April 7, 2018

This week in TV Guide: April 9, 1960

Let's start with the most provocative of the questions posed on the cover this week. Just what show is it that drives lawyers wild?

Believe it or not, it's CBS's daytime The Verdict Is Yours, which uses actual lawyers to contest its cases, actual judges to hear them, actors as the defendants and the witnesses, and members of the studio audience as the jury. And everyone gets so wrapped up in the cases, according to producer Eugene Burr (no relation to Raymond, unfortunately - wouldn't that make a great story?), they often forget it's just a show. One actor "on trial" waited for hours for his "jury" to come in before finally going home. At 3:00 a.m., Burr received a phone call from him. "I haven't been able to sleep a wink all night," he said to Burr. "What was the verdict?"

The show has no script; the actors improvise from an outline, and they're expected to stick to whatever story they come up with when it's time to set the lawyers loose on them. The actors resent the lawyers trying to make them look bad. The lawyers themselves have to occasionally be separated by the "bailiff," actor Mandel Kramer. "It's rough enough to lose a case in a real court," one says, "but I'll be doggoned if I'll do it in front of 4,000,000 people."* Actresses have broken down hysterically while on the stand, but so far nobody's taken a swing at anyone.

*And I'll be doggoned if the lawyer in question actually used the word "doggoned." 

Jim McKay, who we'll see anchoring CBS's coverage of the Masters later in this write up, plays The Verdict Is Yours's court reporter, wrote in his autobiography about how he'd been so dissatisfied with The Verdict is Yours, feeling that his career was at a dead end, that he suffered a nervous breakdown. It's a poignant story, told in absolute honesty and candor, and considering the fame which McKay reached while on Wide World of Sports, and the Peabody he won for covering the Munich Olympic Massacre, one can understand how he must have felt working as a "court reporter."

Be that as it may, The Verdict Is Yours was on CBS from 1957 to 1962, thrilling people every step of the way. We've fallen a long way from that to Judge Judy, haven't we?

◊ ◊ ◊

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's guests for his fourth salute to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), are the McGuire Sisters; musical comedy star Alfred Drake; singers Chris Connor, Jill Corey and Rose Hardaway; old-time vaudevillian Blossom Seeley; operatic soprano Roberta Peters; the Ames Brothers; and dancer Carol Haney.

Allen: Steve's guests are actor Charlton Heston, opera star Risë Stevens and singer Jerry Vale, with regulars Don Knotts, Louis Nye, Pat Harrington Jr., Gabe Dell and Bill Dana.

Rarely do we get a powerhouse week like this. Sullivan and Allen are both loaded: each has a star from the Metropolitan Opera, each with star singers. Ed has the McGuire Sisters and the Ames Brothers; Steve counters with Charlton Heston, fresh off his Academy Award for Ben-Hur last week. Usually we get this result with subpar weeks, but this week it's because there are too many stars to choose from. The verdict: Push.

◊ ◊ ◊

Saturday and Sunday afternoons CBS presents live coverage of the concluding holes at the Masters golf tournament in Augusta. It's not what we've come to expect nowadays, with 18-hole coverage; back in 1960, only the last four holes have cameras on them, so there's a good chance the tournament might already be wrapped up by the time TV joins in the fun. (It's a wonder that tournament golf ever took off on television with that kind of coverage.) Ah, but what a tournament CBS gets this year! Despite that limited coverage, viewers don't miss a thing as they see Arnold Palmer birdie the last two holes to defeat Ken Venturi by a stroke, with Jim McKay calling the action. It's Arnie's second Masters victory, and his second major championship; he'll go on to win the U.S. Open in June, and then finish in second at the British Open in July. As for Ken Venturi, he'll win the 1964 U.S. Open for his only major, and then go on to a long and successful career as an analyst for CBS, including the Masters. I still miss hearing him at Augusta.

The other big story in sports this week is the culmination of the NBA Finals on Saturday, with the Boston Celtics taking on the St. Louis Hawks in Game 7, Lindsay Nelson and Curt Gowdy calling the action for NBC. Now, according to TV Guide, this is supposed to have been Game 6 (if necessary), with no mention of what time it's on, or anything important like that. (Although I'd be very surprised if NBC had plans to televise it in prime time.) So of course I checked my handy online basketball reference guide to make sure that there even was a Game 6, and - surprise! There was, but it was on April 7. Don't know quite how things like this happen, but I always enjoy it when they do. And if you're curious, Boston wins Game 7, 122-103. That's three in four years for the Celts.

