March 31, 2021

The Descent into Hell: Dialogues of the Carmelites (1957)

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t is true that music can reveal truth in a way unlike that of any other form of communication, which is why we so often find ourselves turning to the masters—the “Dead White Europeans.” to coin a phrase—when we seek to understand something at its deepest, most intimate level. Bach, for instance, often called the “Fifth Evangelist”; Handel, most especially in “Messiah”; Mozart through his Requiem, which, even if he didn’t write it all himself, could only have been the work of genius. Music has the ability to strike a sympathetic chord within our natural biorhythms, to convey emotion—as opposed to emotionalism—in such a way as to allow the listener to transcend the corporeal world and exist, even for a short time, on a higher plain.

In January 1957, the first performance of Dialogues des Carmélites, French composer Francis Poulenc's opera about the Martyrs of Compiègne during the French Revolution, had its world premiere at La Scala in Italy. The opera, performed in English* as Dialogues of the Carmelites, made its American debut that September in San Francisco, and on Sunday afternoon, December 8 (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception), Dialogues of the Carmelites opened the 1957-58 season of the NBC Opera Company. That the network chose to broadcast such a new opera was a bold move (reserved generally, though not exclusively, for commissioned works), and was a testament to the power of Poulanc's work, and that of the true story it told.

*It was Poulanc's wish that Dialogues be performed in the language of the local audience, and American performances have generally been done in English. NBC's policy was to perform English translations regardless of the opera's original language, so no changes had to be made for TV other than for length.

The French Revolution (1789-99) was hardly the time of enlightenment that its supporters have made it out to be, particularly the Satanic two-year period known as "The Reign of Terror." It came by its nickname honestly; writing its legacy with rivers of blood from the guillotines used in the wholesale slaughter of political opponents, and in particular the persecution of the Catholic Church. By Easter 1794, few of France's forty thousand churches remained open; many had been closed, sold, destroyed, or converted to other uses. Christianity had been denounced as "superstition" and replaced by the Cult of the Supreme Being. Approximately 30,000 French priests were forced to flee the country. 

And what did this horror, described by historian William Bush as "sheer butchery," accomplish? The rise to power of Napoleon, and a war that swept the continent. It is, in its way, so typically French.

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Religious life had been outlawed by the Revolution in 1790, as part of a concerted policy to dechristianize France. The Declaration of the Rights of Man, passed in 1789, theoretically guaranteed freedom of religion in the sense that, according to Article X, "No one may be disturbed for his opinions, even religious ones, provided that their manifestation does not trouble the public order established by the law." (Emphasis added.) The devil was, if not in the details, at least in the italics: since the Church was, by definition, seen as "a counter-revolutionary force," anyone who professed religious belief could be seen to be troubling "the public order." It was, one might say, an early example of attempting to bar religion from the public square.

The Martyrs of Compiègne were sixteen Carmelite nuns, lay sisters and novices, living in community in northern France. They'd been on the radar of revolutionary authorities since 1790, when the State outlawed religious life. Beginning that year, the sisters were subjected to interrogations and threats by government officials, being forced to choose between breaking their vows of "obedience [to God], chastity, and poverty" or facing further punishment. The sisters refused, and led by their prioress, Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, determined that they would allow themselves to be executed as a sacrifice for France and the French Church rather than renounce their beliefs. Their convent was closed by government order in 1792, following the sacking of Catholic churches (on Easter Sunday, no less), and the sisters forced to reenter the outside world. Despite warnings to the contrary, the sisters continued to gather together to pray communally. 

In 1794 the sisters were arrested as part of The Terror, charged with treason for "religious fanaticism," "demonstrating hostility to the revolution," and being "criminals and annihilators of public freedom." On July 17, 1794, having been convicted and sentenced to death, they were taken on an open cart through the streets of Paris, where onlookers hurled insults at them and pelted them with objects. Arriving at the site of their execution, the sisters sang hymns and forgave their executioners. As they were led to the guillotine, each one approached Mother Teresa, kissed a small statue of the Virgin Mary, and asked the prioress for "permission to die." "Permission granted," she replied. Kneeling before the blade, they chanted Psalm 117, Laudate DominumO praise the Lord, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people. / For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever. / Praise ye the Lord.

The chant was cut short in each case by the falling of the blade. Mother Teresa, having granted each of her charges permission to die, was the last to be executed. The crowd, raucous only a few minutes earlier, fell silent.

It has been said that the shocking brutality of the execution of the Martyrs of Compiègne, along with the serenity and faith with which they accepted their fate, was a turning point in the Revolution. The leader of the revolutinaries, Robespierre, was himself executed ten days later, leading to the end of The Terror. The sisters were collectively beatified in 1906.
 
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Music has the ability to move people to action, to change the way in which they see and understand the world around them. In modern parlance, music can make a statement. It's no surprise, then, that Poulenc would be drawn to the story; he had returned to the Catholicism of his youth following the death of a friend in a car accident, and the horror of World War II caused him to look withing himself more deeply, and to focus his musical efforts on religious compositions. Poulenc based his libretto on an unpublished screenplay by the French writer Georges Bernanos, who had intended his work as an allegorical comparison between the Revolution and the twin contemporary threats of Fascism and Communism. 

Rosemark Kuhlmann (L)
and 
Patricia Neway 
Dialogues of the Carmelites
 tells the fictional story of Blanche de la Force, a young woman from an aristocratic family who, as her brother says, is fearful of everything including fear itself. She seeks escape from the world as a member of the Carmelites, despite the warnings of the dying Mother Superior that "the Carmelite Order is not a refuge." She becomes a friend of another young nun, Constance, who tells her of a vision she has had that the two of them will die young, and on the same day.

When the threat from the Revolution grows and her brother urges her to flee while she still has time, Blanche confesses that while she is afraid of what might happen to her in the convent, she's even more afraid to leave. Eventually, as a climate of fear grips the nation, the darkness of the Terror envelopes the sisters. A pivotal scene occurs when an officer of the State arrives with the announcement that the convent has been closed and the nuns are to rejoin the public world. In response to the officer's boast that "The people have no need of servants," Marie replies, "No, but they have a great need for martyrs," "In times like these," the officer scoffs, "death is nothing," "Life is nothing," Marie retorts, "when it is so debased."

After the sisters take a vow of martyrdom, Blanche flees the chapel and returns to her home, where she is forced to work as a servant. She is rescued by Marie, who seeks to bring her back to the other sisters, but on their way they learn the nuns have been arrested and sentenced to death. Marie, who has been determined to give her life, seeks to join them, but she is reminded that "only God decides" martyrdom, and that she has been preserved to resurrect the Order. 

