March 23, 2019

This week in TV Guide: March 27, 1965

Yes, it's another fondly-remembered issue from the past. But take heart; next weekend offers a new issue! Well, sort of.

I'm often fond, when writing here, of quoting the old French saying, "plus Γ§a change, plus c'est la mΓͺme"the more things change, the more they stay the same.  And as I've read through these TV Guides, I find that more and more to be the case.  For example, take the following quote: "When I was a boy, a liberal was one who looked upon the state as . . . a necessary evil, to be watched night and day. Today, a ‘liberal’ is likely to be one who looks upon the state as a panacea.”

Since we’re reviewing a TV Guide from 1965, you probably think that’s when this quote was authored, and that the point is to show how little things have changed in nearly fifty years. Any guest on Fox News might say the very words today without changing even a comma, and nobody would blink an eye; but in fact that quote comes from 1947, predating this TV Guide by almost twenty years.

The man who said that was at one time one of the more recognizable faces on television, but today it’s unlikely you’ve heard of him unless you’re my age, or even older, and that's a shame because he was one of the major figures in early television, someone whose influence continues today. His name was Lawrence E. Spivak, and for thirty years he was the moderator and power behind Meet the Press. Spivak, along with Martha Roundtree, created Meet the Press for radio in 1945, and added a television component in 1947.  At the time he wrote the above, he was publisher of The American Mercury, a conservative magazine founded by H.L. Mencken.  Spivak fought vigorously against Communism and what he saw as its infiltration of labor unions.  He wrote against government control of the media, and advocated kicking the Soviet Union out of the United Nations.

Nowadays, Spivak has buried any personal ideology in the name of fairness. "I couldn't maintain my position as an impartial interviewer in the eyes of viewers if they knew my political philosophy or position on any particular issue," he tells writer Edith Efron. Instead, he positions himself as "anti-everybody," with no one escaping his public grilling. And yet, when pressed, he will give us an insight into his personal opinions. "I still think that the conflict between the individual and the state is the big problem of our time," he says. "The question I ask is: How much freedom are we willing to sacrifice for how much economic security? I fear that if we keep allowing the Government to handle more and more of our problems, we'll get into trouble." Conservatives would probably accept this verbatim, and if you substitute "national" for "economic" when discussing the sacrifice of freedom, you'd probably describe every liberal's concern about the Patriot Act. "The old-fashioned liberal originally was a fighter against concentrated power in the Government," he concludes, echoing his comments from 1947. "But the contemporary liberals are seeking more concentrated power." 

Efron says of Lawrence E. Spivak that his "heart is where Barry Goldwarter's is, his head is where [Socialist] Norman Thomas's is," meaning that Spivak is conservative in idology, but has the temperament of an anarchist who doesn't want to be told what to do. And that seems to me like a pretty good combination.

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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: Scheduled guests: comedian Sid Caesar; singer Bobby Vinton; comedian Jackie Vernon; impressionist Marilyn Michaels; comedian Bob King; Les Marcellis, acrobats; and Little Anthony and the Imperials, singing "It Hurts So Bad."

Hollywood Palace: Host Tony Randall; comedian Allan Sherman, who parodies the hit recording "Downtown"; romantic singers Nelson Eddy and Gale Sherwood; songstress Vicki Carr; the Supremes, vocal trio; Japanese comic Pat Morita; the Marthys, tumbling acrobats; Mendez's high-wire act; and a wrestling match between the Hangman and Victor the Great, a Canadian brown bear .

Allen Sherman (1924-1973) was Weird Al before Weird Al was born. He was a brilliant song parodist; very funny, but even more, witty, and clever. (He also created the game show I've Got a Secret, which had nothing to do with music, but was very successful.) His biggest hit was "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah," which I listened to over and over again when I was but a kid. Ed may have the bigger names this week, but based on my affection for Sherman, I'm going to give the edge to The Palace. That whole episode is on YouTube, by the way - here's the clip of Sherman with host Tony Randall, including the aforementioned version of "Downtown."

