April 25, 2020

This week in TV Guide: April 24, 1953

A couple of weeks ago, when I wrote about the issue with Eve Arden on the cover, one of our readers commented that it was too bad I didn't write anything about her. Well, you know how it is—time and space, and I'm not talking about Doctor Who. I like Eve Arden too, and I love her sense of humor, especially her delivery. Well, I get a second chance this week: she's mentioned as one of the "Funny Females" that can be found all over the airwaves. Not just Arden, but Lucy, Imogene Coca, Gracie Allen, Gale Storm, and others. Which raises the question: why are there so many funny women on TV?

Dr. Bergen Evans, who moderates the show Down You Go, thinks that it's because women can succeed faster in television than in other, male-dominated professions. You see, afternoon soaps, which have a dominant female audience, thrive on "weak male characters and strong women."  When hubby comes home, however, they have to revert to "chiefly comic" roles. "They will have to be attractive but giddy, blundering with charming impetuosity from one absurdity to another, to be rescued at last by the superior and forgiving male. That will make hubby beam." He's speaking partly with tongue-in-cheek, but I think there's something to this; We know stories about how men feel threatened by smart, clever women (never mind that Bogie always seemed to be attracted to them, and always seemed to get them), and that women often had to hide that intelligence in order to get ahead. But who really has the last laugh? That character that Dr. Evans is describing sounds a lot like Lucy, and she did turn out to be quite a television mogul, didn't she?

Dr. Miles Murphy, a professor of psychology, believes that women succeed in comedy because they don't face the same constraints that men do, the need that many men seem to have to appear respectable. Does this mean that comedy isn't respectable? I don't think so; I think it more likely means that women are less self-conscious than men might be about letting themselves go. Dr. Yale Nathanson, who practices psychology, looks at the ways in which women are often charged with holding families together and says that comedy is a relief, "the escape valve that lets off the pressure of responsibilities or worries."  I admit, though that I'm partial to the explanation from anthropologist Ashley Montagu, who points out that "women are, on the whole, so much more appealing than men," and adds that it was inevitable that they would take over television entertainment. "Women possess the qualities of warmth and sympathy which immediately draw their fellow human beings toward them. Men may be clever, but it is the women who are good"

As for Eve Arden, "She's witty, easy on the eyes but generally finishes second to the male." THe first two are true enough, but second best? Just because she doesn't get Mr. Boynton? My wife says she never could understand what Connie Brooks would see in him. And anyway, it's not called Our Mr. Boynton, is it?

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We’re always looking at Ed Sullivan’s competition around here, and in the first half of the 1950s, that competition is NBC’s Colgate Comedy Hour and its stable of rotating hosts. Colgate and Sullivan's Toast of the Town have been going head-to-head every Sunday since 1950. Let’s see how it looks this week.

Sullivan: Ed presents a preview of "Never Let Me Go" with Clark Gable & Gene Tierney. Guests: singers Roberta Peters & Jan Peerce; Willie West & McGinty, comedy team; and the Marquis Monkeys. Also the four Copa Girls, and comedian Wally Boag.

Comedy Hour: Bud Abbott and Lou Costello host this week, with guests Hoagy Carmichael, Teresa Brewer and the Amin Brothers.

Sullivan often presented movie previews on Talk of the Town, so you can't really consider Gable and Tierney as guests; otherwise, the competition would be pretty much over. As it is, Roberta Peters and Jan Peerce are two of the biggest stars that the Metropolitan Opera has to offer (I wonder if they were appearing together in anything that season?) Willie West & McGinty were second-generation vaudevillians carrying on an act that had been around since the turn of the century, and I'm guessing the Marquis Monkeys are better known as the Marquis Chimps. On the other hand, Abbott & Costello are big box office, and combined with Hoagy Carmichael and Teresa Brewer, that's a formidable group of headliners. Maybe if Gable was actually on with Ed. . . this week's nod goes to the Comedy Hour.

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What, from this issue, speaks to us today? The man on the cover is Ralph Edwards, and in 1953 he was a TV star, with his show This Is Your Life. It began on the radio, as was the case with so many shows of the period, and after four years, in 1952, it transitioned to television. It remained on NBC until 1961, and was revived a couple of times along the way. Does the name mean much to you today? What about the idea of surprising people with the story of their life, including voices and appearances from friends, co-workers, and family? To tell you the truth, it doesn't do a whole lot for me; I don't think I'd want my life story played out in public, and this guy sure didn't.

