February 6, 2016

This week in TV Guide: February 4, 1956

This week's starlet also happens to be this week's cover girl: Judy Tyler, formerly Princess Summerfall Winterspring on Howdy Doody, will be one of Ed Sullivan's guests on this Sunday's show.

In 1956, Judy Tyler is a girl with a future. She started with the Doody show when she was still a teenager, and her youthful attractiveness and winning personality soon made her a favorite among the show's human characters. From Doody, she's gone on to become "a foil for Bob Hope, Sid Caesar and Milton Berle," and last year she was selected by Garry Moore as one of TV Guide's TOPS ("Television's Own Promising Starlets"). In the history of the young medium, young Judy Tyler is one of the first to graduate from television to success in other areas. Last year she starred with Elvis in Jailhouse Rock. Just over two months ago she was featured on the cover of Life Magazine for an article under the heading "Shining Young Broadway Stars," with none other than Jayne Mansfield, Diane Cilento, Lois Smith and Susan Strasberg, and presently she's the leading lady in the new Rogers and Hammerstein musical "Pipe Dream," for which she'll win a Tony nomination. No wonder TV Guide proudly calls her "a TV alumna who's made good."

Sadly, that career is almost over, as is the life of Judy Tyler. In July 1957, she will be killed in an automobile accident, only 24 years old. The knowledge makes it almost painful to look at these pictures, she's so young, so full of life. It's all in the future, but knowledge of that future makes it impossible to look at the past in quite the same way. That knowledge, like youth itself, is impossible to recapture once it's lost. But for just a moment one can look in the eyes of Judy Tyler, as she looks at Ed Sullivan, and can see nothing but promise ahead.

And now, on a slightly less philosophical note - and if you're reading this article and you're under 18 or have a sensitive conscience—


—you'll want to skip ahead to the next story. But for those of you continuing, the rest of Judy Tyler's story is far more colorful than anything that could be included between the covers of TV Guide or Life Magazine. Looking at this week's cover, I kept thinking there was something about that name. . . and when I read about Howdy Doody, I remembered what it was. I pulled a couple of well-read books off the shelf in our library, Say Kids! What Time Is It? by Stephen Davis, the definitive chronicle of Howdy Doody, and The Box by Jeff Kisseloff—and there it was. As Lynn Van Matre summarizes in her review of Davis' book, "Tyler, who had married at 16, was—according to cast members, who remembered her with genuine fondness—famous for her foul mouth, her propensity for getting drunk and stripping on nightclub tables, and the cheerful way she dispensed sexual favors to the cast." When you've read something like that, it isn't easy to forget.

Now, I'm not including this to denigrate Judy Tyler in any way—the information isn't exactly hard to find—but to offer, as I often put it, the rest of the story, the things that lurk behind the pages of TV Guide. As Dominick Dunne put it in The Box, she had round heels. But he loved her sincerely, as did everyone who worked with her on the show. And it should be pointed out that the rest of the Howdy Doody cast and crew weren't exactly paragons of virtue, either: one of their favorite pastimes was at rehearsals, when they would "regularly put the puppets through pornographic paces (leading to some embarrassing moments when groups of kids happened to be touring the studio and wondered why the puppets were in such curious positions)." As Claude Rains might say, I'm shocked, shocked.

But you know what? These people were human, as are most* of the people who've worked in television since its beginning. Just like us, a community like any other.

*Excluding one or two saints (Bishop Sheen, perhaps literally), and a few that were probably sub-human.

It does make you wonder though, between that and Ed Sullivan's reputation for womanizing, if we should look at that TV Guide cover a little differently.


Well, after all that, anything else is bound to be an anticlimax. (No pun intended, of course.) So let's look at the people who succeed on television by playing themselves.

Take William Lundigan, for example, a "radio announcer who turned actor and went on to play roles in 65 motion pictures." Then he got in touch with the people at Chrysler, who were looking for a host for their sponsored shows Shower of Stars and Climax! Lundigan got the job, and now his movie price has tripled.

