December 21, 2019

This week in TV Guide: December 24, 1960

How do you feel about Christmas in New York City? Well, too bad, because that's what you're going to get this week, whether you like it or not. . . what's that? You like the idea of Christmas in New York? Never mind then; let's just get to it, shall we?

Saturday is Christmas Eve, which is a pretty good way to get the week off to a start. As far as television goes, Christmas Eve has always had a pattern all its own. The early evening, pre-network schedule sees stations dig into their Yuletide inventory; The Early Show on WCBS (5:00 p.m.) has the Reginald Owen version of A Christmas Carol, with Gene Lockhart as Bob Cratchit.* The story of the world's most famous Christmas Carol is told in "Silent Night" (6:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., WNBC; 7:00 p.m., WCBS; 10:30 p.m., WTIC), an episode of Douglas Fairbanks Presents, also known as Rheingold Theatre. This episode was originally produced in 1954, but by 1960 it's become something of an annual presentation on many channels. It was also filmed in color (the only episode in the four years of the series to be so done), and so it's kind of a surprise that it doesn't show up on line anywhere.

*You should also remember Gene Lockhart for his memorable turn as Judge Harper in Miracle on 34th Street. The Cratchit casting really was a family affair. Gene Lockhart's wife Kathleen played Mrs. Cratchit, and their daughter June played Cratchit daughter Belinda. June went on to a pretty successful career of her own; even after all those years on Lassie, you can't say it went to the dogs.

Music variety shows continue the trend in primetime; Richard Hayes' The Big Beat (8:00 p.m., WNEW) is given over to Christmas music, and Lawrence Welk is live at 9:00 p.m. (ABC) for his annual Christmas episode, with Aladdin reading "The Night Before Christmas" and the Glee Club singing "Silent Night." Norma Zimmer is listed as "Guest vocalist" for this episode; next week, she'll be introduced as the new Champagne Lady, officially taking over for Alice Lon.

At 10:30 p.m. on WNTA, The Play of the Week presents "Emmanuel," the story of the Nativity, with Albert Dekker as Herod, Mark Richman as Joseph, and Lois Nettleton as Mary. Opposite that, on WOR, "A Star Shall Rise," made for Family Theatre in 1952, tells the story of the Three Wise Men, with Raymond Burr, Richard Hale, and John Crawford as the Kings; you can check that out here. And the syndicated West Point (10:30 p.m., WNHC) focuses on the plebes and upperclassmen left studying at the Point during the Christmas season.

Would we see an ad like this in
the TV Guide of today?
And then, as the night becomes late, the venue moves to the church, and, as one would expect from the vast panoply that is New York City, it is an eclectic assortment of faiths. It starts at 10:00 p.m. as NBC covers the Festival of the Seven Lessons and Carols at the Washington's Episcopal National Cathedral. At 10:45 p.m., ABC presents a candlelight procession and carols from the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, followed at 11:00 p.m. by the Christmas Eve service. The Russian Orthodox take center stage at 11:15 p.m. on CBS, with 15 minutes of Russian Orthodox hymns, while NBC presents 45 minutes of Christmas melodies by musical groups from Midwestern industries; the Illinois Bell Telephone Company Choir, the United Staets Steel swing Vo-chestra, and the Steelworks Goodfellow Carollers. Do such musical groups still exist today? At 11:30 p.m., it's the turn of the Dutch Reformed, in a Christmas Eve service broadcast by CBS from Brooklyn. Midnight itself belongs to the Catholics; Midnight Mass from St. Joseph's Lower Cathedral in Hartford (WTIC), St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York (NBC), and the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. (ABC). CBS wraps it up at 12:30 a.m. with a church service by the Franciscan Friars of the San Diego De Alcala Mission in California.

I particularly like how the early morning winds down, for those returning home from their own church services, or the non-religious. WCBS repeats the Reginald Owen Christmas Carol at 1:00 a.m. on the Late Late Show, while WNHC counters with the Alastair Sim version (the superior one, in my opinion). And at 1:15 a.m., WTIC has the best of all Christmas movies, Miracle on 34th Street.

As for Christmas Day itself, we'll take a closer look at that on Monday, in our weekly programming listings. Is that enough of a clue for you?

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As David Maraniss points out in his excellent Vince Lombardi biography When Pride Still Mattered, "The television sports industry had not yet cracked the sacrosanct Christmas barrier," so this year's NFL championship game between the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles will kick off at noon ET on Monday, December 26. "Monday noon [the early start time was dictated because Phiadelphia's Franklin Field had no lights] was not exactly television prime time, but even placing the game that close to Christmas seemed excessive to many people, a sign of commercialism run amok." More than one sportswriter attending the game saw it as yet more evidence of television's growing control over sports. "Sports slowly are being beamed for the mass TV audience," wrote New York columnist Jimmy Powers, "the millions who sit comfortably at home. . .absorbing statistics and, through the magic of powerful lenses, actually seeing more of the intricate play."

