March 17, 2018

This week in TV Guide: March 19, 1960

This week's cover story is on Perry Mason, and since you all should know by now this is one of my favorite shows, you can't be surprised I'm going to spend a little time on it.

One of the secrets to the success of Mason, according to this unbylined article, is its strong supporting cast, each of whom brings something special to his or her role. Take Bill Talman, for example, who plays Perry's nemesis Hamilton Burger. According to Talman, Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner didn't think much of the D.A. "Erle detested Berger," Talman says, "and drew him as the prototype of the loud, blustering sorehaead, like the one who used to plague him as a young lawyer." Talman has worked to flesh out the character, to reduce the temptation by viewers to see him as a heavy. "Otherwise, it would be no credit to Perry to set him down every week."

Ray Collins, the honest (if quick to judge) detective lieutenant Arthur Tragg, is an old pro, one who "can sense other actors' needs and throw the scene their way." For instance, if a young actor, perhaps one playing his first big role, is struggling with his lines, Collins will start fumbling his to take the pressure off - if, that is, Talman or Raymond Burr don't beat him to it.* But, as Collins adds, "we are professionals. Therefore, no matter how fond we are of one another, we all try to protect ourselves. If Willie Talman can get better lighting than I can, well, I assure you I'l try to change that." Barbara Hale, Perry's loyal secretary Della Street, says "It's like the competition in a family."

*I wonder about this. Collins was, by all accounts, a generous colleague, but it's been said that as his health began to fail (he died in 1965), he began to have more trouble memorizing and delivering his lines. It could be that Talman and Burr, almost certainly the sources of this anecdote, were in fact using it to cover for Collins. It's the kind of thing mensches would do.


Bill Hopper, son of the famed columnist Hedda, has learned his share of tricks of the trade, thanks both to his mother and veteran actors. He, too, has become a pro over the years; "If all you know is tricks, you're dead."

It's a tight cast, even if they do compete for better lighting and close-ups. Says Talman, who has shared a dressing room with Hopper for three years, "Can you think of rooming with a guy for three years and never having a quarrel or argument? I can't. But that has happened with Bill and me." Collins adds that "There's something else - call it a great affection, like a legit show on the road. When it closes you may never see each other again. Sometimes we think of that. And so we still speak to each other." "And laugh at each other's jokes," Talman adds.

At the center of it all is Raymond Burr, and Collins accurately sums up the man and his impact on the cast.  "Take Raymond, a man doing 39 hour-long shows a year, appearing in almost every scene, knowing his lines letter-perfect, and who still devotes himself to making it better for other people." He and Talman are inveterate practical jokers, both on each other and on other members of the cast; Hale, who's a favorite target for Burr, once found everything in her dressing room - sink, flower pots, everything - filled with green gelatin.

Judging by the lack of jealousy among the cast, that must be the only thing that's green.

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Starting in 1954, Steve Allen helmed his own NBC variety show which, at the beginning, aired opposite that of Ed Sullivan. It didn't run as long as Ed's, of course, but then Allen said his goal was never to conquer Ed, but to coexist with him, which he did for four seasons. Let's see who gets the best of the contest this week.

Sullivan: Ed presents circus stars from all over the world. In London: Popov, famed Soviet clown; the Boxing Russian Bears. In New York: Emmett Kelly, celebrated American clown; the De Donge Chimps; Linon, high-wire clown; and the Three Murkies.

Allen: Steve's guests are actress Ann Blyth, Nick "The Rebel" Adams, comedian Jan Murray and the Nikolais dancers.

No contest here; unless you're a big fan of circuses, the only name you may recognize from Ed's lineup is Emmett Kelly, although I'll admit to having a soft spot for boxing bears. On the other hand, Steve has an actual lineup of stars, and while it may not be the strongest hand, it's the best one this week. The verdict: Allen takes the week.

◊ ◊ ◊

Speaking of Ed, to coin a phrase, we've got some really big stars in specials and regular fare alike, and that dominates our look at the week.

On Saturday Jack Benny gets a full hour special (9:00 p.m. CT) in addition to his regular weekly series, and he fills it up with Phil Silvers and Polly Bergen. Among the highlights, Jack interviews a "typical" TV Western viewer, gives his opinion on television commercials, and wonders about the runner taking the Olympic torch from Squaw Valley to Rome for the Summer Games.

Sunday brings us the return of Dr. Frank Baxter, whom we've enjoyed here before, in another Bell Telephone Science Special, "The Alphabet Conspiracy." (5:00 p.m., NBC) Dr. Baxter plays Dr. Linguistics, who's out to "prevent three plotters who are determined to do away with the alphabet and thus destroy all languages." Who knew they'd go on to invent emojis instead? Hans Conried plays The Mad Hatter, who for all I know may or may not be one of the plotters. If you caught this when it was first on 14 months ago, you may opt for this week's roundtable discussion on Small World (5:00, CBS), featuring Pablo Casals, Isaac Stern and Ernest Ansermet discussing the musician's political and social responsibilities. CBS follows that up at 5:30 with The Twentieth Century, as Walter Cronkite profiles "Patton and the Third Army."

