January 2, 2021

This week in TV Guide: January 1, 1955

Growing up, I always felt that a holiday falling on a weekend was something of a letdown. After all, Saturday and Sunday were already like holidays; any day without school was like being let out of prison on a work-release program. (Little was I to know that it wouldn't get any better as an adult, except that the sentence was more like 40 years, and you got paid while doing time.) They were, in a way, less special; when it came to television, even less so. amon

New Year's Day 1955, which falls on a Saturday, is one of those days. You're enjoying a day off that you already have, and you're probably spending it watching college football, just like you've done every Saturday for the last three or four months. What's the big deal about that? It is, I would learn, just one of the harsh realities of life. Be that as it may, here we are at the first day of 1955, and if you aren't still getting over your hangover from last night, there's no end of reminders that this Saturday is not quite like those of the last twelve months.  

Our first clue comes at 11:15 CT, with NBC's coverage of the 66th Tournament of Roses Parade, live from Pasadena, California, with the theme "Familiar Sayings in Flowers," . Bill Goodwin (announcer on the Burns and Allen radio program) and Betty White are NBC's hosts, and they'll be introducing, among others, the parade's Grand Marshal, Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren. There's also a strong contingent of Western stars, befitting the genre's status as television's reigning programming, including Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Hopalong Cassidy, Andy Devine, Leo Carrillo, Guy Madison and Rex Allen. We should also note that "unique feature" of NBC's coverage, "the placement of a television camera in a dirigible hovering between 700 and 1000 feet above the parade." That's right: it's not just any dirigible, but the very first appearace at the Rose Parade of the Goodyear Blimp, without which no major event today would be complete. There may be many imitators, but there's only one Goodyear. And I'm sure the roses look lovely in living black-and-white.
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You wouldn't have seen these teams in yesterday's bowl games—except for one lucky school, that is.

It's ironic that Hopalong Cassidy is appearing in the Rose Parade, since his namesake is playing in the Rose Bowl. (I wonder how many times that's happened?) I'm talking about Howard "Hopalong" Cassidy, star back of undefeated, top-ranked Ohio State, third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy (he'll win it the following season), and future member of the college Hall of Fame. He came by his nickname honestly; after one game, a sportswriter said he "hopped all over the field like the performing cowboy." Ah, of such things are legends made. 

Anyway, the game is played in a steady rain (the last time rain falls on a Rose Bowl game), and Ohio State rides a dominant performance to a 20-7 victory over USC. The game likely would have been more competitive had the Buckeyes played UCLA, the undefeated and second-ranked team, but the Uclans were prevented from playing in their second consecutive Rose Bowl due to the Pacific Coast Conference's "no-repeat" rule. (The networks would never allow that to happen today.) And speaking of networks, you can see one reason why the Rose Bowl has always enjoyed such big ratings compared to other bowl games: the Orange Bowl airs at 1:00 p.m. on CBS, the Sugar Bowl at 1:00 p.m. on ABC, and the Cotton Bowl at 1:00 p.m. on NBC, leaving the 4:00 p.m. timeslot wide open for Pasadena. It's a priviledge that, with a handful of exceptions over the years, the Rose Bowl enjoys to this day.

Oh, and in the other games: Duke 34, Nebraska 7; Georgia Tech 14, Arkansas 6; and Navy 21, Mississippi 0.

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But what's that, you say? You don't like football? Well, there's not a lot of hope for you, at least during the day. You can watch Pygmalion, the original, non-musical George Bernard Shaw story from which My Fair Lady was adapted (4:00 p.m., WGN), with Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller as Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn. (Psst - Leslie Howard was probably as good a singer as Rex Harrison.) Range Defenders, an hour-long Western, airs at the same time on WBBM. At 5:00 p.m., it's Superman to save the day, at least on WBKB.

In primetime, Victor Borge hosts a special on NBC immediately following the conclusion of the Rose Bowl (6:30 p.m. or thereabouts), while at 7:30 (following The Mickey Rooney Show), it's the debut of This Is Hollywood (actual title: So This Is Hollywood), a sitcom presenting the adventures of stunt girl Queenie (Mitzi Green) and her roommate, aspiring actress Kim (Virginia Gibson). It runs for 24 episodes, and, unlikely as it may seem, there's an episode of it here. At 9:00, The Jimmy Durante Show (NBC, again), with special guest George Raft.

