December 5, 2015

This week in TV Guide: December 5, 1964

For the next four weeks, we're going to take a concentrated look at the month of December, 1964. It's not just because I happen to have those four consecutive issues (although that doesn't hurt); what I want to accomplish here is to show just how the Christmas season evolves through the course of the month. I've made various comments in the past about how there aren't as many holiday specials as there used to be, how the ones that are on seem to start way too early, how there was Christmas programming right up to Christmas itself, and how it used to be understood that the holiday season ran right through to New Year's. early specials seem to start now,

Well, here's our chance to put this to the test. Over these four weeks, we'll see how many holiday shows there are, when they start and stop, and whether there's still any celebrating during the week between Christmas and New Year's. It's my favorite time of the year, as I know it is for many of you, so let's immerse ourselves in the season, as they did 51 years ago.


Yule Love This: There's not a lot this week, but what there is is big time. I'll have you know that this is no ordinary issue of TV Guide, for inside this is the listing for the very first airing of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. It's on Sunday afternoon at 4:30pm CT on the General Electric Fantasy Hour*, and there is a nice story, with color pictures, accompanying it. Each figure costs upward of $5,000 to make, and it took 100 technicians and 22 room-sized sets to make the 25-year-old song into a reality. Even an eyebrow out of place could cost the production a week's worth of expenses to reshoot.

*It airs in the afternoon partly because it's a family program, partly because there's not yet the connection to adult nostalgia that there will be in years to come, partly because there's no doubleheader football showing on a regular basis, and mostly because this is the regular timeslot for GE's other big weekly show, College Bowl.  It also preempts Meet the Press, for what it's worth.

This year will be the 52nd broadcast year for Rudolph, and I wonder if anyone could possibly have imagined that when it started out? Says Arthur Rankin of producers Rankin-Bass, "When a film takes a year to make and costs a half-million dollars, you can be sure you won't see it on TV every day." No, but what about every year?

It's a bit early for other Christmas specials - we haven't yet created the avalanche of cartoons that will signify the toy-buying season; the only other one at present is Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol - but the other event this week spells quality as well. It's the movie We're No Angels, presented on NBC's Wednesday Night at the Movies, and those of who you haven't seen it really should. It tells the story of three criminals (Humphrey Bogart, in a rare comedic appearance, Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray) who escape from the infamous Devil's Island penal colony in French Guiana on Christmas Eve, and become involved in the lives of a good-hearted but hapless dry goods store manager (Leo G. Carroll), his wife (Joan Bennett) and their daughter (Gloria Talbott). The trouble begins when the absentee owner of the store, who's also the villain of the piece (Basil Rathbone, all but twirling his mustache), shows up unexpectedly.

The movie, directed by Michael Curtiz (who was also responsible for Casablanca and White Christmas, among many others), is perfect for anyone who can't take the saccharine sweetness and sickly sentimentality of the Hallmark/Lifetime made-for-TV schlockfests; the three escapees are, respectively, an embezzler (Bogart, wry and dry) and a pair of murderers (Ustinov, chewing the scenery wonderfully, and Ray, the wackiest of the three), and the tone throughout is that of a very dark, very funny comedy. By the way, did I mention their pet viper, Adolphe? Anyway, I think you should check this out - I don't believe you'll be disappointed.


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 include Sophie Tucker; Sid Caesar; Jerry Lewis; drummer Gary Lewis (Jerry's son) and the Playboys, instrumental quartet; the folk singing [Chad] Mitchell Trio; singer-dancer Piccola Pupa; and comic Bob Lewis.

Palace: Phil Harris is the host and his guests include Ginger Rogers; comedian Bill Dana; the McGuire Sisters, who do a medley of their hits; singer Gary Crosby; the Jubilee Four vocal group; Dwight Moore and his mongrels; and the Merkys, acrobats.

Tough one this week. The headliners are solid on both programs - comedians (Sid Caesar and Bill Dana), offspring of famous stars (Gary Lewis and Gary Crosby), vocal groups (the Chad Mitchell Trio and the Jubilee Four). Ultimately, the tiebreaker goes to Phil Harris, Ginger Rogers (even without Fred Astaire) and the McGuire Sisters, and that gives the slight edge to the Palace..