Meanwhile, as the rest of the nuns are led to the guillotine, they sing the Salve Regina, stopping only when the blade falls. Constance, the last of the nuns to approach the scaffold, sees Blanche emerge from the crowd, having finally conquered her fear, and take take up the chant as she walks to her own death, offering her life to God.

The opera's concluding scene, from the 1987 production by the Metropolitan Opera
 
The two-hour color broadcast was praised by critics; Charles A. Matz, writing in Opera News, pointed out how television allowed viewers to transcend the limitations inherent when one sees the opera in a conventional theater setting; director Kurt Browning's close-ups "permitted vivid affinity with the torments of the protagonists and startling delight in the savor of their triumphs over the flesh.” The cast was hailed as well, with Leontyne Price as the Prioress, Madame Lidoine; Patricia Neway as the former Prioress, Madame de Croissy; Rosemary Kuhlmann as Mother Marie; Judith Raskin as Constance; and Elaine Malbin as Blanche. Peter Herman Adler, the Music and Artistic Director of the NBC Opera Company, was the conductor. 

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The Martyrs of Compiègne were not the only martyrs of the Revolution. A group of 191 Catholics executed at the Carmes Prison in the "September Massacres" of 1792 are collectively known as the Holy September Martyers, and were beatified in October 1926. 

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The story of Dialogues of the Carmelites is set in 1792, but religious persecution didn't end with the French Revolution, just as it didn't end with the Puritans or the Know-Nothings or the Ku Klux Klan or the election of a "Catholic" president. No, it's not over, not by a long shot. 

Not when the dominant political party in this country actively pursues a policy that says, in effect, that you're free to believe whatever you want, as long as you don't try to actually put your beliefs into action. Not when religious organizations are forced to hire people who don't share their beliefs, provide medical benefits that violate their core principles, deny the teachings they profess every Sunday under fear of government investigation. Not when a prominent politician, who may or may not be the current speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, boasts that "I do my religion on Sundays." The buck may stop there, but not the Cross.

Not when a leglislator in North Dakota introduced a bill requiring priests to violate the Seal of Confession (a seal they are bound to protect to the death) if told by a penitent of sexual abuse. Or in Houston, where the city council attempted to pass a law requiring a group of pastors to "turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor." Not when a U.S. senator criticizes a judicial nominee by saying, "When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you," and another asks, "If confirmed, will you recuse yourself from all cases in which the Knights of Columbus has taken a position?"  

The people have no need of servants, but they have a great need for martyrs. 

Once you've decided religion no longer has a place in the public square, how long before you decide it has no place at all? 
Will the day come when churches are taxed out of existence because of their beliefs, or charged with hate crimes because a pastor reads from the Bible, or closed altogether because of laws seeking to "protect" the public from things like the Wuhan virus? When Christians must deny what their religion teaches in order to show "solidarity" with the State? Justice Alito, in his dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, wrote, "I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools."

The anti-clericalism that drove the Reign of Terror may have started as a reaction to the relationship between the aristocrat class and the Church, but it sure as hell didn't end there, whipped up into a frenzy by Robespierre until it wound up even consuming him. "Are there no men left to come to the aid of the country?" Constance asks at one point. Replies Madame Lidoine, "When priests are lacking, martyrs are superabundant." Will Americans one day be required to choose between renouncing their beliefs and facing martyrdom? Only God decides who will be a martyr.

We die not for ourselves alone, Constance tells Blanche early in the opera, but for each other. The triumph of the Martyrs of Compiègne is the crowning glory of Dialogues of the Carmelites. Although the opera doesn't have a classic "happy ending," its effect on the viewer is one not of sadness, but of joy: the joy of Blanche conquering her fears and finding the meaning of her life with her death; the triumph of life over death is the victory of Wordsworth in "The Obsolete Man." The overall impact is moving, stirring, and ultimately heroic. 

Music has the ability to move people to action, to change the way in which they see and understand the world around them.

Sometimes, the courage to do the right thing is more important than to simply go on living. "Life is nothing," said Mother Marie, "when it is so debased." On this Holy Week, the questions hang in the air. How much more debasement will it take? How far will the descent into Hell continue? TV  

March 29, 2021

What's on TV? Wednesday, April 2, 1958




Once again, we're in New England, with our programming coming to you mostly from Boston, Portland, and Providence. I enjoy these issues from the late 1950s and early '60s partly because you have so many local stations with split affiliations, which means you get a good idea of what programs were considered "must see" in a particular area. Lawrence Welk often turns up in these situations; I wonder how many stations had secondary ABC affiliations primarily to make sure Welk was on the schedule? Same thing with soap operas and sporting events. I can tell you from my experience with KCMT, the examples would include Welk, Marcus Welby M.D., and General Hospital. If you're an aspiring Ph.D out there, you might consider writing your thesis on the correlation between split affiliation programming choices and the demographics of the viewing area, particularly those of race, age, and economic status. I'm sure it would contain some very interesting results.

March 27, 2021

This week in TV Guide: March 29, 1958

You know that feeling you get when you're watching a movie or TV show and the hero or heroine is just standing there, enjoying life, when a monster or masher or thug approaches them from behind? And you can see the terror coming, but our hero can't, and you want to just shout at the screen, "Look out!" "Turn around!" Sometimes they do, but most of the time you're left saying to yourself, "They never saw it coming."

I was reminded of this sensation while looking through this week's issue, which features several big-money quiz shows—Twenty-One, Name That Tune, Tic-Tac-Dough, The $64,000 Question and The $64,000 Challenge—and the premieres of two new ones: Top Dollar, based on the kids' game "Ghost" and boasting a top prize of $5,000, debuts Saturday night on CBS, while Wingo, with a first prize of $250,000, takes its bow on the same network Tuesday night. NBC, meanwhile, has announced that Rosemary Clooney's variety show will be replaced for the summer by, you guessed it—a quiz show.* And our lead story profiles that master emcee of the quizzes, Jack Barry. Yep, despite all the whispers circulating since last year, they just don't see it coming, do they?

*Actually, they wound up just moving The Price is Right into the time spot. In retrospect, that worked out pretty well.

