March 9, 2019

This week in TV Guide: March 11, 1961

We're on a bit of a 1961 kick in our encore series of TV Guides. But who could pass up a chance at an interview with the widow of Eliot Ness?

The Untouchables was perhaps, up to that time, the most violent weekly series ever seen on television, as well as one of the most entertaining. It was ostensibly factual, based on the real-life story of Eliot Ness, the U.S. Treasury agent who did much to break Al Capone's bootlegging operations during Prohibition, and his small group of trusted, incorruptible agents, nicknamed "The Untouchables." Ness' autobiography*, written with Oscar Fraley in 1957, was adapted into a two-part presentation on Desilu Playhouse and became a highly successful weekly series on ABC in 1959, running for four seasons.

*The book might be seen, in today's parlance, as "inspired by actual events." Fraley wrote most of the book, embellishing stories and adding fictional characters to the extent that in the closing credits to The Untouchables, it's referred to as a novel. The 21 pages that Ness himself was responsible for were, for the most part, straightforward and factual. The book was released shortly before Ness' death of a heart attack in 1957 at age 54.

It's inevitable that a show about G-Men battling mobsters would be a rough one; it was not a world for the faint of heart. I have to admit to The Untouchables as one of my favorite shows of the era. It's an entertaining, fast-paced program that doesn't require a great deal of thought, but is a great deal of fun. The bad guys generally get theirs in the end (except for Bruce Gordon's Frank Nitti, who is always foiled but never captured—and a good thing, because Gordon's menacing, yet slightly scene-chewing, performance is a highlight of any episode in which he appears), and the show avoids introducing soap-opera elements into the lives of its leads, the downfall of many a modern series. The level of violence is actually fairly mild at the beginning of the series, but ramps up quickly as it goes on, and it isn't long before we see Ness' men smashing illegal liquor stills, tommy guns blazing, bodies dropping everywhere. In comparison to today's television, though, the violence is milder than a baby's chicken broth.

In a fascinating article (which might well have been ghosted by Fraley, who lived until 1994), Elisabeth Ness reminiscences about her husband, and shares her thoughts on the TV series. She likes Robert Stack's performance as Ness; Stack "has the same quietness of voice, the same gentle quality that characterized Eliot. At times, even Stack's small mannerisms are similar." He's a bit more serious than the real Ness, but she adds that "Mr. Stack has been given less to laugh at than Eliot found in real life."

She's also a fan of the program and never misses it, even though by this time the show has strayed so far from real life that "I no longer know what it will be about." However, even though the stories may be fictional, Mrs. Ness says "they are, in spirit, the same—the enforcement of law and order, the fight against exploitation of the law-abiding members of society, the hunting down of criminals." Eliot's admirers, she says, "should not feel let down."

The real Eliot Ness was quite a figure—charming, vital, charismatic. He was three-times married (Elisabeth was the third and final Mrs. Ness), and—ironically, for a man who made his reputation fighting bootleggers—was a heavy drinker who used to frequent bars and amaze people with his tales of crimefighting. He held a Master's degree in criminology and was one of the first law enforcers to use the lie detector; he helped pioneer the use of two-way radios in police cars; he was an early advocate for civil rights and a crusader against juvenile delinquency. He was a fan of art, the theater and ballet—but also boats, cars and the Indy 500. All in all, quite a remarkable man.

Most of all, Elisabeth Ness writes, Eliot should be remembered as a man of integrity and principle, an independent thinker, and a man who "was a practical do-gooder." He enforced the law, but "never tried to reform the world."

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So what's on this week? On Saturday, Lawrence Welk gets a leg up on Friday's St. Patrick's celebration with the regular cast saluting the big day. (8:30 p.m., ABC; joined in progress on WTCN*) There's no Sullivan vs. The Palace this week, as The Hollywood Palace is still just a glimmer in the eye of some television executive. Ed's guests this week, in case you're wondering, are (in a tribute to St. Patrick's Day) musical comedy star Tammy Grimes, actor Pat O'Brien, Irish tenor Brendan O'Dowda and the Clancy brothers with Tommy Maken, folk-singing group, and Irish harpist Mary O'Hara.

*WTCN joins Welk after its live coverage of the Mrs. Minnesota coronation. The winner, 36 year-old Gloria Schultz, will move on to the Mrs. America pageant at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Read here for the fascinating, colorful history of the Mrs. America pageant.

Sunday is another day for the wearin' of the green; following Sullivan, The Chevy Show (8:00 p.m., NBC) presents Art Carney in the musical comedy "O'Halloran's Luck," a color special also starring the Baird Marionettes. Carney portrays the aforementioned O'Halloran, an ebullient Irishman heading for America, confident that his Irish luck will help him find fame and fortune; the leprechaun marionettes, however, plan on keeping O'Halloran's luck right here on the emerald isle.