This week, Cleveland Amory sets his eyes on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. And for once, Cleve has good things to day in his review. I think, that is; sometimes it can be hard to tell. His description of Jim Nabors' Pyle is "a goof-off, a goldbrick and pea-brained knucklehead - and, on the occasions when he is late, a late goof-off, goldbrick and pea-brained knucklehead." In addition, however, Nabors is "as fine a broad comedian as your screen has mustered up this season."

Fine, too, is Frank Sutton, who up to this point has been seen most often as a small-time crook in shows like The Untouchables, playing Pyle's foil, Sergeant Carter*.Sutton's sputtering reactions to Pyle's naive bumbling, says Amory, have "that wonderful rage in reserve - the quiet, low-voiced, clearly enunciated third-degree burn."

*Not to be confused with Sergeant Carter on Hogan's Heroes.

Each week's show features at least one "epic" moment, such as the time when Carter, in desperation, tries to get the sleeping Pyle to sign a receipt. "Write your name," he whispers to Pyle, only to find out later that this is just what Pyle has written: "Your Name." Just as epic, though, is Amory's imitation of Pyle's thick Southern accent; "Naow, thayut's sneaky. Whut I done wuzn't sneaky," he writes at one point, and if Amory had written on a computer with spellcheck, that sentence would have broken it. My impression is that Amory doesn't see Gomer Pyle as great art, let alone great television; it's fun television, though, well worth an evening's viewing.


It's the last day of the college football season, and NBC's game of the week is the Egg Bowl between Mississippi State and Ole Miss, neither of which are having a very good season. So if that's not to your liking, the NFL on CBS has a Saturday game to offer as well, with the Green Bay Packers taking on the Chicago Bears from Wrigley Field. They're not having stellar seasons either, but it's something different. Besides, your alternative is the Miss America Rodeo from Las Vegas.  In fact, the most interesting football note is in the TV Teletype section, which notes that in two weeks ABC will be televising the Liberty Bowl, from inside the Atlantic City Convention Center in New Jersey.

On Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings travel to Yankee Stadium to play the New York Giants on CBS, followed by the Los Angeles Rams vs. the 49ers in San Francisco, joined in progress (the Vikings-Giants game begins at 1pm CT). It's the last CBS doubleheader of the season. Meanwhile, on the AFL side of the ledger, the Boston Patriots play the Kansas City Chiefs on ABC. Better stick to Rudolph.


It's still a little early for the regular shows to be presenting their Christmas episodes, but that doesn't mean they aren't worth watching. On Saturday, The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo (NBC), which was born in the wake of the success from last year's Magoo's Christmas Carol, presents the fourth and final part of "Robin Hood," with Magoo in the role of Friar Tuck, and Howard Morris voicing Robin Hood.

The weekend continues with Sunday's Wonderful World of Color (also NBC), with the conclusion of "Big Red," starring Walter Pidgeon. That's followed by The Bill Dana Show; I've talked about him from time to time, always favorably, usually when he's playing his José Jiménez character. José's taken up many occupations, most famously an astronaut, but here he plays a bellhop, spun off from Make Room For Daddy, where he was an elevator operator.*

*Ironically, one of Dana's costars is Jonathan Harris, who would later indeed go into space, in a manner of speaking.

Andy Williams is on Monday on NBC, and his guests in this pre-Christmas show are Robert Goulet and Bobby Darin, along with eight-year-old singer Eleu Butterworth, who appeared in Blue Hawaii with Elvis. Here's a clip of her being interviewed by Jerry Lewis. He's preceded (on ABC) by No Time for Sergeants, the unsuccessful sitcom adaptation of the hit play and movie, both of which starred Andy Griffith. The TV version offers us Sammy Jackson, who graces this week's cover along with his series girlfriend, Laurie Sibbald. And speaking of ABC, what would Christmastime be without Bing Crosby? This isn't his Yuletide singalong, though, but a regular episode of his single-season Bing Crosby Show sitcom, in which he portrays a retired singer named Bing Collins. Hmm.