Barry praises the star of his greatest creation, Twenty-One. "[Charles Van Doren] was the greatest personality we've had," Barry says. Before Van Doren, Barry and his partner, Dan Enright, had to "comb the sidewalks in front of their studio" to find people to fill the audience; now, they turn fans away. When asked if he thinks his quiz shows have served any purpose other than "mere entertainment," Barry bristles. "Mere entertainment? Well, there's nothing wrong wiith mere entertainment. Entertainment's the heart of TV."

It's five months from now, on August 15, that the quiz show Dotto is cancelled after accusations of match fixing. From there, the dominoes fall, one by one: The $64,000 Challenge (cancelled September 7), Twenty-One (October 16), The $64,000 Question (November 2), Tic-Tac-Dough (December 29). In October 1959, the quiz show hero Charles Van Doren appears before a Congressional committee and loses his job. CBS then cancels their remaining quiz shows, including Name That Tune and Top Dollar. Barry and Enright would be blacklisted from television; it would be 1972 before Barry finally returned to national television prominence, with one of his biggest hits, The Joker's Wild.* 

*Debuting on the same day as the revival of The Price Is Right.  

All this is in the future, of course, but there's one quote from the profile of Barry that stands out. Defending the quiz show, he says, "I do think all our shows have stimulated the desire to become better informed. If I didn't think that—. Well, I wouldn't want to think that we didn't do something useful." Unfortunately, it was when the wrong people became better informed that Barry's problems began.

Yes, it's a terrible time to be premiering a new quiz show, isn't it?
 
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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 comedian Sam Levenson; singers Jane Morgan, Georges Guetray, Della Reese and Frankie Vaughan; Anton Dolin and his London Festival Ballet; pianists George Shearing, Roger Williams and Dorothy Donegan; the O'Brady Puppets; and The Three Bragazzis, a comedy act.

Allen: Joining Steve tonight are Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy; movie actress Marie McDonald; boxer Carmen Basilio; the Step Brothers, dance team; and All-American high school and college basketball stars. Regulars: Don Knotts, Joyce Jameson, Tom Poston.

We have stars on both sides of the divide this week, but ultimately one show is destined to win out. And while Ed's got a solid lineup, it's hard to overestimate what big stars Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy were during the OTR era. I mean, you have to be special to pull off a ventriloquist act on the radio, right? And Carmen Basilio, in addition to being a boxing champion, helped blow the whistle on the mob's control of the boxing business. With that one-two punch, it's no surprise that Allen takes the honors this week.

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There's a different kind of March Madness afoot this week—no, not the NCAA basketball tournament; that finished up last weekend. This Saturday, it's the first game* of the NBA finals, pitting the defending champion Boston Celtics against the team they vanquished last year, the St. Louis Hawks. (2:30 p.m., NBC) The Hawks, led by all-star Bob Pettit, take the title in six games, and it will be the last time anyone not named the Boston Celtics wins the NBA championship until 1966, one of the greatest runs of dominance in the history of professional sports.

*In case you were wondering, the 2019 NBA finalsthe last one to be played in the pre-virus era, started on May 3061 days later than the start of the 1958 finals.

And speaking of the NCAA basketball championship, it wasn't on national television—we've talked about that before. But Saturday afternoon on CBS, the NCAA swimming and diving championships are. Go figure.

Speaking of sports, you might be forgiven for looking twice at ABC's Wednesday Night Fights (10:00 p.m.), this week featuring light heavyweight Yolande Pompey against middleweight Rory Calhoun, and asking yourself if that's the Rory Calhoun, who, prior to his acting career, was, among other things, a mechanic, a logger in California's redwoods, a hard-rock miner in Nevada, a cowboy in Arizona, a fisherman, a truck driver, a crane operator, and a forest firefighter. One thing he was not, however, was a professional boxer (though he did go to jail once for slugging a cop). That honor goes to Herman "Rory" Calhoun, who at one time was the #3 ranked middleweight contender in the world, and whose manager changed his name to Rory because of the actor. Rory the boxer wins tonight's fight in a sixth-round TKO; Rory the actor will star in the series The Texan, debuting in the fall. I wonder if the two of them were ever on TV opposite each other?

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Ever have that feeling that your TV viewing choices are horrible? For many local movie fans, that's a good thing, as horror movie shows—and their hosts—have become television's latest craze. It was three years ago that long-haired, sharp-nailed Vampira (the "Ghoul of the Golden West") became a sensation on KABC in Los Angeles, and it ramped up last fall when Shock Theater, a syndicated package of Universal classic monster flicks premiered. With titles like Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man and The Wolf Man, Shock Theater became a veritable Garden of Eden for a "spooktacular collection of leering, smirking, black-clad other-world characters" that often wound up garnering more fans than the movies themselves. 

Philadelphia has Roland, a "monster of ceremonies" who's proved so popular that an event held at the station blocked traffic for hours. Miss Tarantula Ghoul and her sidekick, Heathcliff the rattlesnake, do the honors at KPTV in Portland, Oregon. Terry Bennett, Marvin the Near-Sighted Madman, livens things up at WBKB in Chicago, ripping the fingernails off of women to light his cigarettes. WBAL in Baltimore has Dr. Lucifer, while Youngstown, Ohio has David Allen, whose head floats in the mist while he serves up his lines. And the list goes on and on. I'm sure most of you out there have examples of favorite hosts you watched while you were growing up. 

(l-r) Roland, Marvin, Miss Tarantula

The tradition has continued to the present day: think Elvira and Svengoolie as more colorful examples, while Joe Bob Briggs does the honors on the Shudder channel; there's MST3K if you're looking for a more interactive version. Joe Bob points out why movie hosts are important, particularly in these days when society has become so atomized. “There’s something in our DNA that says you need to watch a movie with other people," he said last year. "It’s a social thing. If you watch a movie on your phone, on your laptop, by yourself and it’s a great movie what happens when it’s over? You feel extremely lonely,” 

I've said before that I miss the days of movies on local television (even though they were often edited and had commercials), and the absense of local movies means the absense of local movie hosts. As Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson says, "Unless you’re on a network that has a lot of money and access to a lot of films, you can’t get the films yourself." Even though hosts like Briggs and the cast of MST3K make movie watching a more social occasion, the local movie host created a sense of community that just isn't the same on a larger scale. Technology may have made the world smaller, but in some ways it's larger than ever.

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One of the most entertaining half-hours of the week is Saturday night, when Mike Wallace sits down to interview actor, playwright, director, and all-around raconteur Peter Ustinov. (10:00 p.m., ABC) Ustinov, currently starring in Romanoff and Juliet on Broadway, talks to Wallace about, among other things, "why he believes that humorists should be prepared to go to jail for their convictions, and why he contents that the best kind of humor is 'subversive.'" Fortunately for all of us, that episode exists thanks to Wallace himself, who donated The Mike Wallace Interview Collection to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and you can watch it here.

