May 17, 2014

This week in TV Guide: May 14, 1966

I've made this joke before, but it bears telling again: with Frank Sinatra on the cover, I didn't dare not pick it for this week's review.

Leslie Radditz' article, which accompanies Sinatra's acclaimed NBC special "A Man and His Music" on Sunday, looks at Sinatra at 50.  In many ways, Radditz notes, Sinatra "seems to be reaching new peaks."  He complains about not getting enough sleep, about his current Vegas gig being about two weeks too long, about lousy service in the hotel dining room.  But then, when he gets onstage - well, as Radditz says, "the old excitement is there."  Comments from women in the audience bear this out: "It's the eyeball-to-eyeball contact that gets me," one says.  "I"ll bet there isn't a place in that room where you wouldn't feel he was looking at you."  Adds another, "His animal attraction is amazing."

Sunday's Sinatra special, which originally aired the previous November, bears it out.  It's just an hour of Frank singing - no skits, no forced banter, just Sinatra, with two of his best collaborators, Gordon Jenkins and Nelson Riddle, providing the orchestral backing.  The show's available on DVD, and if you're a Sinatra fan you need to have it.  Looking through some of the songs is like reading the notes on a Greatest Hits album: "I've Got You Under My Skin," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "It Was a Very Good Year," "Young at Heart," "Come Fly with Me," "Lady is a Tramp," "You Make Me Feel So Young," "One For My Baby."  He closes the show with his longtime theme, "Put Your Dreams Away."  "My Way" and "New York, New York"?  He hasn't even recorded those yet.  Yes, Frank Sinatra still has some very good years ahead of him.

Here's a sample of Frank at work:


No Hollywood Palace this week, preempted by a "Holiday on Ice" show hosted by Milton Berle.  However, that doesn't mean we don't have some variety for you.  Sullivan himself has a reasonably good lineup, headlined by Alan King, Kate Smith, and dancer Peter Gennero.  Frank's Rat Pack pal Dean Martin, on NBC Thursday night, has singers Gisele MacKenzie, Tommy Sands and the McGuire Sisters, comedian Jack Carter, and Sherri Lewis and Lamb Chop.  Red Skelton's Tuesday CBS show features Petula Clark, who was so big back in the early 60s that she's on twice this week - she's also a co-headliner on NBC's Best on Record program, airing Monday night and featuring performances by winners from March's Grammy Awards.

That show in and of itself is interesting.  The listing for it reads "The annual Grammy awards are presented," and mentions that Dinah Shore will be giving the Golden Achievement award to Duke Ellington.  But we know it isn't the awards show itself - that was on March 15, in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Nashville.  So what gives?  Well, believe it or not, the Grammy award ceremony wasn't broadcast live on TV until 1971 - prior to that, a series of annual specials - Best on Record - showcased the winners in the major categories, performing their winning tunes.  It wasn't about the competition; who knows whether or not they named the losing nominees on the show?  It was all about the music.  And in that sense, it's no different than the Grammys today.  Nobody really turns on the show to see the lame jokes from the presenters, the envelope opened, the four losers on screen while the winner tearfully accepts the award.  No - people want the performances, and that's what this show gives them.  Maybe they should consider this format every year?


If you're a sports fan, there's not much to look forward to this week.  The Dodgers and Pirates meet in NBC's Saturday Game of the Week, and the Twins take on the Yankees in a local broadcast Friday night on Channel 11.  Otherwise you've got swimming, wrestling, bowling, ice-dancing and hydroplane races to look forward to.  Oh, and Sam Snead offers tips on how to avoid sand traps.  Many of the weekly series have started the rerun season, so there's not a lot new there either.  Even the week's biggest show (except for Frank, that is) comes up a cropper.

That's the scheduled launch of Gemini IX, which was slated to take off on Tuesday morning as the second-half of a space doubleheader.  The day was to begin with the launch of an Atlas-Agena target vehicle, followed a little over 90 minutes later by the Gemini launch.  The Gemini, manned by Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan, would then catch up with, rendezvous and dock with the Agena, a crucial component that had to be understood and mastered prior to the forthcoming Apollo flights.