And so it comes to pass that, beginning with the pre-game on NBC at 11:45 a.m. Monday, the Packers and Eagles duke it out for the NFL crown, with Lindsey Nelson and Ray Scott behind the microphones. It's a thrilling game, with the two teams trading the lead throughout, until Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik brings down Packers star Jim Taylor at the nine-yard-line on the final play of the game, clinching a 17-13 victory for the Eagles. The game should be appreciated not only for the action on the field, but for its historical context; between the two teams, 14 future Hall-of-Famers are on the sidelines (with a couple more in the broadcast booth); it's the only time a Vince Lombardi-coached team loses a playoff game, and it's the last time until 2017 that the Philadelphia Eagles win the championship.

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From time to time I've mentioned Jackpot Bowling Starring Milton Berle, usually in passing and with a tone of pity over the rise and fall of Mr. Television. How did people see it at the time, though? We get a chance to find out this week, thanks to sportswriter Melvin Durslag's series review.

Durslag, in addition to being TV Guide's in-house sports editor, was for nearly 40 years a columnist for the Los Angeles Herald -Express, but I don't know how much he knows about bowling, which he describes as "the monumental boredom that results from watching balls rolling down the lanes." Granted, this was in the days before ABC's Pro Bowlers Tour, with the great Chris Schenkel at the mic, made the sport one of the most popular on Saturday afternoons from the early 1960s through the 1990s. Durslag apparently isn't the only one who fails to appreciate the drama of pro bowling, though; NBC, the network that brings us Jackpot Bowling every week, tries to answer Durslag's question of how to make bowling interesting by giving us three things: comedy, sports, and sex.

The comedy comes from Berle, "a traveled entertainer who understands comedy. You gather at times that he is laughing at himself, doing stand-up jokes amid such odd environs. Bowling, he appears to be saying, needs him like a hole in the head pin." I've always seen it differently; Berle laughs at his predicament because he's too old to cry, and it's not bowling, but Berle himself, who ought to have a hole in the head. What a man doesn't do for a network when he's under a lifetime contract. Chick Hearn, who goes on to great fame as the voice of the Los Angeles Lakers from 1965-2002, provides the play-by-play, and again Durslag's description probably doesn't do him justice; "Trying to give animation to bowling is almost like doing the play-by-play of marbles," he writes, but of course it was Schenkel's decision to play to the drama and anticipation, much as in golf, that made bowling the great theater it was. And then the sex: "a half-dressed doll appears intermittently, to pass out the sponsor's cigars," Durslag says, but if you've seen any of the few episodes that appear on YouTube, you're probably thinking of British bombshell Diana Dors, whose 1961 appearance was during her marriage to Richard Dawson.

It's an odd combination, and to be honest none of it really works; "There isn't enough Berle for laughs, there isn't enough Hearn for sports interest—and the half-dressed doll remains half-dressed." Durslag correctly identifies the keynote of Jackpot Bowling in a recent appearance on the show by Steve Allen. When Berle tells Allen he should do a show like this, Steverino replies, "It isn't because I haven't got the talent. I haven't got the guts." Take that any way you will.

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You know who Dr. Joyce Brothers is, don't you? I don't like to take things like this for granted, but I suspect that most classic TV buffs, especially those from the era that we discus here, know of the young psychologist who parlayed an honest winning streak on The $64,000 Question into a long career as a newspaper columnist and television personality. In 1960, she's hosting her own half-hour weekday show on WNBC, which ought to tell us something about people's problems back in 1960.

The show's off on Monday thanks to the NFL championship, but on Tuesday "A young woman asks for help to choose a winter vacation spot where she can meet eligible young men." Wednesday: "Are women more sensitive to colors than men?" Thursday: "A mother wants to know if her son is passing through a phase or if he is becoming a problem child." (I suppose it depends on whether we're talking about him sucking his thumb or trying to strangle other children.) Friday: A young girl writes, "What is it that makes a playboy so fascinating? Please tell me how to hold on to him."

I mention this because earlier this week, I saw one of those paid-ad teasers on a sidebar, linking to an advice column at Slate magazine. The question: "Help! I’m Hooking Up With My Ex-Nephew and Honestly It’s Great." I wonder if Dr. Brothers ever had a question like that? (The answer to that one, by the way: "Bail out now. No lasting good can come from this. He is your nephew.") I guess things have changed, haven't they?

