September 5, 2020

This week in TV Guide: September 2, 1961

How to watch TV:

1. Walk over to set. 2. Turn on. 3. Watch.

Well, that's how I learned to watch television when I was a kid, anyway. Obviously, Leo Rosten has something a little more in mind. His idea, however, is even more radical: if you want better television, turn it off.

Rosten, political scientist, author and social critic, calls the current fare on television "dreary at best and ghastly at worst," but that doesn't make it much out of line from other forms of mass media; many newspapers are "sensational and shoddy," paperbacks "that are part of the alleged 'cultural revolution' are shallow and worthless," and "much of what appears on the Broadway stage is banal and unworthy of a civilized man's attention." In that sense, TV is no different. "The public appetite for the silly and the trivial, for sheer distraction, the national mania for "escape" and narcotic "fun"—these are so great and so widespread that one can only wonder how our schools and families and churches have turned out so many people whose taste is so abominable."

Just when you want to dismiss Rosten as another anti-television elitist, however, he confesses: "I love television. I do. I love it and I use it." It is a place to catch up with the news, to view superior dramas, to watch a sporting event without freezing. It gives him "access to a thousand things I could not otherwise experience." And that's the point: it's because Rosten loves television, and because it is here to stay, that he becomes outraged by bad programs. And that's why he says that "[p]arents can surely teach their children how to use TV—instead of letting TV use them." Television did not abolish parents, he notes, nor teachers, preachers and critics, "and I wish they would stop acting as if they were dead."

If you want better TV, Rosten says, vote by turning off the tube. "There is no swifter or more effective way of influencing Madison Avenue than by registering your vote for or against a program—that is, by listening to programs which are superior and by not listening to programs which are bilge." That we spend so much time agonizing over the quality of television programming is a direct indictment of—ourselves. "The chief trouble with television is nothing more or less than the lazy public which patronizes it with so little sense or taste or judgment." Networks would give us better shows, he concludes, "if enough Americans helped them by supporting excellence and throttling that venality which surrounds us." I wonder what he'd think of TV today?

t  t  t

In the December 31, 1966 issue of TV Guide, Neil Hickey and Joe Finnigan wrote about a "TV disaster" called The Tammy Grimes Show. The reason I bring it up, and I'm counting on you to click on the link and check that article out for yourself, is because this week Edith Efron has a profile of "a truly unusual girl," none other than Tammy Grimes herself.

She's become a star, thanks to her turn in the Broadway hit The Unsinkable Molly Brown. "She drives critics and reporters into frenzied explosions of prose when they try to describe her appearance," Efron writes. One called her "a sexy little screwball," another described her as "sea spray in the Rockies, calypso in a New England cemetery, and Cinderella in a strip tease." And then there's that voice, that "grits like a key turning in a boudoir lock," that "combines froggy throatiness with an amusing squeak." "She talks in a stream-of-consciousness patter, appears to say whatever comes into her mind and almost never answers direct questions," according to a reporter who's interviewed her. There's an oversized quality to her, one made for the stage, that worked to her detriment on The Tammy Grimes Show.

However, says Efron, there's also a "savagely shy, withdrawn girl with wistful little eyes that nibble at one in sidelong glances, a girl with a twisted, crooked smile that looks more like a grimace of pain." She is a private person at heart, one uncomfortable talking about the things that mean the most to her. She admits that she's suspicious about people; "Sometimes I get terribly enthusiastic. I put them up on a pedestal. Then . . they fall down from the pedestal and I am disappointed." For a moment, as she tells Efron this, she seems to relax for the first time. Her desires are not the same as others; "They don't go after something because they want it. They're really not seeking pleasure for themselves at all. They just imitate each other blindly." When she says things like this, one wonders if she isn't talking about her ex-husband, actor Christopher Plummer, father of her daughter and future actress Amanda. ("I never saw a girl child who resembled her father so much. She looks like Henry the Fifth.")

