October 20, 2018

This week in TV Guide: October 23, 1965

The picture at left is of Chuck Connors, former major league baseball player and pro basketball player, best known for his 1958-63 ABC western series The Rifleman, later co-star of ABC's 90-minute crime series Arrest and Trial, and currently star of NBC's Branded.

Later on you'll see a picture of Chuck Conners in 1973, with General Secretary of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev.

The story behind that picture, as well as the rest of the week of October 23, 1965, is next.

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We're in the thick of the football season, and NBC, in their final year of covering Saturday afternoon college games (the contract would return to ABC in 1966), has one of the most storied of all rivalries on tap, as the #4 USC Trojans travel to South Bend to take on the #7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. (Noon, CT) USC running back Mike Garrett will win the Heisman the next month, but this would not be his day, as the Irish rout the Trojans 28-7.

On Sunday, pro football takes center stage, and because this is the Minnesota State Edition of TV Guide, we've got an interesting assortment of games to look at from the two leagues. The NFL's coverage begins at 11:45 a.m. with Dallas vs. Green Bay at Milwaukee (Packers win 13-3), in a game seen on the CBS affiliates in Mankato (KEYC) and Mason City, IA (KGLO), and for some reason the NBC affiliate in Alexandria (KCMT). This game would be joined in progress at 12:45 p.m. on the CBS stations in Duluth (KDAL) and La Crosse (WKBT), which had been showing Stoney Burke and Know the Truth, respectively.*

*Joining the game an hour in progress sounds like the kind of stupid thing that KCMT would do. You know, the station we got in The World's Worst Town.™

At 1:00 p.m., WEAU, the NBC affiliate in Eau Claire, presents the AFL game of the week, Denver at Buffalo (the Bills, who will go on to win the AFL title in 1965, best the Broncos 31-13), while at 1:30 p.m. KSTP in the Twin Cities and KROC in Rochester bring us Kansas City at Houston (the Oilers win, 38-36), a game that'll be joined in progress by WDSM in Duluth at 2:30 p.m. (they had a "Film Feature" at 1:30) and the aforementioned Channel 7 at 3:15 p.m. (following the end of the Cowboys-Packers contest).

The final game of the day is Channel 4's coverage of the home team, as the Vikings played the 49ers in Kezar Stadium in San Francisco (1:45 p.m.), a thriller won by the Vikings 42-41.* When I visited San Francisco a few years ago, I took the opportunity to travel to Golden Gate Park to visit the ruins of old Kezar. It was in the heart of the park (imagine a football stadium in the middle of Central Park), and one of the reasons the Niners vacated it in favor of Candlestick Park was that the parking there was atrocious. Kezar was featured in the first Dirty Harry movie; it was where Harry shot the Scorpio Killer in the knee and got in trouble for it.

*And only Channel 4. Interesting the rest of the region's channels took the Packers game.  Or maybe not so interestingafter all, the Vikings were still a pretty mediocre team, while the Packers were headed for their third championship in five years. The Packers were the team in the area back then, and still have a lot of fans in Minnesota today.

So let's recap the weekend: on Saturday, one college football game. On Sunday, one NFL and one AFL game (in most markets). Total number of games the average viewer could see: three.

Total number of games (college and pro) on TV last weekend: 55, beginning on Thursday night and ending on Monday night. As I keep saying, times have changed.

But I find the relationship between television and sports to be fascinating. I love writing about it.

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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..

Ed Sullivan: Ed's in Hollywood again, with scheduled guests Helen Hayes; Duke Ellington and his band; comic Myron Cohen; Herman's Hermits, rock 'n' rollers; singer-pianist Ginny Tiu; comedian Richard Pryor; and the Manuela Vargas Ballet Troupe.

Hollywood Palace: host Milton Berle introduces Jose Jiminez (Bill Dana), who discusses his book on jujitsu; Los Angeles Dodger captain Maury Wills, who sings and plays the banjo; singer Abbe Lane; folk rock 'n' rollers Sonny and Cher; quick-change actor Mike McGivney, who offers an abbreviated version of "Oliver Twist"; and the Rudas, Australian dancers.

A strong week for both programs. Bill Dana's Jose Jiminez character, which he created in 1959, was often hilarious, his most famous routine being an astronaut. Abbe Lane, who preceded Charo as Xavier Cugat's wife, was—very nice. As a banjo player, Maury Wills was a fantastic base-stealer.  And Sonny and Cher didn't do too badly for themselves, did they?

