November 23, 2013

This week in TV Guide: November 23, 1963

This week begins as last week ended, with all programming being cancelled in the wake of John Kennedy's assassination.

Minnesota was scheduled to take on Wisconsin on CBS' college football game of the week on Saturday; instead, TV viewers saw dignitaries arriving at the White House to view the President's body laying in repose in the East Room.  As they arrived, their shoes splashed in the water from the torrential downpour that soaked Washington that day.  The game was postponed to Thanksgiving Day, though it was not televised.

Instead of Glenn Ford and Red Buttons starring in Imitation General on NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies, NBC broadcast the latest news from Washington and Dallas, including reports that a receipt had been found for the mail order rifle used to kill Kennedy.  In the meantime, future Vice President Hubert Humphrey talked of Kennedy's legacy and Johnson's challenges, and replays of Johnson's work day were shown late into the night.

On Sunday, the American Football League cancelled its entire slate of games, while the National Football League carried on as scheduled, without TV coverage.  KMBC, the ABC affiliate, was supposed to show the game between the home town Chiefs and the New York Jets from the Polo Grounds, while just a few miles away the New York Giants were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals at Yankee Stadium, a game that would have been on CBS' affiliate.  NBC, without sports on Sunday afternoon, had scheduled a repeat of Gian Carlo Menotti's opera Labrynth, the story of a bride and groom searching for the key to life, on NBC Opera Theatre.  Nothing could have compared to what viewers actually saw: the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald in the Dallas City Jail, the solemn procession of the President's body from the White House to the U.S. Capitol, where it would lay in state in the Rotunda, the images of people filing past the casket while funereal music played in the background.  On CBS, rather than seeing a Grammy salute to "The Best on Record" with Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Henry Mancini and Bing Crosby*, viewers listened to Dan Rather, in Dallas, talking about the man who killed the man who killed Kennedy, Jack Ruby.

*And Vaughn Meader, whose JFK impression made the album The First Family an award-winning smash.  His career evaporated after that.  I don't know if "The Best on Record" was ever broadcast, but if so I would assume Meader's section was cut out.

On ABC, Edward P. Morgan is heard to comment to Howard K. Smith, "You keep thinking, Howard, that this is a dream from which you will awake - but you won't."  NBC aired a commemorative episode of the British satire program That Was The Week That Was, a tribute to Kennedy.

NBC continued to broadcast throughout the night, carrying the ghostly images to a nation unable to sleep. The pictures spoke for themselves; Hollis Wright, providing the overnight coverage, interrupted perhaps a dozen times in seven hours.

Monday there were no soaps; viewers of As the World Turns were left hanging from Friday's inadvertent cliffhanger.  The news was the funeral, the procession to Arlington National Cemetery, the burial, the diplomatic reception.  A memorial concert and recap of the weekend replaced Singin' in the Rain on NBC.  When it was all over, Walter Cronkite tried to sum up how "the way it was" would be different from here on.

"It is said that the human mind has a greater capacity for remembering the pleasant than the unpleasant. But today was a day that will live in memory and in grief. Only history can write the importance of this day: Were these dark days the harbingers of even blacker ones to come, or like the black before the dawn shall they lead to some still as yet indiscernible sunrise of understanding among men, that violent words, no matter what their origin or motivation, can lead only to violent deeds? This is the larger question that will be answered, in part, in the manner that a shaken civilization seeks the answers to the immediate question: Who, and most importantly what, was Lee Harvey Oswald? The world’s doubts must be put to rest. Tonight there will be few Americans who will go to bed without carrying with them the sense that somehow they have failed. If in the search of our conscience we find a new dedication to the American concepts that brook no political, sectional, religious or racial divisions, then maybe it may yet be possible to say that John Fitzgerald Kennedy did not die in vain. That’s the way it is, Monday, November 25, 1963."

I dare say that there are few who lived through those times, and the times that followed, who would not suggest that those four days were harbingers of blacker ones to come indeed.


