December 19, 2015

This week in TV Guide: December 19, 1964

We've finally come to Christmas week, even though the big day still seems a little far away. One of the things about the series of 1964 issues we're looking at is that they mimic this year's calendar, which means the payoff to the Christmas issue comes at the end of the week, the day before my review of the next issue comes online.

In the meantime, we'll see the full range of Christmas episodes and specials playing out: so many of them, we'll spend the entire second half of today's piece looking at them all. But first, a quick rundown on the rest of this week's features.

Edith Efron profiles Nancy Ames, the "TW3 Girl" from NBC's lame attempt to copy the success of the British series That Was the Week That Was. Now, I know some of you will probably write in and tell me how the American TW3 actually had cutting edge satire but was neutered by the network, things like that. There's some truth to that; Ames herself complains that the network prevents the cast from doing "more biting things,"a claim that producer Leland Hayward denies. Ames herself sounds like she might be more trouble than she's worth; an unnamed colleague (Henry Morgan, perhaps, or Buck Henry?) calls her "emotionally erratic," and even a friend remarks that whereas some people have a particular outstanding quality to them, "Nancy doesn't have a high specificness." She nurses a grudge against the Catholic Church for its stand on divorce (she'd been married twice at the time of this writing, and has since married at least twice more), had a split with her family, and - well, you get the point. That Was the Week That Was is from a time when satire was just starting to make its mark on television, and in the media in general, when there was something still considered a little gauche, a little radical, about criticizing our national institutions. This kind of discussion must seem terribly naive nowadays.


During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Sullivan: Scheduled guests are singer Jack Jones; the comedy team of Allen and Rossi; Sandu Scott and the Scotties, vocal-instrumental group; comic Charlie Manna; the Woodstock (MD) Jesuit Singers; and the Kossmayer trick mule. On tape: Topo Gigio, the Italian mouse; John the Danish Wonder, balancer; and Victor Julian's dog act.

Palace: Dancer Donald O'Conner introduces actress-singer Jane Powell; jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong; the Vienna Boys Choir; Cliff "Charley Weaver" Arquette; comedian Norman Crosby; and the Hanneford Family's trained horse act.

The Palace has been on quite a roll lately, and this week is no exception. Short and sweet: Louis Armstrong. Do you really need anything more? But if you want it, there's Jane Powell, Charley Weaver, Norm Crosby, and for a Yuletide touch, the Vienna Choir Boys (which is what they're really called). Where's Bing, you ask?  Over on Monday, on his own series, with his TV family. It's three in three weeks for the Palace.


It's not easy reviewing a series based on a book written by a late President of the United States, but that's Cleveland Amory's task this week, as he reviews Profiles in Courage, the anthology series taken from the book by John F. Kennedy. Amory has no difficulty pronouncing his verdict though: Profiles in Courage "is a magnificent series, and if you haven't been seeing it, you are missing some of the finest thinking and feeling available on your screen this year."

The series consists of biographies, or profiles, of men and women whose acts, large and small, demonstrated heroic displays of courage in the face of popular opposition or seemingly insurmountable odds. Several profiles have been added to those which appeared in Kennedy's Pulitzer-winning book, all of which were added with the late President's approval. Each episode, Amory notes, concludes with a voiceover of Kennedy's own words, "The stories of past courage can . . . teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul." Wise words indeed.

What distinguishes this series from others of an inspirational bent, according to Amory, is that the stories are underplayed, almost documentary in nature - in "powerful contrast to so many other overblown, skinny-dip sagas." In particular, Amory praises the episode "Mary S. McDowell," the anitwar Quaker schoolteacher in World War I. McDowell is played by Rosemary Harris, in a performance which Amory describes as quietly brilliant, almost matched by supporting actors Albert Salmi, Ralph Williams and Frances Sternhagen. He also likes "Richard T. Ely," the story of a professor accused in 1894 of teaching socialism. As the story plays out, Amory wonders "Was it 1894 or 1964?"

The acting and writing in Profiles is uniformly excellent, and Amory has but one question remaining: will the networks get the message, "which is that there is room in television for dramas - and documentaries too - about ideas that are not necessarily popular. We don't always have to agree with what's being said and done on the screen to enjoy and perhaps learn from it."


The college football bowl seasons begins on Saturday with the Liberty Bowl, broadcast from Atlantic City, New Jersey at 11:30am (CT) on ABC. The game, between West Virginia and Utah, is a historic first, "the first network telecast of an indoor football game," played in the Atlantic City Convention Center, better known as the home of the Miss America pageant. Here's a look at how this unusual arrangement played out:

The week ends with a Christmas Day all-star game, the 19th annual North-South Shrine Game from the Orange Bowl in Miami. I remember this game - well, not this particular game, but the Shrine Game itself. It was never a big game; after all, all the best teams were playing in bowl games around New Year's Day. It was something to watch, though, if you wanted football on Christmas Day, while you were playing with your new toys, some of them having to do with football.