One of the more interesting shows of the week is Sounds of Freedom, a half-hour film on WCCO Tuesday night: "The Rev. Bob Richards and his family tour Germany, France and England comparing America's modern supermarkets to the food markets in these countries." It only took me a moment to surmise (correctly, as it turned out) that this might be the same Bob Richards who - well, you might know him better for this: 

Yes, Richards was the first athlete to appear on the cover of the Wheaties box, as a result of his accomplishments as a three-time U.S. Olympian. From there he went on to become an ordained minister, physical fitness advocate, and political activist.

The Bell Telephone Hour, on at 9pm on NBC, will have a fabulous Christmas show in a couple of weeks, but this week's show isn't bad: it's hosted by the great French entertainer Maurice Chevalier, with the equally great jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain, opera star Teresa Berganza, Stanley Holloway, and the puppet cast of "Les Poupees de Paris."

Besides We're No Angels (which I just finished watching a few minutes ago), Wednesday brings us The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, in which Rick and his frat brothers decide the "dancer" Bubbles La Tassle (Mamie Van Doren, who else?) would make a fine housemother for the fraternity. On The Beverly Hillbillies, the Drysdale's new English butler reports to the Clampetts instead, and on The Dick Van Dyke Show Rob's not about to admit to Laura that she was right when she warned him about catching a cold while playing golf. We'll check in on them later in the month to see what kind of seasonal programming they might have to offer.

We know Danny Kaye has Christmas episodes on his series, because they're out on DVD, but this week his guests are Tony Bennett, Imogene Coca, and the singing Clinger Sisters. Not bad. And by the way, on The Tonight Show, one of Johnny's guests is the very same Pete Fountain who appeared on Bell Telephone Hour last  night.

Danny Thomas no longer has a regular series, but he's back on Thursday for his second special of the season, with a cast including Jimmy Durante, Joey Bishop and Eddie Fisher. That's on NBC; if you want to see it, that means you'll have to pass up the nighttime version of Password, with Paul Anka and Rita Moreno as the celebrity panelists. Have I mentioned before that Paul Anka was a very good, very intense Password player? And on KTCA's educational show Town and Country, it's "Christmas plants for the home."

Friday night's highlights include Chrysler Theatre, more properly known as Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, which three weeks out of four was a dramatic anthology series, while the fourth week featured a Hope comedy special. He'll be doing his Christmas show in this time slot shortly, but tonight's episode is "The Shattered Glass," in which "Five years ago, talented young architect David Vincent turned to the bottle after his girl friend Helen married another man. Now Helen's husband is dead, and David hopes to resume the romance." If any of this sounds the least familiar (and as my friend Mike Doran would point out, the world is filled with coincidence), let's skip ahead three years to the science fiction show The Invaders. The protagonist of that series is also an architect, also named David Vincent, who accidentally stumbles on an alien invasion after getting lost on a deserted road.

Now, my theory on this is that Vincent was drunk from one of his bouts with the bottle after Helen dumped him, which explains his getting lost. It's also why the authorities suspect Vincent merely thought he'd seen a flying saucer, when it was probably something else entirely. And, needless to say, it's one of those aliens who winds up killing Helen's husband, after which Vincent becomes conflicted, since the very aliens he's been trying to out are responsible for reuniting him with his lost love, and decides to give up the fight for good. Or maybe Helen's one of the invaders. Or perhaps after her husband dies, she marries a doctor in Indiana and becomes known as Helen Kimble.

That's the great thing about television, isn't it? Absolutely anything's possible. No wonder it's the (Chrysler) theater of dreams. TV  


  1. Here And There And (almost) Everywhere:

    - There were quite a few other variety shows around that season.
    On Saturday, Jackie Gleason attempted a revival of the old radio show It Pays to Be Ignorant.
    This was a "quiz" in which a panel of comics would be totally unable to answer questions such as "Which member of a baseball team wears a catcher's mitt?"
    Jackie cast himself as the long-suffering quizmaster; his panel consisted of Frank Fontaine as 'Crazy Guggenham', Jayne Mansfield as 'dumb blonde', and Professor Irwin Corey.
    I'm guessing that Gleason wanted to make this a regular feature of the show, but for whatever reason that didn't happen.

