August 18, 2018

This week in TV Guide: August 20, 1966

This week's cover boy is the seemingly-ageless Red Skelton, who - like all of us, I suppose - eternally fights against the fear that "this time he will not be funny."

Dwight Whitney visits him in Vegas, where he's doing his stand-up routine in the Copa Room of the Sands Hotel. He's eating raw tomatoes and Red Hots, the only two things his stomach can keep down. And despite all his fame, his 43 years in the business, his long-running radio and TV shows and movies and all the rest, he still worries. When his old friend Ed Wynn had died, he'd described what it was like when the jokes bombed, when the act met the deafening silence: it is "the loneliness of a lover saying goodby, a prelude to death. The tears in the eyes dry to a dull glisten. Every nerve reaches out. There is no medication to relieve the pain, no understanding to wrap the wound in. He stands there and bleeds..." It is from this meditation that Whitney derives the title of the article, "A clown is a warrior who fights gloom."

Whitney shares the nuances of Skelton's act, how his job is to break down the resistance of the man in the audience who thinks he isn't funny anymore, the farmer from Des Moines who doesn't like comedians but comes because his wife drags him along, the person who sits there with folded arms and dares Red to make him laugh. By the end, of course, he is laughing; they're all laughing, and after it's all over, Skelton sits in his dressing room, his tuxedo drenched by perspiration. For this, Red Skelton is paid $35,000 per week; he owns two Rolls and has a couple of mansions, one of them in Palm Springs with 27 rooms. He has, says Whitney, "lost more millions than most millionaires ever see." He's in his 16th season on television. And yet, after the high of the performance has worn off, the worries will return.

He is a complex man, Red Skelton is. A learned man who reads books on philosophy and religion and has a massive collection of antique Bibles; a composer, painter, writer, and photographer; a comedian, an actor, a mime; a clown who is a warrior when the laughs won't come. He drops the gentle religion jokes he told the night before, although they got big laughs. Too big, Red says: "I have to solve the idea behind the laughter. What's behind it I don't like. I am not the type to tell religious jokes."

Despite all his worries, though, the laughs still come every night. That doesn't mean he won't keep worrying, though; that's the lot of a warrior, a samurai - one of the Japanese symbols that frequent hs paintings. If it seems as if all the worry is ridiculous, maybe he things so as well. "I'm nuts and I know it," he laughs, genuinely. "But as long as I make them laugh, they ain't going to lock me up."

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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: Ed's guests are singers Gordon and Sheila MacRae, the McGuire Sisters and the Serendipity Singers; bandleader Harry James; comics Henny Youngman, John Byner, and Jean Caroll; the rock 'n' rolling Black Sheep; and puppet Topo Gigio.

Palace: Singer Tony Martin and his wife, dancer Cyd Charisse, introduce actor Cesar Romero; singer Vikki Carr; the comedy team of Rowan and Martin; comedian Norm Crosby; juggler Bobby Winters; and the acrobatic Suns Family.

Both of this week's shows are reruns, and good ones. The McGuire Sisters sing with Harry James and his band, and the rest of the cast are strong as well. On the other hand, Tony Martin and Cyd Charisse ain't bad either, and Cesar Romero probably comes close to stealing the show as always. They say that a tie is like kissing your sister, but I don't think there's any shame for either show this week. The verdict: Push.

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There's an interesting mix of sports in store for the week, and not just because of the time of the year. On NBC, the baseball Game of the Week pits two of the teams that dominate the National League in the 1960s, the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers, from Dodger Stadium (4:00 p.m. ET), a game that the Cards will win 3-2 in 13 innings. The Dodgers won last season's World Series, while the Cardinals will be next season's champions. As for this year, the Dodgers take the pennant before being swept in the Series by the Baltimore Orioles.

Meanwhile, over on WNBF in Binghamton, (4:30 p.m.) it's the Traverse Stakes, one of the bigger post-Triple Crown horse races, contested at Saratoga in New York. And at 9:30 p.m. on WKBW, it's AFL preseason football, with the defending champion Buffalo Bills taking on the Oilers in Houston. People getting that game are deprived of Saturday's Hollywood Palace - maybe they'll get to see it later in the week. The NFL follows suit with its own preseason - excuse me, that's exhibition game - on Friday night (9:30 p.m, CBS) as the Baltimore Colts and Cleveland Browns, two of the teams challenging the Green Bay Packers for the title (and ultimately losing), face each other in Cleveland.

