January 23, 2021

This week in TV Guide: January 22, 1955

We might as well get it out of the way right now, because you're not going to be able to concentrate on anything until you know the answer to the question: what makes Ed Sullivan laugh?

It's a fair question: after all, for six years, Ed's hosted the biggest names in show business, including a good number of comedians. And yet, as this week's unbylined article puts it, "despite his success, Sullivan continued for many years to act as if freshly stunned." "I think I'm getting better," Ed says when asked about his on-stage persona. "At least I haven't been getting any more letters teling me to get off my own program." He acknowledges that the knocks he got from the critics hurt, and in response he determined that he'd put himself in the background, allowing the guests to be the focus of the show.

He also launched an effort to "humanize" himself with viewers; for instance, he stopped looking straight at the camera, advice he'd received before the show began. He followed that by turning himself into the target of barbs from his guests; he hired Pat Flick to heckle him from the audience, calling calling Ed "Mr. Soloman"; encouraged insults from the likes of Joe E. Lewis' ("Ed is the one man in the world who can beautify a room by leaving it.") and Jack Howard (Ed was once "a greeter at Forest Lawn cemetery."); and invited Frank Fontaine and Will Jordan to do their exaggerated impersonations of him. 

Off-camera, Sullivan is easygoing and relaxed, and while he feels he's made progress in his humanization project, he seems philosophical about the whole thing. "By this time," he says, "people would think there was something wrong if I suddenly began standing and moving like somebody else." 

So in answer to the question of what makes Ed Sullivan laugh, I guess the answer is: jokes about Ed Sullivan. And that's the mark of a secure man.

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Among the week's highlights is NBC Opera Theater's two-hour, English-language production of Tosca (Sunday, 2:00 p.m.), with Leontyne Price in the title role. The cast list and synopsis takes up an entire column, a long description even during a time in which TV Guide provided fairly extensive program narratives.

It is a landmark moment for Price, who, with this performance, becomes the first black singer in a leading role on Opera Theater. As critic Diane Brooks writes, NBC had, for several years been successfully practicing what they called "integration without identification"—that is, utilizing racially diverse casts without calling attention to it. Once Price had been cast in the role, however, the network "decided to make her ethnicity a central feature in order to project an international vision of America as a land of opportunity and inclusivity." It was not only a victory for Price and the nacent civil rights movement, it also served as a response to international Cold War criticism of America's racial policies.

The broadcast won great critical acclaim; Olin Downes, the music critic for The New York Times, called it "the most dramatic and convincing performance by this organization that this writer has seen." Not surprisingly, it also created controversy, as several Southern affiliates refused to carry the Tosca broadcast due to Price's apperance, while "white viewers’ letters of outrage and protest began to stream into NBC headquarters." The network responded with an official statement that ability—period—was "the only measure by which roles would be cast."

Price would go on to appear in three additional productions of NBC Opera Theater, and those performances helped transform her into a household name; she debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 1960, and by her retirement in 1985, she was acclaimed as one of the greatest opera singers of all time—not because she was black, any more than Maria Callas was acclaimed because she was white. No, it was because Leontyne Price was, quite simply, one of the greatest opera singers of all time.

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And now for a little industry gossip.

Sheilah Graham reports that Mary Martin has been offered a cool $400,000 (2021 equivalent: $3.88 million) to do her Broadway hit Peter Pan live and in color on NBC around Easter time. Bob Stahl adds that if the deal comes together, the show will probably be broadcast from the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway, where the play is currently running, because "no TV studio is rigged to permit Peter's flying scenes." NBC must have come up with the money; the show airs on March 7, 1955 on Producers' Showcase, attracting a then-record audience of 65 million viewers. I'd say that was a pretty good investment.

Staying with the Peacock, Dan Jenkins notes that NBC has paid the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences $1.3 million in order to televise the next six Academy Awards ceremonies. This could pose a problem, Sheilah Graham says, because Bing Crosby's "astronomical salary" for two broadcasts on CBS next year includes a rider that prevents him from guest shots on other networks. What happens, Graham puckishly asks, if Der Bingle wins an Oscar on NBC this year for The Country Girl? In the end, Crosby loses out in an upset to Marlon Brando for On the Waterfront, so I guess he gets to keep all the loot.

Jenkins also notes that Humphrey Bogart won't be appearing in The Petrified Forest on CBS after all. It's not that Bogart quit the production; after all, it was the role, first on Broadway and then in the movies, that made him a star. No, it's the production itself that quit—turns out that the television rights to the production are owned by NBC, so Bogie will have to do something else for CBS to earn his $25,000. Not to worry, though; since NBC already owns the rights, they decide they might as well have Bogart too; it airs on the ubiquitous Producers' Showcase later in 1955; Bogart's co-stjars are Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall. 

Wait a minute—I just thought of something. NBC thinks Mary Martin is worth $400,000 while CBS only pays Humphrey Bogart a measly 25 grand? Isn't there supposed to be a glass ceiling for that kind of thing?