But though this would win many weeks, the Palace didn't really stand a chance. Helen Hayes was already a living legend in 1965, as was the great Duke Ellington; Richard Pryor was on his way to becoming one; Myron Cohen was one of the funniest of the ethnic comedians (he was a favorite of Carson's); and Herman's Hermits, with Peter Noone*, was one of the biggest of the 60s Brit-Pop groups.  The verdict: Sullivan, decisively.

*I was always impressed with Peter Noone, who never succumbed to the drugs & booze scene (he was only 15 when he became Herman).  When he hosted My Generation on VH-1 in the late 80s, he talked of the 60s with a kind of detached bemusement; like Tom Wolfe, he was more observer than participant.

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Before we take complete leave of The Hollywood Palace for this week, one footnote. As I've mentioned, one of the benefits of a statewide TV Guide edition is that you get to see what the stations outside your own market were showing. Much of the time it's the same thing you were watching, but when it comes to split-affiliation stations—stations (like KCMT) that were primary affiliates of one network but also showed programming from another—there's almost always something interesting. And so it was with WKBT, Channel 8 in LaCrosse, which on Tuesday night showed the Hollywood Palace episode from the previous week, October 16. Would that it had been the one to go up against Sullivan: Host Frank Sinatra introduces Count Basie and his band; comic Jack E. Leonard; dancer Peter Gennaro; West German singer-dancers Alice and Ellen Kessler; and Colombian high-wire acrobat Murillo.

Sinatra and Basie—a man and his music.  Now that was a show.

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the series of the era. 

This indeed should be a honey of a review, because this week Cleveland Amory reviews Honey West, or, as he puts it, Jane Blond. (And if you don't like that, there's always the "Woman from A.U.N.T.) It's an idea that, according to Cleve, was "obviously bound to occur to one of the great brains of TV sooner or later." We had hoped it would be later rather than sooner, says Amory, but now that it's here, it's important to point out that if you have "so far managed to miss this miss—well, you haven't missed much."

It's true that Anne Francis, who makes a honey of a Honey, is comely indeed, not to say fetching. It is, however, "far-fetched" to suggest that she is properly cast in Honey West. If you have any doubts as to whether or not this show is supposed to be taken seriously, "Her unsuitability for the role is proof it's a spoof." And if you watch it that way, it might even be enjoyable. Alas—after some early indications that it might indeed be here to spoof a genre that deserves it, all hope evaporated by the second episode, which Amory calls "a carbon copy, and not a top one at that, of the movie Topkapi. The third episode was likable enough, particularly the performances of Irene Hervey as Honey's Aunt Meg, and Bruce, the ocelot that serves as Honey's pet. Says Amory, "He can etch a performance for us any time."

In the end analysis, Honey West can perhaps serve as an indictment of the television of this era—while it's not quite a honey of a show, Amory says, it's not exactly a lemon either. a show with "enough sweet spots to satisfy a not-too-discriminating palate, but for our taste, they're too few and far between." And isn't that exactly the point that Judith Crist was making a few weeks ago in her article about the purpose of a critic, that being to teach the viewers that they shouldn't be afraid to demand more, even from a medium they get for free. Based on the viewer apathy that failed to keep this series alive beyond its 30 episodes, one might say that ABC did indeed listen to their demands—for the show to go away.

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There are several notations throughout this issue concerning the planned launch of Gemini VI (with future CBS space analyst Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford), which was scheduled to go up on Monday morning, a little over 90 minutes after the launch of the Atlas-Agena target vehicle with which it was going to maneuver and dock.  It would then return to Earth on Wednesday, in what was planned to be the first live televised coverage of a splashdown and recovery. 

But six minutes after launch, the Agena exploded, postponing the Gemini VI mission until December, when it would rendezvous with Gemini VII. Gemini VII, incidentally, would be the longest American manned space flight until Skylab—its mission, with astronauts Jim Lovell and Frank Borman, lasted 14 days.

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I enjoy the little dichotomies like the two programs we have competing on Friday night.  At 9:00pm, ABC has a David Wolper documentary entitled "Teenage Revolution," while CBS counters with the Miss Teenage America pageant.  The big production number in the pageant was called "Teenage America, Here We Come!—which, I think, was the point of the ABC documentary in the first place.