Her desires are simple: the theater, one man, and children. She goes through two more marriages: one to actor Jeremy Slate, which lasts less than two years, and another to composer Richard Bell, which lasted until his death in 2005. Efron notes that once she broached the subject of happiness, she went back into her protective shell. Reading all this, it's easy to picture how this fits in to the disaster of The Tammy Grimes Show. Whether she was "let down" by people who convinced her they knew best about the show, if her personality wasn't suitable for the small screen, or if it was just a lousy show—we'll probably never know this for sure. What we do know is that Tammy Grimes is, as Efron puts it, an "unusual girl," or, as the press calls her, "a kook."

t  t  t

Care for some morning baseball? Why not, thanks to the Mountain time zone. At 10:55 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, the Detroit Tigers face off at Yankee Stadium against the New York Yankees, with the American League's three top candidates for MVP: Norm Cash of the Tigers (who wins the batting title this season), and Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle of the Yanks. CBS brings you the games, with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese (◄) behind the microphones. Meanwhile, on NBC the action begins at 11:00 a.m. both days, with Lindsey Nelson and Joe Garagiola calling the play-by-play. Saturday it's the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Milwaukee Braves; Sunday it's the Cleveland Indians in Baltimore against the Orioles. If baseball's not your thing, Wide World of Sports has the World Water Ski Championships from Long Beach, with Jim McKay and Jim Simpson reporting. (3:00 p.m., ABC)

It is indeed a really big shew for Sunday's Ed Sullivan (6:00 p.m. MT, CBS), a rerun from last year with headliners Bobby Darin, Edith Piaf and Trude Adams, plus comedians Wayne and Shuster, Jackie Kannnon, the late Lord Buckley (who died in November, 1960), impressionist Rex Ramer, and the Pompoff Thedy Family of clowns. It's too bad I don't have anything to put up against it, because Ed would be a sure winner.

We've got an article about the resurgence of interest in the Glenn Miller Orchestra, led for the last five years by Ray McKinley, who calls it "real music"; "The kids, brought up on a diet of rock 'n' roll, sit there bored until they begin to listen to the music. Then they join their parents on the dance floor. I guess they find the old folks are right, that our music is pleasant and danceable." Find out for yourself Monday on Glenn Miller Time (8:00 p.m., CBS)

Playhouse 90 has a provocative offering on Tuesday night (7:30 p.m., CBS). "Journey to the Day" shows us what takes place in a group psychoterapy session through the eyes of six patients in a state mental hospital and their doctor. John Frankenheimer directs a stellar cast including Janice Rule, Mike Nichols, James Dunn, Vivian Nathan, James Gregory, and a rare TV appearance by Mary Astor, with Steven Hill as their doctor. A half-hour later, NBC presents a drama about the famed news photographer Margaret Bourke-White (who was played by Farrah Fawcett in a 1989 TV-movie), focusing on her dramatic battle for recovery from Parkinson's disease. Teresa Wright stars as Bourke-White, with Eli Wallach as fellow photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Jack Paar's in Berlin the latter part of the week, so his seat in New York is being filled by Orson Bean on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Fortunately, as far as I know there were no international incidents as a result of Jack's trip.

Thursday at 9:30 p.m. KCPX, the ABC affiliate in Salt Lake City, has Tightrope, the police drama starring the pre-Mannix Mike Connors as an unnamed undercover agent who assumes a different persona in each episode; while KTVB, the ABC affiliate in Boise, has The Case of the Dangerous Robin, a ZIV-produced crime drama starring the pre-Combat Rick Jason as an insurance investigator. It's the time slot that, until February, was the home of Take a Good Look, Ernie Kovacs' bizarre panel show, co-starring wife Edie Adams. Ernie and his wild sense of humor (he says he's 10 5/8 years ahead of his time) are the subject of an article by Dwight Whitney. The show was not terribly successful in its two-year stint; Kovacs insists it was a satire of a panel show, but Whitney says the problem was that "he tried to pull his punches, to kid himself and his audience into thinking they actually were watching a panel show." It is a given by now that Kovacs has the most, well, unique sense of humor in the business; Jack Benny once told him that "Normally I hate what I don't understand, but I love this." He is said to have spent $3,000 on one three-second gag ("the used-car salesman whose car dropped through the concrete."). Studio crew members have been known to fight for the privilege of working on his shows. Dutch Masters, his loyal sponsor (even though he smokes only Cuban cigars), loves him; they even liked Take a Good Look. Even though that show is now history, ABC has signed him for a series of specials—three this year, six next year, which he, sadly, will not live to complete. He's not for everyone, but I think Ernie Kovacs is one of the funniest men ever born, and while you can see his influence in many shows over the years, I've yet to see anyone succeed him. And speaking of influence: tonight's Tightrope features a character named "Emile Kovacs." Coincidence?

