May 15, 2021

This week in TV Guide: May 17, 1958

Although Danny Thomas is on the cover of this week's issue, the article within is actually about Marjorie Lord, the "second wife" to Thomas' character, Danny Williams, on his successful sitcom.
Lord joined the show in the fourth season, after Williams' "first" wife, Jean Hagen, left the show (partly, it has been said, because of her acrimonious relationship with Thomas). The writers solved the problem by killing off Hagen's character Margaret between seasons; when the show resumed for its fourth season, Danny Williams was now a widower, it being explained that Margaret had "died suddenly" According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, this was the first time a main character had ever been killed off in a sitcom, though it certainly wouldn't be the last.

There are, generally speaking, three reasons why an actor leaves a television series: they're tired of or unhappy with the role, they leave because of a contract dispute or are simply fired, or they leave due to illness or death. It's always a roll of the dice when a cast change is made - some shows, like The Danny Thomas Show, adapt without missing a beat. Some, like M*A*S*H, evolve into a series with a much different tenor, while Doctor Who famously made the change in lead actors into an integral part of the show, introducing The Doctor's ability to change appearance through regeneration - a little trick that has enabled the series to continue (with one lengthy break) for over fifty years. Some, such as Bewitched, create a whimsical "which Darrin do you like best?" history, with fans forming camps behind one or the other actors. Some shows, like Route 66, suffer either artistically or in the ratings when they change main characters, losing whatever chemistry made the show a success; these series generally wind up in the cancellation bin.

The article itself doesn't go into the reaction that must have occurred when Hagen's character was killed off, noting only that "her absence has not hurt the popularity of the show, which has consistently landed in or near TV's Top 10." It will remain on television until 1964, which seems to qualify this change as a success. It could have been a failure though, and one wonders, if the recast show had bombed and it therefore became an accepted fact that you couldn't recast a main character, what television history might have been like.

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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 include French entertainer Maurice Chevalier; Sophie Tucker; comedian Jack E. Leonard; song stylist Sallie Blair, Carol Lawrence and the West Point Glee Club.

Allen: Steve's guests are comedians Lou Costello and Sid Gould; TV disc jockey Dick Clark; singers Beverly Kenny and Ronnie Deauville; columnist Abby Van Buren and Maurice Gosfield.

I've mentioned before that I enjoy these shows because they can tell you who was big at the time, but there's another level to it. You're really big if you don't have to be identified. For example, we're told that Maurice Chevalier is a French entertainer, that Dick Clark is a TV disc jockey, that Lou Costello is a comedian. But Sophie Tucker is just, well, Sophie Tucker. She was a singer, a very popular entertainer of the first half of the century, known as "The Last of the Red Hot Mamas." You might as well have mentioned "Western actor John Wayne"; that's how unnecessary a description is. Now, you're probably going to ask me about Maurice Gosfield. Well, he was no Sophie Tucker, but you might remember him as Pvt. Doberman on The Phil Silvers Show, or voice of Benny the Ball on Top Cat, and that's good enough for me. But I digress, don't I? This week's winner is Sullivan, by a song.

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On a special 90-minute episode of NBC's Sunday afternoon news program Outlook, Chet Huntley looks at the forecast for the next ten years for Israel. The discussions center around irrigation, immigration and military training, all of which have played significant roles in Israel's history.

Now, the odds are that any ten-year period you look at in Israel's future is going to include either at least one outright war or multiple military conflicts of one kind or another. In this case, it's the Six-Day War of 1967, in which the Israelis launched a preemptive strike against Egypt, which had been massing troops along the common border. At the request of Egyptian president Nasser, who suffered massive losses in that initial attack, Jordan and Syria also became involved. When the dust had settled, less than a week later, Israel had scored a decisive military victory, capturing the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. It was a dramatic demonstration of the country's willingness to act aggressively and unilaterally to any perceived threat to its security. When you recall that the duration of wars used to be measured in centuries, the idea of a major war lasting less than a week is shocking.

Since then, the region has been no stranger to continued turmoil. If you were to choose another ten-year period, you'd likely run into the Olympic Massacre in Munich in 1972,  the Yom Kippur War in 1973 (in many ways the sequel to the Six-Day War), the first Gulf War in 1991, and countless low-level exchanges and terrorist incursions, not to mention the raid on Entebbe*. You also would have seen the peace accords between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and Jordan.

*Many of which have been made into television movies and documentaries. One could do an entire piece, if not a book, on how the Middle East conflict has been portrayed on television.

Really, has there been any country in the post-World War II era that has had as dramatic a history as that of Israel? And I wonder if any of this could have been foreseen in Chet Huntley's report?

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Keeping with the political theme, on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m., President Eisenhower delivers what is described as a "major address on the national economy" to the American Management Association, live from the Astor Hotel in New York City, and introduced by Vice President Nixon.

