March 16, 2019

This week in TV Guide: March 18, 1961

Perhaps no star demonstrates the change in popular culture over the last 60 or so years more than Ingrid Bergman.

In 1950 there were fewer stars bigger than Bergman, who had appeared in a string of hits including Intermezzo, Casablanca, Joan of Arc and The Bells of St. Mary's, and had won an Academy Award as Best Actress for Gaslight. She then became involved in a scandal—an affair with director Roberto Rossellini (they were both married to other people at the time) which left her pregnant, and her reputation in tatters. Her adultery got her denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate (as "a horrible example of womanhood") and disinvited from The Ed Sullivan Show, and she remained in something of an exile even after winning her second Oscar in 1958 for Anastasia. It wasn't until 1958, when she made a triumphant appearance as a presenter at the Oscarcast, that she returned to the American spotlight, and even then the lengthy ovation she received from the audience was controversial—some felt it amounted to a tacit endorsement of her past behavior.

This week, Bergman prepares for a rare television appearance, in the drama Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman's Life* on CBS Monday night. Gilbert Millstein's profile only alludes to that scandal, remarking that "in the last two decades, she has been successively praised, blamed, boycotted, picked over, analyzed, adjured, sympathized with, litigated over and clasped once more to the public breast without any noticeable erosion." Bergman herself says that "Everybody feels that you belong to them.  I would have liked to have my own problems in peace, but it was not to be and I could not change any of it." Having played a nun in The Bells of St. Mary's and a saint in Joan of Arc led people to view her not as a woman, but through the prism of the roles she played.

*Written by John Mortimer, better known as the creator of Rumpole of the Bailey.

And that is just one of the ways in which we see the massive cultural changes over these years. It's hard to imagine, for example, that the public, cynical as they now are, would feel so betrayed by an actress' personal life.  For that matter, adultery itself doesn't have the cache it used to. The old saying, "there's no such thing as bad publicity" seems to be more true now than ever. Hugh Grant's indiscretion a few years ago was played mostly for laughs, and probably helped Jay Leno's career more than anything else. With the advent of reality television to go along with the fanmags, embarrassment and public ostracism are things of the past.

The fallout over Ingrid Bergman's scandal was probably excessive (didn't the Senate have anything better to do?) but it came from a period in time when there was a common moral code, a sense of right and wrong that was generally accepted by a majority of the public. If people lacked charity in their reaction, it could be said that their hearts might have been in the right place.

Ultimately, though, it's time to live and let live. Ingrid Bergman, her elegance and her talent, are back—and we're the more fortunate for it.

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Preempted by the Bergman special on Monday is The Danny Thomas Show, and here we have another example of how things have changed, albeit a smaller, less monumental one. It has to do with our cover girl, Marjorie Lord, co-star of the Thomas show, and its origin goes all the way back to 1956.

In that year, Jean Hagen quit the Thomas show, then known as Make Room for Daddy. For the show's first three seasons Hagen had played Margaret Williams, wife of Thomas' character Danny Williams. But Hagen had tired of the role, and of Thomas*, and took a hike. She was written out as having died, and the show's fourth season concerned Danny's search for a new wife. Enter Lord, who as nurse Kathy O'Hara quickly captured the hearts of Danny and his kids. At the end of that fourth season, the two were engaged.

*Rumor has it that so great was the antipathy between the two, Thomas (who also produced the show) refused to put the Hagen episodes into syndication once the series had accumulated enough to comprise a successful package.

Typically, this would have set up an episode surrounding the wedding, perhaps to kick off the new season—a sure-fire ratings winner that would have been heralded as the television "event of the year," or some such nonsense. Shows from The Farmer's Daughter to Get Smart to Andy Griffith to Rhoda and beyond* have played that chestnut. But not in this case. No, as the fifth season started, Danny and Kathy were already married, and looking for a bigger place to live. I don't know why that decision was made (perhaps some of you out there do), but I approve wholeheartedly. I can't stand sentimentality, and I've never liked the cloying sentimentality that accompanies those "very special episodes." Obviously, though, considering the ratings that these episodes tend to draw, I'm in the minority here. I guess it must be me.

*Not to mention Luke and Laura.

Anyway, we read that the ratings for the Thomas show skyrocketed following the introduction of Lord as his wife, so perhaps he figured the show didn't need to resort to the gimmick of a wedding episode. Whatever the reason, the idea of a program passing up that kind of a ratings bonanza is something we're not likely to see happen in television today.