After almost three years, Gene Barry is back on weekly television as Amos Burke, the millionaire captain of detectives in ABC's charming Burke's Law.  (Which I wrote about here.)  "I badly wanted to do comedy," Barry tells TV Guide's Arnold Hano.  "Drama is easy.  Heavy emotion is easy...I searched the scripts for the inherent comedy that can be found in almost any drama.  I searched for the twinkle. I knew that a look, a take, an ad lib, the lift of an eyebrow could change the tone of a serious sentence.  I read Burke's Law.  I envisioned the twinkle in it."

It's a great look at Barry*, but Hano's article also typifies the worst of a certain kind of passive-aggressive hatchet job that pops up in TV Guide during this period.  Hano describes Barry as a man with ego problems, one who worries about what people say and what they write.  Hano cites a scene where, while talking with Burke co-star Gary Conway, Barry "poked his head into the room and said: 'What is he saying about me?'" In another instance, while talking about the night club act he pursued while on hiatus from series television, Hano quotes Barry as saying, "I hate night clubs," followed by, "Maybe I shouldn't say that.  I work in night clubs."  And he has his detractors, such as an unnamed magazine writer who calls him "a supreme egotist," and an unnamed musician who describes him as an "egomaniac."

Gene Barry and Eileen O'Neill
*Unfortunately, the article doesn't mention Eileen O'Neill, who played Sgt. Gloria Ames, the most attractive desk sergeant in the Los Angeles police force - or any police force anywhere, I'd wager. Burke's Law was known for its "bevy of beauties," the big-name guest stars who appeared in each episode.  Eileen O'Neill doesn't have to take a backseat to any of them.  We'll rectify such an egregious oversight with this gratuitous picture of her with Gene Barry.

And that's the point: with the exception of writer Joan Crosby, none of the people speaking ill of Barry apparently have names.  They remind me of the anonymous actors who appear at the end of a long roll of movie credits, identified as "Tough Guy #2" or "Housewife."  While I can understand that people may sometimes want to speak off the record for various professional or personal reasons, the idea of smearing someone through anonymous innuendo has a smell about it, and it isn't good.

The same thing appears in Richard Gehman's attack piece on David Susskind, although at least Gehman is up front enough to admit that he's crossed paths, and swords, with Susskind in the past.  And Gehman, more than Hano, does name names, at least once in a while: Fred Coe, for example, talks with Gehman about Philco Playhouse.  According to "one man" - apparently, another of those nameless people who populate Hollywood and New York - "If you don't listen to David carefully, you get the idea he created Philco Playhouse.  But on the other hand, it's tough to listen to David carefully because he talks so much." However, Coe - who actually created the show - said that in fact he had suggested Susskind produce the show because Coe wanted to take some time off, and adds that he does not feel Susskind appropriated creative credit.

And so it goes.  A "lady who knows him" says he's sensitive about his height.  "Some that know him" think of him as a clown.  "Others" speak of his wordiness; "says one," Susskind "elongates" the language.  Someone whom Gehman describes as an "enemy" remarks about Susskind's comments that he is a voracious reader with the quote "I never saw him open a book."

Gehman describes his experience (as "a regretful participant") on Susskind's Open End program as perhaps among "the five worst panel shows ever seen."  He labels Susskind's interview with Nikita Khrushchev as "triumph of egotism."  And, to be sure, some of - perhaps most of - these criticisms are valid.  But if Gehman wants to do a hit piece on Susskind, or if Hano was turned off by Gene Barry, have the guts to say so up front.  I would expect this quality of writing from the present TV Guide, which has degenerated into little more than a glossy fan mag; from the TV Guide of the 1960s, which featured such incisive writers as Edith Efron, Malcolm Muggerage and Richard Doan, I would hope for better.


It is, hard to believe, Thanksgiving week. Despite all that had happened during the long, bleak week, the day came off pretty much as planned.  The parades went on, motivated in part by the desire to provide children with some fun and a sense of normalcy.  The Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers played to a 13-13 tie in their last annual Turkey Day contest.*  In the AFL, the Oakland Raiders defeated the Denver Broncos 26-10, while Texas, on their way to the national championship, edged Texas A&M 15-13.  Arthur Godfrey rounded out the Thanksgiving night with a special featuring Tony Bennett, Carol Lawrence, Shari Lewis and Liza Minelli.