Does Mister Peepers speak to you? It had a great cast, with Wally Cox starring in the title role of the mild-mannered Robinson J. Peepers, before he became the voice of the mild-mannered Shoeshine Boy, alias Underdog. (I should ask, first; does Underdog speak to you?) You'd recognize some of the other names in the cast: Tony Randall, Jack Warden, Marian Lorne, Ernest Truax. I confess that other than scattered clips, I've never seen an episode, but I've been told that it holds up pretty well. This issue features a look at some of the gadgets that have become a trademark of the show's humor (a trick locker, a sagging gooseneck desk lamp, Peepers' shaving mirror). Of course, besides Peepers and Underdog, Wally Cox is probably best-known as one of the original regulars on The Hollywood Squares.

And then there's Jackie Gleason, the Great One. I would like to think that he still speaks to a lot of people, but then I'd also like to think that whoever succeeded Ed McMahon as spokesman for Publishers' Clearing House is going to show up at our door any day now, and I'll welcome that person with open arms, social distancing or not. At any rate, this week's lead story goes behind the scenes to show us the writers' room, where all those great Gleason bits come from; I take some comfort from reading about how even professional writers who compose professional jokes can have writer's block, struggling to come up with an idea that takes off, especially when dealing with someone as larger-than-life as Gleason. And speaking of the Great One, it comes as no surprise that he disdains things such as rehearsals, not even bothering with the script until the day before the show. But once he gets involved, watch out; he controls everything from the music performed on the show (and how the music is performed) to the camera angles for the dance routines. Says an observer, "I've often marveled that the show ever gets off the ground. Week after week I'm frankly surprised that it does. Somebody appears to be a genius around here—and my guess is that it's Gleason."

The TV Teletype asks questions. Will he or won't he? Danny Kaye is demanding $200,000 for a three-minute guest spot on an unnamed show. "Producers are convinced he made his asking price intentionally prohibitive" because he's not ready to move to the new medium. That won't come for another decade, but when he does, he'll meet with much success. Does he or doesn't he? Red Skelton is threatening to move to ABC in the fall with a filmed show. It doesn't happen, though: Red, who's currently on NBC, instead moves over to CBS, where he'll remain until he returns to NBC in 1970. Does this speak, can you hear it?

It can be a challenge, in these early, unshaped days of television, to know what to look for, to identify that which is significant, to find what speaks to us today. It seems so long ago. And yet all these people, and those you read about below, they do speak to us. They've helped to form the cultural world we live in today; even if you haven't seen This Is Your Life, everyone knows the premise and recognizes the spoof. We live in their world, after all, and we're richer for it, whether we hear them calling us or not.

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Cultural programming (i.e. the classy show) on TV isn't dead yet, and we've got several examples this week, even if they aren't in prime time. On Saturday, NBC Opera Theatre presents part one of a two-part Der Rosenkavalier, Richard Strauss' magnificent opera, at 3:30 p.m. (part two airs next week). Then, at 2:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon, NBC's back at it with a two-hour Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of Hamlet (left), starring the great Maurice Evans (also known as Sam's father on Bewitched), Ruth Chatterton, Joseph Schildkraut, Sarah Churchill and Barry Jones; TV Guide calls it "the epitome of high level entertainment." In one of those unfortunate scheduling moments that people are always complaining about in the pre-VCR days, CBS's Omnibus (3:30 p.m.) has a terrific show of its own, including a dramatic reading from A Tale of Two Cities, a dance performance by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, a look at the latest exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and a short story by James Thurber. It's great stuff—providing you're willing to skip the last hour of Hamlet—and it's the kind of thing that you can see, if not all the time, with far more frequency than you see today.

(One of the reasons we don't see programming like this anymore is because weekends are dominated by sports. Well, this weekend all we have is a horse race on Saturday, and a pair of Cubs games Saturday and Sunday. Makes you wonder how people freaked out by the virus-induced sports meltdown would have reacted back then.)