Sunday evening brings a pair of specials; first, Our American Heritage (7:00 p.m., NBC) tells the story of "Autocrat and Son," also known as Oliver Wendell Holms Sr. and Jr. Sr. is played by Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Jr. by Christopher Plummer, and the whole thing was written by Ernest Kinoy, who wrote great teleplays into the 1990s, everything from The Defenders to the TV-movies Victory at Entebbe and Skokie. Then, at 8:30 p.m. on CBS, the General Mills Special Tonight series presents "The Valley of Decision" with Lloyd Bridges and Nancy Wickwire.

Compared to Sunday's lineup, Monday is pretty tame, but it does have its benefits, with Arlene Francis as Jack Paar's guest-host for the week (NBC, 10:30 p.m.), while Jack's in England taping next week's shows. Was Arlene the first woman to host Tonight? I think so, but don't hold me to it; I'm not sure at this point in history who else in might have been.

Tuesday starts off with Playhouse 90's chilling adaptation of Robert Shaw's novel "The Hiding Place" (7:00 p.m., CBS) starring James Mason as a Nazi holding two British flyers (Richard Basehart, Trevor Howard) prisoner in his cellar. They've spent years chained up in there, with Mason as their only contact to the outside world. What he doesn't tell them is that the war has been over for seven years. If that's too dark for you, you can check out a rare television appearance by Rex Harrison in Startime's "Dear Arthur" (7:30 p.m., NBC), co-starring Sarah Marshall and Hermoine Badderly, with Gore Vidal adapting the play by P.G. Wodehouse.

I like the sound of Perry Como's show on Wednesday (8:00 p.m., NBC), with Steve Lawrence and Eydie GormĂ©, and Don Adams. (Might be the best variety show of the week, for that matter.) You can also check out Richard Boone, taking time out from Have Gun - Will Travel to star in "The Charlie and the Kid" on The U.S. Steel Hour (9:00 p.m., CBS), with Geraldine Brooks.

The big event on Thursday is a local one, the start of the Minnesota State High School Basketball Tournament. (For boys, of course; it is 1960, after all.) I think most people think of hockey when they think sports in Minnesota, but in the years before professional sports came to town, the basketball tournament was very, very big stuff. The tournament ran for three days, with eight teams battling for the title, ending on Saturday night when nearly 20,000 would pack Williams Arena, home of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, to watch the final. If they're lucky, it would be a David-vs-Goliath story, with an unsung small school out of nowhere taking on the big city schools.

In 1960 that's exactly what happened, as Minnesota staged its very own version of Hoosiers, starring the team from tiny Edgerton, Minnesota (population 961). Edgerton, led by coach Rich Olson (so young that security guards demanded to see his identification before letting him into Williams Arena), had finished the regular season undefeated, then knocked off several large schools before making it into the tournament, where the standing-room only crowds adopted the tiny school as its own, cheering them on as they upset top-ranked Richfield in the semifinals before defeating Austin in the final. Edgerton was the smallest school ever to win the state championship, and to this day the tournament remains one of the most storied moments in Minnesota sports history.

On Friday, Robert Ryan and Ann Todd star in a live adaptation of Hemingway's story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" (7:30 p.m., CBS), which must have been quite an accomplishment considering our hero leads a life of adventure all over the world. At least they have the right man at the helm, with John Frankenheimer directing. Pretty good supporting cast as well, with Janice Rule, Jean Hagen, Mary Astor and James Gregory,

◊ ◊ ◊

And the winner is: Last week, you'll recall that we looked at the official ballot for the inaugural TV Guide Awards, and at that time I promised I'd reveal the winners this week. The show airs in color Friday night at 7:30 on NBC, with Robert Young, Nanette Fabray, and Fred MacMurray hosting and performing in some pre-recorded skits, while while the awards themselves are presented live in both New York and Hollywood, depending on where the winner is. Perhaps the most interesting piece of information about this show is that the producer and director are Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear - small world, huh?

Anyway, may I have the envelope please?

Favorite Series of One Hour or Longer: Perry Mason
Favorite Half-Hour Series: Father Knows Best
Best Single Musical or Variety Program: Another Evening with Fred Astaire
Most Popular Male Personality: Raymond Burr (Perry Mason)
Most Popular Female Personality: Loretta Young (The Loretta Young Show)
Best News or Information Program: The Huntley-Brinkley Report
Best Single Dramatic Program: "The Turn of the Screw" (Startime)

So how did you do? Do you think you could have picked them better than the readers of TV Guide? By next year, 1961, the TV Guide Awards are ranked as one of the three important entertainment awards, together with the Academy Awards and the Emmy Awards. They'd run through 1964, and then came back for a brief encore in the early 2000s, before disappearing completely into the television ether, although if it's true that television and radio waves disappear into space, perhaps someone's still enjoying it today.  TV  

5 comments:

  1. While I've never seen that Playhouse 90 adaption of "The Hiding Place" I do recall seeing the 1965 major motion picture adaption "Situation Hopeless... But Not Serious" starring Alec Guinness, Mike Connors & Robert Redford. Though I've only seen it once and a long time ago, so I can't quite say if it was any good or not.

