July 25, 2020

This week in TV Guide: July 24, 1953

I hope you've been enjoying this series of TV Guides from 1953 Chicago. I know they're a little different from what we're generally used to here, and it can be challenging to write about them. These early issues lack the features we've come to know and appreciate over the years, and the focus at this point remains that of a local publication. And then there's the simple fact that there just aren't as many shows on the air, nor as many channels, as we're accustomed to seeing. Nonetheless, I've had fun looking at them as part of the evolutionary process that has brought us to where we are today, and there's always the chance of finding some gem hidden within the pages. If you have any suggestions as to how I can do a better job of writing about them, though, please feel free to contribute your ideas. "Stop writing" is not, sadly, one of the options.

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Well, look at who's on the cover. Groucho! And he's either pulling our leg, or he's undergone something of a change during the six years he's been doing You Bet Your Life on radio and television. Oh, he's still the wisecracking fast-talker we've come to know and love from all these years; what's changed is the way he looks at people, specifically the contestants on his show. "My estimation of people has risen in the past six years," he says. "There are a lot of wonderful people in the world, and this job has given me a chance to meet them." To critics who accuse him of making fun of those contestants to get laughs, Groucho bristles. "I don't insult the people on my show, I spoof them," he says indignantly. "Others who did insult contestants have failed. You Bet Your Life wouldn't be a hit, if I did. There's a big difference between kidding and ridicule." (I wonder what Groucho would make of today's P.C.-induced chill on comedy?) "I find that they enjoy the fun of the shows, whether they win or not, and they like a lot of spoofing."

Marx enjoys the second career that television has afforded him. "Next to robbing a bank, it's about the easiest of all," he says of hosting You Bet Your Life. "But this is the culmination of years of hard knocks, believe me. Maybe I've earned this kind of job." He still remembers his struggle to make it in show business, starting in 1906 when he was 11. It's been a nomadic life, working the vaudeville circuit before making it big in Hollywood. But now he lives comfortably in Beverly Hills, spends time with old friends and his children, and hosting his weekly show. And after 40 years, he's learned to be unflappable, even when confronted with his sometimes colorful contestants, including a woman with two husbands named Bodovnic (must be something in the water), triplet sisters from Russia, and an Irish janitor working in a synagogue. "I've never been stumped yet," he says. "I guess those years of trouping do something for you.

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What was that I said earlier about hidden gems? Try out this week's starlet, a young woman hoping to make her name someday as the famous daughter of a famous father, but "if she does, it won't be because she tied herself to her father's shirt-tales." The father is Robert Montgomery, film and television star; his daughter is 20-year-old Elizabeth.

Dad's given her some breaks, including signing her as a member of his stock company of actors for his Robert Montgomery Presents summer series. But as far as her career goes, "Any time she wants to discuss her career with me, I'm available. But the decisions are hers." He's given her the benefit of his long experience in the business, though, by helping her in such areas as choosing publicity photos; when he saw one that he deemed "unflattering," he insisted that "Liz rip up the copy and have the negative in the network publicity files destroyed." It's no wonder he acted as President Eisenhower's television advisor.

Liz got the itch to act from watching her father. "I grew up with Dad's acting, which probably raised my hopes of becoming an actress. But I think I'd have wanted that even if Dad had never acted." She's studied with the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and her goal is to follow in his footsteps as a Hollywood star (meaning movies), but she's determined to establish her acting chops first on television and Broadway, and, like her father, prefers comedy. Aside from one appearance on Robert Montgomery Presents, she's done no TV to this point, but that will change this summer, of course. And the elder Montgomery will be on hand, producing the series. No favoritism, though; "She'll have to prove herself."

Well, of course, she does. The mention of her preferring comedy is a prophetic one, given her eight seasons in Bewitched, which was at the time the most successful show in ABC's history and remains one of TV's most beloved sitcoms. She did branch into drama, as we know, with some hard-hitting TV movies, including A Case of Rape, that were as far from the Samantha Stephens role as you can get. And let's not forget her title as "Queen of Password," bestowed on her by none other than Allen Ludden himself. So I think it's probably safe to say that for many people today, Robert Montgomery is remembered as the famous father of a famous daughter.

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Television is, at heart, a medium of illusion, filled with dreams that sometimes come true and sometimes. . . well, a case in point is Bob Hope's season opener, scheduled for October 20 on NBC. He'll be doing the show from the Ohio Sesquicentennial (that's 150 years for those of you in the World's Worst Town™), and according to Dan Jenkins at the Hollywood Teletype, he's "trying to get such guests as Tyrone Power, Doris Day, Ted Lewis—and even Clark Gable." Big names indeed. As it turns out, however, a quick Google tells us that he wound up with Gloria DeHaven, Phil Harris and Ohio Governor Frank J. Lausche. I guess it just goes to show that hope springs eternal, Hope doesn't always come true.

What has the week got to offer us? Well, we've had a format tweak in the listings since we last visited 1953. Now, the weekday morning programs—Friday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday—are listed collectively. We learn, for example, that on the Paul Fogarty exercise show (9:00 a.m., WGN), the week's schedule includes:

Fri: For a trim ankle and a firm arch.
Mon: Grace and balance hints.
Tues: The "Cleopatra" exercise, for bust and shoulders.
Wed: A smaller, firmer waistline.
Thurs: Thigh and calf exercises.

It's good to know these things; I hate surprises.