On Monday night the classics continue, as the enduring Voice of Firestone (7:30 p.m., NBC) features opera stars George London and Dorothy Warenskjold performing hits from both opera and musical theater. There's music of another kind on Tuesday; on Dinah Shore's thrice-weekly show (6:30 p.m., NBC), Dinah "welcomes Nashville, Tennessee to the network* and goes to a senior prom, singing "Tennessee Waltz" and "Dear Hearts and Gentle People." Later on, it's Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater (7:00 p.m., NBC), and Uncle Miltie's guests are Bob Cummings, the aforementioned Wally Cox, and Lisa Kirk. Arthur Godfrey hasn't fired Julius LaRosa yet, so you'll see him Wednesday on Arthur Godfrey and Friends (7:00 p.m., CBS), along with friends including Frank Parker, Marion Marlowe, Janette Davis, and the Maguire Sisters.

*WSM, according to Wikipedia; the radio station of the same name is home to the Grand Ole Opry.

Thursday night Amos 'n' Andy (7:30 p.m., CBS) puts the Kingfish in a spot; a computer error results in a vocational guidance center grading him as an artistic genius. Next, it's Dragnet (8:00 p.m., NBC), as Sgt. Friday investigates the case of a man who apparently died from a heart attack—that is, until they find traces of poison in his system. On Friday, Dr. Bergen Evans—you remember, from the article on funny women—hosts Down You Go at 9:30 p.m. on DuMont; earlier, one of those funny women, Eve Arden, tries to help Principle Conklin make a good impression for "Board of Education Day" on Our Miss Brooks (8:30 p.m., CBS) And at 10:00 p.m., WBKB's Jim Moran hosts the fourth annual "Chicago Fights Cancer" Telethon, where you can see "Show Biz Greats" help hit a goal of $100,000 for the American Cancer Society. And who knows? You might win a 1953 Hudson!

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There's a nice article this week on 20-year-old Judy Tyler, aka Princess Summerfall Winterspring on Howdy Doody. You might remember her from this 1956 issue in which she shared the cover with Ed Sullivan; you might also remember her for the somewhat, shall we say, colorful aspects to her life that I mentioned at the time—with the kinds of details that don't make it into the pages of TV Guide, at least not in the 1950s.

But here all is goodness and light. The profile mentions how she's always wanted an acting career (her parents were both entertainers), and how, "[a]t a time most girls were concerned with dolls, Judy was modeling for Harry Conover. And that's not all, I want to say, but I won't. We don't, after all, know, although based on what we've learned, we can't help but wonder. But there's no question that Judy's got talent, and she's well on her way to having a big career; she's already won a national beauty contest, had her own show on WOR, and appeared in movies and as a bit player in nightclub acts. She married in 1950, when she was 18. She currently makes between $25,000 and $30,000 a year, which isn't chicken feed in 1953.

She'd just finished Jailhouse Rock with Elvis when she and her second husband were killed in an auto accident in 1957, when she was just 24. I prefer not to think of her that, or the other things; better to picture her as she is here, 20 years old, with a whole life to live and a career that seems limitless.

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There was a time—indeed, a very long time ago now—when, if something was wrong with your television, you didn't just up and buy a new one. You see, back then, TVs were—well, when they first came along they were pretty much a luxury item, and even after they became more commonplace, they were still pretty expensive relative to the amount of money the average household had. They weren't disposable items, in other words. So when something happened to your set, if the sound went bad (or you had no sound at all), or if suddenly black bars started appearing across the picture, you'd call a television repairman.

The repairman would come out to your home and remove the back of your set (as that repairman is doing at left) to see what the problem was. Televisions were made of tubes, resistors and capacitors, things that could be repaired or replaced, and it might be a case of merely changing a couple of tubes, like you might change the spark plugs on your car's engine; otherwise, he'd wind up putting the set in his truck and taking it back to the shop, where he'd repair the set and then bring it back to you, along with a bill for parts and labor.

The problem, which you would constantly be reminded of by the media, was that many television repairmen were crooks. They'd charge you for parts that didn't need to be replaced, or tell you they'd spent more time working on your TV than they actually had. They had the same reputation as auto mechanics, but since by then the television, like the family car, had become indispensable, you either asked your friends who they used or you picked a name from the phone book* and hoped for the best.

*A big book with names, addresses and telephone numbers in it. I'll tell you about it sometime.

The ad at the left is something you definitely would not have seen in any TV Guide from the past 40 years or so. There are several other ads in this issue for individual repairmen. It looks like good business to me; after all, if you're having trouble with your TV, why not trust someone who advertises in TV Guide? Notice that several of the shops offer "day & night" service, because you never know when your set might go on the fritz, and if you're like me, you're not going to want to wait until the next day to see if it can be repaired.