◊ ◊ ◊

Now here's an interesting program, on Friday night's Desilu Playhouse (8:00 p.m., CBS). "The Man in the Funny Suit" tells of the backstage drama that surrounded the live broadcast of "Requiem for a Heavyweight" on Playhouse 90 back in 1956. "Requiem" was the first straight dramatic role for comedian Ed Wynn; his son Keenan, who was also in the cast that night, was by no means certain that his father would be able to pull it off, and understudy Ned Glass was ready to go on in Ed's place should it be necessary. It wasn't, of course - Ed Wynn was brilliant in the role; the production itself is one of the most memorable from the Golden Age.

Ralph Nelson, who directed "Requiem," is the producer, director and writer of "The Man in the Funny Suit," which recreates what happened. Ed and Keenan Wynn play themselves, as do Nelson, Red Skelton, Rod Serling (who wrote "Requiem"), Maxie Rosenbloom, announcer Dick Joy, and others. The listing refers to it as a "documentary drama," eventually shortened to "docudramas." Studio One had done something like this back in 1957 when "The Night America Trembled" told the story of Orson Welles' radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, but I like the idea of creating a "Making Of" television drama about a television show that the network itself had broadcast.

Here's the restored live broadcast of "Requiem for a Heavyweight," followed by the broadcast of "The Man in the Funny Suit."



◊ ◊ ◊

It's another week of big programs, and we're here to run through them from beginning to end.

While Saturday's highlights are devoted to sports, Sunday has a little something for everyone, beginning with a number of Palm Sunday services and specials in the morning and early afternoon. At 1:00 p.m., NBC Opera Company presents Mozart's "Don Giovanni," in a live color broadcast starring two of the greats of the opera stage, Cesare Siepi and Leontyne Price. At 5:30 p.m., NBC returns with Hallmark Hall of Fame's production of "The Cradle Song," which the last time it was produced on Hallmark was called "One of the most beautiful and deeply stirring programs television has ever offered" by The New York Times. The all-star cast includes Helen Hayes, Judith Anderson, Siobhan McKenna, Charles Bickford, and Zohra Lampert. The evening winds up with Loretta Young's Easter show (9:00 p.m., NBC), a full-hour drama (her show usually ran 30 minutes) filmed entirely on location at Lourdes, France.

Plenty of stars on hand Monday, starting with Jim Backus as Danny Thomas's old college chum (8:00 p.m., CBS), followed by Ernie Kovacs in "Author at Work" on Goodyear Theater (8:30 p.m., NBC), while at the same time on ABC the luminous Diane Baker is up for adventures with Gardner McKay in Adventures in Paradise. Ivan Dixon stars in The Twilight Zone, which KDAL shows at 10:15 p.m., and WTCN's late-night movie at 10:20 p.m., "The Clock," stars Judy Garland, Robert Walker and James Gleason. Not a bad night, I have to say.

More stars on Tuesday, James Stewart, George Gobel and Lois Smith star in "Cindy's Fella," a western version of Cinderella, on Ford Startime. (NBC, 7:30 p.m.) Then, Audrey Meadows guests with Red Skelton at 8:30 p.m. on CBS, while at the same time on NBC, The Arthur Murray Party welcomes Eva Gabor, June Havoc, David Wayne, and Bert Lahr. Finally, opera star Patrice Munsel and Alan King are the guests on The Garry Moore Show. (9:00 p.m., CBS)

Wednesday gives us another edition of Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concert from Carnegie Hall. The topic: "unusual instruments of the past, present and future." Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall (8:00 p.m., NBC) has Perry's traditional Easter show, with the Lennon Sisters, Dorothy Collins, Johnny Puleo, and Bill Baird and his marionettes.

Bette Davis makes an infrequent television appearance on Thursday on NBC's Producer's Choice. (7:30 p.m.) She plays a woman on vacation in Hong Kong with her husband Frank (Forrest Tucker). He takes a phone call and disappears; one night she returns to her room and confronts a stranger - who "looks like Frank, is wearing his clothes and carrying his identification." Meanwhile, on Revlon Revue (9:00 p.m., CBS), Peggy Lee is the star of a show featuring an otherwise all-male cast, including Mel Tormé, the Chad Mitchell Trio, the Newport Youth Band, and a college glee club.

Friday is Good Friday, and WCCO, Channel 4, commemorates the day with a presentation of the Stations of the Cross at 7:30 p.m., recorded at St. Olaf Catholic Church in downtown Minneapolis, St. Olaf is still there today; in fact, it's the church I attend at noontime during the week. If you're looking for something a little more humorous, Jerry Lewis may have it for you, with a live color special at the same time on NBC. Tony Bennett and Rose Hardaway are on hand for the music, while The Nitwits and Allen Funt (with his Candid Camera) help Jerry with the comedy.