Never mind the preseason, though - who cares about that when you can watch games that count? Thanks to CFTO, the CTV affiliate in Toronto, that's what we get on Wednesday night at 8:00 p.m., when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats visit the Montreal Alouettes in week 4 of the Canadian Football League season. Montreal wins the game 16-8, and both the Ticats and Als will make the playoffs, but they'll both finish behind the Ottawa Rough Riders, who will go to the Grey Cup championship, where they lose to the Saskatchewan Roughriders 29-14. (And yes, there are two teams in a nine-team league with more or less the same nicknames. It's Canada - what else can I say?)

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Henry Harding's "For the Record" at the front of the programming section - it's the precursor to "The Doan Report" has some television news for us, and in this case we literally mean television. NBC reports that as of July 1, one out of every eight households now has color television. That adds up to 6,780,000 households, out of a total TV-owning number of 53,800,000 - or double the number of color TVs from a year ago.

Batman is in its ascendancy right now; in fact, it might well be at the zenith of its popularity, and the Rev. Robert E. Terwilliger, an Episcopal minister in New York, says that it's a "much-needed and almost religious outlet." He doesn't want to make too fine a point of what's still a "passing fad," but he explains that "Batman is the savior who comes in from above to rescue the victims of malignant power with absolute goodness. He is called into situations the police can't handle with a special cultic or prayer device called the Batphone. His miracles are the kind modern man likes most - not supernatural but scientific." I guess I'd never thought of the TV series that way, though you could make a case for the Dark Knight version of Christopher Nolan's movies. In that case, there are several areas in which we could use a Batman right now...

The TV Teletype reports that Frank Sinatra's second "Man and His Music" special will be seen December 7 on CBS. Close - they got the date right, but the network is NBC, as was the case with the first special last year. Also, a couple of newcomers are headed for Petticoat Junction this fall: we read about Gordon and Sheila MacRae earlier, and their daughter, Meredith, will be taking over as the new Billie Jo, while Mike Minor, son of My Three Sons executive producer Don Fedderson, will be Betty Jo's future love interest (although it doesn't say that here; we just know better).

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A couple of highlights from this week's programming.

Johnny Carson's on vacation this week, so Hugh Downs, the announcer on Jack Paar's Tonight, is guest host for the week. This, in addition to hosting The Today Show and Concentration. Let's hear it for Hugh Downs, the hardest-working man in show business!

On Thursday, NBC preempts its entire prime-time lineup for a 3½ White Paper examination of "Organized Crime in America," hosted by Frank McGee. The program looks at everything from the colorful history of the mob to the different ways in which organized crime has infiltrated cities and towns across America, in everything from gambling to drugs to the rackets. No Eliot Ness, but it sounds interesting nonetheless. It will be awarded one of the 1966 Peabodys.

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Finally, the blurb on the cover about testing TV shows on human guinea pigs. It's not quwite as sensationalist as it sounds; what the writers, Joseph Finnigan and Ron Smith, are really talking about are what we'd know today as focus groups. People are invited to take part in an evening of screening prospective television programs, during which they're instructed to use electronic dials to indicate their reactions, and then fill out a questionnaire - or two, or three.

ASI, the company in charge of conducting the research, claims such pretesting, as they call it, has really paid off - the company predicted failure for two series that were nevertheless aired, The Richard Boone Show and The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo - and the shows indeed bombed. They also take credit for what they term "improvements" in various shows, from recasting in Hazel to redoing the intro for I Dream of Jeannie.

Their record isn't spotless, however, not by a long shot. They also predicted failure for I Spy and Batman, and said that The Man from U.N.C.L.E.'s David McCallum would have no appeal for viewers. William Dozier, executive producer of Batman, says he didn't buy the research when it gave Batman low returns, just as he didn't buy it when it gave another of his series, Bewitched, the highest rating ever. "The trouble," he says, "is that too many people substitute pretesting for their own judgment."