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We all know, though, that while a year lasts 365 days, New Year's Day only lasts for one, so here's a look at the highlights from the rest of the week

In the Sunday afternoon cultural ghetto, Omnibus (4:00 p.m., CBS) features an excerpt of the trial scene from George Bernard Shaw's St. Joan, accompanied by background information by host Alistair Cooke. That's followed at 5:00 p.m. by You Are There, with Walter Cronkite and other CBS correspondents looking at "The Torment of Beethoven." Moving into primetime, the monthly Max Liebman Spectacular (6:30 p.m., NBC, preempting the Colgate Comedy Hour) pits Liebman's "new trio" of Judy Holliday, Steve Allen and Dick Shawn (!) against the "zany" Ritz Brothers in dueling sketches, songs and dances. That goes up against Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town (7:00 p.m., CBS) with a guest lineup that includes Pearl Bailey, June Valli, Sam Levenson, Ted Lewis, and Francis L. Sullivan and Patricia Jessel in a scene from the new Agatha Christie Broadway play, Witness for the Prosecution. Both Sullivan, as barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts (later played in the movie by Charles Laughton), and Jessel, as Romaine Vole (Marlene Dietrich in the movie) will go on to win Tonys for their performances. And in an event that should be circled on the calendar of my friend Hal Horn, it's the premiere of The Bob Cummings Show, also known as Love That Bob (9:30 p.m., NBC), which runs for five successful seasons. The MeTV website suggests that it was the first series to debut as a midseason replacement, and who am I to disagree? Maybe Hal knows.

Under the category "a new year calls for a new start," Monday sees a trio of daytime premieres on NBC, starting with Way of the World (9:30 a.m.), an anthology of short stories taken from women's magazines. That's followed at 9:45 a.m. by The Sheila Graham Show, a 15-minute update on the latest in Hollywood news hosted by the TV Guide columnist. And at 11:00 a.m., it's the debut of the Tennessee Ernie Ford show, with singer Molly Bee and a six-piece musical group. 

Rod Serling, who always had something interesting to say about men in battle, takes another look at in on Tuesday in Armstrong Circle Theater's "Save Me From Treason" (8:30 p.m,. NBC), as a young soldier in Korea contemplates getting even with his heartless father by defecting to the communists. The cast isn't listed in the issue, and even on the IMDb we don't really know who played who, but we'd probably remember it more if the lead had been played by a young actor in the cast, one making his television debut, who appeared in only one uncredited scene. His name: Steve McQueen.

Wednesday night, CBS's Best of Broadway presents a comedy that was certainly among the bests on Broadway: Arsenic and Old Lace (9:00 p.m.), with Helen Hayes and Billie Burke as the murderous-yet-loveable spinsters, Orson Bean as their befuddled nephew, Boris Karloff as the serial killer who looks like Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre as the plastic surgeon responsible for his appearance, John Alexander as the man who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt, and Bruce Gordon, in his pre-Untouchables days, as a policeman. Hard to say how it is compared to the movie (Cary Grant hated his performance in it, by the way), but it certainly has the look of a winner.

There's a rare morning special breaking up the regular schedule on Thursday, but it's not just any special. It's President Eisenhower's State of the Union address (11:30 a.m., all networks). The State of the Union didn't become a primetime television spectacle until President Johnson's address on January 4, 1965 (the opening day of the new Congressional session), but the idea of giving it in the evening actually dates back to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936*, and I'm guessing the reasons were the same: to reach the largest audience possible. (By the by, two weeks later Ike will conduct the first televised presidential press conference.) Later, on the mystery series Climax (7:30 p.m., CBS), Art Carney (above) plays a private detective enmeshed in shady dealings and a double-double cross in "The Bigger They Come," based on the short story by A.A. Fair, the pseudonym of Erle Stanley Gardner.

*According to the House of Representatives history site, FDR's decision created quite a protocol stir, leading some to wonder if formalwear ought to be worn. (It was only the second time a president had ever addressed Congress at night.) Imagine wearing white tie or evening gown for a presidential speech.

On Friday, it's a future star of another kind, as Gillette Cavalcade of Sports presents future champion Floyd Patterson, 20 years and three days old, against Willie Troy, whom he defeats in five rounds in a light-heavyweight bout. It's already Patterson's 20th professional fight, and he'll fight again ten days later, defeating Don Grant. (Ah, the energy of youth.) Less than two years later, he'll knock out Archie Moore to win the heavyweight championship. And Edward R. Murrow's Person to Person (9:30 p.m, CBS) visits Dinah Shore and her husband, actor George Montgomery.

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Finally, how about some gossip? I don't see anything online about Ike's State of the Union speech, but based on what columnist Earl Wilson says, I'd imagine it went pretty well. Actor Robert Montgomery has been serving as the president's unpaid consultant and coach, and, according to Wilson, "Montgomery's suggestions on President Eisenhower's TV style have finally begun to pay off. 'Ike' was so eloquent—and smooth—at a recent dinner that his speech topped all others. Montgomery sat on the front row—'watching him like a mother,' said one observer. Montgomery, homburg-hatted and all, looks almost like a diplomat these days."

On the other side of the aisle, Wilson reports that Margaret Truman, daughter of the former prez, "has agreed to do three or four more shows for Jimmy Durante in late winter or spring." Durante has a letter from Harry, "thanking him for being so nice to Margaret."