*Though the two teams still play each other frequently on Thanksgiving, as they will this year.  It was said that after the previous year's game, in which the Lions had routed the previously undefeated Packers 26-14, Vince Lombardi was determined to end the Thanksgiving tradition, which dated back to 1951.


This issue is from Kansas City, and as was the case with last week's Southern California issue, we get to see some different things (besides channel numbers that don't quite match up to what a Minnesotan would expect) and unique images we don't ordinarily run across in Twin Cities editions

There's this ad for Blue Valley Federal Savings and Loan, for example, promising free snowman salt and pepper shakers for joining their Christmas Club.  Sadly, Blue Valley closed up shop in the 1990s, although I'll bet you might be able to find a pair of these shakers in an antique store somewhere.


The Kansas City Chiefs are the home team, one of the strongest in the fledgling AFL, and in their first season in KC after relocating from Dallas (where they'd won the championship the previous year, before finding out that the city wasn't big enough for both them and the Cowboys), and KCMO proudly carries the Hank Stram show every Saturday, with highlights from last week's game and a preview of the upcoming matchup.

KFEQ, in St. Joseph, MO has this ad for Operation Santa Claus, in which Santa appears in "live remotes" from the North Pole.  They were scheduled for November 25-27; I wonder if they were shown?


And then there are these great ads for RCA Victor color TVs.  ("RCA Victor IS color TV!")  In this era before big box stores, you could pick up a nice color TV at Sam's Bargain Town on Truman Road in Kansas City; there's an identical ad later in the issue for Tri-County Appliance in North Kansas City.  I don't think either one of them is around any more, although Sam's memory lives on - again, at an antique store.



A couple of incidental notes: among the many shows that were rescheduled was Friday's Route 66 episode entitled "I'm Here to Kill a King,"   Stephen Bowie ably covers how the assassination wreaked havoc on schedules, and explains why that particular episode of Route 66 was perhaps not the best one to air.  (Hint: it has to do with an assassination.)  There are other things about this issue, items that don't have any particular significance but just seem to stand out a little in retrospect, such as a documentary on the plot to kill Hitler on The Twentieth Century (Sunday afternoon, not shown), or a Pearl Harbor special entitled "Day of Infamy," coming on the heels of a brand new day of infamy.  A movie called The Last Woman on Earth appears with an ad picturing the mushroom cloud explosion of an atomic bomb.

It was a strange week indeed, which makes it a challenging one to write about.  So many things changed in those few days. TV  


  1. I looked up "The Best on Record" in the newspapers from the time, and found quite a lot of detail (starting with the fact that it was actually on NBC, not CBS).

    Yes, it was shown eventually, on Sunday, December 8. And ironically, it then replaced a documentary on the Bay of Pigs invasion fiasco, which was itself scrapped out of respect for Kennedy.

    They initially tried to get Shelley Berman to replace Vaughn Meader, but he went public with his refusal, as he felt that NBC was being unfair to Meader, whose act included much else beside his Kennedy impersonations. The replacement was finally Diahann Carroll, singing two songs from the Richard Rodgers musical No Strings.

    And finally, the broadcast was further jinxed when NBC News broke in several times with a flash of the Pan Am Flight 214 crash in Maryland (which killed all 81 on board).

  2. I am looking for an Afternoon Special which Bert Lahr starred in it playing a horse to a kid, it was on ABC on Thanksgiving Day November 28th 1963.

    1. Very belatedly:
      This special appeared on ABC on November 28, 1963.
      It was called The Cowboy and the Tiger: Jack Gilford played an escaped tiger from the Central Park Zoo, who passed himself off to a kid cowboy (Paul O'Keefe) as a horse.
      David Wayne was on-screen narrator and played most of the other parts.
      Bert Lahr wasn't in it.


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