Sunday afternoon offers a preview of things to come; first, Senator John F. Kennedy is the guest on Face the Nation (4:30 p.m., CBS). That's followed at 5:00 by a special 90-minute edition of See It Now, as Edward R. Murrow investigates the possible dangers of radioactive fallout from atomic tests. And at 6:30, Walter Cronkite's Twentieth Century gives us a look at what it's like to live in a comminist satellite state in "Riot in East Berlin." Better get used to it while we have time.

Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, and Monday Voice of Firestone (9:00 p.m,. ABC) presents its annual Easter program, with soprano Nadine Connor singing the music of Faure, Adam and Grainier, telling the dramatic story leading up to the events of Good Friday and the Crucifixion. The idea that commercial television would even notice Holy Week, let alone commemorate it, is something I actually find rather moving, especially nowadays.

Tuesday, Ed Sullivan makes a cameo appearance as himself on the Howard Duff-Ida Lupino sitcom Mr. Adams and Eve (8:00 p.m., CBS), hiring the Adams's to write a guest column for his newspaper syndicate. And on Telephone Time (9:30 p.m., ABC), the actor version of Rory Calhoun appears in "Trail Blazer," a tale of post-Civil War cattlemen.* And at 10:30 p.m. on Providence's WPRO, the Peloquin Choral Group continues a series of Holy Week music 

*Just think, one more night and he could have been the lead-in to his namesake's fight.

On Wednesday, NBC's Matinee Theater (3:00 p.m.) presents a colorcast remake of Danny Kaye's classic The Inspector General, with Wally Cox essaying Kaye's role. Disneyland (7:30 p.m., ABC) looks at the history of flight in "Man in Flight," a combination of cartoons and historical footage. And Kraft Theatre, the oldest program still on television (it debuted in 1947, and will leave the air at the end of this year), tells the story of "The Man in Authority," a Scotland Yard inspector investigating a murder that he committed.

Thursday, bridge authority Charles Goren, who literally wrote the book on the game, is one of Groucho Marx's guests on You Bet Your Life (8:00 p.m., NBC), after which Friday and Smith hunt down someone passing bad checks on Dragnet (8:30 p.m., NBC). and George Gobel visits Tennessee Ernie Ford on The Ford Show. (9:30 p.m, NBC) 

Holy Week reaches its passion on Good Friday, first with Providence Bishop Russell McVinney leading the devotion known as the Stations of the Cross (8:00 p.m., Channel 10) and concluding with Providence radio voice Leo R. LaPorte narrating the story of The Passion (10:00 p.m., WPRO). Elsewhere, Frank Sinatra welcomes Spike Jones and his band, with Spike's wife and vocalist Helen Grayco (9:00 p.m., ABC), and Lee Marvin is on the trail of a Lonelyhearts killer who meets and then murders his female victims in M Squad. (9:00 p.m., NBC) And at 11:15 p.m. on Channel 7, it's that all-time Easter favorite It's a Wonderful Life. Yes, it's the same one you're thinking of, and I'm not entirely sure when it became a Christmas tradition (maybe when it fell into the public domain?), but I remember the first time I saw it was in the summer. For the second time, go figure.

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Finally, here's something you don't see very often: not an apology, per se, but an explanation, from Remington Rand, sponsor of Leave It to Beaver, regarding the show's recent time change from 7:30 Eastern to 8:00—a change instigated by the sponsor. 

To put this in some context, you have to remember that we're still in a time when sponsors, not networks, exercise control over program scheduling. In other words, Remington Rand purchases the timeslot, and then fills that slot with a program they sponsor. Networks hate this, becuase a low-rated show can ruin an entire night's schedule; the aforementioned Voice of Firestone the centerpiece of a massive controversy when NBC (which aired the program at the time) and Firestone battled over the show's timeslot. And to tie this into our lede, it was sponsor pressure that played a central role in the Quiz Show Scandals. (Who says there isn't synergy in television history?) Eventually, networks will exert more control over series production; that, combined with diversifying show sponsorship, effectively ends the domination of sponsors.

Returning to the present, this ad from Remington Rand is a fascinating example of sponsor sensitivity to viewing habits, trying to turn a perceived minus into a plus. Yes, they say, they understand that some of the program's "good friends" might be unhappy (and it's an interesting choice of words, "friends" rather than the more sterile "viewers," underlying once again the intimate nature of television). However, in the view of the sponsor (and here the copy slips into advertising mode), Beaver "is not so much a children's program as it is a family program suitable for young children to watch," and it deserves to be seen by a wider audience, one that includes older children and parents. "Believe it or not, only about half the people turn on their television sets as early as 7:30 Friday—while just a half hour later, but earlier in the week, two out of three homes have turned their sets on." This means that a later timeslot on Wednesday means "hundreds of thousands of extra families" have the chance to watch Beaver—and, not coincidentally, the commercials that "demonstrate the values of owning a Remington© Portable Typewriter." In short, while some friends will have to make difficult choices, "we hope that at your house the young in age and the young in heart will somehow find a way to keep on watching 'the best new program of the year.'" It's signed "Hopefully yours."
   
Things work out pretty well for Beaver; it lasts five more seasons, finally leaving the air for rerun immortality in 1963. But after this inaugural season on NBC, it moves to ABC for the 1958-59 season—back at 7:30 p.m. TV  

March 25, 2021

Around the dial




At the arts and intellectual journal The New Criterion, Michael Taube takes a fond look back at the beloved puppet show Kukla, Fran and Ollieand how it attracted an audience of adults (many of them influential) as well as children to its often-sophisticated humor.

Over at The Ringer, meanwhile, Alison Herman remembers Jessica Walter, who died yesterday at the age of 80, and her long and successful career, which stretched over six decades, and ran the gamut from Grand Prix and Play Misty for Me to Archer and Arrested Development, and won fans at every stop.

It's the Hitchcock Project at bare-bones e-zine, and Jack cntinues his look at the work of William Fay with the fourth-season episode "Your Witness," a mystery with a nasty little twist at the end, starring Brian Keith and Leora Dana. You'll want to check it out.

At The Horn Section, Hal dips back into the run of Love That Bob! with "Bob and Automation," with a brunette Angie Dickinson as Bob's main attraction, while the household struggles with Bob's austerity plan; they're skimping so he can automate his business, but he's using the computer for dates!

