Laurel and Cole Porter, specials starring Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., a White House tour with Mrs. LBJ, and a James Bond documentary.  And this was before VCRs.
And this is just scratching the surface - for example, in 1962 the Bell Telephone Hour had special guest Carl Sandburg, the American poet and Lincoln biographer.  It seems to me that there truly was a sense that Thanksgiving was a time for the family to get together, and with a little of something for everyone there was no better way for quality family time than to sit in front of the television.


  1. CBS' broadcast of the 1965 Thanksgiving game in Detroit was the very first NFL game that network ever colorcast.

    In fact, I believe it was only the second time the network's first color remote truck was used. The first was a month earlier, when it was driven to Cape Canaveral for what would have been the launch of Gemini 6. But an unmanned target rocket which Gemini 6 would have met-up with and docked in orbit exploded on reaching orbit (the launch had been broadcast live and in color by CBS and the other networks).

    In December, Gemini 6 was finally launched, while Gemini 7 was in orbit on it's fourteen-day mission and met up (but could not dock) with the other manned capsule.

    After Thanksgiving, there were a couple of other regular-season NFL colorcasts on CBS, followed by color coverage of all postseason games.

    By contrast, all but a handful of American Football League games on NBC in 1965 were broadcast "In Living Color".

    1. Good stuff - I didn't know about the NFL/AFL info. (And of course I'm always a sucker for manned space minutiae.) Too bad there aren't more remnants of those color broadcasts.

  2. The reference to the "pot of tea" in Arthur Godfrey's 1963 Thanksgiving TV special was the fact that Lipton tea sponsored his radio shows (and probably sponsored this TV special as well).

    Since the TV Guide close-up indicated the show was on tape, it likely had been recorded before President Kennedy's assassination. However, it's possible that a day or two before the show aired, Godfrey might have taped a brief message that was played back at the start of the show noting the assassination and a brief thought.


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