January 9, 2021

This week in TV Guide: January 10, 1959

It's the first month of the final year of the 1950s, and one of those weeks that puts the "classic" in classic TV. 

We'll start on Sunday night, with one of the most famous episodes of Maverick: "Gun-Shy" (6:30 p.m., ABC), a wicked parody of Gunsmoke, with Bret finding himslf in Ellwood, Kansas, a small town presided over by "Marshal Mort Dooley," a lawman who spends the entire episode looking "for somebody to run out of town." The tone is set in the opening scene, a virtual copy of Gunsmoke's premiere episode which found Marshal Matt Dillon in Dodge City's graveyard, reflecting on the grim nature of his job while contemplating the graves before him. "Arguing doesn't fill any graves," he had said then. This episode also opens in a graveyard, but Marshal Dooley has a slightly different outlook on things. "It's a nice place to visit," he says. "I like to come up here sometimes to think and maybe get ahead a grave or two." Marshal Dooley is surrounded by his trusty confidants: gimping deputy Clyde Diefendorfer, crusty old Doc, and Amy, the mistress of the Weeping Willow Saloon, of which Mort is a 37-and-a-half percent owner. 

If all this wasn't enough to let you know what the writers were up to, take a look at this showdown between Dooley and Maverick. Anyone who's ever seen Gunsmoke would instantly recognize the setup on the left, the opening scene in which Matt faces down the bad guy; Maverick hilariously exaggerates it to an absurdity, with Bret standing so far in the distance he shouts out to Dooley asking if he should move a little closer. MeTV helpfully points out where Maverick is standing, little more than a speck on the screen.

I'd love to see this kind of parody of an existing series more often; God knows there are enough shows on TV today that deserve it. The audience obviously approved as well; this episode of Maverick pulls in a 49 share for the night, something most series today can on dream of. The lesson isn't lost on the producers, either; three seasons later, the show will do a wild spoof of Bonanza, with Jack Kelly's Bart dealing with Joe Wheelwright and his three sons, Moose, Henry, and Small Paul. But that's an episode for another day. 

Here's Roy Huggins, Maverick creator, discussing "Gun-Shy."

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That's not the only special episode this week. On Friday, The Phil Silvers Show (8:00 p.m., CBS) presents the third airing of "the funniest of all the episodes" of the series: "The Court Martial," in which Bilko somehow finds himself defending a chimp that's been accidentally inducted into the Army. You know about the warning against acting with either kids or animals; well, someone should have let Zippy the chimp know that upstaging Phil Silvers wasn't going to be so easy. The most memorable scene of this memorable episode takes place during the court martial itself, when the chimp, going completely off-script, romps around the courtroom and picks up a telephone, eliciting laughter from everyone but the unflappable Silvers. "What are you doing," he ad-libs, "calling another lawyer?" It's a great moment, not only the funniest Bilko episode, but one of the greatest in sitcom history. No wonder TV Guide notes that "The popularity of this episode has led to this third showing." That's how things worked in this pre-DVR era.

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"Gun-Shy" is also not the only parody on TV this week, but you'll have to choose which one you want to watch, because they're both on at the same time. Maverick's competition is The Jack Benny Program (6:30 p.m., CBS), and tonight Barbara Stanwyck guest stars with Jack in "Autolight," a parody of the Charles Boyer/Ingrid Bergman thriller Gaslight. Before "gaslighting" became a term of political deception, it referred to the technique employed by Boyer in this movie, in which he attempts to drive Bergman insane by making her think she's imagining things; one way in which he does this is by manipulating the gas lighting to make it dim and brighten.

