July 17, 2021

This week in TV Guide: July 17, 1954

If you're going to be called the "King of the Cowboys," you'd sure as shootin' better be able to back it up. In the case of Roy Rogers, he's earned that title as sure as he's earned his spurs. For eleven years now, Rogers has been the biggest Western star at the box office; his eponymous television show, in the middle of its third season, is the #10 ranked show in the Nielsens. And so for those, like Dan Jenkins, author of this week's cover story, who consider themselves a little too hip for the world of kiddie Westerns, the question remains: "What does it take to become King of the Cowboys?" It has to be more than simply how you draw your gun, ride your horse, capture the bad guy, and rescue helpless damsels, right? 

The answer, according to a Rogers associate, is that it requires "a relationship, a bond, between the star and his audience which has nothing to do with this week's script." This bond between Rogers and his audience, Jenkins writes, is "a very real thing, and it goes back to the days when Rogers was "an underpaid cowboy star" at Republic, and discovered that he was getting a lot of fan mail. As them mail grew, Roy found it impossible to answer every one. What did he do? He organized a rodeo tour for the express purpose of using the profits to hire a staff to make sure every letter was answered. Rogers doesn't need to resort to tours to fund his staff now, of course, so how does he spend that spare time? By flying around the country, visiting seriously ill children in hospitals and their homes. 

Roy and his wife, Dale Evans (Queen of the West) love children. They have six: Roy's two from his first marriage to the late Arlene Rogers, one from Dale's early marriage, and three adopted. The only child the two had together, Robin Elizabeth, was born with Down syndrome and died of complications from mumps shortly before her second birthday. (Although Jenkins, discreetly, leaves out the details and only mentions her early death.) Following her death, Dale wrote the book Angel Unaware, "which has since become a rod and a staff to literally thousands of parents faced with this most terrible of blows: the loss of a child." It is, Jenkins says with no cynicism whatsoever, the story of "the deep faith of two simple peole who just happened to stumble across buckets full of long green; whose basic philosophy is: to love children is to love God."

There is little to differentiate his movies and TV shows from those of other cowboy stars—nothing to account for the size and devotion of his fans. No, there can only be one explanation, as Jenkins says: "this intangible feeling between parent and parent, and between children and star that has lifted the Rogers-Evans combine to the top and kept it there." And while Roy's basic naivete consists mostly of trusting people and working on a handshake basis, it is "a quality to be misunderstood only at your own peril." His stardom lasts until his death in 1998; his name becomes a virtual synonym for a hero. Through it all, he remains the same, simple man with a simple philosophy. As a close friend says, "Many cowboy stars, once they've made their splash, decide reluctantly that it's good business to play up the kids off stage as well as on. Roy never came to that conclusion. He was born with it. It makes quite a difference."

Roy Rogers was more than a cowboy, more than an actor. He was a real-life hero, who never traded in his boots and spurs for feet of clay. They don't come along very often, do they?

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Eddie Albert is the host of NBC's Saturday Night Review (or Revue, if you prefer), which airs at 9:30 p.m., ET as the summer replacement for Your Show of Shows; it's the last time we'll see Eddie for three weeks, as a series of guest hosts (including Cesar Romero and George Gobel, Hoagy Carmichael and George Jessel) take over while Eddie is off filming Oklahoma, where he plays Ali Hakim. Up against him is Jack Paar (9:30 p.m, CBS), who welcomes Betty Clooney, Johnny Desmond, and Pupi Campo, along with Jack's long-time bandleader Jose Melis. According to the Hollywood Teletype, we can expect Jack to show up with a three-hour Saturday afternoon variety show in the fall; instead, he winds up taking over for Walter Cronkite on The Morning Show.

Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town (Sunday, 8:00 p.m., CBS) is on the road this week, at the Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York, with singer-bandleader Vaughn Monroe, dancer Carol Haney, singer Doretta Morrow, Mexican trumpeteers Rafael Mendez and his twin sons, the Gautier Steeplechasers animal act, and pantomimist Stan Kramer. Ed's competition this week, as is the case for the early part of the 1950s, is the Colgate Comedy Hour, or, in this case, the Summer Comedy Hour (8:00 p.m., NBC), which features Kaye Ballard, Jules Munshin, dancer Jonathon Lucas, singer Betty Madigan and Heather-Jo Taferner. I thnk I'l have to give Ed the edge on this one.

During the summer, Robert Montgomery Presents (Monday, 9:30 p.m., NBC) employs a repertory company (which includes Bob's daughter, Elizabeth), and this week the company is joined by Orson Bean for "It Happened in Paris," a spoof on radio shows in which the sponsors of a popular program for honeymooners discover that their "lovey-dovey" honeymooner hosts aren't married. Oops. 