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There are things other than Christmas specials on this week; let's take a look at some of them.

On Saturday, Perry Mason (7:30 p.m., CBS) confronts a mystery that only Perry can solve (and isn't that most of them?): "Perry gets a phone call from George Beaumont. He finds this a bit odd, since he attended Beaumont's funeral three years before." Yes, I think I'd find that a bit strange myself. Ross Elliott plays Beaumont, so we know at least that part of the story is on the up-and-up.

Most of Sunday's musical presentations have to do with Christmas, which isn't surprising. The Dinah Shore Show (9:00 p.m., NBC) has a Yuletide song itself, but the accent is on the Orient, as Dinah hosts a troup of Japanese singers, dancers and variety artists. At 9:30 p.m. The Jack Benny Program (9:30 p.m., CBS) features Jack's annual amateur talent show, with Nanette Fabray playing an untried entertainer trying for her big break." My bet is that Jack's famous Christmas show, the one with he and Rochester shopping in an insane department store, probably aired a week or two before, when commercials for gifts would have done more good.

Things are more back-to-normal on Monday, with some odds and ends to report. John Charles Daly stepped down as the anchor of ABC's evening news on December 16; this week, the news is being anchored by John Secondari, host of ABC's Saga of Western Man series and author of the novel Coins in the Fountain, which became the Oscar-winning movie Three Coins in the Fountain. Let's see David Muir top that! Later, in the Warner Bros. detective universe, Grant Williams takes time off from Hawaiian Eye to play the bad guy in Surfside 6. (8:30 p.m., ABC) And speaking of guest hosts, Hugh Downs sits in for Jack Paar this week on The Tonight Show. (11:15 p.m., NBC)

Tuesday's best starts with the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "The Man Who Found the Money" (8:30 p.m., NBC), starring Rod Cameron. "William Benson loses nearly all his money the first night of his Las Vegas holiday. But it's not so disastrous—he finds a money clip crammed with thousand-dollar bills." Something tells me this is not, repeat not, going to end well. Later, on One Step Beyond (10:00 p.m., ABC), "Fred Summers wants Kate Maxwell to become his bride. But Kate hesitates—she doesn't believe that her pilot-husband is actually dead, even though he's been missing in action for two years." Maybe she should ask Perry Mason how that works.

I think Wednesday's best bets have to include Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall (9:00 p.m, NBC), with guest stars Connie Francis and Kay Thompson, but that could be because I was watching one of Perry's Christmas shows tonight. (You know what they say about how the last thing you watched effects you.) Grant Williams is back on the side of the good guys on Hawaiian Eye (9:00 p.m., ABC), Barry Sullivan's trying to find out the embassy official who's on the side of the bad guys on The United States Steel Hour (10:00 p.m., CBS), and Peter Lind Hayes finds himself on the wrong side of everything in Peter Loves Mary (10:00 p.m, NBC); he's dressed in his old uniform for a reunion when he's mistaken for a secret Air Force courier.

Thursday, Harold J. Stone stars as hood Tommy Karples in a terrific episode of The Untouchables (9:30 p.m., ABC), followed by an episode of Ernie Kovacs' panel show Take a Good Look, which is really just an excuse for getting a good look at some of Kovacs' weird sketches. At 10:00 p.m., Edward R. Murrow hosts a roundtable of CBS news correspondents taking a look back at the year in news in The Years of Crisis. Puzzling title, isn't it, considering we're only talking about one year? Oh well.

Friday, it's one of the most famous and moving of all Twilight Zone episodes, "A Stop at Willoughby" (10:00 p.m., CBS), with James Daly superb as the harassed businessman searching desperately for a simpler life in a simpler time. If you're not sure whether or not you've seen it, you haven't; once you have, you never forget it.

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Apologies that this week's article is a bit shorter than usual (I didn't even get around to the article about one of Hal Horn's favorites, Ralph Taeger, current star of Klondike and future star of Hondo. I'll be making up for that on Monday, though, with a longer-than-usual version of the TV listings; there's a lot of Christmas programming to review! In the meantime, some of you may be travelling for the holidays or otherwise thrown off your regular schedule; to all of you, my best wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. For the rest of you, see you back on Monday. TV  

1 comment:

  1. That bowling program with Berle was the prototype for another popular bowling program in the 70's, "Celebrity Bowling." Many episodes of this Jed Allan-hosted series are on YouTube and feature such stars as Ernest Borgnine, Jan Murray, Rose Marie and Richard Dawson who incidentally, was in the audience cheering his wife(while Uncle Miltie was leering) on that episode of Berle's program.


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