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  2. Due Diligence:

    Noting that WTCN-Channel 11 is an ABC affiliate, which means that the basketball knocked out the network line up for Thursday evening.

    Something similar happened here in Chicago, on Saturday of that week: our own ABC station, Channel 7, carried the Illinois High School Basketball Tournament, knocking out Leave It To Beaver, Lawrence Welk, and Jubilee USA.

    In Minnesota, this would mean that you lost that week's Real McCoys, Pat Boone, The Untouchables, and Take A Good Look.

    Tonight, in service to this blog, I went to the Old DVD Wall and watched those latter two shows.

    The Untouchables had their version of an old RKO prison picture, "Three Thousand Suspects".
    An imprisoned con was about to tell all to Ness, but was murdered just after his parole was denied.
    Suspecting the worst, Ness arranges for another con to be transferred to Leavenworth, to find out who did the deed.
    The main Guest Star was Leslie Nielsen as the undercover con - playing very serious indeed.
    Bruce Gordon appears briefly as Frank Nitti, who's trying to preserve a message sending-and-receiving service to and from Leavenworth.
    In other words, business as usual.

    After that, Take A Good Look is also business as usual.
    This week, Ernie Kovacs's "clues" are so off-the-wall that even Ben Alexander can't figure them out - and Hans Conreid is nearly driven to violence; at one point he threatens to throw his nameplate at Ernie.
    Edie Adams does get off a good one at Ernie's expense, which I won't spoil (I infer from previous posts that you got the DVD set).

    As for the basketball games - well, as I said here once before, I don't gamble, and therefore have no interest whatever in hoops, so there too.

    A few other things:

    - Did you happen to notice who wrote that US Steel Hour with Richard Boone on Wednesday?
    Go ahead and take a look, right now ...

    - ... and while you're at it, check out the listing for The Troubleshooters, on NBC on Friday night.
    This was a short-lived series that starred Keenan Wynn as a construction-crew boss who took his team all over the world for jobs.
    Check out that listing too - and keep in mind that it's early 1960.
    (No spoilers otherwise.)

    - I thought I had a third one, but I guess not ...

    On to Monday!

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    Replies
    1. James Lipton???

      And that's very interesting, about The Troubleshooters; that has to be one of the first references to Vietnam in an American television drama, I'd think...

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  3. Jack Benny's TV sereis wasn't yet weekly in March of 1960.

    After doing a few specials in 1950 and 1951, Jack did one show every three weeks in 1952, then a show every-other-week until the end of the 1959-60 television season (indeed, when Jack's radio series ended in 1955, there was speculation among fans his TV show would go weekly, but the TV show continued it's every-other-week schedule for another five seasons).

    Jack didn't do a weekly TV series until September of 1960, and then, supposedly only because his friend, CBS chairman Bill Paley, asked him to.

    In 1964, CBS cancelled Benny. It was network programming chief Jim Aubrey who canned Jack, and the story was Aubrey waited until Paley was on an out-of-town trip where he couldn't be reached, so that Paley couldn't reverse his decision.

    By the time Paley learned about the decision, Jack had signed a contract to return to NBC (where he was on radio from 1933 through the end of 1948). It called for one season of a weekly show since Jack wanted to cut back on his TV work; after all, he had been doing regular TV and/or radio shows for over thirty years so no wonder he wanted a break), then occasional specials for a few years afterwards.

    Nevertheless, Jack Benny was one of the most popular entertainers in broadcasting history, and today has many fans who weren't even born yet when he passed away on Boxing Day (December 26th) of 1974.

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  4. It seems the Edgerton/Austin final in the 1960 State B'ball tourney is the equivalent of NC State's 1983 NCAA Men's tourney finals victory over Houston. It must've been a real event for that time-and no doubt was a big ratings winner for WTCN (now NBC outlet KARE).

    Can't help but wonder this: had the TV Guide Awards lasted into 1966, would we have seen shows like Batman, Bewitched, Daktari, Gunsmoke, Wild Wild West and Hollywood Palace on the ballot? No one can say, but it sure does make you wonder.

    That Untouchables episode, was no doubt one of the highlights during this, the 1st season of the first of many great shows helmed by the great Quinn Martin. I hope to see it sometime. Troubleshooters sounds like a good show, too. Hopefully, it will pop up on the internet at some point, if it hasn't already.

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!