August 19, 2017

This week in TV Guide: August 22, 1964

It's the first of back-to-back issues to end the month of August, and this week we're in frantic Atlantic City to see Lyndon Johnson receive the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. John F. Kennedy's memory hangs heavy over the convention city, nine months after his death; for all of the talk of party unity and tradition (large portraits of Kennedy, Roosevelt, Truman, and Johnson hang over the podium, with the motto "Let Us Continue"), anxious Johnson aides are said to be keeping track as to whether or not pictures of Kennedy are outselling those of their boss. Although Johnson, in his memoirs, says that he remained uncertain about seeking election until close to convention time, there's little doubt about the outcome, with the largest question being the selection of Johnson's running mate.

And for all we know, LBJ could have chosen Walter Cronkite to be his veep. After all, Uncle Walter isn't busy this week; after having been trounced in the ratings by the Huntley-Brinkley-led NBC at the Republican convention in San Francisco, CBS decides that a anchor duo is the answer, and replaces Cronkite in the booth with the team of Robert Trout and Roger Mudd. It's a move that leaves everyone looking bad; Cronkite handles the demotion with grace (The New York Times quotes Cronkite as saying, "We took a clobbering in San Francisco, and it seems perfect­ly reasonable that management at C.B.S. would like to try something else to regain the audience. This is their decision as to what should be done," which shows he knows how to be a team player in public), and NBC still dominates the ratings anyway.

One of the great moments of convention coverage comes not on television but radio, while Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey is appearing on a phone-in show with listeners back home on WCCO, the "Good Neighboor" station we all grew up listening to, and the program is interrupted by a CBS bulletin essentially announcing that President Johnson is trying to reach him regarding the Vice Presidency, after which Humphrey tells the audience he'd probaby better get off the phone, It's a wonderful moment of radio, which you can hear here.

The emotional highlight of the convention is undoubtedly Robert F. Kennedy's appearance to introduce the memorial tribute film to JFK. The younger brother of the late president received a 22-minute ovation from delegates, most of it, I would say, as a living representation of John, whose portrait was visible all week. Then again, although Bobby wouldn't fully come into his own until the presidential campaign of 1968 he did have a charisma all his own, a charisma that didn't pass all the way down to Ted, who might not have gotten the same kind of reception, It was precisely the kind of response that Lyndon Johnson had feared, which was why he had insisted the tribute film be moved to the end of the convention to prevent a possible delegate stampede during the vice presidential voting. You can see part of NBC's coverage here; it is the last time RFK will be present at a Democratic National Convention.

◊ ◊ ◊

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: The Beatles headline the show in a routine taped before their return to England. Other guests are Gordon and Sheila MacRae; singer-dancer Cab Calloway; English comics Morecambe and Wise; clarinetist Acker Bilk; comedians Dave Barry and Morty Guty; and the Pinky and Parky Puppets.

Palace: Tony Martin and his wife Cyd Charisse introduce gospel singer Mahalia Jackson; pianists Ferrante and Teicher; comedian Corbett Monica; the Berosini Chimps; the Amandis, teeterboard act; the three Bizasrro Brothers, musical group; and comics Gaylord and Holiday.

It's been a long time since we've had one of these - back to June, I think; well, it's about time! We might as well get this out of the way, because no show with the Beatles as headliners is going to lose the week, so let's get beyond that and look at the rest of the lineups. Ed has a very deep show this week, with the MacRaes and Cab Calloway, and anyone who reads these TV Guides will recognize Morecambe and Wise. On the other hand, once you get past Mahalia Jackson, the Palace has too much vaudeville. It's a lineup that might win some weeks, but this is not one of them. Sullivan is the big winner.

◊ ◊ ◊

One of the big DVD releases of recent times was season one of The Defenders, E.G. Marshall's seminal legal series. I've got it, although it's yet to reach out and grab me; I always felt The Defenders was one of those series that crossed the line between discussion and advocacy of controversial issues. Interestingly enough, as the series prepares for its fourth season, Marshall feels it's lost its edge, "this show broke fresh ground in its early days; now the atmosphere in television has developed so that even more areas can be dramatized: abortion, pornography, Negroes' problems. You have to give The Defenders at least part of the credit for that. But, as I said, we don't do much of it any more ourselves."