◊ ◊ ◊

Finally, some viewer feedback regarding the TV Guide Awards, as read in Letters to the Editor. Mrs. W. Arthur Ford of Hollidayburg, Pennsylvania, says that TV Guide "deserves a round of applause for the suburb handling of the Guide awards," and an anonymous writer from Hollywood adds that "The Emmy and Oscar programs may well take a leaf out of your book for a perfect production." On the other hand, Jacqueline T. Mangan of Huntington Park, California called the show "a cliché-ridden fiasco," and another anonymous correspondent, from Abington, Pennsylvania, bluntly says "I think most of these awards were fixed." Most, not all? C'mon, don't pull any punches. And on another topic, P.K. Radcliff, after watching the G.E. Theater production "Do Not Disturb," asks the question, "Don't we have enough rude, mouthy children running around without devoting an entire half hour to making our youngsters into professional sassboxes?" Mr. (or Mrs.) Radcliff may not be among the living 58 years later; if they are, however, I wonder what they think of today?  TV 

8 comments:

  1. Great stuff.

    That PRODUCER'S CHOICE episode originally aired on GENERAL ELECTRIC THEATRE in April 1958 and is titled "The Cold Touch". It's on YouTube and is worth watching. Leif Erickson (THE HIGH CHAPPARAL) and James Hong also appear. By this time, Tuck was on stage full time for a few years as Professor Harold Hill in THE MUSIC MAN.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. James Hong has had a long, distinguished career, especially on tv. Whenever I see him or his name, though, I hear in my mind (in a heavy Chinese accent) "Seinfeld, Four!". I'm sure his accent here was phony as (and Mitchell would be happy to know) he's a native of Minneapolis.

      Delete
    2. And Tucker had a long enough run in Chicago to take a gig as a disc jockey on a local radio station there.

      Delete
  2. First things first:

    - The Verdict Is Yours was about to move its production from New York to Hollywood in 1960.
    Jim McKay, with NYC commitments, didn't make the move; he was replaced by Bill Stout (CBS's local news anchor), and later by Jack Whitaker (whose sportscasting career somewhat paralleled Jim McKay's).

    - "The Man In The Funny Suit" has its own backstory, which is told in the color section:
    About a week after "Requiem For A Heavyweight" aired, Ralph Nelson had lunch with Red Skelton, who mentioned that he thought the backstage story would make a good show in itself.
    Nelson thought about, and then approached Desi Arnaz to make it happen on Desilu Playhouse.
    Looking at the show itself, the most interesting aspect is not only did so many of the real people play themselves, but two of the major figures - Ralph Nelson and Rod Serling - were willing to be the "heavies", to play unsympathetically for much of the show.
    (Remember that this is before Serling began regularly appearing on-camera as the host of Twilight Zone; his performing skills were largely unknown to the audience.)

    - Footnote to the above:
    Desilu Playhouse was immediately followed on CBS by a first-run episode of Twilight Zone - "A Nice Place To Visit", starring Larry Blyden and Sebastian Cabot.
    Years later, we learned that when Charles Beaumont initially submitted the script to TZ, he actually proposed that Rod Serling play the lead role himself.
    A brief quote from Beaumont's memo to Serling:

    ... My opinion is that it would be a lot of fun all around, that if you can indeed act you'd be keen in the role, and that the concomitant publicity would be unbad."
    - From Marc Scott Zicree's Twilight Zone Companion (emphases mine).

    Standing down for now: there's a lot of other stuff you missed in here, so I'll likely be back with more later (can't wait, can you?).

    ReplyDelete
  3. The Ivan Dixon Twilight Zone episode that KDAL is airing is called "The Big Tall Wish", and yes, it's a delayed broadcast from the previous Friday. It's a pretty great episode, BTW, if you haven't seen it yet.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The Boston Celtics would go on to win eight straight NBA championships (1959 through 1966), still the record for the most consecutive titles by a team in any of the "big four" American professional team sports.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Nice work, Mitchell. Thanks for posting the Ed Wynn links and for shining a light on what should be a more well-known film. It stars a comedy icon and features so many other well-known faces, all playing themselves. And it's based on a true event, which just happens to be the filming of an Emmy Award-winning Rod Serling drama. It has a weird-meta-autobiographical quality that is very cool and very unique for that era of television. Good stuff.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for writing! Drive safely!