May 13, 2017

This week in TV Guide: May 16, 1959

No, I'm not going to say anything about the fashion sense displayed on the front cover of this week's edition. It's just too easy, there's no percentage in it. Besides, it violates the number one rule around here, which is: Don't discuss things out of their cultural context. I'm sure 58 years ago people would have seen this through an entirely different lens. It is distracting, though...

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I'm in the mood for something different this week. Rather than focusing on individual nights or programs, let's just hop through the issue and see what we can find.

Here Isn't Lucy: Dwight Whitney reports that "When Lucy Ball showed up for a benefit in Oklahoma City's 12,000-seat Taft Stadium, she took one look at the sparse crowd (variously estimated at from 800 to 2400) and blew her stack. Somebody goofed, she wailed, by failing to publicize the thing. But that didn't stop Lucy from goofing herself. She refused to go on, thereby garnering some of the worst press a major TV star has yet to achieve, and leaving herself open, with good reason, to the charge that she didn't love her fans half as much as they loved Lucy."

A Song in His Heart: Ernie Kovacs returns to television in an NBC special Friday night (8:00 p.m. ET) called "Kovacs on Music." It's included in the first volume of the Ernie Kovacs Collection put out by Shout a few years ago. (And if you don't have it yet, why not?) The show is every bit as surrealistic as you'd expect from Kovacs, including an extremely abridged version of Swan Lake performed by dancers in gorilla suits, a truly weird bit about a singing commercial with Louis Jourdan as one of the singers and Andre Previn as the conductor, and a very funny skit with Edie Adams as part of an American troupe putting on a televised operetta on Italian television. But Adams, who had a beautiful voice, also sings a lovely number by Heitor Villa-Lobos, and Kovacs displays his serious knowledge of classical music. It's a good thing the show's available, though; the TV Guide listing gets several descriptions wrong, including putting the Nairobi Trio in the operetta skit. Oh well.

There are eight million stories down there.
The Naked Truth: Bob Johnson's review of The Naked City calls the police drama "a disappointing piece of theater for many reasons," chief among them the show's insistence on seeing the host city as the star of the series. "Dragnet learned how to deliver sociology as interpreted by Lt. Joe Friday and nobody else. Unless Naked City abandons its premise of featuring New York City as its star, and settles down to telling every story from [star Horace] McMahon's viewpoint, the show may swallow him up as did its former star, [John] McIntire." Of course, today's television historians view that very trait - the show's use of New York City as a living, breathing character every bit as much as its actors - as one of the main reasons Naked City is considered one of the finest police dramas of its kind. And starting in season two it's Paul Burke, not Horace McMahon, as the human star of the show.

And They're Off! Sports highlight of the week is the Preakness Stakes, second jewel in horse racing's Triple Crown, telecast live from Pimlico in Baltimore. As opposed to the marathon coverage given the races this year on NBC and NBCSN, CBS's telecast is a mere half hour (5:30 p.m. ET), with Fred Capossela calling the race, Bryan Field on color, and Chris Schenkel doing interviews from the winner's circle. Tomy Lee, the Kentucky Derby winner two weeks ago, is passing up the Preakness and the final race, the Belmont Stakes (his British handlers thought the racers were run too close together), leaving Royal Orbit, a "fast-closing fourth" in the Derby, to take the run for the Black-Eyed Susans.

Who Are You Two Again? There's a game show on NBC called Laugh Line (9:00 p.m., Thursday), its primary claim to fame being that it's hosted by Dick Van Dyke. A brief description of the show: "the panelists sit around ad-libbing captions for living cartoons pantomimed by stock-company actors. Then each panel member moves the actors around into new positions to fit his own laugh line." (It sounds like something that was done much, much better by Who's Line is it, Anyway?) The show might well have amounted to more, however, had it stuck to its original plan, which was to have, as two of the regular panelists, the comedy team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May. There's an article telling us a little more about the duo, who hit it big a year or so ago with their appearance on Omnibus, and they're looking forward to plying their trade on television. But by the time the programming section is printed up, the lineup has already changed; with Nichols and May signed for Broadway in the fall, the producers have decided to replace them with Roger Price and Pat Harrington, Jr. (as Guido Panzini) in order to create a permanent cast. Laugh Line isn't picked up for the fall, while in the meantime Mike Nichols and Elaine May, both together and separately, go on to legendary careers.

Allen vs. Sullivan: We even have a rare appearance this week of our Steve Allen vs. Ed Sullivan matchup. Both shows air Sunday nights; Steverino starts things off at 7:30 p.m. on NBC with his guests, comedian George Gobel, singers Diahann Carroll and Vaughn Monroe, the Pensacola Naval Air Training Center Cadet Choir, and the Nicholas Dancers. Ed counters at 8:00 p.m. on CBS with Louis Prima and Keeley Smith; comedians Shelley Berman, Jack Carter and Frank Libuse; singer Al Hibbler; dancer Conrad "Little Buck" Buckner; trick violinist Baron Bulka; and the United States Military Academy Cadet Choir. Both shows have good lineups tonight (aside from the probability that the country has now been left undefended due to the Army and Navy being on television), but in this case I think I'm going to have to give the edge to Sullivan due to Berman's comedy, and the talent of Louis Prima and his then-wife, Keely Smith. In case you haven't ever had the opportunity to see them, here's a clip - could well be from this very show.

