October 17, 2020

This week in TV Guide: October 16, 1953

ne of these days I ought to start a feature called "You Can't Do That Anymore," and if I did, you can bet that almost every issue of TV Guide from this era would have a story that qualifies. Of course, the way things are going in this country, before long everything will belong in that category, but I digress. This week's entrant is the cover story on the winners of something called the "1953 T-Venus contest." Now, I had to study that headline* several times to figure out just what this meant; is a T-Venus some kind of female equivalent of a T-Rex? As it turns out, and you may have been quicker to figure this out than I was, the joke is that it's a combination of TV and Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Ergo, TVenus! 

*Not the pictures, though. I didn't pay any attention to them.

Anyway, the purpose of the contest is to select six winners who will appear during the season on NBC's Colgate Comedy Hour, interacting with the hosts, holding title cards, and so on. The judges, including Jimmy Durante, Sam Fuller, and Groucho and Harpo Marx, had the arduous task of paring down 300 young lovelies to the final six over a period of two-and-one-half hours. Hardly seems like enough time to properly devote to the deliberations, but again I digress. The judges did their job, and the six winners were chosen. 

As you know from past experience, one of the questions we like to ask of stories like this is whether or not any of these young ladies amounted to anything. Not surprisingly, since the prize was appearing on the Colgate Comedy Hour, they all had careers of one sort or another. Suzanne Ames (far right on the cover) appeared in several movies, including Bells Are Ringing; Dona Cole (center) was in The Beast With a Million Eyes; Mary Ann Edwards was in Cowboy G-Men and Giant. And theAsn there's the young woman on the left. Recognize her? If not, try to imagine her with blond hair. Need more clues? She's from Kulm, North Dakota, hung out with the Rat Pack, was married to Burt Bacharach, and just celebrated her 89th birthday. That's right: Angie Dickinson. I'd say she had a pretty successful career, wouldn't you?

  t  t

Here's another entrant for that "You Can't Do That Anymore" category, from the New York TV Teletype:

I've not heard this story before. It's true that the NCAA ruled the television deal with an iron fist, not only to protect the live gate at local games, but to prevent any team from becoming a national power through multiple yearly appearances on TV. (Yes, Notre Dame, we're looking at you.) And it's also true that the United States Olympic Committee was very tough on amateurism back then; one athlete lost his eligibility because he appeared on a quiz show, and several Olympic athletes played college football. But this? As this article reminds us, college football was ruled by what was known as the "gentleman's agreement," in which "northern schools tacitly understood they would not use black players in games with southern schools." And Avery Brundage, longtime Olympic major domo, has long been linked to racial prejudices. So what do we make of this? Although I'm usually loathe to read ulterior motives into stories, I think that in this case, if you want to do just that, it's perfectly fine with me.

Staying on the college football beat for just a moment longer, here's something else you won't see nowadays, although there's nothing offensive in the least about it. Since televised college football is so controlled, "columnist" Wm. A. Que* writes that WMAQ radio (670 on your AM dial) plans a full season of Saturday afternoon college football games guaranteed to appeal to Midwesterners, featuring Notre Dame and teams from the Big Ten. It's a pretty good lineup; every one of these games would be on TV today. But it tells a lot about the power and sweep of radio that it's promoted in TV Guide.

*Wm. A. Que—WMAQ. Get it? I tell you, this issue is a laugh riot, isn't it?

t  t  t

Rather than looking at the highlights throughout the week, let's stop and take a look at what's on Sunday, since it's a really interesting TV day. It begins Sunday afternoon as Alistair Cooke's Omnibus presents a monumental live adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear (4:00 p.m. CT, CBS), with Orson Welles (in his television debut!) starring as Lear, Alan Badel as the Fool, and, in the role of Goneril, future Academy Award-winner Beatrice Straight. Welles was living in England at the time, and returned to America to do the broadcast. It was a difficult time in Welles's life; according to the always-reliable Wikipedia, "He was guarded by IRS agents, prohibited to leave his hotel room when not at the studio, prevented from making any purchases, and the entire sum (less expenses) he earned went to his tax bill." The performance survives today on video, something we should be grateful for. By the way, I've commented in the past on how thorough TV Guide's listings used to be; well, the description of Lear runs a column-and-a-half, and presents a synopsis of each of the play's four acts. 

Opposite Omnibus in the Sunday cultural ghetto is NBC's Hallmark Hall of Fame, presenting McCoy of Abilene, the story of Joe McCoy, the man who almost single-handedly built the great stockyards of the Midwest. The production is directed by Albert McCleery, one of the pioneers in early television, and a great innovator. One of his trademarks was a theater-in-the-round style of production, in which the stage was surrounded by black backgrounds, allowing him to position cameras for shots from any angle while they remained unseen by viewers. Very impressionistic, that. He did a lot of work on Hall of Fame, including the first two-hour American television production of Hamlet, shown earlier in 1953. 