The Broadcast Archives at the University of Maryland links to this piece at The Atlantic which describes how television was never the same after All in the Family. I'm probably not a good one to ask since I was never a fan of the show (but I am old enough to have watched it in its original run), but unquestionably it changed television, especially the sitcom. For good or for bad?

At Classic Film & TV Cafe, it's another of Rick's "seven things to know" features, this week about Julie Newmar, the real Catwoman of Batman (as well as nemesis of Bob Cummings during the making of My Living Doll), who has a lot more worth knowing about.

A book tells many stories, only some of which appear between the covers; the rest of them make it to places like Garroway at Large, where Jodie tells her tale of woe: being outbid on eBay for a December, 1952 episode of Your Show of Shows guest-hosted by none other than Dave Garoway.

It's been awhile since we visited The Twilight Zone Vortex, but the wait was worth it, as Jordan begins his final journey: the bittersweat trip through the Zone's fifth and final season, when, for a variety of reasons, the best episodes served primarily to remind us of the show's past glories.
   
At Cult TV Blog, John dips back into The Avengers (the real ones, Steed and Mrs. Peel, not the superheroes), with the wonderful episode "The Living Dead." A ghost story? You're going to have to watch it and find out.

Finally, at Television Obscurities, it's the March look at some very neat YouTube finds, including a promo film for the 1963 ABC fall season hosted by Edie Adams, an episode of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. and a kinescope of a 1949 episode of—you guessed it, Kukla, Fran and Ollie. TV  

March 22, 2021

What's on TV? Friday, March 29, 1968




It's true that if you look hard enough, you casn almost always find something to write about. Today, for example, the daytime run of ABC's The Fugitive comes to an end with, fittingly enough, the final episode. The Fugitive ran in daytime for 12 months, from April 1967 to March 1968, long enough for each of the 120 episodes to air twice. When that final episode aired last August, it scored a 72 share of all viewers. I don't suspect as many people saw it this time. As you might expect, we're in the Twin Cities this week.

March 20, 2021

This week in TV Guide: March 23, 1968

It turns out that today's moviemakers didn't invent the superhero universe after all. Fifty years before 
Marvel and DC came to dominate the big screen (and increasingly the small one as well), their animated counterparts were involved in taking over Saturday morning kids' shows.  here’s something new in the world of Saturday morning kids’ shows. With the exception of a few standards, such as The Flintstones, we are left with, in the words of Robert Higgins, the "Weirdo Superheroes." As Higgins notes in one of this week's cover stories, "three-quarters of the cartoons being aired on all three networks fall into the Weirdo Superhero category." 

But where did the "Weirdo Superhero" come from? To a great extent, from where you’d expect it to come: comic books in general, and Marvel in particular. Says Stan Lee, who helped create (among others) Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and Iron Man), "Superheroes had been around for a million years. We revitalized them." The "revitalized" superhero includes character traits that kids can identify with—"hang-ups," as Lee calls them, such as acne, sinus trouble, and dating girls, problems that even their superpowers couldn’t overcome. Within the superhero genre is a sub-category—the “ugly hero,” such as The Thing. "People can identify with someone who’s not beautiful," Lee says by way of explanation. "You say, 'That guy could be me.' But you still feel superior to him." I wonder of Christopher Nolan watched these before he made his Batman trilogy?

The angst-ridden superhero is designed to appeal to the growing awareness and sophistication of modern kids. "Children today are highly sophisticated," says Ed Vane, head of ABC’s daytime programming. "They don’t suspend that sophistication on Saturday morning." The superhero is then grafted onto a format that has been a staple of children’s programming since the days of the Saturday matinee serial: the action-adventure genre.

This doesn’t come without drawbacks, though. Dr. Fredric Wertham contends that "Television—and its display of violence—comes to the child with adult approval," and that it’s foolish to think this doesn’t have an impact on the child. This is television’s eternal conundrum, with what might be TV’s version of Schrödinger's Cat: is it plausible to posit that viewers can be influenced by commercial content and not by the content of the program itself?

I’d interject here that there’s violence, and there’s violence. Violence has always been relative – NBC’s Larry White points out that “when we were kids, our parents had no idea what we were seeing in the movies on Saturdays.” I would strongly resist the idea that watching Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner or Tom and Jerry makes children more violent. That is, literally, “cartoon” violence, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to agree with Dr. Schramm here that any child who’d look to drop an anvil on his playmate because he saw it happen to Wile E. Coyote probably has a screw loose somewhere anyway.

But if the “Weirdo Superhero” is supposed to relate to children in a different, more relevant, more realistic (or “sophisticated,” if you prefer) way, does it then stand to reason that the child sees this violence in a different, perhaps more malignant light? And isn’t it interesting to note how much this argument parallels the argument about video games? Does the violence in the stunning realism of today’s video games somehow influence the effect it has on children, inuring them to the impact of the violence?

For all this, there’s only a brief mention of what struck me from the very outset when I looked at that Saturday schedule. I call it "creative poverty," and Higgins gives a specific description of what’s lacking: comedy. There’s no comedy in these cartoons. The Flintstones, which continues to run on ABC, is of course based on a sitcom, and Bullwinkle creator Jay Ward’s George of the Jungle (also on ABC) probably comes the closest to a new cartoon that’s simply funny. The Three Stooges, violent though it may be, is slapstick comedy. Take away the comedy, and you’re left with The Sopranos. Ward acknowledges the dearth of comical cartoons but acknowledges that "They’re [Weirdo Superheroes] getting the ratings and that’s all the networks care about."

Children's television could be so much better, you and I both know that. But if there's one virtue to be found in these shows, it's to remember the Golden Rule: whoever has the gold rules. These cartoons make money for the networks. and that's what counts. Still, ABC's Vane looks wistfully at what television's capable of: "We'd love to give the kids Reading Room or A Day at the Planetarium. We'd be applauded by many—and watched by absolutely no one." The pity is, he's probably right.
 
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During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Sullivan: Scheduled guests: singers Jimmy Dean, Nancy Sinatra, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Spanky and Our Gang; comedians George Carlin, and Lewis and Christy; magician Dominique; and Charlie Cairoli, clown act.

Palace:  Host Phil Harris introduces Bill Dana as Olympic skier José Jiménez; England's Hendra and Ullett; Sid Miller and Rose Marie; comic magician Jacques Ary; singers Abby Lane, Philip Crosby, and the rocking Hollies.