In a sign of things to come, the Teletype notes that The Great One, Jackie Gleason, is "very interested" in an offer from Milton Berle's sponsor (Buick?) "to finance a half-hour telefilm version of The Honeymooners next season." In a throwaway line, reporter Bob Stahl notes that "the comedian would also share in rerun sales." No dummy he. Today, that single season of shows is known as the "Classic 39."

Also in the Teletype, Jack Paar is taking a couple of weeks off from his CBS morning show to vacation in (pre-Castro) Cuba as a guest of the government, "in honor of Paar's employing Pupi Campo and Jose Melis, both native Cubans," on the Morning Show. Replacing Paar while he's off: Johnny Carson. 

I kid you not. TV  


  1. Happy (?) New Year, sort of ...

    Once again, I have the Chicago edition of this issue - and apparently, so do you!
    So here goes:

    - On page A-3 of the listings section, I call your attention to Channel 2's full page ad proclaiming that their transmitter now has Full Power - 100,000 watts!
    WBBM-TV was in the process of relocating from the Wrigley Building to new and larger quarters in a repurposed skating rink just off Michigan Avenue, on McClurg Court.
    In 1955, this was a very big deal, indeed ...

    - Meanwhile, on pages A-24 and A-25, WBKB-Channel 7 bought both pages for a splash ad about ABC's stars for the new year.
    Here's a key to the depicted stars of Chicago's Family Station!:
    Top Row (left to right):
    Francois Pope (Creative Cookery, weekday mornings)
    Ray Bolger (network sitcom, Friday night)
    Mary Hartline (Super Circus on Sunday afternoon)
    John Daly
    Kukla, Fran, and Ollie (John Daly's nightly lead-in)
    ... and on the far right (in several senses of that word), Tom Duggan, who did two daily comment shows: one in the afternoon, one in late night, both notorious in their time - and that's another story ...
    Bottom Row:
    Two-Ton Baker The Music Maker (The Happy Pirates daily kid show)
    Ozzie & Harriet (Ray Bolger's Friday lead-in)
    Danny Thomas (Tuesday night - and if you haven't yet, check out the listing for this week's show)
    Don McNeill (The Breakfast Club, in its brief network tryout)
    Jim Moran the Courtesy Man (Friday night variety show; Jim switched to movies later on)
    ... and last but far from least, Walt Disney, who'd just landed at the network that his company would wind up owning in toto - and that's another story ...

    - "The Bigger They Come" was a novel - the first of the long-running Cool & Lam series from Erle Stanley Gardner/'A.A. Fair'.
    ... and if you suspect that Uncle Erle was testing out the TV waters here, I won't argue the point.
    Art Carney was Donald Lam here (too tall in my view), and Jane Darwell was his boss Bertha Cool (just about perfect).

    - Fun Fact:
    In Arsenic And Old Lace, three of the original Broadway cast members are recreating their roles: Boris Karloff, John Alexander, and Bruce Gordon (he's the cop who makes the observation about BK's appearance that starts the final brawl).

    More later, maybe ...

  2. I hope this won't disappoint too many of the readers here, but next New Year's Day, Jan. 1, 2022, will, like Jan. 1, 1955, fall on a Saturday.

    According to her bio, HERE WE GO AGAIN, this was Betty White's first of many New Year's Day parade commentaries. Her NBC daytime show, THE BETTY WHITE SHOW, had just been cancelled and had its last show the day before, Friday, Dec. 31, 1954. She said she didn't have much time to feel sorry for herself, since she had to be ready for work the next morning at 4 AM. This first parade she & her co-host, Bill Goodwin, hosted from NBC Studios in Burbank before doing future parade broadcasts live from Pasadena.

  3. Happy New Year Mitchell, and thanks for the shoutout! Yes, today is BOB's 66th anniversary. My research indicates that it really was the first mid-season replacement. It beat THE MILLIONAIRE to the air by 17 days. Amazing that the first two mid-season replacements were such big hits. That series lasted until 1960. I can't believe neither made the cut on MeTV's list, but then, LOVE THAT BOB is one show that they really should be trying to get on the schedule there.

    1. Didn't 'Your Show of Shows' and 'Your Hit Parade' debut as midseason replacements in early 1950?

    2. THE LIFE OF RILEY also came back as a mid-season replacement on Jan. 2, 1953, starring William Bendix, but it had already been on during the 1949-50 season, starring Jackie Gleason, so maybe it doesn't count as a mid-season replacement since it had already been on tv.
      From what I've seen, THE LIFE OF RILEY and SANFORD & SON tied each other for the longest consecutive run on NBC (5 1/2 seasons) until DIFF'RENT STROKES completed 6 seasons on NBC in 1984, eventually lasting 7 seasons on the network before moving to ABC for its last season in 1985.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!