I find this interesting on multiple levels, none of them concerning the actual content of the speech. For one thing, it's is being carried only on NBC; CBS and ABC both have their regular programming. That suggests the White House didn't ask all three networks for airtime. So did they purchase the time from the network, or did NBC cover it as if it were a news event? Did Eisenhower supporters purchase the time on behalf of the president? The likely answer—at least to me—is that the American Management Association bought the time themselves. Not only does it give the president's speech visability, it raises the profile of the AMA. 

Nowadays a speech like this would be shown on the news channels—if, of course, it met their definition of news—and it wouldn't be any big deal. But in an era when Americans still weren't used to having their president as a regular visitor in their living room, this might have attracted quite a bit of attention. Only the fans of The Bob Cummings Show will resent it.

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We're just on a political roll, aren't we? On Wednesday, Kraft Theatre (8:00 p.m., NBC) presents, live, part two of "All the King's Men," adapted by Don Mankiewicz from Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer-Prize winning political Gothic horror novel, and directed by Sidney Lumet. I have to admit that until reading this issue, I was familiar only with the 1949 movie, which won an Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as a Best Actor Oscar for Broderick Crawford's magnificent performance as the demagogue Willie Stark. In the television adaptation, Neville Brand stars as Stark, with Maureen Stapleton as political operative Sadie Burke, the role that won a Supporting Actress award for Mercedes McCambridge, and Fred J. Scollay as journalist Jack Burden, played in the movie by John Ireland.

Over the years, we've seen many television adaptations of well-known movies. Offhand, I don't know if any of those movies were as successful as All the King's Men had been. I also don't know if All the King's Men had yet appeared on home television in 1958; if not, I can certainly understand why a made-for-TV version would have been an attractive proposition. I do know that this Kraft Theatre production was critically successful; it made a star of Neville Brand, whom Time described as a "relative unknown" prior to this performance. Maureen Stapleton was nominated for an Emmy, and she and Brand won Best Actress and Actor at the 1958 Sylvania Television Awards. Too bad it's not online, but a kinescope does exist at the Wisconsin Historical Society. 

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You know, that's just about enough with politics; let's get on to something more interesting.

I've written off-and-on during this time period about Sid Caesar, who was never quite able to recapture the magic of his years with Imogene Coca on Your Show of Shows; as his star faded, he also struggled with an addiction to alcohol and drugs. In 1958, he's hosting Sid Caesar Invites You, his third series; he's been doing television, much of it live, more or less constantly for over eight years. It's no real surprise, then, that we read in the news and notes section that Caesar "is reported physically ill as a result of the severe strain of this current season." As a result, he's "had to reach into his happier past and buy sketches used on the Show of Shows which made him famous." A comic genius, and a troubled man.

We also read that the eccentric actor/comedian/pianist/composer Oscar Levant, currently hosting a talk show in Los Angeles, is being looked at to possibly have his show transferred to a national audience. I like Oscar Levant a lot: he had an acid, mordant wit; he was a complete neurotic who spent significant time in various mental institutions; a classical pianist who studied with Arnold Schoenberg, worked with Aaron Copeland, and was friends with George Gershwin and Al Jolson; a sidekick to actors like Fred Astaire in movie musicals, providing a necessary antidote with his sarcastic humor; and, as we read, a talk show host. As he once said, "There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line."

Here he is in one of the very rare recordings of his own show, with guest Fred Astaire. The quality is pretty bad, but it gives you a very good feel for the show:

And here is a recording that demonstrates his classical music credentials, performing Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F Major from An American In Paris:

Like Sid Caesar, a very troubled man—and a very, very talented one.

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The highlight of this week's sports calendar is the second jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, telecast live on from Pimlico in Baltimore (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS). Tim Tam, the Kentucky Derby winner, adds the Preakness to his resume, and becomes a heavy favorite to take the Belmont Stakes in three weeks, only to succumb to injury in the home stretch, finishing second to Cavan. His consolation prize: a long and successful stud career. Oh well—there's more than one way to measure victory, I guess. On Sunday, The Dinah Shore Show (8:00 p.m., NBC) features "actress" Ginger Rogers, "husband-and-wife acting team" Ida Lupino and Howard Duff, and "comedy duo" Mike Nichols and Elaine May. (See Sullivan vs. Allen for an explanation of that joke, if you've forgotten.) That's a winner in any book. 