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.Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's weekly 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. 

It's a rare two-fer this week, as Cleve takes a look at flip sides of the same coin: NBC's Flipper, and ABC's The American Sportsman. No surprise here that he loves one and loathes the other.

Flipper, says Amory, is "probably the best new children's show on the air, and one which is curiously engrossing, week after week, for adults." Even in the most ridiculous situations, the show generates a tension that keeps viewers engaged. It's all due to the fish—er, mammel—who is, he assures us, "a porpoise with a purpose." Like Lassie, there's nothing Flipper can't do, and it's a good thing that Ranger Ricks (Brian Kelly) isn't as quick on the uptake as we are; if he simply acted every time Flipper warned him, "there would be no plot at all."

Contrast this with The American Sportsman, premiering on ABC as a four-episode series covering hunting and fishing, usually with a celebrity hunter/fisherman. According to Amory, "the narration is inept, the fishing is boring, the bird shooting pathetic, and the 'he-man' exchanges embarrassing." Not to mention that the premise of the show is hunters killing animals, such as the one where Robert Stack shoots a "killer" lion which, Amory says would be more accurately described as feeble and old.

Cleveland Amory was, of course, a prominent animal rights activist, once described by the head of the Humane Society as "the founding father of the modern animal protection movement;" it's natural, therefore, that he'd have something of an animus against The American Sportsman. As I recall (and someone out there can correct me if I'm wrong), this review generated a few Letters to the Editor, some in praise and others accusing Amory of an inherent bias. However, for what it's worth, it probably should be noted that Flipper ran for three seasons, while The American Sportsman would continue, with Curt Gowdy later serving as host, until 1986.

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How about this news quiz, designed by KSTP to show how valuable it is for you to watch their news at 6 and 10?  This is the kind of thing you see in free coffee store papers nowadays.  Can you answer all the questions?

The answers:

1) Too long. Seriously, it's 120 days. Four months. If only.

2) Msgr. James Shannon. Shannon, who died in 2003, was an interesting figure. I spoke with a priest who'd been in the seminary at the time Shannon was a teacher, and he said that although Shannon was considered a liberal, he was a staunch defender of orthodoxy, speaking at length about why the Catholic Church couldn't do some of the things its critics wanted it to do. However, his life was turned around by Paul VI's encyclical Humane Vitae, which reaffirmed the Church's stance on artificial birth control. It's possible that Shannon, who'd defended tradition so long, was rocked by the decision and lost faith with the teaching authority of the Church; I don't know for sure. Anyway, his decision in 1968 to step down as Bishop and resign from the priesthood (and eventually marry) rocked the Church. He remained a Catholic, but continued to speak out in favor of liberal causes.

3) The Gophers finished in second place, behind top-ranked Michigan, which made it all the way to the NCAA championship game before losing to UCLA, 91-80.

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Remember Pat Priest, the attractive young woman who played Marilyn on The Munsters? (Hint: she was the normal-looking one.)  There's a profile of her this week, and as usual the best part about it is learning something new. Did you know, for example, that Pat's mother was Ivy Baker Priest, former Treasurer of the United States (and Mystery Guest on What's My Line)? Or that her then-husband, Pierce Jensen, was a Naval aide at the White House? In fact, when the young couple were married, one of their gifts was a silver tray with the inscription "To Pat and Pierce from President and Mrs. Eisenhower."

Pat Priest didn't have a huge career after The Munsters—she didn't even appear in the feature-film version of the show (the role instead went to Debbie Watson, who was under contract to the studio), and retired in the 1980s. Pat and Pierce divorced two years after this article appeared. I wonder who got the tray?

