August 22, 2020

This week in TV Guide: August 22, 1959

There's a little something for everyone this week, and there's no better place to begin than at the beginning, so let's go through the week a day at a time!

Saturday night football! The NFL preseason continues with a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Cardinals from Austin, Texas (9:00 p.m. CT, ABC). The appeal of this game would have been obvious: Bobby Layne, the star quarterback of the Steelers, was a native of Texas and an all-time great at the University of Texas (which, of course, is in Austin), while John David Crow, star halfback of the Cardinals, had won the Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M. In these days before widespread coverage of pro football, when Texas didn’t have any professional football of its own, I imagine the chance to see two of Texas’ greatest football stars live and in person made for quite an event in Austin.

The Chicago Cardinals were nearing the end of their run as the second team in the Second City. Their history in Chicago dated back to 1920, but those years were spent mostly in futility and by 1959 the team had had only one winning season in the decade. There was no way the Cards could compete any longer with the Bears, and as the Bidwell family (which had owned the team since 1932) looked for options, a number of businessmen sought to buy the team and relocate it. Those attempts failed due to the family’s insistence on maintaining majority ownership of the team, and eventually the NFL allowed them to move the team to St. Louis.

Among those businessmen seeking (separately) to buy the Cardinals were Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams. When those efforts failed, they joined forces with others to form the American Football League, Hunt owning the Dallas Texans (which eventually moved to Kansas City) and Adams the Houston Oilers. I can’t help but wonder if the scheduling of this game was perhaps a trial run to test out the Texas market. In any event, by the next year the Lone Star State would have three professional teams: the Texans, the Oilers and the Dallas Cowboys. Of the three, only the Cowboys remain where they started.

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On Sunday afternoon at 4:30, Arkansas Senator J. William Fullbright* (listed in TV Guide as “James W.”, which is technically correct but not the way he was usually referred to) is the guest on CBS’s Face the Nation. I’ve frequently mentioned how sports was not always wall-to-wall on the weekends, and stations generally filled the time with public affairs and documentary programming. At various times this Sunday we have Open Hearings (hosted by ABC’s John Secondari), College News Conference, Victory at Sea, Conquest (a science program on CBS narrated by Eric Sevareid), NBC’s Meet the Press (with this week’s guest, Erwin D. Canham, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and editor of the Christian Science Monitor), The Twentieth Century (CBS), and Chet Huntley Reporting (NBC). Religious programming, such as This Is the Life, This Is the Answer and The Gospel in Art fill out the schedule, along with Quiz a Catholic, which I guess would be both religion and public affairs.

*Fun fact: Fulbright’s sister Roberta is the maternal grandmother of Fox pundit Tucker Carlson.

There is some sports on Sunday; both NBC and CBS have afternoon baseball (Red Sox vs. Indians on CBS, Orioles vs. Tigers on NBC), but the games are blacked out in the Twin Cities, as the Triple-A Minneapolis Millers are hosting the Kentucky Colonels. WCCO fills the time with more auto racing from Shakopee’s Raceway Park, a place that I visited several times during my youth (with the souvenier checkered flag to prove it.

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The American Legion is having its national convention in Minneapolis, and on Monday at 9:30 a.m., both Channels 4 and 9 offer coverage of the Legion’s parade, which is expected to last eight-to-ten hours, with 7500 marchers, floats and bands, and delegations from nine foreign countries. Channel 4, the CBS affiliate, breaks away from the coverage from time to time for local news, soaps, and game shows; Channel 9, the independent station, actually begins its broadcast day 2½ hours earlier than usual, and only breaks for an afternoon movie. Can you imagine a local station doing this now? A few years ago, when we were living in Minneapolis, the Legion returned to the city for its convention, and I can testify that the parade is very long and very colorful, though I don’t think it attracted the crowd it did in 1959.

One thing I really like about the listing for this is the reference to representatives from “the 49 states.” That’s right, we’re in that one-year period when Alaska’s achieved statehood, but not yet Hawaii. That we’re able to capture a reference like this in writing, from such a relatively short timeframe, is just a very cool cultural reference.

