March 13, 2021

This week in TV Guide: March 12, 1954

his week is kind of a mixed bag here at Retro TV Guide Headquarters, as we like to call it. (Well, OK, it's only me that calls it that, and just now is the first time I've ever done so, but let's think of it as literary license.) There's no one dominant topic, but a lot of smaller ones that, I think, adds up to a pretty good assortment.

And since St. Patrick's Day is this coming Wednesday, what better way to celebrate than with a toast to WGN-TV's up-and-coming young singer, an Irishman named Michael Delaney Dowd Jr., better known to one and all as Mike Douglas. He's recently been voted Chicago's favorite male singer in the TV Guide poll, no surprise since he's a familiar face on TV as as the host of WGN's Hi Ladies as well as one of the singers on DuMont's Music Show.

It's been a long road to this point for Douglas; he hit it big in 1945 as a guest on Strike it Rich, where he parlayed the song "Strange Music" (from the Broadway hit Song of Norway) into a stint as singer with Kay Kyser's band, which morphed into a role as the voice of Prince Charming in Disney's Cinderella, and a radio show heard over 500 stations nationwide. Following that was a tour with an old Kyser colleage, the comedian Ish Kabibble, as what was called "a poor man's Martin and Lewis." A friend of his who worked at WGN urged Douglas to audition for the station's show Luncheon Party. The station's general manager saw him, said "Sign him up!" and the rest is history.

    Mike Douglas and friend
Except it isn't, not yet. Douglas might have been riding high in 1954, but as rock and doo wop took over, his career, like so many crooners of the time, foundered. He moved to California, was house singer in a nightclub, toured from venue to venue; he and his wife flipped their home to make ends meet.  And then the Douglas luck clicked again; in 1961, an old friend from those Chicago days hired him to host an afternoon talk-show host in Cleveland. His obituary in The New York Times tells the rest of the story: Within two years the show had branched out from Cleveland to other Group W stations in Boston, Baltimore, San Francisco and Pittsburgh. "By 1967 it was the most popular show on daytime television; the 14 minutes of commercials on the 90-minute show produced about $10 million annually for its creators." The show runs until 1981,* and Douglas lives happily in retirement until his death in 2006, on his birthday. And that is the rest of the history.

*The show's longtime producer, Roger Ailes, first met Richard Nixon when Nixon appeared on the Douglas show in 1968; the rest of his story is history as well.

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Now it's on a review of "The Program of the Week." and as regular "It's About TV" readers can attest, that frequently means a visit from your favorite critic and mine, Cleveland Amory. Of course, we're still a few years away from Cleve's weekly column, but even so, this week's Program of the Week is well worth checking out: the "rollicking TV comedy" Our Miss Brooks, starring Eve Arden as "America's No. 1 Schoolma'am."*

*I should also mention here that a reader took me to task a few months ago for ignoring Eve Arden when writing about an issue which featured her on the cover. I wasn't about to make that mistake again.

There's ample reason why Our Miss Brooks is such a hit, starting with Arden herself. Her "wry acceptance" of the various predicaments into which her students find themselves, combined with her own penchant for madcap antics, is a surefire combination that the viewing public finds irresistable on a weekly basis. And while Arden certainly has personal glamour in spades, she wisely plays down that aspect on TV, all the better to make more believable the increasingly unbelievable plotlines that the writers seem to cherish. It's true that the slapstick results in "a steady flow of laughs," but our unnamed critic suggests that toning it down a bit and making the people slightly more human and less caricaturish "could elevate this show into the sock category," which in Variety-speak means an even bigger hit.

Not to be lost in all this is Arden's excellent supporting cast, particularly Gale Gordon (above) as the pompous, often exasperated Principal Conklin, a precursor to his many, many years playing a similar foil to Lucille Ball. Bob Rockwell is "pleasant" as Mr. Boynton, the science teacher who remains the longtime object of Miss Brooks' affections, and Dick Crenna, as perpetual student Walter Denton, fits nicely into the slapstick nature of the show. Acknowledging that the show won't win any awards for intellectual content, it is nonetheless a "clever, funny" show, and Connie Brooks remains the high school teacher we all wish we had.

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And now for one of my favorite sections, the TV Teletype, which as you know, comes to us from both New York and Hollywood. 