This is from the short-lived, ill-advised period when ABC moved Hollywood Palace from Saturday to Thursday night. In the new timeslot, it found itself up against Dean Martin, which is probably why it didn't last there very long. As for the matchup, there's not a lot to differentiate this week's matchup. Ed offers Jimmy Dean, the Supremes, and George Carlin; meanwhile, the very funny Phil Harris hosts "Comedy at the Palace," and while it might not be politically correct today, I always liked Dana's José Jiménez character. Not the best week, not the worst. This week's verdict: Push.

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's weekly reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the shows of the era. 


Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, says Cleveland Amory, is everything that That Was the Week That Was wasn't. Whereas the former was "too cute and smug, and often too labored as well," Laugh-In is "a genuine, ingenuous breath of fresh fare." 

Laugh-In is one of the sensations of the season, and let Cleve count the ways. It is faced-paced, with fresh features as well as faces; the music is excellent; and the technical mix of the various segments is seamless. The cast—and if you need a reminder at this point, it includes Judy Carne, Eileen Brennan, Goldie Hawn, Henry Gibson, Gary Owens, Jack Riley, Roddy Maude-Roxby and Jo Anne Worley—is uniformely good, with Worley outstanding among them. And their fresh approach has a way of making even old jokes funny.

This is not to say that Laugh-In is a perfect hour. For one thing, an hour is, Amory thinks, a half-hour too long; humor is a very difficult thing to sustain over 60 minutes. "[T]he same jokes which in the first half-hour might have turned us on, in the second all too often turn us, and the set, off." Thirty minutes seems to be about right. The second drawback, oddly enough, lay with the hosts themselves. Dan Rowan's put-downs wear well, but Dick Martin's put-ons "are, more often than not, a bit much with which to put up." I can understand that; Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" routine is one of the funniest comic bits of all time, but to hear a variant of it, week after week, could get, well, weak. Still, Cleve gives it a strong grade: "A for effort, B for performance and C for—see it."

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One of the great controversies of the 1950s involved Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth's sister, and her romance with the divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend. A marriage between the two was vetoed by the Church of England, which at the time forbade divorce and remarriage (head of the church: Queen Elizabeth), and in 1960 she married the photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, who upon marriage became the Earl of Snowdon. Tuesday night at 9:00 p.m. CT, CBS Reports presents "Don't Count the Candles," a photographic essay by Lord Snowdon on aging. (It ought to be mentioned in fairness to all concerned that Lord Snowdon was an excellent and perceptive photographer, particularly with portraits.) In addition to pictures depicting ordinary people dealing with various aspects of getting older, there are interviews with people at both ends of the aging spectrum, from Twiggy to Noel Coward to Field Marshal Montgomery. BBC interviewer Derek Hart is the host; the show will go on to win two Emmys.

For her part, Margaret turned out to be the black sheep of the royal family—well, until Harry, that is— having scandalous love affairs, saying outrageous things, and in general embarrassing the rest of the family at every opportunity. My mother always thought Margaret did those things on purpose, and while I don't know whether or not there's any empirical data proving this, it doesn't require an advanced degree in psychology to suggest that Maggie was getting back at Liz for what happened with Townsend. The only thing that could have made this story better was if the stymied Group Captain went on to become a rebellious rock musician, but such was not the case.

Eventually, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon will divorce (a droll line from the always-reliable Wikipedia notes that their marriage was "accompanied by drugs, alcohol, and bizarre behaviour by both parties such as Snowdon's leaving lists between the pages of books the princess read for her to find, of 'things I hate about you'"); Snowden goes on to marry (and divorce) the former wife of film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, while Margaret never remarries, but carries on, shall we say, a colorful life.

As was the case with the Ingrid Bergman story we looked at a couple of years ago, the saga of Princess Margaret illustrates once again of how perspectives on marriage have changed over the years.  It was one thing for Margaret, not even the heir to the throne, to scandalize Church and Country by marrying a divorced man; it is, apparently, something else that the current heir is, in fact, married to a divorced woman with whom he apparently conducted an affair while married to his former wife. Again, no judgement here, merely observation.

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Here's a look at the highlights of the week:

Saturday:
If you need further evidence as to how sports expands to fill the available space (even if it isn't really available), Saturday gives you additional proof. In 2021, this Saturday marks the beginning of the NCAA basketball tournament; this Saturday in 1968 marks the end, as Sports Network Incorporated presents the championship game between UCLA and North Carolina, telecast live from Los Angeles. (9:00 p.m.) Unlike the rival NIT tournament (aka the runner-up tournament), which airs Saturday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. on CBS (Dayton defeats Kansas 61-48), the NCAA tournament has yet to make it to network TV, and so a syndicated lineup of stations carries the UCLA-North Carolina final, which UCLA wins 78-55 for its second consecutive title and fourth in the last five years. Viewers around the country are impressed by the Lew Alcindor-led Bruins—unless you live in the Twin Cities, because the game isn't shown here. WTCN, the independent station in the Twin Cities, normally carries syndicated specials like this, but tonight Channel 11 has the final of the Minnesota State High School Basketball Tournament, one of the biggest sporting events in Minnesota; the third-place game begins at 7:00 p.m., and the championship game around 8:30 p.m.* 

*Edina High School wins its their third consecutive championship; they'd also won two consecutive hockey championships. I hated Edina; everyone hated Edina. It was an affluent suburb of Minneapolis; everyone called them cake-eaters.

Sunday: For many years NBC has featured a variety special built around one of the big touring ice shows, the Ice Follies. Not only does it give Shipstads & Johnson the opportunity to induce us to marvel at large spectaculars staged on ice*, it also gives the network a chance to show off some of its own talent in the role of host. Last year, for example, Ed Ames, costar of NBC's Daniel Boone, hosted and sang two of his hit songs, "My Cup Runneth Over" and "Try to Remember." This year (8:00 p.m.), it's the turn of the aforementioned Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, probably doing the shtick that Cleveland Amory finds so endearing.

Monday: Armstrong Circle Theatre was a staple of television history through the Golden Age and into the early 1960s. Alternating with the U.S. Steel Hour, Circle Theatre transitioned from a straight anthology to a series specializing in docudramas of historical events, many relevant to the time. When it was resurrected by ABC in the late 1960s, it was as a prestige vehicle for musical theater productions made for TV. Tonight (8:30 p.m.), it's Cole Porter's delightful Kiss Me, Kate, the musical version of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," starring the then- real-life husband-and-wife team of Robert Goulet and Carol Lawrence as the battling lovers Fred and Lilli. Notwithstanding the live musicals that NBC and Fox have produced the last few holiday seasons, musical comedy is yet another genre all but gone from television.