At 9:00 p.m., CBS’ Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse presents the story of famed gangster Al Capone in part one of the two-part “The Untouchables,” with Neville Brand as Capone and Robert Stack as Eliot Ness, the G-Man who helped bring Capone down. The show was a hit when it was originally broadcast in January, and in October it premieres as a weekly series on ABC, where it remains for four successful (and extremely violent) seasons.*

*Fun fact: Desi Arnez, whose Desilu studio produced The Untouchables, went to high school with Al Capone’s son.

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Tuesday features a David Brinkley report entitled “Back to School” (7:00 p.m., NBC), which takes advantage of the upcoming start of the school year to examine the problems faced by America’s public schools. Not surprisingly, they’re some of the same problems that exist today, particularly financial ones: crowded classrooms in New York, no money for school construction in New Orleans, no funds for facility maintenance in Los Angeles, and desegregation problems throughout the South. But if you look closely, you’ll notice something strange. Many of those challenges facing American school systems in 1959 are the result of overcrowding. New Orleans, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, New York—all face a need for more school buildings to house additional students. The school I attended for grades K-6, built early in the 20th century, had temporary classrooms built to accommodate the growing student population. And that’s not happening today. The baby boom is over, and in many places the increase in student enrollment comes from immigration, from people moving to a community from another state or country. Some school systems may be looking at expansion, but in how many situations is this anything other than a zero-sum game, with enrollment increases in one area coming at the expense of another?

So many things have changed since 1959, but the decrease in population growth is one of the most significant, and I think one of the saddest, of all. Maybe Bishop Sheen’s program (7:30 p.m., KMSP) has some insight into what plagues us today. The topic: "Cure for Selfishness. To do great deeds we must supplant self with the Divine Will." But Bishop Sheen won't have much of a chance to say anything about it, not if the world of tonight's David Niven Show episode "The Last Room" comes to pass. (9:00 p.m., NBC) "In a totalitarian country where religious worship is a crime, a brutal inquisitor attempts to force prisoners to name the leaders of a group of citizens who are secretly attending church services." But that can't really happen here, not today. Can it?

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Wednesday: One of the more unique programs on television is Court of Last Resort (7:00 p.m., ABC), based on Erle Stanley Gardner’s organization, devoted to investigating cases in which reasonable doubt about the original verdict exists. Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason, started the actual Court of Last Resort in 1948 as a column in the popular magazine Argosy, and the program’s 26 episodes are based on actual cases investigated by the Court. The show ran for a single season in 1957-58 on NBC, and the broadcast in this week’s TV Guide is part of the series’ rebroadcast on ABC in 1958-59. Actors played the principles, but the real members of the Court appeared at the end of each episode.

Gardner believed that, because of "the exceptional nature of American liberty," no actual court could ever truly be a court of last resort; instead, that verdict could come only from "the people themselves." As opposed to today's organizations, which often work to free the unjustly convicted through DNA and other scientific findings, Gardner's cases were driven by polygraph tests, and augmented by findings from the Court's staff of investigators; the results would then be published in Argosy in hopes of creating a groundswell of public opinion. "Public opinion must be molded," he was once quoted as saying, "but it must be an enlightened public opinion based on facts, otherwise we would be charged, and justly charged, with the tactics of the rabble rousers."

One of the cases investigated by the real-life Court was that of the accused murderer Dr. Sam Sheppard in the late 1950s, with Gardner believing in Sheppard’s innocence even though nothing came of the Court’s investigation. Had The Fugitive existed in the same universe with Court of Last Resort, I suspect they would have investigated Dr. Kimble’s case as well. And isn’t that a meta conversation: a TV show about a fictional character from another TV show being aided by a fictional version of a real organization started by the creator of a different fictional character in an unrelated TV show. Makes your head spin, doesn’t it?