So Who Did Discharge Bilko? Since the question's on the cover, we'd better try and provide the answer. The Phil Silvers Show, originally known as You'll Never Get Rich but known colloquially as Bilko after Silvers' character, scheming Master Sergeant Ernie Bilko, has long been regarded as one of the great sitcoms of the Golden Age, and so it may come as something of a surprise to learn that the series ran only for four seasons, and 1959 marks the end of the road. What happened? According to Silvers, who perhaps protests a bit too much, it's because Camel, his main sponsor, is so closely identified with the series, even tailoring the spots to fit the platoon, that secondary sponsors ("You can't do a weekly show like ours these days without two sponsors.") never felt they were getting as good a deal. When his most recent second sponsor, Schick, left the show, CBS wasn't able to find a new one. Of course, he adds, "I don't think CBS tried too hard to sell us. But as I said, I'm not sorry. I'm tired of the role and of the constant grind." Fortunately for the network, Westinghouse just happens to have wanted to move their show, Desilu Playhouse, to the Silvers timeslot all along. So all's well that ends well, I guess.

What Else Is Worth Watching? On Friday night, ABC's Walt Disney Presents (8:00 p.m.) features two delightful cartoons based on British author Kenneth Grahame's wonderful children's stories: "The Wind in the Willows" and "The Reluctant Dragon." Basil Rathbone is among the voices for the cartoons. The long arm of the law has yet to catch up with Charles Van Doren, so he's still one of the hosts on Today each weekday morning on NBC. Alan King, Dorothy Collins, and the Dukes of Dixieland are guests on The Garry Moore Show (CBS, Tuesday, 10:00 p.m.). Claudette Colbert hosts the premiere of Woman!, a series of occasional hour-long afternoon dramas airing on NBC. Tuesday's question: Do They Marry Too Young? A Monday spectacular airing on CBS at 8:00 p.m., "America Pauses for the Merry Month of May," is hosted by Burgess Meredith and takes viewers around the country to celebrate "Maytime," including Larry Blyden in Teaneck, New Jersey; Molly Bee in Mobile, Alabama; Art Carney in Douglaston, New York, and Marion Anderston at Yosemite National Park. Finally, on the aforementioned Desilu Playhouse (still on Mondays at this point, 10:00 p.m, CBS) the aforementioned Lucille Ball plays a dancing teacher who learns she's inherited a boxer from her late uncle. Imagine her surprise when the boxer turns out to be not a dog, but a prizefighter!

Loretta Young Without That Hat! In fairness, since we started with Miss Young, we should end with her as well. Her series, The Loretta Young Show, has just wrapped up season six, and during that time she's played no fewer than 129 different characters, from farm girls to gangster's molls. During her illustrious career, she's won an Oscar (and been nominated another time), two Emmys (plus four additional nominations), and 37 other awards. She's learned a lot during that time, and not just about acting, but business as well. It turns out that her company owns the films she's made for her series, and she's not about to part with them as so many other stars have. Rumor has it she's been offered $4 million for them, to no avail. "[I]f they can make money for somebody else - well, I'd figure they could do the same for me. I'd figure, why not retain ownership? I'm just supposing, remember."

She's also no-nonsense when it comes to making the show: for years she'd been bothered when shooting stopped in order to reset the lights and move the camera in for a close-up. "Get a boom," she'd tell the director, to which the answer was always the same - it's too expensive to rent. Finally, she'd had enough, and told them to buy a boom and rent it out when they weren't using it. "Let somebody pay us rent for it." It's now paid off and bringing in extra dollars. If the show's budget can't afford a particular guest star, she tells them to take the difference out of her own salary. She gets an allowance of $20 a week in cash, and that's good enough for her. Quite a gal, all in all. But maybe we could all chip in a little more to buy her a better hat? TV  


  1. The first time I saw this issue & that hat, I thought Loretta Young had dyed her hair blond! Can that even be called a hat? It certainly won't keep the sun off her hair. I've read that later in the 80s she stopped her show from being syndicated to local stations because she was self-conscious about her outfits being out of fashion by then. That certainly shows there were other things more important that money to her still then, and if she'd sold the films back in the 50s, she wouldn't have been able to stop syndication by the 80s. I think though, that her shows have been shown on a Catholic network or 2, as she was a devout Catholic. Maybe Mitchell can confirm or deny that.

    While Paul Burke was top-billed when he was on NAKED CITY, I think Horace McMahon's role was more similar to McIntire's as the other policeman's boss, while Burke's part was similar to that of James Franciscus.

    About Bilko, I've read that CBS cancelled the show because it had just bought the show from creator/producer Nat Hiken and wanted to rerun it in syndication while it was still popular. I remember that M*A*S*H, like other shows of its time still in production, had to have 7 seasons complete before it went into syndication, though by that time CBS was rerunning the show both in daytime & late night. This was before THE COSBY SHOW began the standard of only having to have 4 seasons complete before syndication.