Film director King Vidor (The Champ, Duel in the Sun, War and Peace; nominated for five Academy Awards) plays himself in an episode of Burns and Allen (Monday, 7:00 p.m., NBC), looking for an emcee for the annual Screen Directors' Guild dinner. George Gobel, whose show alternates every other Tuesday with Eddie Fisher's, has Fred MacMurray as his guest for the last show of the season (7:00 p.m., NBC). Dan Duryea stars in the U.S. Steel Hour drama "Hour of the Rat" as a war veteran suffering from what we'd now call PTSD, who's vowed to kill the Japanese officer who made life in a prison camp a living hell (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m., CBS). Friday, Natalie Wood is one of the guests on The Frank Sinatra Show (8:00 p.m., ABC), while Jack Carter is the interviewee on Ed Murrow's Person to Person (9:30 p.m., CBS).

And what about Thursday, you ask? Well, it's one more trip into the world of politics, as President Eisenhower dedicates the opening of the new WRC radio and TV facilities in Washington, D.C. (1:30 p.m., NBC). And why do we care? Well, this:

At 1:23 into this brief video, NBC head David Sarnoff presses a button and the picture transitions from black-and-white to color; this valuable bit of footage is the oldest piece of color videotape in existence. It really is a striking image, isn't it? It's not the first colorcast, but just seeing the transformation shows us why television would never be the same, and I think that's the right note on which to end the week, don't you? TV  


  1. Considering the fact that David Sarnoff had introduced television at the 1939 New York World's Fair less than twenty years earlier, it was most appropriate and auspicious that he would be the one to officially add color, too.

  2. Actually it's the son, Robert who pushes the button. Robert Sarnoff, who gave NBCers the immortal phrase: Nepotism Before Competence. General David Sarnoff is seen talking to his supreme commander: President Eisenhower.

    1. Funny; I always thought NBC stood for "Nothing But Commercials." Guess I've been conditioned by watching too many Indycar races.

  3. Hi there!
    It's been a while, and I'm out of practice, so bear with me ...

    - Here are some bits 'n' pieces from the listings from the Chicago edition that caught my eye:
    - On Saturday, Have Gun, Will Travel features June Lockhart in her second appearance as a Lady Doctor in the West; she was still a season away from the Lassie gig, but that's another story ...
    Anyway, I'd suggest that you look up the listing for this episode, and give us your reaction to it (no spoilers here, I want to be sure you really read it).

    - On Monday, Bingo At Home, which Channel 5 (NBC) launched at half past noon, has Mike Douglas as host-singer-number caller, with a girl singer, jazz quintet, and full orchestra for backup (it was, as they say, A Different Time).

    - Later that same day, Matinee Theater has "Nine-Finger Jack", with Eva Gabor as the target of a "professional lady-killer" who aims to make her his 12th target.
    Matinee Theater is one of those "lost shows" which NBC didn't bother to save; too bad about that- I'd like to see this one, and so, I think, would you, one you see who's playing the lady-killer (again, no spoiler; I want you to see for yourself).

    - Still on Monday: On Burns And Allen, that's Charles Vidor making the guest appearance with George and Gracie, not King Vidor, who made very different movies.
    Charles Vidor, from Hungary originally, made high-toned romances mainly, usually with bigger budgets than normal for '50s Hollywood; as memory serves, he had an accent which George had some fun with (King Vidor, born in Texas, would not have presented such an opportunity).

    - On Wednesday, The Steel Hour has Dan Duryea's throwdown with his Japanese prison camp jailer, Sakamura.
    In the Close-Up, Sakamura's player is IDed as Kaie Deei.
    Just for fun, try saying that name aloud - sound it out.
    OK, no game this time:
    Kaie Deei = Khigh Dhiegh, who a few years on broke through as Dr. Yen Lo in The Manchurian Candidate 1.0 (you know, the ,good one).
    Wo Fat was a few years after that, but you get the idea ...

    - Finally (for now, anyway), in the color section, I'd suggest that you read the profile of Douglas Edwards, whose nightly CBS evening newscast was (at the time) the clear leader in a nightly news race which really wasn't much of a competition ...
    ... context - it's wonderful!

    Hoping this gets through - for various reasons ...

    1. Hey! Wondering where you'd been--glad to see you're safe and sound! I loved that Douglas Edwards article; wished I'd had room for it. Perhaps in two or three years when I do an encore version of this writeup, I'll add it in.

      By the way, I laugh at how some of the listings from back in this day refer to him as "Doug Edwards"--getting a little informal, aren't we?

    2. P.S. I usually make corrections when someone points out an obvious error, but your writeup of Charles Vidor was so good, I didn't want people to wonder what you were talking about!

  4. Sophie Tucker was billed as "Last of the Red Hot Mamas" and not "Last of the Red Hot Lovers." Last of the Red Hot Lovers is a comedy by Neil Simon and it has nothing to do with Miss Tucker.

    1. You're right, of course. Can't remember whose fault it was, and I'm not going to look it up again in the issue. I'm almost certain I typed what I thought and not what I saw. Thanks!


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!