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Thursday: Now here’s the type of local programming you don’t see anymore: at 7:30 on WCCO, Operation Southdale presents a fashion show in the Garden Court of the famed Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota – the nation's first enclosed shopping center, and a mall in which I've spent many, many hours over the decades. “For the men’s benefit,” an auto show is being held in the parking lot. And a musical group called the Jimarlen Trio provides background color for the show. For this, WCCO pre-empts a rerun of Yancy Derringer.

Later, Playhouse 90 (8:30 p.m., CBS) presents a curious drama, based on the true story of the first hydrogen bomb test. In “Nightmare at Ground Zero,” starring Barry Sullivan, the scientists behind the development of the bomb discover that they’ve made a few miscalculations, and that the bomb is really many times more destructive than they’d anticipated. Whoops!

On the face of it, this sounds like all the makings of one of those 50s sci-fi movies that wound up on MST3K. You know how it goes – the bomb goes off, much more powerful than they’d thought, with the result that people or insects or vegetation (or all three) are turned into mutants 50 feet tall. And it was written by Rod Serling. But it’s also directed by Franklin Schaffner, who would eventually win an Oscar for Patton, and the true story of the blast, which went off at 15 megatons rather than the expected five and vaporized three coral islands, in the process raining the fallout over a 7,000 square foot area , is remarkable.

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A big matchup for NBC’s Friday night fight on Gillette Cavalcade of Sports (9:00 p.m.), as Gene Fullmer faces Carmen Basillo for the world middleweight championship from the Cow Palace in San Francisco. I’ve written before about how boxing used to be a major sport on television, and Friday’s bout is one of two broadcast in prime-time this week (the other being ABC’s Wednesday Night Fights). But there’s one thing that never changes in boxing, and that’s politics. The reason Fullmer and Basillo are meeting for the title is because the National Boxing Association (which would have been the bigger “NBA” at the time), had stripped Sugar Ray Robinson of the title, leaving the top two contenders, each of whom had both won and lost title fights to Robinson in the past, to settle the score.

Fullmer wins on a 14th round TKO.

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On the cover this week is the cast of I've Got a Secret, the long-running panel show on CBS. Inside, we read about some of the wackier secrets that have involved members of the panel through the years. There was, for instance, the time that Paul Newman appeared on the show. His secret was that, a few weeks before, he had appeared at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, disguised as a hot dog vendor, and sold an unsuspecting Henry Morgan a hot dog. It was hilarious stuff; Morgan might not have recognized Newman, but some in the crowd did, and by the time Newman reached Morgan's row he had already sold $25 worth of hot dogs. Well, acting is an uncertain occupation.

Among the more mundane and intriguing secrets which people both ordinary and famous bring to I've Got a Secret, it has become increasingly popular to involve the panel in the stunts. Host Garry Moore once wrestled an alligator (and did pretty well at that), while Ernest Borgnine, taking lessons from Newman, dressed up as a taxi driver and drove panelist Jayne Meadows to the show. By consensus, the butt of most of these "secrets" is Morgan, the acclaimed satirist and humorist who manages the almost impossible feat of simultaneously being witty, urbane, and charming, all the while remaining vaguely unlikable. In addition to his encounter with Newman, he's also wrestled a female judo expert and spent an entire day entertaining three women, ages 10, 20 and 30, whose identical secrets were, "I want a date with Henry Morgan." Ah, but then, the name of the show is I've Got a Secret, not I've Got a Neurosis.

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She's not exactly a starlet, but this week's profile is Diana Lynn, who's personal trademark is that of a "shrinking tigress." You know, the "brave but frightened girl, torn by conflicting emotions." Says a director of her characters, "Diana either can't scream above a whisper or is murmuring 'I love you' at the top of her lungs." She's a hard worker who's spent 20 years in the business; "I had no training. All I had was a kind of desperate, honest quality" that's taken her from a Hollywood career in movies to New York where she's done live TV on the major dramatic series, hit Broadway with Maurice Evans, and recorded an album of piano music—her dad's a piano teacher in Los Angeles, and she was considered a prodigy.