October 19, 1953 was hardly a date that will live in infamy, at least not on the scale of Pearl Harbor, but it was certainly an important date for Arthur Godfrey and Julius LaRosa; it was on this date that the Old Redhead bounced LaRosa from his radio program for allegedly becoming too big for his britches. ("Lacked humility" was the key phrase, an iconic instance of the pot calling the kettle black.) With that as the backdrop, the New York Teletype notes that Arthur Godfrey and Friends has fallen out of the Top 10 for "the first time in months," with a corresponding drop of eight ratings points. Last month the show was sixth in the ratings; this month it sits at 15th. Teletype editor Bob Stahl cautiously notes that "it's probably too early to draw any conclusions," but five months after the fact, the handwriting is on the wall. Godfrey remains a force in American entertainment, but never with the level of popularity or success he had prior to firing LaRosa. It has to be, to this day, one of the most spectacular cases of self-immolation on record.

Also from the New York side of the Teletype, NBC's planning a blog of Saturday morning kids' programming this fall: "The kid lineup will start at 8 A.M. with a juvenile version of Dave Garroway's Today show." Funny; I thought that's what we have right now." On the Hollywood side of the aisle, Charlton Heston, frequent star on CBS's Studio One (they call him "Studio One's gift to the movies"), has a big role coming up on the big screen: he'll be playing Moses in The Ten Commandments. And in a sign of things to come, the pay-TV company Telemeter say that "their 148 Palm Springs subscribers are averaging $10 a month for pay-as-you-see new movies on TV." That adds up to nearly $100 a month today, which adds up to a lot of Netflix subscriptions.

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So far we've spent our entire time looking at the stories at the beginning and end of the issue, and we haven't even touched the content in the middle, what a lot of you come here for: the programming itself. Time to rectify that, don't you think? We'll start with the most provocative program of the week.

Monday night, the spotlight falls on Studio One's production of "Thunder on Sycamore Street," by Reginald Rose. (9:00 p.m,. CBS): 

"Neighbors attempt to run arespected citizen out of town when they learn that he is a former convict."

Now, anyone familiar with Rose's tendency to infuse his writing with a strong social justice message might read that description and suspect that there's more to the story than that—and they'd be right. In the story's original incarnation (based on an actual incident), the target of the vigilantes had been a black family moving into a white neighborhood. Not surprisingly, the network and sponsors demanded that the story be change. Rose complied, but subversely: until the play's end, the viewing audience would not be told why the family was being targeted; they would only know that neighbors were determined to run them out. 

As Eric Barnouw describes it in Tube of Plenty, "This evasive strategy turned the play into an extraordinary social Rorschach test. Comments indicated that viewers filled in the missing information according to their own predilictions. Some at once assumed he was a communist; others, that he was a Puerto Rican, athiest, Jew, Catholic, Russian, or Oriental." The revelation that he was an ex-con was almost secondary to this social experiment. Concludes Barnouw, "The sponsors found, with some uneasiness, that they had presented precisely the kind of controversial drama they had tried to avoid." The drama received widespread praise, with Jack Gould of the Times describing it as, next to 1984, "as fine a work as Studio One has done this season." 

Just think of how much more effective it might have been had TV Guide not spilled the beans in the description by telling you up front that the neighbor in question is an ex-con. Way to go, TV Guide; do you issue spoiler warnings with your subscriptions?

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Good day!
What else? Well, since the start of TV Guide's television week is still Friday, we'll begin by looking in on the debut of an intriguing program with the intriguing title of Dilemma. (7:30 p.m. CT, WGN) The show, hosted by radio personality Paul Harvey (and created by Harvey's wife, Angel) presented a weekly "discussion on social problems." This week's panel consists of "Dr. Louis L. Mann of Mt. Sinai Temple, foremost leader of Reform Judaism; Dr. John Kane, head of the department of sociology at Notre Dame; Dr. Kenneth Hildebrand, minister of the Central Church of Chicago; and Dr Beryl Orris, expert in the fields of Inter-personal Relationships and Psychiatry." Now this is a show I'd like to know more about; did it air on DuMont, or was it strictly local? (Probably the latter.) How long did it run? What were the topics discussed each week? It's one of those shows about which you can't find very much information, except for this single line at the always-reliable Wikipedia, which describes Dilemma as "the [acknowledged] prototype of the modern talk show genre." Whether that's accurate or not, I don't know; the few articles that mention the show simply repeat the prototype assertion. What I do know is that I'd like to know more about it, and that's a dilemma of its own.

