January 16, 2021

This week in TV Guide: January 16, 1960

Cliff Arquette is one of those personalities whose name means different things to different people, depending on how old you are.

To a certain generation he'll be known, if at all, as the grandfather of actresses Rosanna (who wasn't really the inspiration for the song by Toto) and Patricia (who was nominated a few years ago for an Oscar for Boyhood). To my generation, he's "Charley Weaver," the beloved lower left square in The Hollywood Squares. And to the generation reading this week's TV Guide, he's the jolly host of The Charley Weaver Show on ABC.

The Weaver shtick started in the late '40s, and has been smoothly refined by now. In addition to his show, Arquette is the author of Charley Weaver's Letters From Mama, many of which he reads during one of his regular appearaces on Jack Paar's Tonight. His homespun humor is based on the goings-on in the fictional town of Mount Idy, and most of his jokes deserve some kind of rim shot.  ("Elsie Krack was just married so we all pitched in and gave her a shower. It took six of us to drag her into the bathroom.")

What's interesting about Charley Weaver, or Cliff Arquette, is how his career spans so many different times.  Like many television stars, he and his character came of age on radio. By the time of this issue of TV Guide, in the pre-JFK days of 1960, he was already well-established on television, yet his greatest fame probably came on Squares, on which he appeared until his death in 1974. He spanned the years from the static of network radio to the musty black-and-white days of this issue to the vivid color and double entendres of the '70s. Three different ages, three different worlds. And he was there for them all.

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Now, I know what you're thinking here: what in the name of Sherwood Schwartz is Mrs. Brady, aka Florence Henderson, doing as one of the hosts of NBC's Today, ostensibly a morning news program? Well, the answer to this question, as well as many others, lies in the phrase "Today Girl."

With Jack Lescoulie and Dave Garroway
As we've mentioned before, from the show's beginning until the mid '60s, the "Today Girl" (or "Woman's Editor," as they were originally called) had a specific role: to report on woman's issues (fashion, lifestyle), to give the weather, and to spar with the male host of the show (variously Dave Garroway, John Chancellor and Hugh Downs). None of the "Today Girls" were news reporters or, in fact, had much of a news background at all; they were either singers (Henderson, Helen O'Connell) or actresses (Estelle Parsons, Maureen O'Sullivan, Lee Meriwether and Betsy Palmer). Not to put to fine an edge on the point, but they were eye candy just as much as anything.

Barbara Walters was the final "Today Girl," joining the program in 1964 and being promoted to full-fledged co-host in 1966. According to Walters, the show's producers (and many in the television industry, to be honest) were concerned that "nobody would take a woman seriously reporting 'hard news.'" We can see that begin to change in the pages of TV Guide; anyone who's read the program listings from the early '60s has probably noticed ABC's Lisa Howard and Marlene Sanders as two pioneers in the news business, hosting five-minute afternoon updates. (By the way, the story of Lisa Howard, ABC's first female newscaster, is a fascinating one. You can read about it here.)

As for Florence's selection, it wasn't really all that hard a decision, says Dave Garroway. Following Betsy Palmer's departure, the show had been rotating different girls to sit on the panel for a week or so, but "It took me only about 20 minutes to know that Florence was just what we were seeking. She's more alive, more sensitive, with an indefinable quality of awareness. She has good taste and intelligence too." Since joining the team, her assignments have included reporting on fashion shows and interviews with authors, actors and other people in the news, duties that didn't some easily for her at first. (Why should a singer know how to interview Gore Vidal?) But, says Garroway, "we gave her hints on where she went wrong, and she straightened herself out." Her husband, Ira Bernstein, works as company manager for Paddy Chayefsky's new Broadway play, and with a two-year-old daughter at home, she doubts she would have taken the job if Today was still being broadcast live, but since it's taped in the afternoon for showing the next morning, she's been able to juggle everything nicely.

When Florence Henderson died in 2016, her time on Today was more a footnote than anything else. But even with her success in musical theater and on variety shows, and a lovely singing voice that never left her, it was as the lovely lady of The Brady Bunch that she won enduring, and endearing, fame. And considering the success that her other "Today Girl" colleagues had over the years, it seems fair to say that The Today Show has been a breeding ground for more than just successful journalists.