Another thing on Thursday: Rocky Marciano, the former heavyweight champion, is one of Groucho's guests on You Bet Your Life (8:00 p.m., NBC). His mother was a guest on last week's episode. Friday, KBOI has a classic episode of The Twilight Zone (10:00 p.m.) starring Keenan Wynn and Phyllis Kirk; besides being a humorous episode, it marks the first on-screen appearance of Rod Serling, who actually gets sucked into the story.

t  t  t

There's an unbylined profile of Dwayne Hickman, star of Dobie Gillis. It's a standard look at a young, level-headed man who's become an accomplished young light comedian, but there's a quote in here I think is worth noting. Rod Amateau, producer-director of Dobie Gillis, says, "I will surprise you. There is Steve McQueen, who has a cute little personality and could be a very fine young light comedian. With that single exception, Dwayne is all alone. Jack Lemmon? He's not young any more." Now there's a thought—Steve McQueen? True, he does have a nice light touch that he displays from time to time, but the King of Cool as a light comedian? The star of Bullitt, The Sand Pebbles, The Magnificent Seven, The Towering Inferno, The Thomas Crown Affair? Yes, a very interesting thought.

Henry Harding's "For the Record" feature at the beginning of the programming section has some notes worth mentioning. There's Robert Wood, the manager of broadcast standards for NBC, i.e. the network censor, talking about the challenge he faces from the myriad number of complaints his office gets from "people or groups "who feel they have been maligned"—anyone from plumbers to milliners. "I don't blame them," he says, "but it sure makes things difficult. If we paid attention to all the complaints, our villains would be faceless, formless, backgroundless and with no visible means of support." And he's not even talking about sponsors, who've been known to meddle a time or two in the details of a story.

Rhode Island Senator John Pastore*, who's had more than one run-in with the television industry, has issued a stern warning to broadcasters about liquor commercials on television. Along with Washington Senator Warren Magnuson, Pastore has said that it would be "foolhardy" for the industry to try and get liquor commercials on television "in these trying times with criticism of the broadcasting industry mounting." The dividing line traditionally has been whiskey; beer and wine are OK to advertise, but nothing harder. Such commercials "would certainly be taken into consideration" when time came for a station's license renewal. The National Association of Broadcasters promises they'll keep their members in line. Pastore, you may recall, was the senator in front of whom Fred Rogers famously testified on the need for funding for public broadcasting back in 1969.

*Fun fact: Pastore won reelection to the Senate in 1970 by defeating an anti-war Catholic priest named John McLaughlin. McLaughlin would later leave the priesthood and become a political pundit and television host. His show—The McLaughlin Group.

I mentioned the New York Yankees earlier; well, WPIX, Channel 11 in New York City, is delirious about its ratings for Yankees baseball this season. They're up 16 percent, not because the Yanks are headed for another American League pennant (they are), but because the M&M Boys, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, are both threatening Babe Ruth's storied single-season record of 60 home runs. "Even former Brooklyn Dodger fans are watching, pulling against them, natch!" Maris breaks the record on the final day of the season, finishing with 61, while Mantle, hobbled by an injury, winds up with a mere 54.

t  t  t

Finally, it's always good to catch up with the Letters section, to find out what the viewers of America are thinking.

Mrs. E. Schlenger of Stamford, Connecticut is one of a number of letter writers who thought to invoke Dorothy Parker in commenting on last month's article about Joyce Gordon, the glamour girl who wears glasses. She says, "As one of the many who wear glasses, I have come to realize that: "Men who make passes seldom stop at glasses!" Speaking as a man, I have no quarrel with this.