I've made this point before, that whereas there are 40 bowl games this year, there were only nine in 1964, and so besides the Liberty Bowl, there's only one game this week, the Bluebonnet Bowl from Houston, pitting Mississippi and Tulsa, and following the Liberty Bowl Saturday afternoon on ABC.


Well, if you've got a Christmas show to broadcast, you'd better do it now, that's all I've got to say.  Here goes.

Saturday: On NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies, it's the Irving Berlin classic White Christmas, starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. Have I ever mentioned to you my theory of how the match between Bing and Rosey is doomed to ultimate failure because of her issues regarding trust and communication? My wife hates it when I start in on that, although she agrees with me on it, because I usually do it while the movie is on. What does that say about me? That I'd love to see this movie on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The movie overlaps with the last half hour of Lawrence Welk's family Christmas show on ABC. The Maestro was never afraid of mixing the sacred with the popular, as "O Holy Night" and "Ave Maria" show. They also perform "White Christmas," and if I were ABC, I would have stressed to them not to do it until the end of the show, so as not to remind the audience of what was on the opposite channel.

Gilligan's Island has a holiday episode as well, which I wouldn't have expected. It takes place on Christmas Eve, when a radio broadcast gives the castaways hope they might be rescued, and they take the opportunity to look back on how they came to be marooned on this deserted isle.

Sunday: It starts early, when at 9:00am CT CBS presents a performance of Hector Belioz's famed Christmas oratorio "L'Enfance du Christ," with an all-star cast including the Camarata singers, soloists from the Metropolitan Opera, and the John Butler Dance Theatre. No clip from the broadcast, but I always believe in letting you know what you missed, so here's clip from a 1966 version that, I would like to think, might give you an idea of what this performance was like.

Continuing the classical Christmas motif, at 3:00pm the NBC Opera Theatre presents the annual broadcast of Amahl and the Night Visitors, the one-act opera by Gian Carlo Menotti. This is something of a landmark broadcast itself; it is the first time a taped repeat of a previous broadcast has ever been used. Although it's been some time since the opera was telecast live, it was always done as a new broadcast, using the same cast from the initial showing in 1951 (except for the boy soprano playing Amahl). The new cast and production so outraged Menotti that, as soon as the broadcast rights reverted back to him, he forbade NBC from showing it.

Music plays a big part of today's broadcast schedule, as there are also local telecasts of choral programs from the Concordia (MN) College choir and the Great Lakes Naval Training choir (repeated on Christmas Eve). The syndicated Mantovani, at 11:30am on Channel 9, also gives us a half-hour of seasonal fare, beautiful-music style.

Monday starts off on the local educational channel, KTCA, with music from the St. Olaf College Choir, one of the nation's greatest college music programs. The school's annual Christmas concert has become internationally renown, and while this half-hour isn't from that concert, it promise to be extremely well-performed.

At 6:30pm, NBC repeats last year's The Story of Christmas, an uninterrupted hour of music with Tennessee Ernie Ford and the Roger Wagner Chorale, highlighted by Eyvind Earle extraordinary animated telling of the Nativity, a clip of which you can see below.

That's followed by the NBC documentary series Project 20 (sometimes known as Project XX), telling the story of "The Coming of Christ" through the use of paintings from the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, combined with the narration of Alexander Scourby. From what I've read, the technique used in the program is reminiscent of that later used by Ken Burns, but that's just an educated guess. Regardless, with Scourby's magnificent voice, you can't go wrong. In turn, that's followed by the annual Andy Williams Christmas Show, featuring the Williams Brothers, the Osmond Brothers, and an appearance  by the ventriloquist Senor Wences. What a great, great night of television.

Over on ABC, the final hour of Andy clashes with the Christmas episode of The Bing Crosby Show. In this strange hybrid, Bing's fictional character Bing Collins combines with his TV family and The Wellingtons to offer a half hour of the season in song. And at 9:00pm, CBS takes a look at the serious side of the holiday, as Charles Kuralt's documentary Christmas in Appalachia tours the poverty-stricken coal country of Kentucky.