That's kind of the problem in a nutshell with real life today, or at least one of them, isn't it? We're constantly told not to rely on our own intuition, our gut sense of things, but instead to depend on the findings of "experts" and "consultants" who have far more knowledge of the situation. This kind of thing happens from grade school all the way until you retire, and you get it from teachers, doctors, lawyers, government officials, business executives, political pollsters and pundits - just about anyone that matters, or at least anyone who has some say over how you do things. It begs the question - how's that been working out for them, lately? TV  


  1. Great insight into this Guide, Mitchell. Always glad to provide an upstate NY-Ontario, Canada perspective to the blog! Roughriders (green-Saskatchewan) vs Rough Riders (red-Ottawa)---one named for Western Canada the other for Teddy Roosevelt's regiment in the Spanish-American War.

    1. It was also the result of the CFL's Eastern and Western conferences having been technically separate leagues until 1958. At this time there was only very limited interconference play and the two conferences played a different number of regular season games.

    2. As above, plus Saskatchewan's Roughriders (one word) were named for the area's rodeo riders and association with the Canadian Prairies. Ottawa's "Rough Riders" were named for the "Rough Rider" loggers in the Ottawa River. Those two teams would meet for Grey Cups again in 1969 and 1976, with Ottawa winning both games. Ottawa's team folded in 1996, but have since been revived as the "Redblacks".

  2. Priorities are everything:

    Your mention (however in passing) of Eliot Ness compels my mentioning of what I'm going to be doing tomorrow (Sunday, the 19th).

    My friend Max Allan Collins will be doing a book-signing at Centuries & Sleuths, a little bookstore in Forest Park, IL (7419 Madison Street, west of Harlem Avenue).
    The new book is called Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle For Chicago, which MAC co-authored with A. Brad Schwartz.
    This may be the most extensively researched work on this subject, ever.
    MAC undertook this work because much of what's been written about the period tends to dismiss Eliot Ness's role in the overall story - depicting him as a creature of publicity, among other things.
    MAC and Dr. Schwartz have done this book to redress the imbalance.
    Most of the advance reviews appear to recognize this.
    Anyway, I'm going in on Sunday to but the book at C&S, because Augie Aleksy, who runs the place, deserves the business (and the money), and I haven't seen Max and Barb (who just marked their 50th wedding anniversary) in far too long.
    (I also have a draywagon of their recent books that I haven't gotten their autographs on, and that might take most of the day …)
    So anyway, there goes Sunday.

    I happen to have this issue (Chicago edition) on hand; that's for later on.
    'Til then …

    1. Hey, if you can get me a signed copy of that book, I'll swap it for a signed copy of my book when it comes out next month!

    2. Message received - after I got home …

      Not sure if I could have followed through, in any event.
      As I might have mentioned, this is a BIG book.
      The basic text alone is 550 pages; the source notes, bibliography, and index bring the full count to over 700 pp.
      Cover price: $29.99 (Illinois sales tax put it over $31).
      Also, since I haven't got a home address for you, that aspect becomes problematical.
      Maybe you should just wait a year for the paperback …

      It was quite interesting to hear MAC and Dr. Schwartz holding forth on the prodigious research that went into Scarface an the Untouchable, which came to about six years of work (working around other professional commitments) - and which isn't finished yet: They've sold a followup about Eliot Ness's stint as Cleveland's Director of Public Safety, which is slated to drop in about 2020, if the fates are kind.

      Oh, here's a Fun Fact: throughout the book, one of the important figures is always called Frank Nitto, which was that gentleman's birth and use name his entire life (How he came to be 'Nitti' is a story in itself).

      Anyway, the day went well; Max and Barb have a lot of friends in Chicagoland, who turned out in force to celebrate them and their works - and I was proud to be one of them.

  3. Yes, we definitely need a Batman '66 right now, especially when there is a comic book villain occupying the office of the presidency.

  4. Buffalo's ABC affiliate WKBW-TV frequently pre-empted the network's schedule to cover Bills' exhibition games in August.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!