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Melvin Durslag, TV Guide's most frequent sportswriter, has an interesting feature on the brand-new "Harris County Domed Stadium" in Houston, to be better known as the Astrodome. It cost the then-heady sum of $31 million, which might pay for a restroom in one of today's modern palaces. The stadium, besides having a plastic room, also has "de luxe boxes" on the top level of the stadiumwhat we'd today call luxury suites. It doesn't yet have the plastic grass, though, and there's a good story behind that. Originally the Dome was constructed with translucent plastic panes, in order to let enough light through that real grass would still grow. The problem was that the plastic created a terrible glare for outfielders trying to follow the flight of a fly ball. No problemthe offending panels, which comprised maybe a quarter to a third of the dome, were painted over. The glare disappearedbut so did the amount of sunlight needed to save the grass, which died and was painted green for appearance's sake. The next year it would be replaced by Monsanto's new product: Astroturf.

As Durslag's article suggests, baseball season is just around the corner. On Sunday a couple of the CBS stations have a half-hour feature on the defending World Series champs, the St. Louis Cardinals. St. Louis had been 6½ games out of first place with only 13 games to play, before Philadelphia's monumental collapse allowed the Cards to capture the National League pennant in a tight four-team race, and then go on to defeat the New York Yankees in the Series. But there was even more drama ahead, as the Yankees fired first-year manager Yogi Berra following the Series and replaced him with none other than Johnny Keane*, who had managed the Cards to the championship and then quit, fed up with what he saw as a lack of front-office support. It seemed a great move at the time for Keane, but who was to know that he'd arrived in New York just in time to preside over the collapse of the Yankee dynasty? Injuries and aging stars spelled the end for the Bronx Bombers, and after finishing in 6th place during Keane's initial season, they came out of the gate in 1966 with a record of 4-20, and Keane was fired. The Yankees would go on to finish in last place for the first time, and Keane died of a heart attack before the end of the year.

*Appearing on NBC's Today the next morning.

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Finally, there's the story of, as the cover calls it, the season's most jinxed show. It was CBS's variety ensemble show The Entertainers, which was supposed to star Carol Burnett, Bob Newhart and Caterina Valente. How could this go wrong, right?  For starters, Burnett injured her back in October, putting her out of action for 10 weeks. The famed comedienne Imogene Coca was signed to fill in for her; she sprained an ankle. Bring in dancer Gwen Verdon, who promptly broke her foot.

Bob Newhart complained that the studio audience was so young it didn't get his humor. ("I mentioned Wernher Von Braun* in one routine, and it was obvious from the response that few in the audience had heard of him.") The producers managed to calm Newhart down enough that he agreed to stay on until Burnett was able to return. Caterina Valente was supposed to appear in Europe in November and December, and so she'd pretaped her spots, but she wasn't available to do anything more. Ernest Flatt, the choreographer, quit to work on Mitzi Gaynor specials.

*Von Braun, the famed German rocket scientist who helped make America's manned space program a success, was the subject of a movie based on his autobiography called I Aim at the Stars, starring Curt Jurgens as Von Braun, which is being shown on Tuesday at 11:30 p.m. on WEAU, Channel 13. The British, mindful that Von Braun also designed the V-2 rocket that the Germans used during their terror bombing, joked that it should have been called I Aim at the Stars, but Sometimes Hit London.

When Burnett's doctors did allow her to return, she was promptly sued by the producers of her Broadway musical Fade Out—Fade In, who claimed her absence had cost the show $500,000. All of this, in and of itself, could perhaps have been overlooked if the ratings had been good, but they weren't. As a result, the show broadcast on March 27 was its last.

Valente remained a singing star in Europe for some time, and made frequent appearances on the Dean Martin Show. As for those other two, Burnett and Newhart, your guess is as good as mine. TV  


  1. Actually, Johnny Keane did not die before the end of 1966. He actually died in Houston, TX on January 6, 1967 (at age 55).

  2. Supposedly, the most-watched episode of "The Entertainers" was in November, 1964. It was reportedly a documentary narrated by Carol Burnett about the Beatles' 1964 tour which I think (I've never seen it) featured some live performances from the group filmed during that tour.

  3. I think I actually remember that Cleveland Amory review of "The American Sportsman." Did he quote some participant as saying "Man, look at those ever-lovin' birds! Cock-a-baby!!!" That must've had quite an impact on me, to remember it 54 years later.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!