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If you know me, first of all, you have my sympathy. Second, you probably know that, for a variety of reasons, Sunday night is my least favorite night of the week. However, this week, it's also one of the most interesting nights in the issue. Who couldn't relax with Mystery Night on WPIX? It starts at 7:30 p.m. with Dateline Europe, an espionage drama that ran for four seasons under the original title of Foreign Intrigue, and is notable for being the first American-made filmed series to be broadcast on Canadian television. There were three leads in the four seasons, and just as many alternate titles; Dateline Europe features Jerome Thor, while the third season, later known as Overseas Adventures, stars James Daly, and the final season (Cross Current) has Gerald Mohr. 

That's followed at 8:00 p.m. by Inspector Mark Saber, with Tom Conway as a British detective working in an American homicide unit—or, as it's also known, the reverse-McCloud gambit. The Mark Saber character offers some complications of its own, though perhaps not as convoluted as Dateline Europe. The orignial Saber series, with Conway, ran from 1951 to 1954. Then, in 1955, the producers of a mystery series called The Vise decided to reboot it, with Saber, now played as a one-armed private detective*, played by Donald Gray. (In case you're wondering, Gray was an amputee.) The series ran for two seasons on ABC before moving to NBC, where it was retitled Saber of London, and stayed there until 1960. In syndication, it was also known as Detective's Diary and Uncovered, and we have Brooks and Marsh to thank for keeping this all straight. 

*Wouldn't it have been funny if Richard Kimble had hired him to find his wife's killer? After all, who better to find a one-armed man than a one-armed detective?

The rest of the night is more straightforward. At 8:30 p.m. movie tough-guy stars as a police lieutenant in I'm the Law, followed by Follow that Man (aka Man Against Crime) with Ralph Bellamy at 9:00, and for the finale it's Rod Cameron in City Detective—and, as we saw last week, it's not the series that's complicated in this case, but the star's personal life.

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The local stations in New York City often had a lot of talent in the news department, and the neat thing about these NYC TV Guides is that you get a chance to see some of them before they hit the big time with the networks. On the left, for example, is Ron Cochran, and before he became the anchor of the ABC Evening Report, he was on News of the Night on WCBS. In between those two gigs, he spent a year as host of CBS's Armstrong Circle Theatre

Some assorted odds and ends for your consideration, starting Monday night, as Studio One takes a foray into science fiction with "It Might Happen Tomorrow," starring Barry Sullivan, Tony Franciosa, Bert Freed and Dana Wynter, and penned by Carey Wilber, the author of the sci-fi serial Captain Video (10:00 p.m., CBS). On Tuesday, it's "New York's top-rated TV program, WOR's Million Dollar Movie. Tonight's premiere is Let's Live a Little, with Hedy Lamarr and Bob Cummings; you can see it tonight and every night this week at 7:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. 

The week continues with Wednesday night's Disneyland (7:30 p.m., ABC), with starring Fess Parker in "Davy Crockett Goes to Congress," part two of the three-part look at the legendary frontiersman. Hopefully, Davy finds a better class of people in Washington than the crowd hanging out there now.  Thursday night is college basketball on WPIX (9:00 p.m.), but I don't think even ESPN+ could be talked into showing a game between the U.S Merchant Marine Academy and King's College, from King's Point, Pennsylvania.* Friday ends the week with the WATV late-night movie, Repeat Performance (11:00 p.m.); "A glamorous stage star murders her husband on New Year's Eve, then wishes she could relive the year just ended." It's a great idea for a movie about 2020, said nobody ever. 

*Honorable mention for Thursday night goes to Dragnet (9:00 p.m., NBC) and whoever wrote this droll description: "Sgt. Joe Friday and his well-fed partner, Frank Smith, are sent out to obtain evidence against the television repair racket."

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Who among us couldn't use some help deciding where to put our TV? Considering the size of today's screens, you might not have much choice: whichever wall it fits on. But what if you're thinking of upsizing your 10-inch set to 21, or even 27 inches? Talk about a tough decision! Thank the stars for interior decorator Mary Dorr, host of the At Home show on WFIL in Philadelphia, who's here to set us straight.

It's true, Mary writes, that "[i]n many homes, even now, housewives have not given sufficient thought to fitting the TV set into the decor of their rooms." That's why her first suggestion is also the most important one: no matter in which room you put your set, it "can and should be decorated around the set. Furniture should be arranged so that the room is completely in accord with its main purpose, 'living.'" At the same time, your furniture should be positioned to make conversation easy when the TV isn't on. And you shouldn't have to wind up having to turn down the lights or turning up the sound in order to enjoy your programs.

We all know that size matters, but how do you determine what size screen is right for you? A good rule of thumb, according to Dorr, is that "the distance between your chair and your TV set should be eight times the height of the TV screen. In other words, you'll need to sit about nine feet away from a 21-inch set, where the screen is about 13½ inches high; a 27-inch set requires about 12 feet. Now, our own television has a modest 40-inch screen, which means that as we speak, I should be sitting about 13 feet from the TV; but in reality, I'm really only about nine feet away, or as far away as I would have been sitting from a 21-inch set. And since the picture is in HD, I should probably be able to sit even farther away. Instead, I think about getting an even larger TV. Go figure.

Finally, Dorr cautions, your family and friends "cannot look up or down at a TV screen indefinitely in comfort." This is absolutely true; I can't tell you how unfomfortable it is sitting in front of the TV while simultaneously holding my head in my hands. TV  

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