However, as you can see here, the launch of the Agena didn't exactly come off as planned; Mission Control lost contact with the vehicle after the Atlas booster failed, and the Agena plunged into the Atlantic.  The Gemini flight was postponed until the following month, when a replacement vehicle was launched.  Gemini IX finally took off on June 3, and while it didn't quite come off without a hitch, it was still a success.


A show I might have watched if I'd been older is on NBC Thursday night: A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the White House, featuring Jack Paar and Tom Lehrer, along with clips of political humor from JFK, FDR, Adlai Stevenson (the author of the quote used as the program's title) and others.  Gifted as some of the show's humorists are, I doubt the program rose to the level of political humor of Mark Russell's political satires.  It's also a bit like showing a history of great home run hitters that was made just before Hank Aaron comes on the scene (or Barry Bonds, if you prefer).  A documentary about political humor that doesn't include Ronald Reagan can't help but be incomplete.


And now for some British television.

First is Cleveland Amory's review of ABC's The Avengers.  As I recounted last week, it apparently took the British public a while to figure out that The Avengers was a satire, but with the passage of a couple of years, Amory has no such problem - "Each of the episodes we've seen has involved not only individual satires of the old days, but also general satires of modern life."  He likes the show, although he adds that it's "so British you don't have to be British to understand it - but it helps."  I don't really buy that; after all, we appear to have figured out the satire before the Brits.  But he's absolutely on with his take of Diana Rigg, whom he describes as "both pretty and good."

And then there's Robert Musel's (yes, this one's for you, Mike Doran!) profile of "the incorruptible" Patrick McGoohan, star of the decidedly more serious Danger Man or, as it's known in these parts, Secret Agent.  McGoohan hasn't yet ventured into what will become his most famous role, that of Number Six in The Prisoner, but it's not hard to see the genesis of that show as he riffs on his television philosophy.  "Every real hero since Jesus Christ has been moral," he says, a statement that will come as absolutely no surprise to those who've noticed the occasional Messianic parallel in Number Six's actions.  He adds that he will not let John Drake, his character in Danger Man*, do anything he would not do himself.

*And, perhaps, alter ego of Number Six?

McGoohan's a man who knows what he believes in and isn't afraid to say so.  "When I first started the series," he tells Musel, "they wanted me to carry a gun and have an affair with a different girl in each episode.  I wasn't going to do that. I simply will not appear in anything offensive.  I won't accept bad language or eroticism."  That doesn't mean he's against romance on screen; "Romance is the finest for of entertainment...It's something you create in the mind of the viewer."  Rather, it's his philosophy toward television itself, and its responsibility to the viewer.  "What I object to is promiscuous sex which is anti-romance.  Television is watched by so many people, children and grandmothers among them, that it has a moral obligation to its audience."

McGoohan's a demanding man to work with, but "generally liked by his crew because they recognize him as a professional who could, if he had to, light a set or edit a film or even design a production."  I suspect it also doesn't hurt that he has a clear idea of what he wants in a series.  All in all, we get a picture of a man with an ego, a man with vision and the determination to bring it to fruition, a man with a pure artistic integrity.  It's hard not to respect a man like that.


Another of the fashion spreads that TV Guide features from time to time, and this week our model is Joan Hackett.  Hackett, a woman of unconventional beauty, has had a pretty good career, winning awards for her work on stage and showing up regularly on a variety of movies and television shows and series.  This article has nothing to do with that, of course; for TV Guide, Hackett makes a perfect model for the English-styled fashions popularized by the ultra-chic New York shop Paraphernalia.


The store, which opened multiple locations and remained around in one form or another until the late 70s, is quite a story itself.  As for Hackett, her career continues on the upswing, with critical plaudits for the TV adaptation of Mourning Becomes Electra followed by Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for her work in her last movie, Only When I Laugh; in 1983 she will die of ovarian cancer.


