December 17, 2013

A week in the life: the Moore family of Minneapolis, 1961

Although some of the TV Guides I peruse each week were mine to begin with (bought at the grocery store or through a long-held subscription), most of them were at one time someone else's - purchased from flea markets, antique stores or eBay auctions. And every once in a while I’ll run across one, such as this week’s edition, where the previous owners have given us some idea of their viewing habits.  According to the subscription label, this issue was originally owned by F.W. Moore of Minneapolis.  Thoughtfully, Mr. (and/or Mrs.) Moore left us small markings next to some of the programs, and from this we can deduce the following:

The Moores either weren’t home during the day on Saturday, or they were busy and not watching television. The first carat appears at 6:30 Saturday evening, next to that night’s episode of Perry Mason (“The Case of the Unwelcome Bride”) on Channel 4. They apparently kept the dial on 4 for the next program, The Defenders (“The Prowler”) at 7:30.   It's another hour drama, but they might only have watched a half-hour*, because at 8:00 they’re scheduled javascript:void(0);to turn to Channel 9 for Lawrence Welk.   However, it’s back to Channel 4 at 9:00 for Gunsmoke.  Following the end of prime time, the Moores switched to Channel 5, the NBC affiliate, for the local news and weather.  That’s the last notation for the evening – the Welk program suggests they may have been older folks who went to bed after the late news, or perhaps read, or who knows what.

*Or, they might have had two televisions.  We’ll see if there’s any evidence of that as we go along.

Nothing at all for Sunday or Monday.  Could I be barking up the wrong tree with this experiment?  No, wait, here they are, back on Tuesday.  It looks as if it’s Mrs. Moore, watching her afternoon stories - The Secret Storm at 3:15 and The Edge of Night at 3:30.  Then, silence – until 8:00pm, when it’s the Dick Powell Theatre on Channel 5.  Powell hosted the show until he died a little over a year after this show was aired, and he starred in several of them, but not this one.  It's "The Fifth Caller,"a sinister murder mystery with Michael Rennie, Eva Gabor and Elsa Lanchester.  I like Michael Rennie, but I wonder if he's the bad guy in this one? He's playing a policeman, but could be he's using that to disguise his involvement in the crime.  Then at 9 it’s to Channel 4 and Garry Moore’s Christmas program, with Julie Andrews and Gwen Verdon.  The local news is back on Channel 5 to end the evening.

I’m getting concerned that the Moores didn’t watch much television, but it reminds me that someone once wrote that back in the day, people didn't just have the TV on - they turned it on to watch specific programs; otherwise they left it off.  They might have been doing exotic things when the set was off, like reading.

Wednesday - ah, we're hitting our stride here.  More soaps - Love of Life at 11, Search for Tomorrow at 11:30, and Guiding Light at 11:45, all CBS shows.  Nothing then until 3:15, when it's Secret Storm and Edge of Night again, followed by another long gap to evening.  Then it's Perry Como with his Christmas show at 8pm.  Como was famous for doing Christmas shows from around the world (Ireland, the Holy Land, Hawaii), but this is while Perry still has his regular weekly series, and so this is just another episode, with Tom Tichenor and his Puppets (currently appearing on Broadway in "Carnival"), and 14 teen-aged pianists. Most of it is Perry singing, and reading the Christmas story to the children of the production staff. There was a lot of that on TV in those days, reading the Gospel of St. Luke.  Good luck finding anything like that now - they don't even call them "Christmas" shows for fear of offending someone.  Nothing after that until the Channel 5 news at 10.

Thursday has the same daytime lineup, regular viewing.  Things pick up at 7, when Channel 4 presents a local program, Dr. Reuben K. Youngdahl in "The World and It's People," a half-hour of slides of the Rev. Dr. Youngdahl's trip to the Holy Land.  Reuben Youngdahl was a fixture on Channel 4 over the years; he had a ten-minute show on every morning called Live Today, with a book to match.  He was the pastor of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, the largest Lutheran church in the world.  When he died his son took over, and as far as I know a Youngdahl still runs Mount Olivet.  We used to drive past it frequently - it's as big as you'd think the largest Lutheran church in the world would be.