Moving to latenight, here's something that would, I believe, have been a big deal in 1953: a movie that had been in theaters only last year! It's the British movie Wings of Danger, starring Zachary Scott, airing Sunday at 10:00 p.m. on WGN. Sabotage in the sky! Who could ask for anything more?

As we know, the movie industry wasn't exactly excited by the appearance of television; despite some whistling-in-the-dark talk about how TV was a fad, the studios knew that the new medium was a threat; all they had to do was look at how movie attendance plummeted on those nights when popular programs were on, such as Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater. As early as 1948, though, a number of British films were sold to television, and I suspect Wings of Danger would have been part of a similar package. Why, one might argue, should studios be eagar to sell product to their competitors, when those competitors would promptly use said product against them? (Another, less commented-upon reason for studio reluctance probably had to do with the low price that networks were willing to offer, another reason why British movies might have been more prevalent.) Eventually that attitude would change, but TV Guides of the era are replete with moves from the 1930s, such as X Marks the Spot (1931), and Flying Fists (1937), which has the added appeal of being both old and British.

At any rate, with this as the standard, it's not hard to see why WGN would make such a point of showing a movie that was only a year old, whether it was any good or not. (I haven't seen it myself; any of you out there?) But times will change. By the fall of 1955, ABC will premiere Famous Film Festival, featuring British films from the 1940s and early 1950s, and in 1961 NBC debuts Saturday Night at the Movies, with post-1950 movies from Fox, many in color. That will issue in an era of movie dominance on TV for decades to come.

t  t  t

Some quick looks at other items of note: Bill Cullen, known in game show circles as the host's host, is the subject of a warm profile this week, which seems appropriate since he's one of the warmest personalities on television. He's also refreshingly candid about his fame; talking about his spot as a permanent panel member on I've Got a Secret, he says, "Not for a minute will I deny that being a panel member is a soft job." Although there are certain things to keep in mind (like showing up at the studio on the right night, or paying attention to what questions the other panelists ask so he doesn't duplicate them), he concludes that "It's nice work."  

Steve Allen is the hipster's hipster, a man who writes, composes music, and still has time to appear on What's My Line? as well as his own late-night talk show on New York's NBC affiliate. Right now, his hipness rests on a retelling of "The Three Little Pigs" recorded by Al "Jazzbo" Collins. "Once in the land of Nitty Grittyville lived three little pigs . . . One was very cool, the other one was more on the commercial side and the third one was, beyond a shadow of doubt, as square as they come. One day as the three pigs were taking five, one of them chanced to pick up a copy of downbeat. 'Say, boys, I see where the Big Bad Wolf is playing a one-nighter in this area next week.' 'Oh-oh,' said the second little pig, 'that wolf is bad. That means it's panic time in Porky Park.' 'Oh,' said the square little pig, 'this is the most depressing news since Ronnie Reagan got out of show business.'" Although Allen's talents are still relatively untapped by television, don't worry: that local late-night show of his is about to morph into The Tonight Show.

And speaking of Tonight, CBS is working on a daytime musical show for their young comic, Jack Paar. It winds up as The Morning Show, CBS's answer to Today, which also spawned Dick Van Dyke and Walter Cronkite as hosts. He only worked the mornings for a year, but he'll wind up working nights before too long.

t  t  t

Finally, since we started with Colgate Comedy Hour, it's approprite that we finish there as well. It seems that none of the rotating hosts on that show really get along very well with each other, and so you can imagine the fireworks that ensued when someone got the big idea to have them all on at the same time to celebrate the show's anniversary.

Staged or real? Only their agents know for sure.
The sparks started during the rehearsal. Since the time had to be divided evenly among the various parties, and given that it was unthinkable that any two of the acts could appear in the same skit, that meant each one was allocated exactly eight minutes. Before you knew it, Eddie Cantor was complaining that Bob Hope was taking too much time for his monologue. He'd been up on stage for eleven minutes already! Furthermore, Hope was just mumbling his lines, intent on keeping any of his colleagues from hearing (and stealing) his jokes. Next, it was time for Bud Abbott and Lou Costello; they, too, mimed their way through their act. This didn't sit too well with their bitter rivals, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis*, who sat in the otherwise empty theater carrying on a loud whispered conversation with some friends. Soon enough, someone asked—loud enough for the performers on stage to hear—"What's the matter with those two? They afraid you're going to steal their material?" After waiting a beat, Jerry replied, "What material?" When their turn came, Dean and Jerry threw their script out and proceeded to do a devastating take-off on the typical Abbott & Costello routines.

*Just think, if we included the intramural feuds between Abbott and Costello, and Martin and Lewis—you'd have more factions than the United Nations.

