April 11, 2015

This week in TV Guide: April 8, 1961

Just as Westerns dominated television in the '50s and early '60s, dramas and action shows set during World War II were successful up to the late '60s, when they began to morph into allegorical tales related to Vietnam.  From lesser-known series such as The Silent Service to sitcoms Hogan's Heroes and McHale's Navy to successful dramas like The Gallent Men, Twelve O'Clock High, The Rat Patrol and, probably the most successful of them all, Combat!, series set in World War II were part of the television landscape.  They had a ready audience in those WWII vets who could recognize in the stories, the settings and the equipment some of the experiences they had undergone during the war.  In April 1961, we were just less than 16 years from the end of that war, and it was still a vivid part of the memories of many people.  In other words, in one way or another, most adults knew what it was all about - they had lived through it.

That's one of the reasons why the event that began on April 11, 1961 was so important to so many people, and why it still struck a chord deep in the heart.  For it is on that date that one of the final acts of World War II begins to play out: the war crimes trial, in Jerusalem, of Adolf Eichmann.  And unlike the war, this will play out, live, on television sets throughout the world.

Adolf Eichmann was one of the architects of the "Final Solution," a man who had organized and facilitated the internment and execution of Jews in the extermination camps.  He had been captured by the Mossad in Argentina in 1960, and now, in the biggest war crimes trial since Nuremberg, he is about to go on trial for his life: charged with "crimes against humanity," "crimes against the Jewish people," and "war crimes," including "robbery, enslavement, sterilization and the murder of millions by bullets, poison gas, torture, starvation and disease."

This week TV Guide highlights television coverage of preparations for the trial.  A picture shows the stark setting, the Jerusalem Cultural Center.  On the dais sit three chairs, for the judges that will determine Eichmann's guilt or innocence.  To their left is the famed bullet-proof glass booth in which Eichmann will remain for the duration of the trial.  As Euan Ferguson recounts in this article on the trial, the challenges facing the production crew are daunting, from the fact that Israel didn't yet even have a television service, to the refusal of the trial judges to allow the hot and noisy cameras in the courtroom.  (Producer Milton Fruchtman gets around this prohibition "by half-unbricking the walls of the court and hiding the cameras inside, then employing an ingenious trompe-l’oeil system involving reflective white paint and chicken wire.")  Hired as the director is Leo Hurwitz, who had been blacklisted in the '50s.  Thirty-seven countries carry the trial; in the United States, tapes were flown overnight for next-day availability.  Capital Cities Broadcasting Corporation, which would go on to purchase ABC and ESPN, is the exclusive rights holder.

The trial lasts until August, with the three-judge panel rendering its verdict in December: guilty on most of the charges (although not guilty of having personally killed anyone himself).  He was sentenced to death on December 15, and after the appeals process had run its course was executed on June 1, 1962.

For many years, we have been warned that the Holocaust could happen again, some day, and it seems as if every few weeks we see something on the news that reminds us of how real a threat this is.  In his article, Euan Ferguson writes that for 15 years after the end of World War II, the Holocaust was "essentially disbelieved," at least as far as the sheer enormity of it.  The trial of Eichmann, held when the memory of World War II was still alive, brings the brutality and ugliness, the evil of it all, right into the living room - to an audience that, as I mentioned earlier, did not see it as ancient history.  For them, the reality of the war, and the scars, are still there.  The Eichmann trial would rip them open, providing perhaps the denouement to a drama that had started so many years before.

Here is an excerpt from the opening session of the trial as it happened.  It sounds almost trite to comment on the incredible clarity of the videotape; at least one source says that this was the first trial ever to be televised.

Below is a portion of a documentary on the trial, which provides background and commentary as well as giving us a further look at the proceedings in the courtroom.


Controversy about whether or not to run adult content on television during hours when children might be watching is nothing new.  What is new, or at least evolving, is our definition of "adult content," what is or is not suitable for children to watch.

Take this letter from Mrs. Leslie Franklin of Richmond, California, who complains about daytime commercials:

Please! can't [sic] something be done to stop the daytime television commercials of horror movies that are showing at local theaters?  These advertisements show more horror, violence and frightening things than all Westerns or mysteries put together.  And, naturally, these previews are shown during the hours when small children are watching.