I've noticed that NBC Opera Theatre, which generally aired on Sundays throughout its run, was occasionally shown on Saturday in these early years (capitalizing on the popularity of the Metropolitan Opera Saturday matinee radio broadcasts?), and this Saturday 3:00 p.m. the presentation is a new opera, The Taming of the Shrew, by the American composer Vittorio Giannini. It's based, obviously, on Shakespeare's play, "with additional material from Romeo and Juliet and the Sonnets." What's particularly interesting is that the lead, Petruchio, is played by none other than actor and musical theater star John Raitt, father of Bonnie. (I've never considered Raitt as an operatic voice, although he was a very good singer.) It's a pity this opera isn't performed more; from what I can tell, this was only the third production (it debuted in 1953), and it received both popular and critical acclaim—Olin Downes, writing in the New York Times compared the opera favorably with Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, high praise indeed.

Sunday means Ed Sullivan, of course, and on Toast of the Town (7:00 p.m., CBS), Ed welcomes pianist-comedian Victor Borge, Leslie Caron in a scene from Lili, Montgomery Clift, star of From Here to Eternity, dancer Hal Le Roy, Dorothy Hayden's Irish Steppers, Goodsmith Brothers dog act, dancer Peg Leg Bates, and—none other than the aforementioned Julius LaRosa! (and Godfrey really, really hated Sullivan for having LaRosa on so often.) Opposite Ed on NBC, it's the Colgate Comedy Hour, with Jimmy Durante as this week's host, joined by Eddie Cantor, Robert Montgomery, and opera star Patrice Munsel. Included in the festivities is Montgomery's dramatic narration of the history of Durante's theme song "Inka Dinka Doo," and Muncel's operatic treatment of it. I'll bet that was fun.

Monday also marks the debut of CBS's Morning Show (7:00 a.m.), the first in a long, long, long list of failed efforts by the network to unseat NBC's Today, a list that will come to include Jack Paar and Dick Van Dyke; for now, however, we'll be content with Walter Cronkite, Charles Collingwood, Frank Reynolds on the local news break, and the Baird Marionettes. Well, the morning isn't big enough for two chimps.

Sounds like my kind of show, doesn't it?
Tuesday night is TV's potpourri in a nutshelll: Bishop Sheen talks about "man and his role in the universe" on Life Is Worth Living (7:00 p.m., DuMont), Terry (Sherry Jackson) looks for a career as a child actress on Make Room for Daddy (8:00 p.m., NBC), Edward R. Murrow takes a look at the stories behind the headlines on See It Now (9:00 p.m., CBS), Fred Allen searches for today's talent on Judge For Yourself (9:00 p.m., NBC). and Robert Q. Lewis hosts the panel show The Name's the Same (9:30 p.m., ABC). 

On Wednesday at 8:00 p.m., it's NBC's version of Kraft Theatre*, with "You Touched Me," a comedy written by Tennessee Williams and Donald Windham—and you'd have to figure that if it's a comedy, Williams would need a co-author. He was the theater's golden boy when this play hit Broadway in 1945, but according to the Times, "Every playwright is entitled to a slight fall from grace occasionally. "You Touched Me!" is Mr. Williams's." Ouch.

*Kraft sponsored two half-hour anthologies under the same name; in addition to NBC's Tuesday night version, another, completely different episode airs Thursday on ABC. Hey, it's the sponsor's money; they can do whatever they want.

Finally (and I'm never going to get used to the idea of Thursday as the end of the week—not until we start getting a three-day weekend all the time), a lot of people will be tuned in to You Bet Your Life (7:00 p.m., NBC) just to hear Groucho's witty repartee with contestants. But is it all as spontaneous as it seems? Not according to the ad for next week's issue, the ad for which reads: "Groucho Marx: Are His Ad-Libs For Real?" The answer, apparently, is no, but that's for another week; we've had just too much fun here.

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OK, one more. Saturday's matinee movie on WNBQ (11:30 a.m.) is A Boy, a Girl and a Dog. I don't know what it's about, but if there's any justice in the world, it ought to start, "A boy, a girl and a dog walk into a bar". . . TV  


  1. Great stuff. I sure enjoy reading this column.

  2. I sure enjoy this column. Thanks for posting.

  3. Covergirl Maria Riva is still with us at age 96!


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!