What are the reasons for the slump in quality, at least according to Marshall's perception? "I don't know who makes policy for the show...We're using the hunt-and-poke system, and throwing out samples to see how people react. Next season, for example, we're sprinkling in a few romances to see how they'll work. But is controversy old hat? I don't believe it is." One of the problems is that The Defenders never developed writers the way other shows did; Reginald Rose, the mastermind behind the series, did a lot of the heavy lifting early on, but there's only so much one man can do. Herbert Brodkin, the producer, "sat in his office waiting for writers to come to him." And while many did, "we could have done more real harvesting gone out in the field and farmed these writers...any writer in the country ought to be eager to work for us." There's also a tendency, if I can put Marshall's words into current-day vernacular, to focus on the micro rather than the macro; he cites a recent story in which a woman failed a blood-alcohol test in which the story focuses on whether or not the woman's test could have been tainted by the alcohol swab used by the nurse who administered the test, rather than the larger question as to whether or not requiring a defendant to submit to such a test was a violation of the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.*

*If I'm not mistaken the laws on this vary from state to state, but generally the Fifth Amendment is not held to protect one in such a case, although personally I tend to agree with Marshall that it should.

Marshall's contract on The Defenders runs out at the end of this, it's fourth season, and while Brodkin is confident it can run indefinitely, Marshall comments dryly that "Barry Goldwater is confident he'll be the next President of the United States." The show's also moving to a new night, Thursday, where it will be up against The Jimmy Dean Show on ABC and Kraft Suspense Theater on NBC. Marshall thinks Robert Reed could carry the show without him, though I'm not sure about that, but it's a moot point, as the fourth season will be the final one for The Defenders before it settles into television history. And while I'm not what you'd call a big fan of the show, I can think of nothing more appropriate than seeing the remaining three seasons come out on DVD, for the many people who've enjoyed it.

Here's something I think you'll like: five caricatures of E.G. Marshall, done by five of the top cartoonists of the day. Click on the photo to find out who's responsible for what.

◊ ◊ ◊

Sometimes it's the shows, sometimes it's the stars, sometimes it's something that just catches my eye.

Man Without a Gun stars Rex Reason as a crusading newspaperman (is there any other kind?) determined to rid his area of the West without the use of a weapon, and Sunday's episode (3:00 p.m. ET, WABC) carries the title "No Heart for Killing." Well, if you're in a series called Man Without a Gun, you'd better not have any heart for killing, or you're going to find yourself out of luck. Later on Sunday, if you're like me and wouldn't really have wanted to watch the Beatles, the choice would have been the interestingly-named I Bury the Living on WOR; it sounds like a Corman-type MST3K feature, but it stars Richard Boone (made during his Have Gun - Will Travel days) and Theodore Bikel. The story: "A cemetery manager finds that someone dies each time he sticks a black pin into a chart fo the reserved plots." And after that, if Bonanza's your thing (9:00 p.m., NBC), you get to see Little Joe, who's determined to marry a young woman whom he accidentally blinded in a hunting accident. Note to prospective couples: this is not a prescription for long-term marital success.

Monday afternoon's matinee on WPIX (1:00 p.m.) carries the decepitve title Hangmen Also Die; it's actually the more-or-less true story of Obergruppenf├╝hrer Reinhard Heydrich, one of the most evil, and most remarkable, men of the 20th century. His nicknames speak for themselves: The Hangman; The Butcher of Prague; The Blond Beast; The Man with the Iron Heart. He was at one time head of the group which would become Interpol; he helped organise Kristallnacht in 1938; as chair of the Wannsee Conference, he was tasked with organizing plans for the Final Solution in 1942. He was played in the movie Conspiracy by Kenneth Branagh. As for Hangmen Also Die, it's directed by Fritz Lang, based on a story by Bertolt Brecht, with a score by Hanns Eisler and cinematography by James Wong Howe, It stars Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Brian Donlevy, Walter Brennan, Gene Lockhart and Dennis O'Keefe. Whew.

Friday, WPIX offers up chapters 13 and 14 of the serial "Canadian Mounties vs. Atomic Invaders." I don't know how I've missed this one - or, better yet, how MST3K missed it. Here's a trailer for the DVD release, just to prove I haven't made it up.