Monday features Howard Duff as Willie Dante, a former gambler turned nightclub owner who insists he's gone straight, in the very likable series Dante (8:30 p.m., NBC). It ran for just one season, but you can find quite a few episodes on YouTube; it's worth your time to see what you think of it. Also on Monday night: the final episode of what surely must be one of the saddest programs in television history, Jackpot Bowling Starring Milton Berle (9:30 p.m., ABC). Ten years ago, Milton Berle was "Mr. Television," the biggest star in the business, and NBC signed him to a 30-year contract; now, with NBC looking to burn off his contract, he's reduced to doing his act at a bowling alley. If that isn't sad, historically speaking, I don't know what is.

Thriller is a much-loved show of very uneven quality; Tuesday night's episode (8:00 p.m., NBC) presents a trio of short stories, all directed by Ida Lupino. In addition to sitting behind the camera, she stars in Act I; one of the stars of Act II is none other than Ebenezer Scrooge himself, Reginald Owen. After that, you can switch over to Garry Moore's show (9:00 p.m., CBS), where his guests are singers Dorothy Collins and Steve Lawrence and comedian Bob Lewis.

Wednesday's Wagon Train (6:30 p.m., NBC) sets up the future of the series; Robert Horton is the feature player in the wake of star Ward Bond's death, but in this week's "The Christopher Hale Story," we're introduced to the man who will become the new wagonmaster, John McIntire. Meanwhile, the train deals with the man who's wagonmaster this week: Lee Marvin. Wonder how that works out. Following that, Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall (8:00 p.m., NBC) features actor Don Amache and his old Bickersons sidekick, singer Frances Langford.

On Thursday, Richard Basehart stars in the Rudyard Kipling story "The Light That Failed" on Breck Family Classics (7:00 p.m., CBS) as a painter struggling with going blind; Ernie Ford welcomes singer Gordon MacRae to his show (8:30 p.m., NBC); and Edward R. Murrow profiles a "Pilot for the Peace Corps" on CBS Reports (9:00 p.m.).

Friday rounds out the week, and on an eclectic episode of the Bell Telephone Hour (8:00 p.m., NBC), it's "Much Ado About Music," an exploration of music inspired by William Shakespeare, with Shakespeare expert (and frequent host of science shows) Dr. Frank Baxter hosting an hour featuring opera stars Patrice Munsel and Joan Sutherland, musical theater star Alfred Drake, ballet dancers Violette Verdy and Jacque d'Ambroise, and Sir John Gielgud with dramatic readings. Not bad, if you ask me.

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We haven't looked at starlets for a while, and as if to make up for it, we have two this week. First up is Asa Maynor, "an up-and-coming TV actress," who will have a brief career and a marriage to 77 Sunset Strip's Edd Byrnes, before retiring become an executive at NBC and interior decorator.

And then there is the other, Lee Remick, who's in the process of making a pretty good career for herself. She's in a temporary "retirement" right now, awaiting the birth of her second child with her husband, TV director William Colleran. It might be wrong to think of her as a starlet; even though she's only 25, she's already a television veteran, having appeared on everything from Hallmark Hall of Fame to Kraft Theatre, Playhouse 90, and Studio One. She's also got a formidable movie career, starting in Budd Schulberg's A Face in the Crowd and reaching its peak with her memorable role as Laura Manion in Anatomy of a Murder, for which she won a Golden Globe award.

"I haven't been very wholesome in my movies," says the woman described in the unbylined article as "as conservative as Herbert Hoover." "Perhaps that's because, in my early television parts, I was just so absolutely wholesome, people would practically gag at the sight of me." Mind you, she's not complaining; "Television gave me my first real break." But then there was that Studio One in which she was cast, as usual, as "the sappy little girl next door." Her costume, she says, "was a little tight and I guess I wiggled. From then on I was doomed." And viewers would forevermore be charmed.

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Better to see the President with?
Is the President overexposed? That's the question the "For the Record" section asks. On Sunday, February 26, JFK appeared on the premiere of the CBS documentary series Accent, where he discussed fellow New Englander Robert Frost. On Tuesday night, he was the subject of the NBC White Paper JFK: Report No. 1. Wednesday saw all three networks carry taped coverage of his press conference. (This was prior to the live televised pres conference.) Thursday he was on that Life magazine anniversary special I referenced a couple of weeks ago. He was also seen throughout the week in taped appeals for the Red Cross. Today, regardless of who the President is, I'm sure people of all parties would be relieved if he only appeared this often.