    1. There were a total of 143 Bilko episodes made in the four years it was in production, an average of about 35 in a season; average for the '50s.

      In the '70s, MASHaveraged about 24 half-hours in a season; it would have taken six seasons to reach Bilko's 143 count (which MASH eventually doubled).

      The key number in both cases was 100 episodes at least, however many seasons it took to get there.
      The idea was that the more episodes in the kitty, the less frequently you'd be running the same shows. Also remember that this was before five-a-week stripping became commonplace; once or twice a week tops was considered pushing things.
      Cosby in four seasons would have had not much more than 80-85 shows on tap, but by then the "rules" had changed.

      That's a feather cap that Loretta Young is wearing; it was considered tres chic evening wear in her time ('40s-'50s).
      It was around 1960 (Loretta's final year in prime time) that her company agreed to allow NBC to show reruns of the series on weekday afternoons - with the provision that her famous swirling entrances would all be edited out, for the reason given above, that her fashions would be out of date.
      NBC kept Loretta Young Theater on in daytime through '64.
      I don't know how well it did with local stations afterward, of if the fashion embargo continued into that time.
      I do know that many viewers, like my mother, missed the "fashion door", and Loretta's hand-offs to her faithful announcer, "John" (anybody here old enough to remember him?).
      For those of you who are old enough, a Fun Fact:
      His name was John Milton Kennedy; most of his career was in voice-over on radio and early TV.
      Mr. Kennedy is in my DVD Wall twice:
      - Armchair Detective, a local Los Angeles show from 1949 (the year before I was born) - possibly the earliest TV appearance he made (one of them, anyway).
      - "Murder In Tinseltown", a 1973 episode of Jimmy Stewart's lawyer show Hawkins - possibly the latest TV appearance he made (he was the judge at the murder trial; hair was grayer, but the voice was unmistakeable).

      Television - it's fun, it's history, it's America!

  2. Here is what I heard about Bilko. That CBS was going to go all color in a couple of years and wanted to make as much money off the Bilko reruns they could before people stoped watching black and white shows.

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  4. I never saw the Loretta Young Show but my dad used to say he *hated* it as a kid. I think my grandparents used to watch it. Dad used to cringe at Loretta walking through the doors and do the shmaltzy intro to the episode. Seems he has never forgotten about it all these years later. I never knew what he was talking about, so after seeing this post I saw some episodes on YouTube and, yep, there she is prancing through the doors with her opening monologues. I can see why it used to annoy him so much :)

  5. Just looking through my Chicago edition of this issue:

    - On Sunday Mornings, CBS has a panel show called The Last Word, hosted by Professor Bergen Evans, wherein the well-known panelists discuss the origins of words and phrases in the English language. The panelists included many showbiz names (Groucho Marx appeared at least once), and the emphasis was on humor (Prof. Evans was an incorrigible punster).
    The CBS network showing (on videotape, the still comparatively new) had as its guests John Houseman, who was then producing the annual Shakespeare Festival in Stratford CT, and Sir Cedric Hardwicke, whom you'll recall from last week as Gertrude Berg's co-star in the Broadway production of A Majority Of One. That was at 11:30 am on the network.
    But channel 2, the Chicago affiliate, aired The Last Word on a one-week delay, at 9 am; this week-old show (also on tape) had as its guests Oscar Hammerstein II and moviemaker Preston Sturges - one of the few TV appearances that latter gentleman ever made (he died later that same year).
    I understand that the network practice in the early days of videotape was to erase and reuse the tapes after one or two airings. This means that these episodes, although recorded, likely don't exist any more.
    Insert your own scream here.

    - Jumping around the week, I note that on Person to Person, Ed Murrow is visiting Bill Veeck and his wife in their Chicago hotel suite.
    If I recall the time line, this would be just after Veeck closed the deal to buy control of the White Sox, who were in full pursuit of the American league pennant (thanks in large part to the Yankees getting off to a spectacularly bad start that season).
    I don't suppose CBS saved this show either ...

    - Locally, Norman Ross's VIP, a Sunday night interview show on Channel 7, the ABC station (bypassing whatever the network has on), has an interesting guest: Col. "Pappy" Boyington, who'd just written a book about his war experiences, titled Baa Baa Black Sheep.
    I may have the time line wrong, but before Warner Bros signed him up, Robert Conrad was a 9-to-5 working man in Chicago; it'd be at least possible that he might have seen Boyington on this show, not realizing that twenty-some years on (give-or-take) he'd be playing him on TV ...
    Channel 7 wasn't a rich operation, so this show probably doesn't exist any more either ...

    - Jack Paar's guests this week include (Monday) Nichols and May, (Tuesday) Charles Coburn, (Wednesday) George S. Kaufman ... and NBC probably erased these tapes too ...

    If anybody invents time travel in the next few days, be sure to let me know ...

  6. I thought Loretta looked kind of hot in that hat (though I will admit, I thought it was a wig).

  7. Wasn't Conrad already in Hollywood by this week in 1959, preparing to start filming HAWAIIAN EYE?

  8. That hat looks more like something from the 1920's, not 50's


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!