There must have been times in which Benny began to doubt his own sanity in his long battle to make "Autolight." Benny had originally satirized the movie on his radio show in 1952, with no problems. Pleased with the results, in 1953 Benny filmed a 15-minute spoof for his television show, and at that point MGM stepped in, claiming the movie couldn't be parodied without its permission. What really concerned the studio was the exclusivity of their entertainment product; remember, back in 1953 television was the hated enemy of the movie studio; MGM felt it had no choice but to take legal action in order to protect the value of its product in the eyes of movie theaters. As Erskine Johnson wrote at the time, "Left unchallenged, it could set a precedent. Left unchallenged by MGM, the studio’s customers, the theater men, would have a nice 'you done us wrong' argument about aiding the TV 'enemy.' The Hollywood winds were blowing in a different direction in 1953 and Jack and his film were caught in the legal gust." 

The case wound up in the United States Supreme Court (CBS v. Loew’s), where in 1958 eight justices* deadlocked 4-4 on the question. By this time the issue of studio exclusivity had become a moot point, since MGM was now leasing their movies for use on television, and profiting greatly in the process. Benny finally wound up buying the rights to put the show on the air (how that woudl have killed his TV persona!), and this Sunday, five years after it was filmed, the controversial parody will finally appear on television, with Benny in the Boyer role, and Stanwyck taking over from Bergman. If you're curious about how it turns out, you can see it here.

*Justice William O. Douglas recused himself to pursue a business opportunity with CBS that never materialized. 

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Back a few months ago—or about five years ago, in TV Guide time—the talk was about the "new" Milton Berle: how he was now less outrageous, more restrained, more sophisticated, adapting to the changing demands of the television audience. To which, five years later, Milton Berle says, "What new Milton Berle?"

Berle is back on weekly TV again after an absence of two years, as host of The Kraft Music Hall, and according to Dwight Whitney, "Berle has never been sharper, funnier or more engaging." Critics have described him as, variously, "topically minded," "less explosive," "better attuned," "more mature." Berle himself says, "I haven't changed a bit," although he does allow as to how viewers have become more sophisticated. But after all, Mr. Television reminds Whitney, "I've been in television a long time." Since 1929, in fact, and if you're a bit skeptical about that claim, he explains that back in 1929, while he was working in Chicago, he ran into a fellow named Sanabris from an outfit called American Television Corporation that was doing an experimental closed-circuit broadcast. "He asked me to do the 'experiment," Berle says, and "naturally I said yes." His job was to introduce a performance, which he did, while cracking what he calls "the first TV joke." That was the beginning.

After eight years on the air, five of which were spent as the number one show, Berle took a break. "I needed rest," he says. "I was overexposed and the ratings showed it." He made a "triumphant" return to the nightclub circuit, did a boffo bit on last year's Emmy Awards (his "brassy, brash monolog was the hit of the show."), and here he is back at the grind of weekly television. "Coming back is tough," he acknowledges. "That goes for anybody. If they're thoroughbreds, they'll go to the starting gate with feathers in the stomach." He has no illusions about his gig with Kraft, figuring it will be good for one or two seasons "before the old bug overexposure begins to take hold. Then I'll do spots. Or just relax for awhile and come back later." 

The new Berle of 1953 was loved by the critics, but his ratings steadily dropped until the show ended in 1956. The new Berle of 1959 will fare similarily; this run lasts one season, after which Perry Como becomes the face of Kraft Music Hall, hosting through 1967. Coincidentally, it's in January of 1967 that Milton Berle's final variety show, an attempt to attract the children of his original viewers, ends after a four-month run, slaughtered in the ratings by The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 

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Starting in 1954, Steve Allen helmed his own NBC variety show which, at the beginning, aired opposite that of Ed Sullivan. It didn't run as long as Ed's, of course, but then Allen said his goal was never to conquer Ed, just to coexist with him, which he did for several seasons. Let's see who gets the best of the contest this week. 

Sullivan: Ed's guests tonight are Jason Robards, Jr. and George Grizzard, doing a scene from the current Broadway play "The Disenchanted," songstress Teresa Brewer, comedienne Dody Goodman, comedians Alan King and Prof. Backwards, Ireland's Little Gaelic Singers, Victor Julian and his troupe of trained poodles, and the Gutis, European comedy act.

Allen: Steve's guests are British actress Diana Dors, Perez Prado and his orchestra and the Three Stooges—Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Joe DiRita. In comedy sketches, Steve, Don Knotts, Louis Nye and Tom Posten spoof three different types of TV "conversation" shows.