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Let's stick with Monday for a moment more, because if you plan on watching Bergman, you're going to have to pass up two other programs that, in our pre-DVR era, you might never see again. The first one, a novelty more than anything else, is The Play of the Week's presentation of "archy and mehitabel," starring Eddie Bracken and Tammy Grimes. archy and mehitabel (lower case intentional*) were the creation of Don Marquis, a columnist for the New York Evening Sun, and charmed readers from the beginning. archy is "a cockroach with the soul of a poet," or as TV Guide puts it, "a flair for free verse," and his sidekick mehitabel is an ally cat "with a penchant for free love." Together, the two of them have charmed readers ever since with their light poetry and whimsical stories. Carol Channing costarred with Bracken in the original musical production, and a Broadway version, Shinbone Alley, featured Eartha Kitt as mehitabel (no doubt an audition for her later appearance as Catwoman), with dialogue written by Mel Brooks.

*archy would "type" the stories of their adventures, leaping from key to key on a typewriter. Since he was unable to operate the shift key, everything appeared in lower case.

If you'd rather wait to get your singing cats from, well, Cats, then you might prefer Bing Crosby's latest special at 8:30 p.m. CT on ABC. Der Bingle is in France, and his guests include Maurice Chevalier (naturally), tenor Aldo Monaco, and singer-dancer Carol Lawrence. It's sometimes odd to think of Crosby on television in anything other than a Christmas special, but of course he did a lot of specials throughout the season, and Christmas, as we know, comes but once a year.

Don't see anything to watch yet? Then try The Barbara Stanwyck Show at 9:00 p.m. on NBC. This anthology series was hosted by Stanwyck, who also starred in most of the episodes, and ran for a single season. It was released on DVD a few years ago, and while it's not a great show, it's pretty good, and Stanwyck will win a Best Actress Emmy for it. Tonight's episode is "Adventure on Happiness Street," with Stanwyck playing the only character that appears in multiple episodes of the series, import-export tycoon Josephine Little. It is said that the Little character, who was in three of the series' 36 episodes, is intended to star in a spin-off series that never comes to pass. It is a typical Stanwyck character—tough, intelligent, strong, not in the mood to take much guff, but with a sensitive side underneath all that. Although Stanwyck doesn't get a chance to develop Josephine Little into a series, she will return in a few years with another tough character: Victoria Barkley in The Big Valley.

Finally, CBS follows the Bergman special with its 30-minute anthology series of its own, The June Allison Show. Tonight's feature, "The Secret Life of James Thurber," starring Orson Bean as cartoonist John Monroe (a stand-in for Thurber), is notable in that a few years later the Monroe character returns, played by William Windom, in NBC's My World and Welcome to It.

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Enough of Monday, you say. Wasn't there anything else going on the rest of the week? Well, let's see.

Ever heard of a series called Follow That Man? It ran on several networks from 1949 through 1956, and stars Ralph Bellamy as private eye Mike Barnett.* I've seen some episodes on DVD; it's pretty good. Again, not great, but not a waste of time either—Bellamy's almost always worth watching. Anyway, it pops up in syndication frequently in the TV Guides of this era, usually on a Monday-Friday weekday strip. In this case, it's on weekdays at 1:00 p.m. on independent KMSP, Channel 9.

*One of his sidekicks in the early years was Robert Preston. Professor Harold Hill himself!

As is the show preceding it, the sitcom Willy. (Not to be confused with Free Willy, according to Wikipedia. As if.) It stars June Havoc as a lady lawyer from New Hampshire now living and working in NYC. It only ran for one season; I confess I've not heard of it before, and I imagine part of the hook of the show must have been the female attorney angle.

With a name like Hadley, he just has to be good
And then, just to round out KMSP's pre-matinee movie block, there's Racket Squad, starring Reed Hadley (no relation) as a San Francisco detective busting crime rackets. (And you thought it was about tennis, right?) It also ran for a few years in the early 50s; I've seen a couple of episodes of it, too, but as much as I wanted to like it I just couldn't get into it.

Follow That Man and Racket Squad come as part of Mill Creek's Best of TV Detectives set, and if you can find it for less than $10, it's worth picking up. Most of the shows are fairly forgettable, but there are a number of small treasures in there, including a number of '50s Dragnet episodes, David Janssen as Richard Diamond, Beverly Garland in Decoy, and Mike Connors as Mannix. As a sampler package, you're going to find that one or two episodes will give you your fill of most of these series.

One series that did leave me wanting more was, surprisingly, Michael Shayne, which aired on NBC Friday nights at 9:00 p.m. It stars Richard Denning, who had been in Mr. and Mrs. North and would go on to play the governor in Hawaii Five-O, as a tough but suave private detective in Miami. I wrote about Michael Shayne, and Denning in general, a few years ago, and I've had occasion to see all the available episodes on YouTube since then. Perhaps it was because I had low expectations that I enjoyed Shayne; it certainly isn't the greatest PI show ever made, but Denning is winning and the whole thing is fun. I think all the episodes may be at the UCLA Film & Television Archive, but it's never come out on DVD.