Doubtless the content of these commercials - or the movies themselves, for that matter - are nothing as compared to what appears on television today.  I wonder what some of those movies might have been?  The always-reliable Wikipedia gives us an idea of some of the horror movies from 1961: Doctor Blood's Coffin, Creature from the Haunted Sea, The Mask, Shadow of the Cat.  A couple of movies actually have some credibility: Roger Corman's The Pit and the Pendulum, starring Vincent Price, and Jack Clayton's The Innocents, with Deborah Kerr.  Here's the trailer for Pit and the Pendulum, which probably would have provided the material for the commercial:

On the other hand, here's the trailer for Curse of the Werewolf:

As someone once said, text without context is pretext.  While we might think these movies are pretty tepid (if not laughable) today, the problem of juvenile delinquency was at the head of the class in the late '50s, and movies like this would have been viewed with extreme suspicion.  But then, considering the anything goes nature of our culture today, it's no surprise that we see far, far worse then this on TV today, even networks that include the word "Family" in their titles.


Tuesday is a milestone in the history of Minnesota sports.  At 12:55pm CT on Channel 11, the Minnesota Twins take the field for the first regular season game in their history.  Minnesota's original major league professional team, formerly the Washington Senators, opens the season in New York against the defending American League champion Yankees.  The Twins win that first game, as they do their next game three days later against Baltimore.  Next week's home opener against the new Washington Senators - the first major league game played in Minnesota - will also be on Channel 11.

Channel 11 has plans to televise 50 Twins games, 45 on the road and five at home.  Interestingly, TV Guide notes that aside from the World Series, these will be the only major league games seen on TV in the Twin Cities.  Currently, the Saturday Game of the Week is on CBS with a handful of prime-time games on ABC, and the Series is on NBC.  However, the television rules of the day call for any network game to be blacked out in major league markets.  Frankly, depending on how good your team is, you might be better off without one - the national games could be superior.  Minnesota, for example, was home to the farm team of the New York/San Francisco Giants, which made the area National League territory.  Having only American League games to choose from must have been a change.

That's not the only sports on television this week, of course.  Saturday and Sunday CBS is back with the third and fourth-round coverage of The Masters.  I wrote about a previous Masters weekend last week; this week's coverage is pretty much the same.  Sunday's coverage is wiped out due to rain; if you're able to see Monday's broadcast, you'll see Gary Player become the first foreign-born player to win.

The weekend also sees coverage of the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and St. Louis Hawks.  It's a rare case of back-to-back games - since NBC doesn't broadcast games during the week, the teams play both Saturday and Sunday in order to maximize coverage.  The teams split the two games, played in St. Louis, and the Celtics wind up wining the series in five, for yet another championship.


What else is on this week?

There's a game show on ABC Monday afternoon called About Faces, starring Ben Alexander.  We know Alexander primarily as Sgt. Frank Smith on the original TV Dragnet.  When I first read this listing to my wife, she was incredulous.  What was Joe Friday's sidekick doing hosting a game show?  I agree, it doesn't seem right, but here it is:

On Tuesday, NBC presents its second status report on JFK's presidency.  I wonder if this commitment to the Kennedy White House is a function of the President's charisma, the bond he has with newsmen, or just the new medium being able to cover a new presidency in a way they've been unable to in the past?  Also, my alma mater, Hamline University, airs its weekly Hamline College Hour at 8:30pm on Channel 2.  Despite the title, the show's only 30 minutes.  I don't know what that says about the quality of the school.

Wednesday night there's a program on the educational station, Channel 2, entitled Astronomy.  Tonight's episode: "Superior Planets."  As opposed to inferior ones?  I mean, I've always had a soft spot for Pluto, but man, Neptune is just a slacker planet...

On Thursday, CBS Reports commemorates the 100th anniversary of the start of the Civil War with a visit by famed Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg to Gettysburg, site of Lincoln's famed address.  Up against that, NBC has Groucho Marx's You Bet Your Life, and you'd have to understand the absurdity of Groucho's humor to appreciate tonight's episode: the finals of the "Mrs. Housing Development" contest.

More baseball on Friday, as the Twins travel to Baltimore to take on the Orioles.  It's interesting; the Orioles themselves have been in Baltimore less than 10 years, having moved there from St. Louis, where they were the Browns.  Neither the Browns nor the Senators had had much success in their previous homes, yet by the end of the decade each will have appeared in a World Series, and the two teams will be fierce rivals heading into 1970.

Finally, there's the celebrity profile show Here's Hollywood, which NBC aired late afternoons in the early '60s.  In today's episode, co-host Joanne Jordan interviews Joan Crawford's daughter Christina about "her childhood impressions of Hollywood."  I wonder if she brought up wire hangers? TV  

1 comment:

  1. Any TV work Ben Alexander did--from DRAGNET to ABOUT FACES to THE FELONY SQUAD--was a sideline. He had a business degree and a string of successful enterprises, ranging from car dealerships to mortuaries.


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