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Yes, we all know that Saturday night is the television graveyard today, and that this wasn't always the case. I've referred frequently to the "Murderer's Row" that CBS used to have—All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, M*A*S*H and Carol Burnett—but even before then, Saturday was a big TV night; the famed Sid Caesar-Imogene Coca Your Show of Shows aired on Saturday, as did Gunsmoke, Lawrence Welk, Perry Mason and many other hits. Now, of course, people go out to bars, restaurants, or other special events on Saturdays (or at least they used to, when people were allowed to socialize), but back when they went out, it was often to someone else's home for a night of television. TV was the special event.

We get another example of the power of Saturday night broadcasting this week, with back-to-back color specials on NBC. First, at 7:30 p.m. CT, it's Jerry Lewis, hosting his second comedy special of the season, with opera star Helen Traubel, jazz great Lionel Hampton, football quarterback Johnny Unitas, and Jerry's sons Gary and Ronnie. It's a big lineup for one of the biggest comedians in the business. And guess what? You can see it here, in this remarkably clear color broadcast.

Following that, at 8:30, it's another comedian, Art Carney, starring in a much different role. It's the one-man drama "Call Me Back," in which Carney plays a man whose life is on the verge of destruction. His marriage has ended and taken his daughter away, he's been fired from his job, and his friends have deserted him. Sitting alone in his home with only a diminishing bottle of booze and the telephone, he tries to maintain a tenuous connection with the world. As I said, a different show altogether.

Live TV isn't dead yet, and we have three reminders of that on Sunday night alone.  First is Ed Sullivan (7:00 p.m., CBS), with singers Rosemary Clooney, Billy Daniels, Nelson Eddy and Gale Sherwood, musical-comedy star Carol Lawrence, and an assortment of dancers, acrobats, ventriloquists and other novelty acts. The Chevy Show, on NBC at 8:00 p.m., has Jane Powell hosting an hour of variety featuring Peter Gunn's Craig Stevens, Tales of Wells Fargo's Dale Robertson, Miyoshi Umeki, Taina Elg and Carl Ballentine.* Opposite that, at 8:30, The DuPont Show of the Month on CBS presents a live 90-minute adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' Pulitzer-winning novel Arrowsmith, starring Farley Granger and Diane Baker.

*Peter Gunn and Tales of Wells Fargo are both NBC programs. Imagine that.

Monday's guest on The Mike Wallace Interviews (10:00 a.m., KFJZ) is Dorothy Day, one of the most influential American Catholics of the second half of the 20th Century. Day, who is currently being considered for canonization by the Catholic Church, founded the Catholic Worker Movement, dedicated to peace and social justice. She's and has continued to grow in statue since her death in 1980. This interview with her, capturing her work in the moment, is a cultural touchstone, much like Wallace's interview with, for example, Ayn Rand. I wish there was a video copy of it, but various organizations have audio copies.

Rod Cameron was an interesting guyafter divorcing his wife, he married his former mother-in-law; a co-worker called him the bravest man he'd ever seenand a shrewd businessman. Hal Erickson, in his book, Syndicated Television: The First Forty Years, 1947–1987, points out that Cameron recognized a syndicated series would provide him with a greater share of the residuals than one backed by a network, and thus vowed to work only in syndication. His third and final such series, the detective show Coronado 9, premieres Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. on WBAP. As evidence of Cameron's smarts, those three shows (City Detective and State Trooper were the other two) provided him with over $200,000 a year in residuals.

sees the last show of the series for The Lineup (6:30 p.m., CBS), often thought of as the San Francisco version of Dragnet. Like Dragnet, the show started on radio (in 1951, one year after Dragnet) before making the move to television (in 1954, three years after you-know-what), where it was a staple of the CBS schedule for six seasons. Its syndicated title is San Francisco Beat, and it continues to air on local stations throughout the black-and-white era. Later, it's yet another live variety show, as Perry Como welcomes Lena Horne, Corbett Monica and Robert Horton to his colorcast. (8:00 p.m., NBC) 

On Thursday, it's the final regular broadcast of one of the Golden Age's most prestigeous dramas, Playhouse 90 (8:30 p.m., CBS), with Richard Basehart starring in the political drama "A Dream of Treason," in which he plays a State Department press secretary accused of leaking confidential documents to a reporter. Playhouse 90's audience has dropped to half of what it was last year, and from now on it will appear only as an occasional special. Don't remember the series for this play, though; think instead of Requiem for a Heavyweight, The Miracle Worker, Judgement at Nuremburg, and so many more outstanding dramas.