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A quick sports note: on Saturday afternoon NBC presents an opening-round game in the NIT basketball tournament, from Madison Square Garden in New York. There was a time when the NIT was a very big deal; in the early days of college basketball it was more prestigious than the NCAA tournament, and even after the latter became the undisputed crowner of the national champion, the NIT remained a significant title well into the 1960s.

One of the main reasons for the NIT's status was that that, in those days, the NCAA tournament was not the massive 68-team event it is today. In 1961 the NCAA field was 24 teams, all of them either conference champions or independent at-large teams, which meant there were a lot of very good sides left out. Hence, the NIT. In 1961, twelve teams made up the field for the tournament, which was played out over a week or so at the Garden, an attraction in and of itself. The two teams playing in this first-round game, Providence (20-5)* and DePaul (17-7), likely would make the NCAAs today with records like that. But when the big tournament is more selective, the smaller tournament prospers. After all, when the humans are eating filet mignon, the scraps fed to the dogs are still going to be pretty good.

*Providence, in fact, goes on to win the tournament, defeating Saint Louis in the final, 62-59.


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I don't look at Gilbert Seldes' reviews as faithfully as Cleveland Amory's, but I wanted to take a moment to do so this week because his focus is on one of the most iconic, beloved series of the time, one that has seldom been off of America's television screens. I'm talking about those wacky characters from Bedrock, the modern stone-age family: The Flintstones.

The Flintstones is in its first season (of six) on ABC, and the idea, says Seldes, is a good one. Put this family from the caveman era into the predicaments that we encounter today. "Do it deadpan, pretend history never existed and that you never heard the word 'anachronism.' Work in a little gentle mockery on how unmodern modern man really is. Make the old jokes seem fresh and new." It's a good basis for a weekly program, Seldes says; "all you need to do is produce it with skill." Details, details.

Since its debut, The Flintstones has moved in one direction, according to Seldes: downward. Not that there aren't some clever ideas, such as the newspaper called The Daily Slate. But through the course of a half-hour, "You want some delight in the animation itself and there is none. [There are animated commercials, he says later, that are better drawn.] You want whatever story there is to move swiftly and it drags. You want some freshness of total approach and it is stale."

The sadness in this, he says, is that it doesn't have to be the case. He hears the arguments that this is what viewers want, that they won't accept anything more highbrow, anything better. "And in this case we have the proof that the producers are wrong. You and I have accepted far better stuff. We have even accepted masterpieces." Shows like I Love Lucy and Father Knows Best—"none of them great works of art"—are still far above what he calls the "flat jokes" of The Flintstones.

This is probably one of the harshest, most critical review we've seen in this series, but I'd be remiss if I didn't include Seldes' conclusion. It is not correct, he says, that shows like this do no harm. "They do harm. They put over the second and third best on people who want the best. So long as the Flintstones exist, some people will turn them on. It's better than nothing. But only the least bit better."

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Richard Gehman has the last of a three-part profile of Raymond Burr, and there's nothing particularly earth-shattering about them. We learn about some things that we know to be true; that Burr is a mensch, a good guy to work with, and that he loves where he lives today. But it's fun to see that Gehman, who frequently likes to dig up dirt on his profiles, has fallen for the falsehoods about Burr's life (at Burr's instigation) that so many have: the two dead wives and the dead son that didn't exist, his education, his early acting career.

Finally, the United States Steel Hour (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m., CBS) features Oscar winner Shirley Booth (in what was then a rare television appearance) in the play, "Welcome Home." The plot line:

Charles and Laura Austin have been planning a trip through Europe for a long time. But they'll have to sell the house to raise the money. And if the house goes, so does Jenny Libbott (Shirley Booth), their maid-cook-governess and companion for 25 years.

Don't worry, Shirley. If the Austins dump you, I know the Baxters will be only too happy to take you on. TV  

2 comments:

  1. On THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW, in TV Guide for Apr. 27, 1957, there is a picture of Danny & Kathy newly married, formally dressed, with an explanation that the season had ended before the marriage could be shown. The series' ratings probably jumped when the series moved from ABC to CBS in 1957, as it was hard for ABC, with many fewer affiliates, to have the kind of ratings that shows on CBS or ABC usually had.
    RHODA & MAYBERRY RFD had record ratings for their wedding episodes. (Andy & Helen were married on MAYBERRY RFD, and the episode received even higher ratings than the highest-rated Griffith episode).

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  2. RACKET SQUAD, like DRAGNET, was based on real-life cases...and there is an episode I haven't come across except in a preview.
    In it, a couple of theatrical impresarios decidd the best way to make a pile is to get investors to put up far more money than needed to mount their next work--then offer something so terrible, it flops and they keep the remaining money. Sound familiar?

    Paul Duca

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!