As we saw a while back with Ronald Reagan, hosting a television program can completely change your public perception. Joseph Cotten plays a similar role as host of The 20th Century Fox Hour, and describes his job as "a sort of format. No sponsor in his right mind wants to come right on and say, 'I'm the sponsor and here's what I'm selling.' It would scare the people. He needs a middle man to make the audience feel at home with him." Gig Young, who's appeared on several shows with rotating hosts, says he's found the hardest role of all is to play yourself.

We don't see this much anymore. We no longer have single sponsors of programs, of course, companies with their names in the title, We don't have live programming, which means we don't have live commercials that are part of the show. (Think Ed McMahon doing those Alpo commercials on The Tonight Show for so many years.) We don't have anthologies that require a host. Instead, what we're more likely to run across are characters created for commercials (Flo for Progressive, Lily for AT&T, etc.), as a substitute for the Bill Lundigans of the world. More annoying? Probably. Different? Definitely.


Sunday's episode of Omnibus (4:00pm CT, CBS) is "One Nation," which TV Guide describes as "the first in a series of three semi-dramatized Treatments of the origin's purposes and enduring features of the U.S. Constitution," an episode co-written by "Noted Boston attorney Joseph Welch." That simple introduction, I think, slightly undersells the notoriety of  Welch.

In the spring of 1954, Welch was serving as special council to the Army during the Army-McCarthy hearings on Communist infiltration of the U.S. military. The hearings were televised live on both ABC and DuMont, two networks with minimal daytime schedules and nothing to lose by carrying the combative hearings into the volatile, controversial issue. Because of that, Welch's confrontation with Senator McCarthy on June 9 was shown for all the world to see, and subsequently became a part of American history.

It is not, nor is it customarily, my purpose to inject politics into these pieces, so I'm not going to go into this any further as to who's right and who's wrong. I'll simply note that TV Guide publisher Walter Annenberg has a reputation as a staunch anti-Communist, so perhaps that's why the listing is so understated. Or maybe people have moved on from that (although the Cincinnati Reds are still known as the Redlegs), or it could be that his fame from the McCarthy hearings is still such that no further description is required, or it could just be the formal, somewhat stilted way of the mid-'50s listings. Whatever the case, as usual, the story behind those words remains much more interesting than the words themselves.


Here's something of a curiosity, courtesy of Wednesday's 20th Century-Fox Hour: it's the episode "Crack-up," starring Bette Davis and Gary Merrill and based on their movie Phone Call from a Stranger. Only Bette Davis isn't actually in "Crack-up." That is, not really, for as TV Guide tells us, "All Miss Davis' scenes are from 1952 feature film. . .Other scenes were added for TV." So which is this: a movie with added scenes for TV, or a TV play with added scenes from a movie? Either way, although I know of stock footage being used to pad out a movie that couldn't afford location filming, this is the first of its kind that I can think of.  Can any of you out there think of any other examples?

Elsewhere: on Saturday's George Gobel Show, a skit portrays George as "an easy mark to every door-to-door salesman in town." You might recognize Lonesome George from his famous appearance on The Tonight Show with Dean Martin and Bob Hope, but in 1954 he was the host of a very successful show, and as we read elsewhere, his gross income for the year is estimated at a cool $2,000,000 - or, in today's dollars, almost $17.5 million. Not bad, huh?

On Sunday, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez are guests on the Sullivan show. Later that same night, Desi subs for Bennett Cerf on What's My Line? And on Wednesday Lucy and Desi appear as guests on I've Got a Secret.  By the way, on Monday there's this ad for the new movie, Forever Darling, opening February 9 with - Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez. Sense a trend here?

Also on Monday, Robert Montgomery Presents, one of television's longest-running anthologies, has "Good Friday, 1965," the story of the assassination of Lincoln based on the 1930 book by W. J. Ferguson, an actor who was on the stage at Ford's Theater that night and was the only living eyewitness to the assassination. There's a fascinating article about what Ferguson saw here, while this 1956 episode of I've Got a Secret (which I've shown before) has as one of its contestants the last living person to be in Ford's Theater; he didn't see the fatal shot fired as Ferguson did, but Samuel J. Seymour did see John Wilkes Booth jump from the presidential box.