As I was this, I wondered which way I'd be going; Ed's got a pretty good lineup, with that Broadway bit, a good singer, and a couple of funny comedians. On the other hand, Diana Dors, sure, she's OK, but—and then we came to the Stooges. No more entries, we have a winner: it's Steverino, you knuckleheads.

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Let's see; there's even more to choose from this week.

Monday at 2:00 p.m., the show Language in Action debuts on NET. That's notable because the host is Dr. S.I. Hayakawa, "internationally-known semanticist." In the '60s, Hayakawa, then president of San Francisco State College, became a conservative folk hero for pulling the wires out of a loudspeaker system being used by radical protestors led by the Third World Liberation Front. He would parlay that support into election to the U.S. Senate in 1976, upsetting incumbent John Tunney.

 has a little something for everyone, On George Gobel's colorcast (7:00 p.m., NBC), George welcomes Myrna Loy, Cesar Romero and the Platters. After that, switch to CBS at 8:00 p.m. for the rest of the evening, starting with Arthur Godfrey and his guests, the legendary songwriting team of ◄ Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics). Edward Everett Horton (narrator of Bullwinkle's "Fractured Fairy Tales") is Red Skelton's guest at 8:30, and then at 9:00 Garry Moore's guests include Andy Griffith and Ella Fitzgerald. Not a bad night, hmm?

The big attraction on Wednesday is an ad from Kraft with the headline "Win $20,000 acting in Bat Masterson TV Show" and the instructions "See easy contest rules on Kraft Caramels or Kraft Fudgies." Curiosity, of course, demands more information. which I found not on a package of Kraft products, but in a full-page ad running in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Everyone eligible: boys, girls, men, women! As winner, you get an acting part in a Bat Masterson NBC-TV Show! (See Rule 4.) 2 weeks at $10,000.00 a week! All Screen Actors' Guild union dues paid. No acting experience necessary. Plus 2-week vacation in Hollywood for your entire family (residing with you) while you are performing. First-class round-trip transportation by Trans World Airlines. Stay at famous Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where the stars stay! All meals plus $500.00 spending money for the family. Or take $20,000, if you want the Grand Prize as cash. Enter now! Enter often! Who knows? You may discover an acting ability in yourselt that can start you on a great career and lead to fame and fortune!

Among the other prizes awarded: 1000 Fourth Prizes Bat Masterson Derby Hats! Genuine felt. Copies of the famous derby that was the "trademark" of the Old West's deadliest gunfighter! I wonder who won, and whether or not they did, in fact, embark on a great career leading to fame and fortune?

On Thursday's Playhouse 90 (8:30 p.m., CBS), "The Blue Men" tells the story of police detective Roy Brenner, a man with a sterling record and a son who's just joined the force, but now he faces an investigation by Internal Affairs over his failure to arrest a robbery suspect. In June, the characters of Roy and his son Ernie will return in the very good weekly series Brenner, with Edward Binns and James Broderick taking over for Edmond O'Brien and Richard LaPore.

If you've already caught Bilko and the chimp, you'll be free to watch Bob Hope's special (Friday, 8:00 p.m., NBC), in which the star shows highlights from his annual Christmas tour of American overseas military bases. With no active conflict at present, Hope and his troupe (including longtime sidekick Jerry Colonna, columnist Hedda Hopper, singers Molly Bee and Randy Sparks, dancer Elaine Dunn, and Les Brown and His Band of Renown) stop over in Madrid (where they're joined by Gina Lollobrigida), Italy, West Germany, and Ireland.

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Finally, since a new session of Congress began last week, I thought this might prove interesting: Walter Cronkite hosts a one-hour CBS News special introducing our newest batch of U.S. senators. (Sunday, 2:00 p.m.) It's difficult to think the networks would bother with something like this today, but back in 1959 I suppose we were all naive enough to harbor the thought that amongst this group might be the dynamic leaders of tomorrow, like that young Jack Kennedy back in 1952. And while not all of them went on to become household names, there are a fair number you might have heard of before: a vice presidential nominee and secretary of state, an influential presidential candidate, and other assorted cabinet members and ambassadors. 