There's no question that times are different today; I think the last time I had a TV repaired was in 1988, and that only bought me a few more years at best. It's said that most modern televisions can be repaired, and it can save you a lot of money by having someone look at it, but I wonder if most people do that, or they just buy a new TV. Still, there's something about getting rid of an otherwise perfectly good appliance, like a television, just because a small part might not work. I hate the idea of planned obsolesce, but that kind of philosophy is itself obsolete. There's something about this ad that I like; it reminds me of my childhood, and of the shows from that time period. Just don't ask me to give up my big-screen TV. TV  


  1. Here's someone else who didn't want to do This Is Your Life:


  2. Lowell Thomas was another subject of THIS IS YOUR LIFE who didn't want his story told. He apparently went through with it anyway but kept muttering something like "This is a sinister conspiracy!" throughout.

    Ralph Edwards himself refused to be a subject on his own show and said he'd fire all his staff members if they attempted to tell his life story.

  3. Well, I have this one - Chicago edition, in fact - and while I was all of two-and-a-half this week, there's a lot of stuff that does "speak to me" (after a fashion).

    -Starting off:
    In those early days, TV Guide observed a Friday-through-Thursday schedule, which means your week's account should have started with Friday, rather than finishing with it.
    This is important, because if you check the daily listings, you find out that Monday was the day that Channel 4 (the CBS-owned station) picked up the network feeds of Bride And Groom, Love Of Life, Search for Tomorrow, and Guiding Light; check the Friday log, and all four of these shows were still on Channel 9 (Dumont).
    WBBM's takeover of Ch4, ABC's reorganization of WBKB and Ch7, Ch9's watching as Dumont declined - all of this was a work in progress in early '53 (followed closely by WBBM's moving to Channel 2, which is another story).
    Check on Thursday, and you'll note that I've Got A Secret, a CBS show, is still on Ch9. Channel 4 did reclaim Secret not longer after this week, but there were existing contracts that had to be burned off, and like that there.
    That was the era, and one of the points of interest for Chicagoans who had the Motorolas and Muntzes back then - just keeping track of who was where.

    - Jim Moran!
    The COURTESY Man!
    The Midwest's LARGEST Automobile Dealer!
    .. Presents The COURTESY HOUR!

    (Music: "Pomp And Circumstance" by Elgar.)
    Car dealers were among the earliest advertisers on local TV stations, mainly because they did their own commercials.
    The usual clients were mainly movies (mostly Poverty Row programmers) and wrestling; the car spots were open-ended, depending on the length of the movies or matches.
    Jim Moran's Courtesy Motors was (as noted above) the largest dealership in Chicagoland, and Moran was a major figure around town; His own big event was an annual swim across Lake Michigan, which attracted a lot of eager amateurs every year.
    The Courtesy Hour was a variety show that drew the big names who would be passing through Chicago; it was sufficiently popular that Channel 7 put out considerable resources to get it away from Channel 9.
    Jim Moran didn't work for WBKB - it was sort of the other way around.
    A few years after this, Ch7 spent a small bundle to get the Movietime USA package of RKO movies for nightly use.
    Jim Moran switched his Friday time to Your COURTESY Theatre; he got first pick of the RKO package, as well as any other movies Ch7 picked up for the remainder of the decade.
    Jim Moran's commercials were famous in their time for his low-key style: while other car dealers often shouted and joked their way through their pitches, Moran was kind of the Peter Lind Hayes of the business - dry, friendly, quietly persuasive.
    He was careful to spot his pitches during the movies, and usually ended them by saying "Okay, Torture Time is over; back to our movie."
    It was, as they say, A Different Time.

    - On page A-45 of the local section, you can find Jack Mabley's column.
    Mabley was the first newspaper TV critic in the country (the Chicago Daily News); he did the TV Guide column as a sideline.
    This week, Mabley is doing "Reflections On A TV Tube", a notes column covering as many topics as he could squeeze into a page.
    You ought to check this column out - particularly in light of the fact that several of its topics are mentioned in your own piece.

    - Oh, and be sure to check out the photo spread about the TV Guide Celebrity Bowling Tourney, hosted by Ed Sullivan and Ch9 sports guy Vince Lloyd, with commentary by The Tenpin Tattler, Sammy Weinstein.
    I'd call your attention to the photo on A-42, lower left-hand corner, which you might find interesting in view of other things we've discussed herein.

    I don't know if you've still got that cockamamie character limit, so I'll stand down for now.
    Any questions? You know where I am.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!