Friday finishes things off with the only prime-time sports that anyone's likely to find: boxing. And tonight's bout on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports is Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Paul Pender for Robinson's world middleweight championship.* In an epic battle, Pender wins a controversial split decision to take the crown. He'll retain it in a rematch with Robinson later in the year, and will retire as champion in 1963.

*That is, if you define "world" as Massachusetts, New York, and The Ring magazine. Robinson had previously been stripped of his title by the National Boxing Association for having failed to defend it for 22 months. In case you're wondering why Massachusetts recognized Robinson, could it be because that would make this bout, being held in Paul Pender's hometown of Boston, a title fight?

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Mort Sahl was, in a sense, the Dennis Miller of his day, a comedian thought too intellectual for audiences to be able to appreciate. As one television executive put it, "Mort's just wonderful. Isn't it too bad the average guy can't understand him?" Targets in his standup routines include Bernard Baruch an the Berlin crisis; "he never tells a sentimental joke, and seldom an untopical one." 

That's all changed now, though, as Sahl has become a hot ticket on TV. "The powers that be weren't too enthusiastic about me a couple of years ago," he says. "I had to keep telling myself, you can do it, you can sell it, you can. Luckily I have a stopgap, the nightclubs." His stint last April as one of the six emcees at the Academy Awards* was, Sahl phrases it, "a turning point. People even began to put me in their movies to get 'my audience.'" He'll be hosting Pontiac Star Parade on NBC this coming Friday at 7:30 p.m., costarring with Eddie Cantor in a show called "The Future Lies Ahead," a showcase for young entertainers. Not surprisingly, Sahl has some strong opinions about television. "Now my idea is, we've gotta get all the people from radio and movies out of TV. Give it a chance to ruin itself," he says, and he's probably only half-kidding. 

*The other four: Jerry Lewis, Tony Randall, Bob Hope, David Niven and Sir Laurence Olivier. Niven remains the only Oscarcast host to win during the same ceremony, taking Best Actor for Separate Tables.

Last year Sahl became the first comedian to win a Grammy, and later this year he'll become the first comedian to land on the cover of Time. He counts John F. Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson and Hubert Humphrey among the fans of his political satire, and there are rumors that all three networks are considering him for five-minute newscasts from both political conventions this year. In the Time profile, he'll accuse TV news of 'spoon-feeding' the public, of being responsible for the "corruption and ignorance that may sink this country." "I'm against those guys who read the news with a gas pump in front of them," he says. (Huntley-Brinkley?) A little humor never hurt the validity of any idea, he says; too bad we never got a chance to find out.

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A glance at the movies on TV this week show that, unlike today, big stars frequently starred in B movies, sometimes several per year, and even with channels like TCM we might not recognize some of those movies today.  For example, WBAP has Cloak and Dagger, the story of an atomic scientist spying on the Nazis' atomic development from within German-occupied Italy, starring Gary Cooper and Lilli Palmer. There's They Met in Bombay on KFJZ, a jewel-heist story with Clark Gable and Rosalind Russell, which also has another Gable flick, Love on the Run, a spy story co-starring Joan Crawford, and The Secret Heart, about a rich widow and her stepchildren, with Claudette Colbert and Walter Pidgeon. Of course, there are plenty of familiar titles to choose from as well: Meet Me in St. Louis, Summertime, My Favorite Wife, Scarlet Street. Back when TV stations loved movies; those were the days, weren't they?

Finally, what's old is new again. Even in 1960, polio is something to be feared, though the Salk and Sabin vaccines have dramatically reduced the risk in the United States. Still, we're not that far removed from the time when even the whisper of the word polio was enough to send everyone into a panic (kind of like the word COVID, don't you think?), and we're reminded of that by KRLD's Monday night report on the Mother's March on Polio (10:30 p.m.), with reports given "by the team captains of each section of metropolitan Dallas." Good thing we could never have a scare like that again today. TV  


  1. Six Oscar emcees. And I guess every woman in Hollywood turned down the offer.

  2. That Jerry Lewis Show and the laughing cameraman bit. And the drums. All those drums...


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!