On Tuesday, Bob Hope comes to us from London and Paris, where he hosts an international lineup that includes England's Diana Dors (once married to Richard Dawson), French comic actor Fernandel, English singer Yana*, and the latest in Paris fashions. He's joined by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

*Apparently while you don't have to have only one name to appear on this show, it helps.

We've already talked about Wednesday's most interesting program on The 20th Century Hour, and Thursday's highlight is this ad for NBC's Armstrong Circle Theater, hosted by NBC News anchor John Cameron Swayzee. What I really like about the ad is the reminder that WBAP, the NBC affiliate in Fort Worth, is owned by the Fort Worth Star Telegram, a reminder that newspapers used to be heavily involved in television station ownership.

To round out the week, Friday's live, color episode of Matinee Theater on NBC (a nice article about the series is featured elsewhere in the issue; imagine an hour-long, live, color drama anthology on daytime television) is called "The Heart of Mary Lincoln," and provides a nice linkage to the Lincoln program on Monday. Appropriate, those, since Sunday is Lincoln's Birthday, a quasi-holiday still observed in most of the United States in 1956.


Finally, some items from this week's Teletype:
  • "CBS to inaugurate a weekly series of live 90-minute dramatics shows next fall." That, I believe, would be Playhouse 90, which debuted on October 4, 1956 and ran until May 18, 1960.
  • "With Maurice Chevalier practically set to emcee the movie Academy Awards telecast in March, Bing Crosby may share honors as co-emcee." I don't know what happened to that, but the always-reliable Wikipedia tells us that there were, in fact, three emcees, and that none of them were either Chevalier or Crosby: Jerry Lewis hosted from Los Angeles, with Claudette Colbert and Joseph L. Mankiewicz doing the honors in New York, where many of the stars could be found on Broadway.
  • "Walter Winchell may return to TV as an entertainer, hosting a new variety show for NBC Sunday nights opposite The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. If the deal goes through, of course, it would replace the current refurbished [ColgateComedy Hour." NBC does indeed introduce some competition for Sullivan in June - not Winchell, but Tonight's Steve Allen.
  • "The Los Angeles Police Department is campaigning against the word, "cop"; and as a result, Dragnet's famous opening line may be changed to, "My name is Friday—I'm a police officer." The line does change (as you'll see in this 1967 clip from the revived show*), but to the much more noir-like "I carry a badge."

*I always thought it would be great for an April 1 episode if those mini-travelogues that Friday starts out with would continue for the entire episode, never leading up to anything. Too bad Saturday Night Live wasn't around then. TV  


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  2. Thanks for posting this. I've lived in the DFW market for more than 25 years now, and I've been watching these stations for even longer, as they were carried over cable in Waco, where I attended college. I've read that the original owner of WBAP-TV, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram publisher Amon G. Carter, hated Dallas so much that he didn't care if viewers in Dallas could see his station or not. NBC did care, however, and threatened to pull his NBC affiliation if he didn't boost his station's power enough to reach Dallas and its suburbs. WBAP-TV was a pioneer in color broadcasting in the area, starting local color programming in 1954. It's local news bulletins on Nov. 22, 1963, for NBC were in color for the first 2 hours following the JFK Assassination, but NBC asked WBAP to switch to B&W, as the color updates were making NBC's B&W network coverage look bad in comparison.
    Just a couple corrections: It was Desi Arnaz on tv that week, though it's often pronounced on tv as "Arnez", and Lincoln was shot on Good Friday 1865, as Good Friday 1965 was still 9 years away, so I hope Robert Montgomery Presents' episode was called "Good Friday, 1865". I once taped that exact I've Got a Secret episode when it was rerun on a local station on Labor Day 1993, and it was fascinating. Mr. Seymour just lived a couple months longer, but fortunately he was around long enough to make his own mark in tv history.

    1. It is very true that Amon Carter did not care if WBAP-TV was seen in Dallas or not. He consider Channel 5 a Fort Worth station and nothing else. NBC thought otherwise!! Most folks don't remember that WFAA Channel 8 in Dallas carried some NBC programming in the early 1950's because of that fact.