Diane Read Haeselbarth of Maywood, New Jersey, noticed that last month's article on "The Working Mother" was written by a man (George Lefferts, "unless we have another George Sand"), and has a bone to pick with him. "I am a college-educated, ex-newspaper reporter, but according to apparent Lefferts-Margaret Mead standards, I am now a simple, bored housewife." She concludes with an opinion that, a scant ten years later, would be quite unfashionable: "Let us hope for the sake of our own and future generations that the American woman has the sensitivity to recognize challenge in the world, wifehood and motherhood, if she is lucky enough to be so blessed." Hear, hear!

Finally, a couple of anonymous letters on "Is Television Aimed at the 12-Year-Old Mind," from the August 19 issue. (You can see that kids and TV was a continuing topic in TV Guides of the time.) A writer in Kimberly, Wisconsin speaks up for the kids who aren't fooled by the pablum that television gives them: "They know what they want even if they put it forth in a childlike manner. The article proves that kids today won't be satisfied with shows that are mediocre, repetitious, uninteresting and unbelievable." Would that I had so much confidence it today's youth—but, of course, they don't watch TV.

The letter of the issue, however—if not of the year—comes from someone signing his/herself as "A 12-Year-Old" in DeWitt, New York, who offers a contrary opinion. "Where did you pick up those oblong 12-year-olds? All the kids around here love bank-bang, shoot-'em-up type of TV shows. As for classics, they're the squarest." And then: "P.S. Please withhold my name for certain personal reasons. Namely my mother." There's not much else one can say after that, is there? TV 


  1. No, I think I'll still dismiss Rosten as an elitist. If you look at the prime time schedule for 1961 - comedies, variety shows, westerns, dramas, there is excellence to be found every day of the week. And it isn't as if he has a long history of superior product to compare it to. Your question of what he would think of network fare now is apt - I suspect he'd realize he didn't know how good he had it.

  2. I realized that this was one of the very few color photos I've ever seen of Ernie Kovacs.

    1. Memo2Self: Look up the April 15, 1957 issue of Life Magazine on Google Books & Ernie is on the cover in glorious color, as well as continuing an article on how he did some of his effects pre-computer.

  3. Anyone who's never seen Ernie Kovacs should spend less than 3 minutes watching his version of "Solfeggio" w/ himself, his wife, Edie Adams, and Jack Lemmmon, playing the simian trio:

    The TWILIGHT ZONE being rerun this week, just a week before the Season 3 premiere, was the Season 1 finale. I loved it once I finally saw it. For some reason CBS reran Season 1 episodes in the summers following both Seasons 1 & 2 (1960, 1961) and reran Season 2 episodes after Season 3 (1962), never rerunning a single Season 3 episode, so if you're a fan of "It's a Good Life" (I'm not.) and missed it in Nov. 1961, you couldn't see it until TZ was in syndication.

  4. I've watched the TAGL box set in full about several times now & the impression I get is not so much watching a game show but almost being in a party @ Ernie's place where he's giving his friends the business, including his wife. It gets funnier if the guest is tuned in like Ernie, like Leon Uris or Bobby Fisher. Despite the fact that Ernie disdained it, TAGL was a great way to earn $5K per week in late 1950s
    money from Dutch Masters.

    1. I'm currently watching the box set now ... only those who expect to see a game show will hate TAGL. For the rest of us, I'm joining Ernie in laughing at, not with, the panel show genre.

  5. As for the cover guys on this week's edition, I binged watched Dobie Gillis several summers ago via YouTube & the Shout Factory website (I was a bit too young to watch it the first time around). I did generally like it, although I have the following takeaways: 1. I thought that Yvonne Craig would have made a good replacement for Tuesday Weld as Steven Franklen was a good replace the for Warren Beatty 2. Despite the fact that his character was dumbed down a bit in the later seasons, I still preferred Bib Denver as Maynard Krebs than as Gilligan & 3. I got the feeling that a young Bill Clinton was taking notes watching the series.

  6. Actually,liquor ads were not banned from TV. The only restricton was like with beer* and wine, no one could be shown onscreen drinking the product.
    *The reason being that during sports in the early 50's the commercials would be done live and the sponsors would be quite generous with the beer and the announcers would often be tanked as the game wound down.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!