At 9:30 p.m. on Friday, CBS has a preview of the $200,000 Carling World Golf Championship, which airs over the weekend and which gets a mention in next week's issue. James Garner is the host of the exhibition, which was taped earlier in the day at the famed Oakland Hills Country Club outside Detroit and features six of the golfers playing in the tournament, along with some comic relief from Pat Harrington.

That's not the big sports news of the week, though - that story was in the front of the issue, where For the Record reports on the sale of controlling interest of the New York Yankees to CBS for $11 million. It's a landmark sale in many ways, for although the sum seems paltry by today's standards, it marks one of the first moves of corporate ownership into professional sports. It's thought that CBS did this partly for investment purposes - "It's the entertainment business, isn't it?" said one director" - and partly for strategic reasons, to keep pay-TV, which has made inroads with the Dodgers and Giants, from becoming more heavily involved in the broadcasting picture. It's not a happy marriage, and CBS winds up unloading the Yankees for $10 million in 1973, less than what it paid for the club. Don't weep for the Tiffany Network, though; according to Michael Burke, one of the new owners (along with George Steinbrenner), "because of its corporate structure, tax losses and the like, CBS 'substantially recouped its investment.'

Here's something I didn't know: the announcer and sidekick on Tennessee Ernie Ford's Monday-Friday afternoon variety show is Jim Lange, who started out with Ford during his prime-time show in 1962 and will, three years later, go on to host The Dating Game. Something I did know is that Lange was born and raised in the Twin Cities and graduated from the University of Minnesota. When you're from Minnesota yourself, you tend to know things like that.

TV Teletype reports that NBC will pair two previously seen half-hour portraits of Civil War heroes Grant and Lee on September 1: "U.S. Grant, and Improbable Hero," and "Lee, the Virginian" as a full-hour show. No snark here, just a serious question: could you actually show something like this on television today, let alone refer to Robert E. Lee as a "Civil War hero"? I honestly don't know that you could.

◊ ◊ ◊

Long before Guy Fieri became a royal pain in the ass, there was The French Chef, Julia Child, the first breakout star of National Educational Television. People love her and her easy-does-it attitude; more than once she's said something like, "Never use water unless you have to - I'm going to use vermouth." Of the occasional blunder, there's the hope that "Heavens! Maybe we'll discover something new with this departure from the recipe!"

Her show is produced on WGBH, Channel 2 in Boston, and is currently seen on 40 educational stations throughout the country, a number that will expand to 90 this fall. She gets no pay for the program, and prior to doing the show she'd never performed before a camera. The story mentions how her husband worked with the State Department in Paris, how she took a six-month course at Cordon Bleu, how she was tutored by private chefs and then opened her own cooking school, after which she co-wrote a cookbook called Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It mentions nothing about her time working as a spy for the OSS, a story good enough that they're planning to make a TV series about it, but then you can't have everything in one story, can you?

"Part of cooking," she says, "is in recovering one's mistakes. A cook's motto should be 'Never despair' - you can always change a mistake into something else." That attitide, and her accessibility, is one reason why she'll always be the people's chef.

◊ ◊ ◊

Phyllis Newman, lately of NBC's That Was the Week That Was, will long outlive the network's unsuccessful attempt to duplicate the success of the BBC's news/satire hit. ("This is the satire that isn't," says the New York Herald Tribune's John Horn). She was far from an unknown commodity before the show started, and the "kooky and quick-witted parlor personality" will remain in-demand long after TW3 is but a blur in the faded consciousness of even the most hardened classic television aficionado.

She started her career out at age five with an act called "Pussy the Hypnotizing Cat," something even she admits she isn't sure about. As a youngster she trooped around the Catskills performing in the last days of vaudeville, then did some drama in school and wound up back in the theater. She understudied in the musical "Bells are Ringing," and wound up marrying the show's co-author, Adolph Green - half of the famed songwriting team of (Betty) Comden and Green. She went on to win a Tony for Supporting Actress in a Musical for "Subways Are For Sleeping," after which came appearances on The Tonight Show, gigs as a daytime panelist on To Tell the Truth and other Goodson-Todman properties, and TW3, among others. Always, she appears with that "kooky," girlish charm and winning personality, guaranteeing she'll be a fixture on TV screens and stages, for even though she loves being a mother of two and enjoys being in her husband's limelight ("I'm not after a monumental career."), a friend says she's like everyone else: She wants to be a star.

