December 19, 2020

This week in TV Guide: December 18, 1954

As I've said many times before (many, many times), these Christmas editions of TV Guide are among my favorites. Next week we'll be looking at  Christmas Day 1971, while this week takes us right up to the Eve of the big day—you can just feel the excitement build! I'll have more about the Christmas Eve programs in Monday's retro TV listing, but until then we've got plenty to look at:

Saturday leads off with the much-loved special The Spirit of Christmas (5:00 p.m, WNBQ), with the Mabel Beaton marionettes. It consists of two stories: an interpretation of "The Night Before Christmas," and a devout rendition of "The Nativity." It was originally broadcast in Philadelphia and spread throughout the country, sponsored without commercial interruption by local telephone companies (in this case, brought to you "With the Holiday Best Wishes of Illinois Bell Telephone Company.") or shown in schools (before Christmas was made persona non grata in the public education system). Alexander Scourby brings his distinguished voice as host, and narrates "The Night Before Christmas." The Spirit of Christmas is fondly remembered by several generations who grew up with this as part of their annual Christmas viewing; as you'll find with many of this week's shows, it's available on DVD, and can be seen on YouTube

Saturday continues with Oldsmobile's December Showcase presentation of Victor Herbert's perennial holiday favorite, the operetta "Babes in Toyland" (8:00 p.m. CT, NBC), using the framing device of a little girl, lost in a department store, being entertained by a story-telling Santa while waiting for her mother to find her. Dave Garroway is our Santa, Dennis Day is Tommy Tucker, the hero of the original Herbert story, Wally Cox is Grumio, the bumbling assistant toymaker, and Jack E. Leonard is the evil Silas Barnaby. The show survives in a B&W kinescope, but it was originally broadcast in brilliant color. The evening ends with The Cheaters (12;05 a.m., WBBM) a screwball comedy (though it's listed in the guide as a drama) that sounds like a Yuletide knockoff of the far more successful My Man Godfrey with Joseph Schildkraut in the William Powell role. It was a Christmas standard for many years, having fallen into the public domain.

afternoon's cultural ghetto presents a holiday alternative to the NFL on DuMont (Cleveland vs. Detroit, 1:00 p.m.), beginning with Bishop Fulton Sheen's "No Room at the Inn" (1:00 p.m., WNBQ), a special Christmas broadcast in support of the World Missions of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, for which Bishop Sheen is the national director. At 3:00 p.m. on NBC's Zoo Parade, the humans and animals of Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo gather for the show's fifth annual Christmas celebration, with host Marlin Perkins (pre-Wild Kingdom) reading from his book One Magic Night, a fantasy about Christmas and animals. At 4:00 p.m., CBS's Omnibus presents a Christmas tryptich of stories and music from the Cloisters in New York. The program comprises the medieval play "The Second Shepherd's Play," singing by the Vienna Choir Boys, and a reading of Christmas stories for children, presented by Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. Unfortunately, and in an early demonstration of the need for VCRs, this is up against the Hallmark Hall of Fame's annual presentation of Amahl and the Night Visitors on NBC, with Bill McIver in his third appearance as the crippled shepherd boy whose faith and generosity brings about a miracle. (You can see McIver in the role in the commercially released 1955 production.) Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians give us a pleasant half-hour of Christmas music on General Electric Theater (8:00 p.m., CBS, and in color!), and the evening concludes with seasonal storylines on Father Knows Best (9:00 p.m., CBS) and The Loretta Young Show (9:00 p.m., NBC). 

Monday begins a parade of Christmas episodes from series looking to get in on the fun. On Caesar's Hour (7:00 p.m., NBC), Sid and Nanette Fabray play a married couple faced with spending their first Christmas apart. Voice of Firestone (7:30 p.m., ABC) presents opera soprano Eleanor Steber in a half hour of Christmas music both sacred and secular, while Medic (8:00 p.m., NBC) and December Bride (8:30 p.m, CBS) both stage their plots during the season. Dinah Shore (6:30 p.m., NBC) and Jo Stafford (6:45 p.m., CBS) both dedicate their 15-minute Tuesday shows to festive singing, while Meet Corliss Archer (7:30 p.m., CBS), Meet Millie (8:00 p.m., CBS), Fireside Theater (8:00 p.m., NBC, with Dorothy Malone), Armstrong Circle Theater (8:30 p.m., NBC), Life with Father (9:00 p.m., CBS) and It's a Great Life (9:30 p.m., NBC, with Frances Bavier) all use Christmas as a backdrop for their plots. 