Tuesday:
If Lord Snowden's "Don't Count the Candles" is a meditation on the twilight of life, ABC's documentary "How Life Begins" (6:30 p.m.) takes viewers back to the very beginning. Executive Producer Jules Power predicts that his program will be controversial: "I expect some people to severely criticize this program." The show focuses on the science of human reproduction, from "the fertilization of the egg, cell division, embryonic development and the delivery of a child." I'd imagine there was some controversy about the show, complaints that television was dealing graphically with a subject matter best left to parents, and so on. I also suspect, as Power goes on to say, that there will be many "approving letters from parents, teachers and community leaders who will say it's about time TV dealt candidly with this subject."

Wednesday: The Avengers (6:30 p.m., ABC) presents the new companion to John Steed, Tara King, played by the shapely Linda Thorson. In tonight's story, Steed and King investigate the Alpha Academy, "where a fanatical headmaster is training youths for the domination of space." But to do so, they're going to have to deal with the hero of Friday night's WTCN movie—see more below.

Thursday: It's the premiere of the 1958 big-screen A Night to Remember, the definitive telling of the sinking of the Titanic, on the CBS Thursday Night Movie (8:00 p.m.). Based on the best-seller by Walter Lord, the movie stars Kenneth More as Second Officer Lightoller, one of the officers who performed nobly that night. Judith Crist called this a "not to miss" movie, a "thrilling document of the 1912 disaster at sea" with Kenneth More leading a supurb cast that "artfully permits the drama of life to supersede that of art." As any reader knows, I've been fascinated by the Titanic almost all of my life—I absolutely know that I watched this movie that night. It's one of the few times I can be that sure about something I watched that long ago.

Friday: At 6:30 p.m., WTCN leads things off with the sports documentary Jesse Owens Returns to Berlin, Bud Greenspan's masterpiece about the American Olympian's return to the site of his greatest triumph: the four gold medals he won at the politically charged 1936 Berlin Olympics. As well as being educational, it's a stirring, even moving, portrait of the dignified Owens, and a reminder of when athletes let their accomplishments in the arena speak for themselves. You can see it at YouTube, of course. Easter is April 7, so it's no surprise that tonight's Hallmark Hall of Fame (8:30 p.m., NBC) has a Biblical theme. It's James Daly and Kim Hunter in a repeat showing of Henry Denker's acclaimed 1961 drama "Give Us Barabbas." (That's on YouTube as well.) And that Channel 11 movie I mentioned earlier? It's I Aim at the Stars (9:00 p.m.), the biography of German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun (played by Curt Jurgens), mastermind of Germany's V-2 rocket who later became one of the brains behind the American space program. According to Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff (and other sources as well), the bitter joke in England was that the movie should have been called, I Aim at the Stars but Sometimes Hit London. TV  

March 19, 2021

Around the dial




There are certain questions in life that are simply unanswerable. When did time begin? What is the true value of pi? Will the Chicago Bears ever find a quarterback? To those questions can now be added a new one: "Wait—that show was a hit?" That's David's topic at Comfort TV, as he looks back to forgotten, short-lived shows that were hits in their time. 

At The Last Drive-In, monstergirl considers Michel Legrand's moody score for Norman Jewison's classic The Thomas Crown Affair, with Steve McQueen and Faye Duanway, and its memorable, Oscar-winning song "The Windmills of Your Mind," sung by the former co-star of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., Noel Harrison.

The Broadcatsing Archives at the University of Maryland links to a classic episode from the British series The Secret Life of Machines. It's a remastered cut of "The Secret Life of the Television Set," which takes you inside the machine that takes us inside what goes on outside.

Television's New Frontier: The 1960s moves to 1962, and the debut of one of television's greatest sitcoms, the show that critics hated and the audience loved: The Beverly Hillbillies. Read about how Paul Henning's baby made it to the small screen, and the stars who made it work.

Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts is one who truly appreciates the actors and actresses, stars and everyday performers, who helped make the entertainment industry memorable, and never lets their passing go unnoticed. This week was particularly grim; this link is to his obit of Yaphet Kotto, but you'll also want to read about Frank Lupo, Henry Darrow, and Nicola Pagett.

At Shadow & Substance, Paul interviews Scott Skelton, co-author of the new book Rod Serling’s Night Gallery:The Art of Darkness, which contains high-quality reproductions of the paintings that did so much to make the show so evocative. Fans will not want to miss this.

Finally, a charmng way to end the week: at The Lucky Strike Papers, Andrew shares an audio recording of Your Hit Parade celebrating St. Patrick's Day, in 1952, with a performance of Andrew's mother, Sue Bennett, singing "Great Day for the Irish." TV  

March 17, 2021

What I've been watching: February, 2021



Shows I’ve Watched:
Shows I’ve Found:
The Roaring 20s
T.H.E  Cat
China: The Roots of Madness

The Lone Wolf

I'm now three-deep in the world of the Warner Bros. detective series of the late 1950s and early 1960s, having polished off Bourbon Street Beat and continuing to travel down 77 Sunset Strip. With Hawaiian Eye and Surfside 6 still to come, it seemed like a good time to try a slight variation on the theme, which is what Warners must have thought themselves when they introduced The Roaring 20s to the 1960-61 season. 

(L-R) May, Provine, Reason
People sometimes accuse WB of operating an assembly line of cookie-cutter series, but this just isn't true at all. After all, the other shows I mentioned all focus on private investigators, but The Roaring 20s clearly breaks the mold by giving us two newspapermen—Rex Reason as beat reporter Scott Norris and Donald May as columnist Pat Garrison—who, in the course of their reporting day, just happen to act like detectives by solving crimes. Now we're obviously talking about a different genre here. And as their female sidekick, Pinky Pinkham, Dorothy Provine cuts a figure far different from Connie Stevens of Hawaiian Eye; sure, they might both be singers, but Dorothy dances as well, and she owns the Charleston Club, where everyone hangs out when they're not breaking news or solving crimes. Only a pseudo-intellectual could possibly confuse the two. Finally, whereas the other WB detective shows were set in contemporary, glamouous locales like Hawaii, Florida and New Orleans, The Roaring 20s takes place in New York City in, well, the 1920s. 