Things get interesting after that - at 7:30 there's a mark next to Dr. Kildare ("Season to be Jolly," Channel 5), but there's also one next to The Real McCoys ("The Diamond Ring," Channel 9).  Could this be evidence of a two-TV household?  Or was it simply a case of finding out who got to the dial first?  Kildare was an hour show, while McCoys was a half-hour sitcom, so perhaps the Doc won out, since at 8:30 the TV's back on Channel 5 for Hazel ("Hazel's Christmas Shopping"), and stays there at 9 for Sing Along With Mitch's Christmas show.  Since it's December 21 it's not surprising that every one of these series has a Christmas episode - I wonder if any of them are on one of those DVDs with collections of Christmas episodes. Channel 5 news at 10, as usual.

Soaps on Friday - we know.  Friday night kicks off at 6:30 on Channel 5 with International Showtime, a series hosted by former movie star Don Amache in which each week he visits another international circus. You wonder how much appeal a series like that would have, but it was enough to carry it for four seasons. Four seasons of circuses.  Stay tuned to Channel 5 at 7:30 for Robert Taylor's Detectives ("The Queen of Craven Point," with *sigh* Lola Albright).  And then - nothing save the 10pm news.  I wonder if they didn't leave it on Channel 5, since that was where the news was; if they had, they'd have seen the live broadcast of of Bell Telephone Hour's Christmas show, with Jane Wyatt in her traditional Yuletide hostess role, joined by singers John Raitt and Jane Morgan, the Lennon Sisters, opera singer Lisa Della Casa, ballet dancers Violette Verdy and Edward Villella, and the Schola Cantorum.  Jane reads the Nativity from St. Luke, as well as the famous "Yes, Virginia" letter.  I'd have watched that, and maybe I did.  I was only one at the time, though, so you can't blame me for not remembering.

And there you have it - one full week of scheduled television watching in the Moore household.  Based on some of their program selections, such as Lawrence Welk, Sing Along With Mitch, and Dr. Youngdahl, I think this was likely an older family.  They don't appear to have been sports fans, since for all the college and pro football on the weekend, none of them were marked.  There was probably brand loyalty in their viewing; Channel 5 was the local news of choice, and the number of weekly series they'd marked suggests they were regular viewers of a select number of shows. Mr. Moore probably worked a job, while Mrs. Moore kept the home and watched soaps. The nightly viewing was split between CBS and NBC, with only Walter Brennan's The Real McCoys on ABC.  As befits the pre-remote era, there wasn't a lot of channel-switching.

All in all, it's been a fascinating experiment.  Some of the shows they watched, such as Perry Mason, are part of my DVD collection, and their overall choices indicate solid, Middle-American, middlebrow tastes.  It really does give us a slice of life - at least one household's life - at the end of 1961.  Perhaps we'll run across another issue like this someday. TV  

1 comment:

  1. This will be brief, as I don't have this particular week's TV Guide in my collection.

    I did notice the mention of Tom Tichenor's puppets appearing on Perry Como's show, and it reminded me of something ...
    As noted, The Tichenor puppets were appearing on Broadway in the musical Carnival, which was based on the old Leslie Caron movie Lili.

    At this same time, they were also making semi-regular appearances on Shari Lewis's Saturday morning show, together with the handsome young actor who played the shy puppetteer in Carnival - Jerry Orbach.
    It's well-known that Orbach provided the voices for the puppets on stage, and on Shari Lewis's show; check your issues for '60 -"62 and you'll see him credited as such.
    This makes me wonder why he would not be also so credited for the Como show - and if not, why not.
    Of course, this could be nothing more than an inadvertent omission on part of the logline writer - Orbach was a star on stage, but hadn't broken through anywhere else yet (and wouldn't, really, until he embraced TV fully, years later).

    All of the above is speculation, nothing more. If the Como show still exists anywhere, maybe we could see Jerry Orbach getting a mention (or maybe even more) ...
    Anyway, I thought I'd pass that along, for whatever it's worth.


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