      Amon Carter hated Dallas so much - the story goes that whenever he had to do business in Dallas, he would carry a sack lunch in order not to spend any money in the city at all!!

  3. I have a couple of items here ...

    - Judy Tyler:

    If you've got your first-season Perry Mason DVDs at hand, check out "The Case Of The Fan-Dancer's Horse", the 15th broadcast episode.
    According to the big Mason book I mentioned a few weeks back, this was the first episode to be filmed for the regular production season, in April of 1957 - and was therefore most likely the last acting role taken by Judy Tyler, whose fatal car crash was in July.
    " ... Fan-Dancer's Horse" aired on December 28th, as the 15th episode (as noted above). This was only two weeks after the airing of "TCOT Moth-Eaten Mink", the Mason pilot, which had been filmed more than a year before its broadcast.
    The wonderful days when every episode was a "standalone" ...

    - Omnibus:

    Here's how this episode is written up in my Chicago edition, verbatim(italics mine):

    ...Noted Boston attorney Joseph Welch, who gained national prominence as Army counsel in the Army-McCarthy hearings, wrote the script with the assistance of (historian) Richard Hofstadter ...
    ... Mr. Welch himself appears on the telecast as narrator ...

    My understanding was that TV GUIDE's local editors were responsible for the program logs, so the elimination of the italicized portion from the local edition you're using was made at that level.
    Several years later, when Joseph Welch became a 'star' in the movie Anatomy Of A Murder, and scored a TV hosting gig on The Dow Hour Of Great Mysteries, TV GUIDE did a full-scale feature interview with him. In that interview, Welch mentioned that he and his Boston law partners were "... all Republicans, you know ..."
    ... and you can draw whatever conclusion you like from that ...

    - Yana, the British singer who's on with Bob Hope this week, apparently had a major reputation over there, not dissimilar to Judy Tyler's over here.
    Of course, if you'd like to bring in what we've learned about Bob Hope's extracurricular activities in recent times ...
    ... or not ...

    - In the Teletype, I'm surprised you didn't note the item about "... FRANK CAPRA'S long-aborning documentary film series for American Telephone & Telegraph ..."
    Didn't all of us of a Certain Age get to see all of these films in school, after they'd had their network runs?
    I wonder if they're still running after all these years ...
    I think I'll check to see if they're out on DVD.

    'Til Monday ...

  4. Actually Judy Tyler filmed Jailhouse Rock after the Mason episode; filming was from May 13 to June 14, 1957. She and her new husband had traveled to Hollywood via car for multiple acting roles: I believe Jailhouse Rock was the last of these, wrapping less than 3 weeks before her fatal accident.

    1. Elvis was so upset on hearing about Judy's death, he NEVER saw "Jailhouse Rock", for the rest of his life.

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    1. Because NBC decided to challenge Ed Sullivan with Steve Allen's prime-time variety show at the end of June (replacing "THE NBC COMEDY HOUR"), Walter Winchell's variety show [alternately sponsored by Lorillard's Old Gold cigarettes and The Toni Company] was finally scheduled on Friday nights at 8:30pm(et) in the fall of '56. It lasted 13 weeks.

  6. "Forever Darling" was NOT a success at the box office- and was Lucy and Desi's final co-starring feature film. Instead, they concentrated on their hour-long specials (beginning in the fall of 1957), while Desi took on more responsibility overseeing an expanded Desilu production base [especially after he bought RKO's studio facilities in September 1957]...which was one of the factors that led to their divorce in 1960.

  7. "THE 20TH CENTURY-FOX HOUR" was primarily sponsored by General Electric....which also sponsored Ronald Reagan's "GENERAL ELECTRIC THEATER". When the series went into syndication (as "THE HOUR OF STARS"), Joseph Cotten's [and, during the second season, Robert Sterling's] opening and closing remarks were eliminated.

  8. Gobel and his manager, a Mr. O'Malley, put some of that income into an entity called Gomalco Productions...the co-producer of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!