Speaking of current events, the New York TV Teletype advises us that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has alerted networks of "a probable attempt to launch a man into space from Cape Canaveral in early spring." They speak of a suborbital flight, about 250 miles downrange—the same flight plan that was recently followed by the chimpanzee Ham. That launch, with American astronaut Alan Shepard, comes on May 5, 1961.

NBC's The Nation's Future plans a debate between movie producers Dore Schary and Otto Preminger on the subject "Should the movie industry be forced to classify its films?" The show (which eventually aired on April 29) had Hollywood bad-boy Preminger arguing that movies should be rated, but that the film's producer should be the one responsible for the rating, and that the government should have no involvement whatsoever. Schary thought ratings were a bad idea—after all, what producer would want to classify a film as "not suitable for children." To Schary's thought, such a rating would offer no difference between a pornographic film and one that was simply worthy of mature viewing. Which is, in essence what we've wound up with both the X rating and the NC-17, which most producers regard as the kiss of death.

Finally, "if a sponsor can be lined up," ABC plans to debut its Saturday sports anthology program on April 29, with a bullfight from Seville, Spain. The show did indeed debut on April 29, but instead of the bullfight, it carried live coverage of the Penn and Drake relays. And thus was the start of ABC's Wide World of Sports.

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Back on February 16, ABC Close-Up presented a documentary on the first week of school integration in New Orleans. Entitled "The Children Were Watching," it was, by all accounts, a pretty unsparing look at the anger and racism expressed by the parents of schoolchildren, while those very children watched and learned the attitudes of their parents. That provoked the following letter to the editor from Mrs. John R. Lepak of Santa Ana, California:

The first time I saw a Negro was when I was seven. In fact, it was my seventh birthday - the day my home town was liberated from the Nazis. He gave me the most precious birthday present a person could receive. At the time, I thought the candy he gave me was the best present I ever had. But, of course, now I realize he gave me my freedom, which is by far more precious. So why can't people, like the people in Little Rock and New Orleans, give the Negro his freedom?  I hope that programs like "The Children Were Watching" will continue and open the eyes of people so they can take a good look at themselves. I'm sure they'll be shocked.

That was only 58 years ago, as I write this. Back then, schools like Duke University prohibited black students from enrolling (a situation Duke wouldn't rectify until 1962). A few years ago, Duke proudly commemorated 50 years of integration, and while it's laudable, perhaps if they'd spent a little more time looking at themselves, as Mrs. Lepak suggests, instead of the color of their student body—well, perhaps change would have come a lot earlier. I wonder, if they could watch this documentary today, if they would see themselves still in the images? TV  


  1. To prepare for this morning (Sunday), I went back and looked up the earlier appearance of this issue in 2013.
    Should you do likewise, I'd hope you'd notice that that was one of my first comments here (or there, anyway). Always glad to help, then as now.

    Speaking of Now:
    Remember a few months back when I mentioned that my friend Max Allan Collins had just put out a volume called Scarface And The Untouchable (in collaboration with A. Brad Schwarz, which was a 700+ page joint account of the lives of Al Capone and Eliot Ness, respectively?
    Come June, there will be a trade paperback edition of this book, which MAC has announced will contain additional material not in the hardcover (which means I gotta buy the damn book all over again).
    Of course, Mrs. Ness's three-page reminiscence can't exactly compare with 700 pages of text, notes, and analysis - but it is nice to have both, isn't it?
    Sometime next year, MAC and Brad will come out with another Ness book, this one about his adventures as Public Safety Director of Cleveland; this is largely about Ness's battle with the Mad Butcher Of Kingsbury Run, one of the first serial killers in USA history.
    MAC is one of the acknowledged experts on Eliot Ness's life and career; years ago he wrote a brief series of novels about Ness's Cleveland years, which you can find at Amazon if you care to look for them (unsolicited plug).

    - Nitpicking Time:
    I looked up that Thriller trifecta at my Old DVD Wall.
    Ida Lupino does indeed direct all three stories, but she doesn't act in the first one: her cousin Richard Lupino does have the lead role, though.
    (You really ought to read these more carefully …)

    -This was a big Warner Bros year at ABC, with eight(8!) series on in prime time.
    Here's a Fun Pop Quiz:
    Check the listings this week for The Roaring 20s (Saturday), Maverick (Sunday), and 77 Sunset Strip (Friday).
    Just check the loglines and casts, and tell us if you notice anything.
    We'll wait …

    - Back to The Untouchables (the series) for a bit:
    This week's episode is called "The Lily Dallas Story", about a bank robber whose nagging wife "persuades" him to upgrade to kidnapping.
    This was one of the "continuity implants" that Desilu put into the series: a real-life story that Ness had nothing to do with, but for reasons unclear, the names of the bad guys had to be changed.
    The real George 'Blackie' Dallas was George 'Machine Gun' Kelly, who received his nickname from the press - he had almost no record of violence himself, to his wife's distress.
    The reason that George Kelly is remembered today is that when the FBI caught him, he called out "Don't shoot, G-Men!"; he's credited with coining that phrase (it says here).
    After I stand down here, it's straight to the DVD Wall to see if The Untouchables used that story in the episode (my probably inaccurate recollection is that they didn't, but I like to be sure).