That seems like kind of a down note to end on, so let's take a look at a movie that sounds so awful, you have to smile at it.  It's 1958's Attack of the Puppet People, starring John Hoyt and John Agar (Shirley Temple's first husband; how far we've fallen since then, hmm?), and I swear to you that this is the real description of the movie, which airs on Channel 5 at 12:45am on Saturday night/Sunday morning:  "A toymaker carries his occupation to an extreme.  He shrinks people and locks them in a dollhouse."

Shockingly, the always-reliable Wikipedia says that the movie, which was shot under the working title The Fantastic Puppet People,  "has had a generally poor reception amongst critics."  It was rushed into production to capitalize on the recent popularity of The Incredible Shrinking Man, but something tells me that no amount of time would have helped this flick out. Perhaps it makes more sense with three silhouettes on the bottom of the screen. TV  


  1. Starting at the bottom ...

    I've always had a sneaking fondness for the Cinema of Bert I. Gordon, aka Mr. B.I.G.

    When he landed at American-International Pictures circa 1957/58, Mr. B.I.G. made in quick succession The Amazing Colossal Man, Earth Vs. The Spider, and Attack Of The Puppet People. Internal evidence suggests that these three pix were shot, if not simultaneously, at least tightly consecutively.

    B.I.G., like so many low-end moviemakers, drew many of his actors from those just under star status (like John Hoyt) and those who'd just missed the brass ring (like John Agar). This practice extended throughout B.I.G.'s directing career, through to the '70s and '80s.

    The true significance of Puppet People is that it marked the screen acting debut of Susan Gordon, probably the best child actress of her generation - and, by coincidence, Bert I. Gordon's daughter.
    Dad may have started her out, but Susan Gordon had a pretty successful career away from him, mainly on TV, in series like Route 66, Going My Way, Alfred Hitchcock, et al.
    Her best-remembered TV spot may be a Twilight Zone titled "The Fugitive", which paired her off with the wonderful J. Pat O'Malley; I never miss it when it pops up.
    Susan Gordon also made a number of features, best of which may have been The Five Pennies, in which she played Danny Kaye's daughter as a little girl (giving way to Tuesday Weld late in the picture). She also turned up in some of her dad's later pix; the last one she did, as a teenager, was Picture Mommy Dead with Zsa Zsa Gabor, Martha Hyer, and Don Ameche (see above note about casting).
    After that, Susan Gordon went to schools all around the world, ultimately becoming a teacher herself. She spent many years in Japan, teaching American children whose parents were working there. She also got married and became the mother of six.
    When Susan Gordon returned to the USA in the '90s, she hit the nostalgia show circuit, often with her dad, Mr. B.I.G. himself; she was delighted to find that she still had fans who loved her childhood work. I saw the Gordons at a show in Chicago once; even at 60 she was still cute as all get out.
    Sadly, Susan Gordon passed away only a couple of years later, aged 62 (cancer) - two years younger than I am now *sigh*.

    Boy, when I digress, I digress.

    I'm still working The Lost Month now and then; I hope somebody's reading those ...

    1. Hey Mike, I'm writing this from work, so my mind may not be thinking the right way. Refresh me on where The Lost Month is?


      My "retirement" was imposed on me in mid-March; at that point I lost access to the Internet.
      It wasn't until mid=April, give or take a week or thereabouts, that I finally got my own confuser here in my condo, which I'm still trying to figure out.
      I don't spend that much time at the oedipusrexing thing; I've been trying to catch up with a whole bunch of other sites that I visited regularly, and it's been hit-and-miss all the way.
      I follow my standard practice of only commenting when I feel I actually have something unusual to contribute.
      I'll just mention here (again) that I can't seem to get my E-mail working right ( or at all), so I can't access those offline queries you have for me *sorry about that*.

    3. That's right - thanks for the refresher. Now I know what you mean. Been late in making any comments of my own on those - my bad - but I'm catching up as well!


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!