On Wednesday, Arlene Francis' Home (10:00 a.m., NBC) continues its Christmas week with "gift suggestions for college and career girls," poetry from the Bible, read by Beatrice Straight and Kevin McCarthy, and a Christmas play by students from Edgemont School in Montclair, New Jersey. Moving to primetime, Disneyland's 1954 Christmas Show, "a tribute to our Latin American neighbors," sees Donald Duck on a tour of South America with some of his fans, including Pablo the penguin, Jose Carioca the debonair parrot, and others. (6:30 p.m., ABC)

's highlight comes courtesy of CBS's showcase for spectaculars, Shower of Stars (7:30 p.m., brought to you by Chrysler and broadcast in color!) It's a musical rendering of A Christmas Carol, with a score by Bernard Herrmann, script and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, and starring ◀ Fredric Marsh as Scrooge and Basil Rathbone as Marley, with an all-star supporting cast (including Bonnie Franklin as one of the little Cratchits). It's perhaps the most lavish version of A Christmas Carol to appear on television, and the first one anywhere to be done in color. In the good news-bad news department, there's no surviving color version of the program, but you can watch it in a B&W kinescope. If you already know how the story ends, go to NBC at 8:00 p.m. as Joe Friday and Frank Smith investigate the strange theft of the Baby Jesus from a church's Nativity scene in the annual Dragnet Christmas episode "The Big Little Jesus." 

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So why does Imogene Coca look so dour on the cover of this week's issue? Well, she's a worrier (something I can identify with), and her new series (Saturday nights on NBC) gives her plenty to worry about. For one thing, the show—her first solo venture after Your Show of Shows—is off to a shaky start in the ratings, leaving Coca to turn the reins of the series over to NBC. Her typical weekday consists of reading mail, answering letters and studying scripts, all before breakfast, and spending the afternoon in rehearsals and conferences with writers and directors, before heading home for dinner and watching some TV. (It helps that she pounds down up to 20 cups of coffee a day.)

On Saturday, the day of the show, she memorizes scripts, in-between interruptions by press agents, show aides, neighbors, and phone calls. She and her husband leave for the theater around 1 p.m., where she deals with missing scenery, ripped costumes and changing choreography. She works in some time to wash her hair, and nervously nibbles on a ham sandwich. "This is the worst time for me," she says. "This is the time my stomach always starts to churn. I'm thankful our show is black-and-white. I'd hate to turn green on color TV." No wonder she looks like she does on the cover.

Alas, the effort will be in vain. Like her former co-star Sid Caesar, Coca is unable to replicate the magic of Your Show of Shows, and The Imogene Coca Show lasts only one season. Nevertheless, her place in television history has been secured.

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You might find this a little hard to believe, I know, but apparently you can't trust everything you see on television. (And we're not even to the quiz show scandals yet.) 

The incident that brought this to light, which occurred a few weeks ago, occured on an episode of the aforementioned Shower of Stars, with singer Mario Lanza as special guest. What Mario did was insist to the press that he was actually singing on the program, when in fact he was lip-synching to a record the whole time. Lanza, like Richard Nixon, discovered the real crime is always in the cover-up, or the denial. The process, the technical term for which is dubbing, is actually a common practice in the entertainment industry, and Donald O'Connor is credited as being the first star to bring it to television. Since then, it's become a favorite on shows like The Colgate Comedy Hour and The Milton Berle Show. Jo Stafford decides which of her songs should be dubbed based on the amount of physical movement involved in the performance, and Les Paul and Mary Ford say it's impossible to reproduce the sound of dozens of voices and electric guitars without help. Not everyone feels this way, though. Dinah Shore says she'd "rather be caught dead" than synch her songs, and other performers—Perry Como, Eddie Fisher, Martha Wright, and the cast of Your Hit Parade, to name a few—say they're "foursquare" against it. 

Naturally, there are pros and cons to the whole thing; Stafford thinks the quality is most important, while Shore believes it destroys the intimacy of television, the very thing we've talked so often about at this site. And in a comment that foreshadows why the quiz show scandal was such a big deal to so many people, Dinah adds that "On TV you're offering your whole personality—and you can't pre-record that." Or pretend that you know all the answers, for that matter.

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There are some non-Christmas highlights this week, believe it or not. Ed Sullivan has a star-studded lineup on Sunday's Toast of the Town (7:00 p.m., CBS) , with apperances from Hollywood by Frank Sinatra, Gloria Grahame, Olivia de Haviland, Broderick Crawford, Charles Bickford, Robert Mitchum and director Stanley Kramer, all of whom are currently shooting the movie Not as a Stranger. In addition, James Mason and his seven-year-old daughter Pamela appear in Star of Bethlehem, a short that Mason produced and directed. (Of course, you can see it on YouTube.) Back in New York, Ed's joined by Sam Levenson, Patti Page, Julius LaRosa, and the Chordettes. Too bad there's no Hollywood Palace for comparison. 