Like most good entertainers, the battling hosts saved their best performances for the live show. First, Hope ran over (again) with his monologue, forcing one of the other acts to bear the burdon. That fell to Martin & Lewis, who were in the closing slot. If that wasn't bad enough, Hope also spilled the beans that Dean and Jerry—whose appearance hadn't been publicized and was supposed to be a surprise—were actually backstage. The two were so furious that, according to our anonymous correspondent, they haven't spoken to Hope since. For his part, when asked where Lewis' dressing room was, Hope replied, "He doesn't have one. They keep him in a cage." In case you were wondering, Hope isn't back on Colgate this season, having been replaced by Jimmy Durante, whom everyone seems to like. And Donald O'Connor, the fourth host, "is still too young to stay mad at anyone."

Somehow or other, the show, which doesn't sound much like a comedy, managed to come off without any homicides on stage. That doesn't mean the bullets didn't keep flying, though. During a recent tour through London, both Abbott & Costello and Martin & Lewis played the Palladium within two weeks of each other. The reviews of Dean and Jerry were, by all accounts, pretty harsh. Bud and Lou, on the other hand, met with raves from critics and audiences alike, and took the opportunity to sprinkle their act with several "uncomplementary" references to their rivals.

The whole thing reminds me of a joke from an old Academy Awards broadcast: "Tonight we set aside petty differences, forget old feuds and start new ones." The man who said that was none other than Bob Hope himself. I guess knew what he was talking about, didn't he? TV  


  1. Wings Of Danger was a co-production of Hammer Films in GB (which hadn't gotten into horror yet) and US producer Robert Lippert, a B-movie mogul who was keeping a weather eye on the growth of TV.
    Lippert, who owned movie houses in small towns all over the country, had been making low-budget movies for years: rarely more than an hour and a quarter in length, with second-level stars and quick plots.
    The British film industry was going through a rough patch (so was the British economy generally, but that's another story); Hammer, just getting going at the time, made a deal with Lippert wherein he would supply a US leading man/woman (like Zachary Scott here), and they would put together a B-movie for a quick playoff in both countries.
    It was Lippert who put together the TV deals for all his Bs; he was among the first independents to sell his inventory to local stations, mainly to stay in business as a producer.
    The Hammer/Lippert pictures were all the more attractive to US stations because of their comparative newness (most of Lippett's American product was fairly recent as well - mid-to-late-'40s).
    A fellow named Kit Parker has made much of Lippert's stockpile of Bs - both US and GB - available on DVDs, and I've got a bunch of them - including this one, which I plan to watch as soon as I can find the DVD.
    ... Although I must admit that I'll probably miss the pitches by Jim Moran The Courtesy Man ("Sorry, folks, Torture Time again!").
    Back to the DVD Hunt; more later ...

  2. Following Up:

    I tracked down the DVD set which included Wings Of Danger: Hammer Film Noir Double Feature Collector Set 2 from VCI, 8 movies on 4 discs.
    (And we can safely assume that Robert Lippert sold all of them to TV back in the day ...)
    Anyway, I watched Wings ... last night: not much really, largely because Zachary Scott was one of the least likable actors of his era.
    My opinion, of course, but compare with some of the other imported Yank stars in this DVD set: Dan Duryea, Richard Conte, Dane Clark, Lloyd Bridges, et al.

    Fun Side Note:
    I learned from my research that Wings Of Danger played double bills in the UK with FBI Girl, an all-American Lippert B starring Cesar Romero and George Brent as stalwart FBI agents who recruit a Bureau file clerk to help trap a Big Mobster who's covering for a criminal with a past.
    The clerk (the title character here) is Audrey Totter, and the Big Mobster is a young(ish) Raymond Burr.
    Also, there's a brief appearance by an up-and-coming nightclub comedy team, Tommy Noonan and Peter Marshall (yes, that Peter Marshall).
    I watched this one last night too (it's on another VCI DVD set), and you may safely infer that I had more fun watching this, than I had with Zachary Scott ...

    In the T-Venus layout, did you notice that Harpo Marx was out of his usual costume for the event?
    Harpo in civvies, with a neat red toupee, would have been unrecognizable, save for his trademark smile.

    On page A-33 of the interior, I call your attention to the full page that Channel 5 bought for Clint Youle, their weatherman.
    A story comes to mind:
    In 1964, Clint Youle ran for the Illinois State Legislature as a Republican.
    This was a strange election, even by Illinois standards:
    For some reason or other, the whole State House was voted for at-large - the ballot had a hundred or so candidates on the Democratic and Republican sides, and voter were encouraged to vote their whole party in with a single at-large vote, while selecting various opposition candidates to fill out the House.
    This made campaigning problematical, to say the least; it ultimatele came to one candidate representing each party, in joint appearances on Sunday afternoon talk shows.
    Clint Youle, with his years of TV experience, got the Republican nod.
    The Democratic designated spokesman was Adlai Stevenson III, making his first run for statewide office.
    The "debates"? Very friendly and civil, as was the custom of the time; the weatherman and the legacy guy got along quite well indeed, and became closer friends when they both were elected that fall.
    Adlai III went on to the US Senate, while Clint Youle got disillusioned in the first term and didn't stand for reelection; it happens.
    It was, as they say, A Different Time ...


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!