    - This was the season that ABC tried to mount a late-night talk show with Les Crane.
    Crane attracted some notice early on with his stage layout: the seats in the studio were set up as an arena, with Crane and his guests on a small stage in the center.
    Occasionally Crane would take questions from the audience, using a long microphone mounted on a shotgun grip; many critics found this a bit unnerving.
    In his time, Les Crane became known as the host who "brought on the kooks"; many nights, the full hour-and-a-half would be give over to 'discussions' of topics serious (political controversies), lighthearted ( showbiz nostalgia), and outrageous (UFOs, ghosts, and the like).
    That first category would often as not turn into screaming contests that anticipated cable news by a half-century.
    The Crane show had the lowest budget possible: no set other than the arena, no band (meaning no musical guests except under special circumstances), no sidekick (Fred Foy stayed off-camera).
    Toward the end of his brief run, Crane eventually got a band of sorts - Cy Coleman's jazz trio - but it was too little, too late.
    By midseason, Crane was gone, and ABC's Nightlife, with revolving hosts, a sidekick (NY DJ William B. Williams), a stage set, and a full band sprung up in his stead - but that's another story ...

    - Didn't you notice who played the Clampett's new butler on The Beverly Hillbillies?
    Arthur Treacher was a year away from his new job as Merv Griffin's sidekick ('64 was Merv's gap year between NBC and Westinghouse).

    - ABC's Sunday night movie this week was The Last Time I Saw Archie, starring the boffo comedy team of Robert Mitchum and Jack Webb.
    The movie was based on the wartime memories of screenwriter Bill Bowers, whom Webb played herein; Mitchum was Archie Hall, a real-life character who (it says here) actually scammed his way through his Army service as the movie shows.
    Bowers brought Hall onto the set, where Webb, Mitchum, et al., treated him as a full VIP - and when the movie came out, Hall sued for invasion of privacy.
    Stranger Than Truth!

    Way too much in this issue - and I haven't got the other three you're going to do ...

    1. Quick follow-up to last night's post:

      - ABC's Nightlife, which replaced Les Crane, had week-at-a-time guest hosts for a couple of months: standup comics mostly, with the notable exception of Dave Garroway for a two-week stretch in early spring.
      Finally, in late March or early April (I forget exactly), ABC picked a permanent host - Les Crane.
      This time Crane got a full production: band, stage set, sidekick in the person of Nipsey Russell, music and comedy support (I think I told you about Cully Richards & Co. a while back), and guests who were even more contentious than before.
      One fairly frequent guest was Dorothy Kilgallen, who at that time was deeply involved in Dr. Sam Shepperd's appeal trial in Cleveland. Kilgallen had covered the original trial a decade before, and was convinced that Dr. Sam had gotten a raw deal; she took on a number of "experts" who felt otherwise, and showed that the old "newshen" hadn't lost her teeth.
      This was not too long before her own unexpected death, when she was at a career high point - Bennett Cerf had signed her to do a book about the murder trials she'd covered over the years (they were waiting for a finish to the Shepperd retrial as the climax), and Dolly Mae was already dropping hints about her interview with Jack Ruby, which she said was going to blow the whole JFK story sky-high.
      But the lady died before Shepperd's acquittal; the book got done (finished by her father, legendary reporter Jim Kilgallen), but the Ruby story "disappeared" ...

      As for Les Crane and Nightlife, both barely made it to fall.
      ABC's short station lineup was the main cause, and the network didn't even try again until Joey Bishop became available in '67.

      - You'll note that I didn't mention your last paragraph.
      I can't stand the pseudo-crossover type of column - they always strike me as just dumb "humor" that never works for me.
      There are only so many names to go around; you have to reuse eventually.
      Ever see a TV show or movie where a character was named "Mitchell Hadley"?
      I'd be greatly surprised if you hadn't.
      Once, when I was younger, I saw a late-night drama which had a DA named "Mike Doran".
      I found it more amusing than anything else.

      'Til tomorrow ...


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!