The last couple of years she's concentrated on her family and community work, with most of her appearances coming on Playhouse 90 (she's starred in it five times). She enjoys her work, wants to keep working, but appreciates the good life she has as a wife and mother. Remarkably, when this article comes out she has only a dozen years to live; while getting ready to do the movie Play It as It Lays, she suffers a stroke and dies in December, 1971.

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Finally, on Monday night there’s this ad from Channel 4 for a “Girl Reporter.” A few weeks ago I referenced Barbara Walters’ role as the Today show’s “Today Girl,” so the term wasn’t terribly unusual; still, it’s another of those things that reminds the reader that they’re in a different place and time. Naturally, the Girl Reporter’s job is to cover the unveiling of CBS’ daytime television schedule.

I wonder who the winner was, and if she ever went into the media business? TV  


  1. I've been having a lot of confuser problems lately, and I'm not sure if this comment is even going to get through.

    - I went to The Old DVD Wall and pulled out the pilot of The Untouchables.
    The Big DVD Set presents the edited "feature" version that Desilu put together for overseas theatrical release, but also includes Desi Arnaz's intros from Desilu Playhouse, as well as Walter Winchell's contributions to same.
    Pretty impressive for 1959 TV; Arnaz was able to talk Phil Karlson, who never did TV, to film the two-hour show ("You give me the realism" was how Arnaz sold the project to Karlson).
    As to the story itself, I'll take the word of my friend Max Allan Collins that this TV show is the most historically accurate version of the Capone-Ness war - and since MAC and his partner A. Brad Schwartz have published two heavily-researched and extensively footnoted books about Eliot Ness's life and career, their word means quite a lot (at least to me).

    - About that Playhouse 90 on Thursday night:
    Rod Serling didn't write it.
    Look more closely at the listing: the adaptation is credited to Paul Monash - who, in one of those incredible coincidences we run into every so often, is also the writer of that Untouchables pilot we were just talking about (life's funny, isn't it?).
    Paul Monash had a very long career in film and TV, extending from the '50s through the 90s.
    Indeed, Paul Monash's final TV script was for The Golden Spiders, the A&E Nero Wolfe pilot that aired in 2000 (and sold the series).
    Great way to say farewell to a huge career, I'd say ...

    - Since I have no idea which day you're going to use on Monday, I think I'll throw this in here:
    On Friday night, NBC is running an episode of the lost '58-'59 Ellery Queen series, which seems to have vanished without any trace.
    This episode is from the second half of the single season, which was videotaped in Hollywood and starred Lee Philips as Ellery.
    If any of these episodes still exist in any form at all, there are many EQ devotees (myself among them) who would give much to see them (60+ years down the line, not bloody likely, but we do live in hope).
    But looking at the Friday night listings, I see that the competition an ABC was Walt Disney Presents - which on this evening was presenting "I Captured The King Of The Leprechauns", which was an hour-long infomercial for Disney's forthcoming feature, Darby O'Gill And The Little People, which was awaiting theatrical release.
    As it happens, the DVD of Darby O'Gill includes this TV promo as a special feature, which means that I can see it again - and I believe I will, tonight or tomorrow ...

    More tomorrow or Monday, or whenever.

    1. I remember Paul Monash's name as the man who developed PEYTON PLACE for television (from Grace Metalious' novel) and I think produced it as well.

      The final original episode of Disney's tv show on ABC, originally aired in June 1961, was a similar infomercial for "The Parent Trap", which was also included as a DVD extra on the 2 DVD set for the movie produced in 2002.

  2. "Tell us in 25 words or less" was a very popular contest format around the turn of the 60s. I've got some old radio contest promos in my collection talking about the same thing: "Why I want a Beatles harmonica in 25 words or less" is one of them. I wonder if the stations actually read 10,000 entries and tried to judge them--which would be a massive undertaking--or if they just pulled winners at random.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!