    -Just noted that this Tuesday's Alfred Hitchcock Presents is "The Horseplayer" by Henry Slesar, starring Claude Rains and Ed (Duffy's Tavern) Gardner - and directed by Hitchcock himself.
    Jack Seabrook's written this up at his place, but you really have to see this one for yourself.

    Now to wait and see which day you're doing on Monday.

    1. Followup from yesterday:

      On The Untouchables, "The Lily Dallas Story" was 100% fiction; the writers took the bare bones of the Machine Gun Kelly story and came up with a fantasy about a mean crime queen.
      Semi-spoiler alert: In "Lily Dallas", the crime couple gets killed, quite nastily. In Real Life, George Kelly and his wife Kathryn were taken alive, tried for kidnapping - the first to get busted for this after it became a Federal rap.
      George died in prison in the '50s; Kathryn was released not long after and lived in seclusion until the '80s (she was still living when this Untouchables was made, which was the likely reason for the name changes).

      By the way, here's a shout-out for David Hofstede:
      In this episode, 'Lily Dallas' has a mousy 11-year-old daughter whom she treats horribly; 'George Dallas', her stepfather, is nicer to her (not by much, but you get what I mean).
      The kid is played by an 11-year-old actress named Judy Strangis.
      You know that name, don't you, David?
      Fact is, I didn't recognize her at first; when I saw her name in the closing credits, I replayed parts of the show just to check; it is indeed the future DynaGirl.
      According to IMDb, Judy Strangis is now 69 years old (that's a year older than I am right now); she's been married for more than 30 years.
      You may find "The Lily Dallas Story" as part of the second season DVDs of The Untouchables.
      (Respectfully, I will refrain from doing an "Electra-(something)" gag here - this has probably depressed you enough …)

      Back to you, Mitchell:
      Hope you respond to my Pop Quiz above.
      Come on - it's FUN!

  2. Supposedly, had the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships not been cancelled after a plane crash that killed the U.S. figure-skating team that was traveling to the meet, that competition would have been, shown about a month after it was held, the first "Wide World" telecast.

  3. I have that issue, but the Boston edition.

    The "TV Teletype" noted that NBC planned to "track the astronaut's flight" on a pool basis.

    Maybe the magazine's writers thought that the NBC-led TV pool might have been able to use a Statrovision plane (developed by Westinghouse in the 1940's, and used for a brie time in the early sixties to relay educational programming to on several special frequencies to schools in several Midwest states) which could have relayed live pictures from the recovery ship back to Cape Canaveral, some 30 miles east of the Cape.

    A Stratovision plane about 150 miles east of the Cape, at a high-enough altitude, could probably have indeed relayed live coverage of the splashdown and recovery of Freedom 7 back to the networks.

    Instead, tape of the splashdown and recovery aired on the mainland a few hours later, once it had been flown back to the Cape.

    On Friday, March 17th (St. Patrick's Day, but also a local holiday in Boston (Evacuation Day, honoring when British troops were evacuated from Boston during he Revolutionary War), Boston held a St. Patrick';s Day Parade.

    The old WHDH Channel 5 (then a CBS affiliate; no relation to the Boston station now using those call letters) carried the parade live and in color from 3:30 to conclusion (approximately 5 P.M.), with Jess Cain (longtime morning man at the old WHDH Radio) and Julie Dane (who hosted a local women's show two mornings a week on Channel 5) as co-anchors. The old WHDH was the first TV station in New England to have live color capability; however, until the mid 1960's, they had to take out color cameras from one of their studios to do a color remote.

  4. I had long heard about 'Jackpot Bowling' and after reading this post, I decided to see if any episodes existed and YouTube came through once again. I found one full 30 minute episode from January 1961. It really was like watching a house on fire or a plane's just horrible, but you can't take your eyes off it. I wonder if in years afterwards, Milton ever commented on having to do that show? Berle and Sid Caesar were both TV icon's in 1950 and just one decade later they were practically forgotten. I never found Berle to be funny, just very annoying, while every so often I'll watch Sid in a sketch from 'Your Show of Shows' or 'Caesar's Hour', on YouTube and laugh like hell.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!