There is one way in which all these shows are alike, though: they're all dumb fun to watch. I don't mean they're stupid, or that the people watching them are stupid, though certainly some of us are. No, like the other shows from the WB factory, The Roaring 20s doesn't present intellectually stimulating puzzles a la Sherlock Holmes, or feature angst-ridden antiheroes or tackle allegorical social issues. What it does do is give the viewer an hour (minus commercials) of entertainment built around a core of likeable characters whose job is to track down the bad guys before they get away with murder, with just enough period details to remind you that you're in a world where Prohibition is still the law of the land but there isn't an Eliot Ness around to enforce it. And while I'm not sure about you, I can really use that kind of entertainment these days.

Similar to the other WB shows, Reason and May rotate as the leads (except for the first episode, which introduces them both), and occasionally show up in cameos in the other's episode, with Provine the constant every week, singing a song or two and doing the Charleston. For awhile it looked as if that might be all she was going to do, but in the eighth episode, "White Carnation," Pinky gets to take the lead in a story about her old flame (Ray Danton), who's been released from prison on a trumpted-up charge and is out for revenge. TV being what it was back in the '60s, you know the two of them aren't going to wind up together, but even so that doesn't prevent the ending from generating a genuine pathos.

In fact, if there's one actual difference between The Roaring 20s and the other shows from WB, it's that the show plays things pretty straight, with less of the humor that marks the others. I don't mean to suggest that it's humorless—it's too entertaining for that—but there's none of the occasional jokiness or winking moments that one gets used to in, say, 77 Sunset Strip. The closest thing to comic relief is Gary Vinson, who as copy boy Chris Higby serves as a kind of apprentice Jimmy Olson, but they wisely keep him from getting too irritating, and use him mostly as a messenger for plot points.

You're not going to grow brain cells by watching The Roaring 20s, and you won't learn much about the history of the era (although you do get to see some cool stock footage!), but you're probably not going to shout at the screen or wind up hate-watching it, either. These days, you could do a lot worse.

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It might help to think of T.H.E. Cat as a kind of American version of The Saint. Or maybe not. The improbably named Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat—T. Hewitt Edward Cat for short, and what kind of parents name their kid Tom Cat?—comes from a mysterious background: a former circus performer, a retired cat burgler, and now a professional bodyguard who uses his predatory intelligence, his cat-like reflexes, and his knowledge of martial arts in service of clients who need protecting from various baddies. Now that I think about it, with a background like that maybe he's a cross between The Saint and The Equalizer.  

Robert Loggia plays Cat, and he does a good job in the role—a cultivated accent that manages not to sound (too) affected; an agility and abruptness in the way he moves that is, dare we say it, cat-like; and an intimidation factor, whether in suit and tie or his all-black working duds, that must rank somewhere around 9.5 on a scale of 10. Now that I think about it, maybe he's a cross between The Saint, The Equalizer and Palladin in Have GunWill Travel. Anyway, he's the kind of hero where you know he's always going to come out on top, and half the fun is waiting to see him give it to the bad guys. R.G. Armstrong plays Cat's police contact Captain McAllister, who's honest and well-meaning and, well, about as effective as any other police captain in a series where he isn't the star, which is to say that even when he has the building surrounded with an impenetrable ring of steel, the would-be killer finds a way to get inside, leaving it to Cat to save the day. Robert Carricart is appropriately mysterious as Pepe Cordoza, Cat's old friend who owns the restaurant out of which Cat operates. Now that I think of it, maybe that makes it a cross between The Saint, The Equalizer, Have Gun—Will Travel and Peter Gunn.

T.H.E. Cat, which aired on NBC in the 1966-67 season, is from one of those obsolete genres known as the half-hour drama, which occasionally works to the show's disadvantage, requiring a wrap-up that can be both sudden and not quite fully fleshed out. Cat's adversaries (and sometimes his clients as well) also have a tendency to cross the line between enigmatic and eccentric, which can harm the overall dramatic impact. (I will admit, on this point, that it could be my fault, the result of watching T.H.E. Cat on Friday nights after The Wild Wild West and Batman.) It's a quibble, though, because Loggia's charisma in the role—and he has plenty of it—is enough most weeks to carry the show to a satisfying conclusion. And if we added any more shows to the formula, it might collapse under its own weight.

Like so many of the series I talk about in this space, T.H.E. Cat is available only on the gray market, with uneven quality from episode to episode, and it really deserves a commercial release. It might give this Cat at least one more life and the viewers out there one more chance to see a show that deserves a lot more attention.

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From the syndicated files comes 1954's The Lone Wolf, yet another story of a former thief-turned-private detective. Think of him as a cross between Simon Templar* and Hercule Flambeau—no, we're not going there again, even though, Michael Lanyard, like Templar, has a calling card: a medallion depicting a snarling wolf. And, judging by the number of encounters he has through the course of 39 episodes, he must order them by the bulk.

*It's said that The Lone Wolf was, in fact, the inspiration for The Saint

Lanyard is played, convincingly, by Louis Hayward, who projects the right mix of humanity (toward those he considers friends), menace (toward those who try to get in his way), and charm (toward the attractive stewardess, the attractive attendant at the counter, the attractive waitress, etc.). Stories often begin with Lanyard flying halfway around the world simply because a friend calls; along the way, he's subjected to many of the same pitfalls that frustrate private detectives everywhere: clients holding back the entire story, criminals who seem to be one step ahead, women who are as treacherous as they are attractive. He also suffers the same kind of physical punishment as his counterparts, those sucker punches from the guy hiding behind the door or the moll that conks him from behind when he isn't looking. And, of course, he'll even the score (and then some) before the episode's over. In fact, I'd say it's a toss-up as to who's the tougher between Lanyard and Cat (in this contest, the scribes from The Roaring 20s don't even stand a chance), but once Lanyard has the victim on the ropes, he'll beat him to a pulp (or what passes for pulp in the bloodless television of the '50s) until the police, or unconsciousness, intervenes. In it's own way, it's very satisfying. 

So we have a dependable premise and an attractive hero. What we don't always have is a convincing story; sometimes the solution is too easy, or too obvious, or too rushed—that old half-hour constraint again, although I ought to add that 30 minutes is about the right length here, and keeps the action going at a tidy pace. And, like other programs from the early '50's it's always fun to see actors in supporting parts who go on to pretty successful careers: Ernest Borgnine, DeForest Kelley, Harry Morgan, Marjorie Lord, Barbara Billingsley, Beverly Garland, and more. All 39 episodes of the series are available on YouTube, and while it's not going to win any awards, it will keep you entertained for a half-hour, and make you wish you had someone like Mike Lanyard on your side. TV