There's also an interesting article by Neil Hickey about the prospect of television networks running out of movies to show.  The studios are producing fewer top-grade movies that are suitable for TV.  Many of the movies are too long, too sexy, too violent, too campy, too black & white, or just too bad.  The networks are well on the way to having movies seven nights a week (although not yet at the stage of having movies compete against movies), and they need more material.  The obvious solution - which is, in fact, what happened - is the made-for-TV movie, of which NBC had made three.  The first, The Killers (with Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, and Ronald Reagan) famously turned out to be too violent for TV and was released to the theaters instead.  The other two, The Hanged Man and See How They Run,  were over budget, over schedule, and under expectations (a deadly trio).  Fear not, movie fans - things will get better.

And then there was the Letter to the Editor complaining about the extensive network coverage of Pope Paul VI's trip to America (the first ever by a pontiff).  Sez Mrs. Lonnie Tarver, of Slidell, Louisiana, "I wonder if the networks realize that all of their viewers are not Catholic?"  She meant, of course, that not all of the viewers were Catholic, which is true* - but then, all of TV Guide's readers are not literate, either...

*Although, sadly, in the post-Vatican II era it's probably accurate to say that not all of the Catholics are Catholic.

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And now the story of Chuck Connors and Leonid Brezhnev.

The photograph to the right, of Connors and Brezhnev, was taken in June 1973. Connors, a staunch supporter of President Nixon, was Nixon’s guest at a reception for Brezhnev in San Clemente.

As it happened, Brezhnev was a big fan of The Rifleman, one of the few American series to be shown in the Soviet Union. Upon being introduced to the General Secretary, Connors presented him with a pair of matching Colt .45 revolvers that he’d used in Branded, and later showed him how to twirl them. Brezhnev was thrilled with the gift, and the two became fast friends.

Later, as Brezhnev prepared to leave California, he saw Connors standing on the tarmac, “went over to him and vigorously shook his hand, and then jumped off the ground into the startled arms of his western hero.” Connors would visit the Soviet Union later that year as Brezhnev’s guest, filming a documentary called Peace and Friendship and making friends all the while. When Brezhnev died in 1982, Connors asked the State Department to be included in the American delegation to Brezhnev’s funeral, but was turned down.

Connors died exactly ten years after Brezhnev, on November 10, 1992.

Detente, television-style. And now, as Paul Harvey would say, you know the rest of the story. TV  


  1. Interesting...since it's felt Connors deliberately sabotaged BRANDED after its creator called it a parable for the blacklisting era--something Chuck apparently supported.


    1. Point # 1:

      I once saw David Susskind on Merv Griffin's Westinghouse show (he was a frequent guest there).
      On this particular night, Susskind talked about a vivid conversation he'd had at a party with Chuck Connors, whom he described as "a friend".
      Merv was mildly startled by this, saying something along the lines of "You have pretty different politics …"
      Susskind replied "Chuck and I have great arguments … I like him a lot."

      Point # 2:
      The creator of Branded was Larry Cohen, who managed to get bounced from most series that he worked on for reasons that never seemed to be his fault.

      Point # 2.5:
      Ultimately, Branded's showrunner became Andrew Fenady (The Rebel), who was a touch closer to Connors's point of view.

    2. As usual, a font of information that I never get tired of reading. I don't thank you for it often enough! And how interesting about Connors and Susskind; it sadly seems as if we've lost the art of the civilized argument, which really is part of what makes life so interesting.

    3. Interesting, Paul - had not heard that before, which probably means I don't know as much as I should! And I like your handle!

  2. Hal, this post brought back a lot of pleasant memories, especially of Chuck Connors. I remember Leonid Brezhnev being a fan of BRANDED(1965-66) and receiving the pistols as gifts from Chuck.

    I was fortunate to meet and talk with Chuck in 1990. If anyone is interested my comments on our meeting can be read here: https://fiftieswesterns.wordpress.com/2018/04/10/happy-birthday-chuck-connors/#comments

    You have a really good site and I will visit again.

    1. Walter, think nothing of it - if you were thinking of Hal Horn, I'm flattered! And thanks for the kind words - I'll be sure to check out your website and add it to our favorites list!

    2. Mitchell, I don't have a website, but I do comment on Toby Roans websites. Yes, I did find your site by way of Hal Horn. I'm glad I did.

  3. Mitchell, In the above comment I addressed you as Hal, please forgive my mistake.

    Again you have a really good site. Best Wishes.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!