You can see more stars on the Look Magazine Awards (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., NBC), as the magazine presents its annual TV awards to the year's best shows and stars. The catagories aren't given (if, in fact, there are any), but we've got a list of the honorees: George Gobel, Fred Coe, Jack Webb, John Cameron Swayze, Groucho Marx, Ding Dong School, Cavalcade of Sports, Omnibus, Garry Moore, Tost of the Town, See It Now, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, and the United States Steel Hour. Not a bad lineup, if you ask me. 

Robert Montgomery Presents (Monday, 8:30 p.m., NBC) begins a multi-part adaptaton of David Copperfield (one of Dickens' other stories) with Rex Thompson as the Copper man. WGN presents a Chicago Symphony concert on Wednesday (8:00 p.m.), conducte by the orchestra's legendary maestro, Fritz Reiner. No Christmas music, but they do perform Beethoven's 6th, certainly a star turn if ever there was. There's also the regular weekly assortment of boxing matches—two on Monday night, one on Wednesday (taking Christmas Eve off), but aside from the entertainment factor, there are no fighters of note. And among local movies, there's the Sherlock Holmes classic Dressed to Kill (Tuesday, 10:00 p.m., WGN, part of a week of Chicago TV debuts), with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as literature's most famous crimefighting duo (until Batman and Robin, that is.)

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Finally, speaking of that great detective, there's a new, syndicated Sherlock Holmes series on your television set, and this week Ronald Howard, son of the late actor Leslie, talks about his unique take on role. Unlike Rathbone's high-strung and kinetic Holmes, Howard says, "Mine has a more ascetic quality, is deliberate, very definitely unbohemian, and is underplayed for reality." Producer Sheldon Reynolds says Howard's portrayal more closely resembles that of the early Holmes stories, before Arthur Conan Doyle tired of him. And that's not all there is different about this series. Holmes' trusty sidekick, Dr. John Watson, is not the "perennial brainless bungler" of other versions. As played by H. Marion Crawford, this Watson is "a normal man, solid on his feet, a medical student who gives valuable advice." In other words, according to Reynolds, "a perfect foil to Holmes' youthful buoyancy." Howard says he wants to make Holmes a fallible hero, and I have to admit that I prefer my Holmes to be on the omniscient side, but there's still a warmth to his portrayal that's won him praise from Holmes fans.

There are 39 half-hour episodes in the series, and it's actually pretty good. I wouldn't put it in the same category as the mercurial characterization by Jeremy Brett, and it doesn't have the charm of the Rathbone movies, but given the difficulty in fitting a Holmes story into 30 minutes (not to mention that only a few are based on Doyle stories; most of them are originals penned by American writers), it's a worthy addition to the Holmes canon. And you don't need a detective to discover that. TV  

1 comment:

  1. In luck once again- I've got this issue!

    This time out, I'm concentrating on the final item in this week's inventory, Sherlock Holmes: as it happens, I'm well-stocked with reference points ...

    - First off, there's the Chgo. TV Debut of Dressed To Kill, which was the last of the Rathbone/Bruce Holmes movies from Universal in the '40s.
    I was quite a bit younger when I saw this for the first time: I recall being impressed by the humor, the music, and the overall production - it might have been a programmer, but Universal put a lot of gloss into even a 'B' series like this.
    There's an excellent book about the Rathbone/Holmes pictures: Sherlock Holmes & The Fabulous Faces: The Universal Pictures Repertory Company, by Michael A. Hoey (whose father Dennis Hoey played Lestrade in these movies).
    Mr. Hoey had a long career of his own in films and TV, mainly behind the cameras; his autobiography is called Elvis, Sherlock, and Me - and that's lots of other stories ...

    - There's another Chgo. TV Debut on Channel 9 earlier in the week - Charlie Chan In Honolulu(Sunday at 11PM), which was Sidney Toler's first Chan picture in 1938, and the source of decade-long fame for the rest of his days.

    - But why we're really here is the Sheldon Reynolds Production of Sherlock Holmes, probably the greatest British TV series ever produced in France by an American film company (and that's another story ...).
    I've got the DVD set in The Old Wall, and I watched a few of them as prep for this post: one of the ones I looked at was "The Shy Ballerina", and if you haven't seen this in a while (or at all, comes to that), you might get a kick out of the lady who hires Holmes for the case (no spoilers, just watch).

    - Side Note:
    Over the many years, there's been much debate about which actor made the best Holmes, with Holmesians the world over weighing in with pros and cons.
    One such is Marvin Kaye, writer/editor/playwright, member in good standing not only of the Baker Street Irregulars but also the Wolfe Pack (co-founder there).
    Mr. Kaye, in writing of various Holmes portrayals, called one actor's interpretation of the character "... an outrage and an abomination."
    The actor in question was Jeremy Brett: while Mr. Kaye doesn't go into detail here, your use of the word "mercurial" may be one clue to his objections ...

    More later, maybe; I'll have to take a few more passes through the issue ...


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!