One thing to note: as you probably know, only in the most extraordinary of circumstances does a state elect two senators in the same year; their terms are usually staggered so something like that doesn't happen. But I can't think of anything more extraordinary than statehood, which explains the two new senators from the 49th and newest state, Alaska. (Jennings Randolph of West Virginia won a 1958 special election.)

The new senators, and how long they remained in office. 

E.L. “Bob” Bartlett
1959-1968 (died)
Ernest Gruening
Thomas J. Dodd
Vance Hartke
Edmund S. Muskie
Eugene J. McCarthy
Howard W. Cannon
Kenneth B. Keating
New York
Stephen M. Young
Hugh Scott
Frank Moss
Robert Byrd
West Virginia
1959-2010 (died)
Jennings Randolph
West Virginia
Gale McGee
Winston Prouty

Those senators, they just homestead once they get there, don't they? The only reason Ken Keating served a single term is that Robert Kennedy wanted that Senate seat. My favorite is how Utah's Frank Moss was defeated by Orrin Hatch, who ran on the slogan, "What do you call a Senator who’s served in office for 18 years? You call him home." Hatch, of course, holds the seat for the next 42 years. But you know what the song says; How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm After They've Seen Dee Cee? TV  


  1. A parody Guide, or should I say a Guide filled with excellent descriptions of parodies! If only today's TV had the richness of the shows featured in this week's Guide. A personal note---both Ken Keating and Bobby Kennedy came to my little town in the Finger Lakes of upstate NY during the 1964 NY Senate campaign. I got to meet them both as a precocious 11 year old, fascinated by politics and TV.

    1. What a great story, getting to meet both of them. I would have given a lot to have had that opportunity! Regardless of party, it seems as if that kind of aura about candidates is gone now. Maybe we've just grown up, or maybe it's what Norma Desmond said in Sunset Boulevard about the movies being smaller.

  2. What a great read! Thanks for posting.

  3. It's a shame Benny didn't choose a different week, since Autolight was trounced in the ratings by Gun-Shy. To be fair, Gun-Shy was by far the better episode.

    1. Yeah - after all, when you've been waiting five years, what difference does one more week make?

  4. Am I the only one who noticed this?
    Take a closer look at that list of newly elected Senators.
    Note, if you will, that both Senators from Alaska, both Senators from West Virginia, and each of the singletons from Utah and Wyoming -
    - all of which are now considered irrevocably Red States -
    - every man-jack of these senators are Democrats?
    ... it was, as they say, A Different Time ...

    - Fun Fact:
    Apparently, we don't have many Old-Time Radio buffs in the house.
    For many years, CBS Radio had a weekly anthology series called Suspense ("Radio's Leading Theater Of Thrills!").
    Suspense had many sponsors over the years, but the longest-lasting was a national chain of automobile parts and service - the Autolite Company.
    Autolite's sponsorship of Suspense stretched into the early days of live TV; I've got a set of restored DVDs in the Wall, most introduced by a stop-motion animation of marching sparkplugs, brakes, batteries, windshield wipers, etc., in tight procession down a miniature street; quite impressive for the '50s.
    Jack Benny made numerous appearances on the radio Suspense, in serious roles (I think he might have done the TV show as well, but I'll have to check).
    Anyway, when "Gaslight" came along, ripe for a spoof, "Autolight" does seem a natural, doesn't it?

    1. Yes, I noticed that about the senators, too. That's one of the things I like the most about these old issues, how they leave a record of the changes that have occurred in the past decades. There are books and books to be written on thatj...

      Agree on the Autolite name. That was the first thing I thought of, and I'm surprised it wasn't mentioned in any of the articles I read on the subject. But considering Autolite's longtime association with "Suspense," I have to think that was what the writers were thinking. They would have on MST3K, anyway!


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!