One thing I've never been able to get used to is a description of what's on tap in a soap opera. There's a serial on NBC called The Bennetts (10:15 a.m.), a 15-minute affair that, quite frankly, sounds gripping. Check out the plotlines for the next week, if you can stand all the excitement:

Fri: In order to save one friend, Wayne Bennett comes close to losing another.
Mon: The end of the trial indicates it might not be the end of the case.
Tues: An artist gets a commission and a lawyer gets a tip.
Wed: A loan turns out to be a down payment on trouble.
Thurs: Wayne Bennett doesn't like his son's new friend.

This kind of format could be found, in one form or another, into the early '60s, and made a comeback in the last days of TV Guide, when the grid system was dominant.

Something else new for this market: a completely separate program section for WTMJ in Milwaukee. Most of it is simply a repetition of listings from Chicagoland, but it helps keep the two markets separate; we wouldn't want to confuse people by showing them stations they didn't get. I guess early television was more complicated than we thought.

Ethnic comedy was very popular in the 1950s, when cities were more likely to have distinct enclaves where people of various nationalities lived. The Goldbergs (Friday, 7:00 p.m., NBC), which started live as a popular radio comedy, is a prominent example. It's reviewed as the "Program of the Week," and though it's been off the air for almost a year, it follows the same formula which has made the show so successful (with some cast changes, including Robert H. Harris in place of Philip Loeb, who was blacklisted after accusations of being a communist). Most of the credit to Gertrude Berg, who not only plays Molly, the matriarch of the family, but also produces and writes the series. The series has come under criticism from some quarters, "asserting that the show tends to perpetuate the stereotype of the people about whom Mrs. Berg writes." The same charge has been leveled against other shows, Amos 'n' Andy and Life with Luigi, for example; those shows were about, respectively, blacks and Italians, while The Goldbergs looks at the Jews. As is the case with other ethnic shows, The Goldbergs presents its humor within the context of a family trying to assimilate into American society without losing its cultural heritage. "Mrs. Berg treats the characters so sympathetically that the show actually should help, not hinder, the fight against bigotry and intolerance." It should, although I doubt it would be acceptable on television today. Frankly, I've never found ethnic humor all that funny, including The Goldbergs, but that's just me; I certainly don't see it as offensive.

Other things I noticed: The Saturday night fight on ABC (8:00 p.m.) is a welterweight bout between Carmen Basilio and Billy Graham (don't worry, it's not that Billy Graham; his show is on Sunday, natch), while the five-minute news break each morning on WBBM is anchored by one of my favorites, Frank Reynolds, on his way to stardom. Speaking of anchors, if you think it strange that John Daly did the evening news on ABC while hosting What's My Line? on CBS, we also have Douglas Edwards, CBS news anchor, hosting Masquerade Party (Monday, 8:30 p.m.). At least it's on the same network. And, of course, there's Mike Wallace hosting the panel show I'll Buy That, which comes on right after Frank Reynolds (10:05 a.m.), long before becoming television's most feared interviewer. Hey, wake me when Norah O'Donnell hosts Wheel of Fortune.

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Geez, everyone's a critic.
Finally, Merrill Panitt's "As We See It" has a story we quite liked, about a man named Richard Gaughan who lives in New York. Mr. Gaughan is apparently a somewhat excitable young man, and it seems that recently he broke into a CBS rehearsal, stabbed a cameraman, and broke a water pitcher over an actor's head. His reason: "He doesn't like television." Panitt doesn't mention for which show the personnel were rehearsing, which could, I suppose, be considered a mitigating circumstance; were I on the jury, I could been convinced to convict on a lesser charge or, even acquit altogether.

The reason we're reading about this is to contrast Gaughan's reaction with that of "the highly intellectual" Bernard DeVoto, who spent 24 hours watching television, and then wrote about his thoughts on the medium. "It turned out that the time was well invested," Panitt writes, "for he sold the story of his situation to Harper's and Reader's Digest." It turns out that DeVoto is just as unimpressed with television as the unfortunate Gaughan, "who at least wasn't capitalizing on his dislike of the medium" for profit. Of the 24 hours he deigned to watch, he liked Dinah Shore, Kate Smith, and a speech by Charles E. Wilson. As for the rest of it, "he belabored TV drama in general, mysteries in particular, and commercials of all types." Notes Panitt, "Like other stuffy critics, he feels TV owes him the best in programming but the companies that pay for them shouldn't bother him." DeVoto couldn't fairly judge the programming by sitting in front of a TV for 24 hours, and he had to be biased to even attempt such a "stunt." With an attitude like that, it's obvious the man was a communist.

Panitt saves his savaging best for last. While Gaughan was confined to a mental hospital for his physical brand of critiquing, "Bernard DeVoto continues to be locked in by his own reasoning and unreasonable approach to a dynamic, promising new medium. As for the commercials, even dreamy, ivory tower types should know that the man who pays the piper is entitled to call the tune." Come to think of it, even the communists understood TV better than DeVoto. TV  


  1. Outstanding Guide, Mitchell! One month before my birth. In other news, I found a Guide from July 22-28, 1967. Do you need it? Yet another Bonanza cover sans Pernell Roberts.

    1. As a matter of fact, that's one I don't have, and I'd have a perfect spot for it in next year's lineup! I appreciate it!

    2. I remember the title of the cover article on that one: "Michael Landon Plays Cowboys & Indians for $22,000 a Week". That sounds like a good living to me, especially back then!

  2. I'll bet that Cleopatra workout was a real pain in the(you know the rest)

  3. It will be on the way. Drop me your address to my email jdrowe30@gmail.com


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!