One of the reasons why I mention Phyllis Newman, besides the fact that I've always liked her, is because if you have Buzzr, you can catch her on reruns of Password, What's My Line? and To Tell the Truth. If you have Antenna, you can likely see some of her many appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. And if you check her out online, you can go to her website because Phyllis Newman is one of the very few stars from that era who is still with us, and I think that alone is worth celebrating, don't you?

◊ ◊ ◊

Finally, why convention organizers are so adamant on having conventions tightly scripted - and why television viewers hate it so much.

As Neil Hickey relates it, it was at the 1948 Democratic convention when "a well-meaning lady delegate decided that a flock of 'doves of peace' should be released in the Convention Hall just as President Harry Truman was to begin his acceptance speech." We'll let the story develop from here:

The "doves" turned out to be garden-variety pigeons recently entrapped at City Hall, and no one had bothered to rehearse them sufficiently. They were supposed to soar upward on cue as inspiring symbols fo peace.

Instead, they waddled out of their cages and remained resolutely earthbound, until their sponsors began spooking them with sticks and rolled-up newspapers. Then they took off crazily in all directions, diving and swooping at the delegates.

One made a low-level attack on Permanent Chairman Sam Rayburn, sending him cowering under the rostrum. Others flew with a kamikaze fervor into the giant fans which were cooling the hall.

The scene proved to the Democrats that pigeon pageants are OK - on paper - but an old-fashioned platform addvocating peace is safer."

About the only detail missing is the feathers from the kamikaze pigeons, floating lazily down from the ceiling to the convention floor. But I ask you - would you not tune in to something like this? If you ask me, this would be Must See TV. TV  


  1. In re: The Central Park Pigeons.

    - would you not tune in to something like this?

    I wouldn't.
    In fact, I couldn't have.
    In order to tune in on it, I'd have had to know in advance that it was going to happen.
    1948 was network TV's stone age; everybody was making it up as they went along.
    There's no guarantee that the cameras would be facing the right way when the pigeons staged their "work stoppage".
    Even if they were facing the right way, any live coverage of the "event" would be subject to the noticeable lack of mobility of the '48 technology.

    I don't know if any kinescopes survive of this wondrous happening.
    If there are, there probably isn't anything other than chaos on view, in fuzzy black & white.

  2. Other Stuff (in no fixed order):

    - Tennessee Ernie Ford's ABC daytime show started up in early 1962; it was never in prime time.
    Ford originated the show at ABC's o&o station in San Francisco, KGO-TV.
    He was living at a ranch in northern California, not far from SF; the daily commute was a factor in his decision to take the show.
    At that time, Jim Lange was a big name at KGO radio.
    Jim and Ol' Ern met at the radio show, hit it off, and there you have it.

    What I remember about The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show was that it was almost totally ad-lib.
    This included the commercials, which Ern and Jim would do live - to the consternation of the sponsors, who ultimately discouraged the practice.
    On one occasion, Ern had this to say about Peter Pan Peanut Butter:
    "It's good for the little monsters!"
    Another time, Ern was demonstrating how easy PPPB was to spread, and Jim said, "Hey Ern, let me have some!", extending his hand for the purpose.
    Ern smiled, said "All right!", and proceeded to spread the peanut butter directly on to Jim's outstretched palm - where it remained until a filmed ad spot came up, and Jim was able to go off stage and deal with the situation.

    One day, IATSE, the technicians union, called a strike against all the San Francisco TV stations, forcing Ern and Jim to do a live show with station suits manning the cameras.
    The two broadcast professionals started out by seriously explaining to viewers what was happening, and how they were going ahead with the show.
    The seriousness lasted all of about two minutes, as Jim and Ern proceeded to ad-lib without mercy, calling attention to every mistake the suits were making with the cameras.
    The team of Ford & Lange were sitting center stage, both in dark three-piece suits, when one camera focused on Ernie's foot.
    As soon as he saw that was the shot going out to the ABC network, Ern immediately whipped off his shoe and began vigorously scratching his foot.
    The studio audience cheered him on.
    I guess you had to be there ...

    You could say that this was one of the things that helped to kill live local TV.

  3. The news of Humphrey's selection was broken on TV by NBC correspondent Nancy Dickerson, who realized such when she saw Lady Bird Johnson and Muriel Humphrey meeting together. She met the President's helicopter when he landed in Atlantic City, and verified her report.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!