Tuesday gives us WCCO's local broadcast The Sounds of Christmas, preempting Joey Bishop for music and Bible readings from Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church, whose pastor, Dr. Reuben K. Youngdahl, appears on the station every weekday morning at 9:25. Following that is Red Skelton's annual Christmas show, with Greer Garson guest-starring in a Freddie the Freeloader story. At 9:00pm, NBC is back with another music special, as Maureen O'Hara hosts The Bell Telephone Hour's annual Christmas show, with Howard Keel, Phyllis Curtin, Martha Wright, ballet dancers Violette Verdy and Edmund Novak, and the famed Columbus Boychoir. Maureen reads the story of the Nativity, which probably would get the show yanked today. At 10:00pm, Channel 11 broadcasts Miracle on 34th Street, which as I've noted before ranks as the best Christmas movie ever. TV Guide's description is woefully inadequate: "One Kris Kringle, a department-store Santa Claus, causes quite a commotion when he suggests that customers go to a rival store." Technically true, but it misses the whole point.


On Wednesday we get Christmas episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (from 1956), Shindig (with the Beach Boys singing "Little Saint Nick," among other highlights), and The Dick Van Dyke Show (as the regulars and staff writers of "The Alan Brady Show" do a Christmas show). Additionally there's a syndicated variety show by singer Jo Stafford on Channel 4, and Jo later shows up on The Danny Kaye Show, which includes a "Christmas Fantasy" spot with Danny and dancer Gwen Verdon.

I'm skipping over Christmas Eve for the moment, as it's highlighted in Monday's TV listings, so let's take a look at Friday, Christmas Day. The McCoys, at 10:30am on CBS, and Father Knows Best, at 11:00am on ABC, both feature Christmas episodes, as does Ernie Ford's variety show on ABC at 11:30am, and Channel 11 broadcasts "The Joyful Hour," a Family Theater dramatization of the Nativity (part 1 herewith Pat O'Brien and family, and starring Ruth Hussey, Nelson Leigh, and Raymond Burr, followed by "Christmas Around the World," celebrating "music from many lands."

Speaking of music, at 11:30am NBC presents the Christmas Day service of Lessons and Carols from the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. I always enjoyed watching this Christmas morning; I'm sorry that the network no longer carries it, although I believe you can catch it online. I mentioned the football game earlier, and that dominates ABC's afternoon programming. Meanwhile, Jo Stafford (again!) hosts the Blackpool circus on Channel 4, and Channel 11's Bachelor Father has another story about the season. I haven't mentioned the local choral programs, which are scattered around the dial.

By prime time, things start to wind down; Channel 5 preempts Jack Benny's show for the annual Christmas Skating Show from the Minneapolis Arena, and Channel 2 airs a rerun of Christmas in Tyrol, a program of Tyrolian Christmas carols performed by students at the College of St. Thomas, hosted by Fr. Richard Schuler, my old pastor from St. Agnes in St. Paul, and one of the titans of Catholic music in the second half of the 20th Century.  Channel 2, in fact, has Christmas music programs for the rest of the evening, with choirs from various colleges around the country. And the evening comes to an end with a lesser-known Christmas movie, Dondi, starring David Janssen and Patti Page, inspired by the comic strip of the same name.

If you couldn't find anything Christmas-sy to watch this week, you weren't looking very hard.


Finally, the humorist Allan Sherman ("Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh," which I loved as a kid) is back with his annual Christmas poem celebrating television. I suspect it might have been funnier at the time that it is today - see sample below:

Hail Lassie and Mister Ed, animal stars;
And My Favorite Walston, the man from Mars.
May the stars of Bewitched and Burke's Law rejoice
(The first rides a broom, the last a Rolls-Royce).
Long may the weird Addams Family cavort!
Hang up the mistletoe in Bristol Court!
Hail I've Got a Secret with no Garry Moorage.
Hail NBC's new show, Profiles in Courage.

- but there's one stanza near the end that sums it all up, not only for the 1964 season but for every viewer who's ever watched television since the beginning:

But most of all, dear viewer, greetings to You,
And thanks for the patience with which you sat through
The previous season and gazed at the box
Without going crazy, without throwing rocks.
May this year be better, May each show you see
Be laden with gifts like a bright Christmas Tree.

However, this wasn't Allan Sherman's only brush with Christmas, as this parody shows:

On that note I'd wish you a Merry Christmas, but I'll be back long before then, starting with Monday's look at programming on Christmas Eve! TV  

1 comment:

  1. "What does that say about me? That I'd love to see this movie on Mystery Science Theater 3000."
    Well if you write to Joel about it, maybe you can. His Kickstarter fully funded a new 14-episode season of MST3K, and he's promised a Holiday Special episode in the new season. I don't know if White Christmas is PD or not, but if it is it would be a possibility...


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!