Is it wrong to think that Tuesday's highlights come at the beginning of the broadcast day? On Today (7:00 a.m., NBC), we get films of that loveable simian and co-host J. Fred Muggs getting his shots in preparation for his upcoming European tour. To all those celebrities who couldn't resist tweeting pictures of getting their virus shots, is this really who you want to imitate? (Just kidding, Muggs!) Meanwhile, on The Morning Show (7:00 a.m., CBS), host Walter Cronkite welcomes "Bing Crosby and Donald O'Connor," harmonizing on "Back in the Old Routine." It's not really Bing and Donald, but Bil and Cora Baird's puppets, regulars on The Mornng Show, and an unbylined article explores how the Bairds apply their trademark satire, from Charlemane the lion (right) spinning the latest records to musical sequences featuring a frog impersonating Mel Torme, a foxhound doing Crosby, and a cocker spaniel playing Johnnie Ray.

The unlikely paring of Alan Ladd and Liberace headline Wednesday's Red Skelton Review (8:00 p.m., CBS). Later, on Kraft Theater (9:00 p.m., NBC), Arthur O'Connell stars as a middle-aged father who can't measure up against the heroes that his daughter reads about in her stories about knights and medieval chivalry; perhaps coincidentally, this week's unbylined review of Mr. Wizard, which airs Saturdays on NBC, makes a similar point about how "Father may know best, but he can use a little help from [Don] Herbert every Sunday afternoon. What is that about a prophet without honor in his own home?   

I like the sounds of Thursday's Four Star Playhouse episode "The Witness" (8:30 p.m., CBS). Dick Powell stars as an attorney defending an accused murderer, "though all the evidence suggests he's guilty." We might have some doubt about the guilt or innocence of the accused, played by Charles Buchinsky, but we'd have fewer doubts if we knew then that Charles Buchinsky would later become famous as Charles Bronson.

On Friday, Walter Cronkite is back, this time as the quizmaster on It's News to Me (10:30 p.m., CBS), in which panelists Anna Lee, Quentin Reynolds, John Henry Faulk and Nina Foch "try to guess famous news events." Having newsmen emcee shows like this is nothing new; Mike Wallace hosted several game shows early in his career, and when It's News to Me began in 1951, it was with John Daly as host. Too bad they couldn't have used America's Most Trusted Man as a host after the Quiz Show Scandals, isn't it? (You can check the show out for yourself here.

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As you've probably noticed, I'm wont to drop, from time to time, a mention of Mystery Science Theater 3000, one of my favorite shows,* and if you share that fondness, you'll rejoice at not one, not two, but three appearances of MST3K movies from this week's issue—sightings in the wild, so to speak, perhaps some of the first times these movies appeared on television.

*Having had occasion to watch it on an almost daily basis thanks to Pluto and Shout TV, I've a mind to elevate it into the Top 10 as some of the bingeable of television programs.

Saturday night at 10:00 p.m. on WENS, Tom Neal and Jane Adams star in The Brute Man: "Disfigured in a college chemistry lab, a killer seeks vengeance." Sunday night (11:35 p.m., WDTV), it's Last of the Wild Horses, a Western starring Mary Beth Hughes and James Ellision, in which "Continual raids on wild horses provoke feud between a wealthy rancher and his neighbors." And on Thursday (11:00 p.m., WJAC), the mountain-climbing classic Lost Continent, with Cesar Romero: "Searching for a missing atom-powered rocket, a plan crew lands in an island jungle and comes upon a lost continent." The listing has Hillary Brooke as his co-star, but she's in only one scene; it would have been better to include a name from among Hugh Beaumont, John Hoyt, Whit Bissell, Sid Melton, and Chick Chandler. I've seen many of these movies pop up in various issues over the years, but never three at once.

Occasionally I'll watch the non-MST3K versions of a movie, though not with any of these three, and it can be remarkable to see how much had to be cut from them in order to fit the timeslots. Even so, many times the movies are so bad, the stories so incomprehensible, even the cut footage wouldn't help. I admit that Lost Continent and The Brute Man are two of my favorites, though; they must have been part of the same film package that Best Brains bought for MST3K, in which case we should be looking for more of these in the future.

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I've undoubtedly mentioned this before, but one of the pleasures of these really old issues is finding the names and events that mean more today than they did at the time. For instance, in "Pittsburgh Parade," Bill Adler notes that local Pittsburgh TV personality Mitzi Steiner, former host of the Kiddie Castle show on KDKA, "is in Hollywood (with her husband, Jack Tolen) looking for TV work under the name of Mitzi McCall." And it is under that name that, along with her second husband, Charlie Brill, she has entertained throughout a career of more than fifty years.

Another local Pittsburgh figure is Ray Scott, who hosts Sports Editor weekdays at 6:55 p.m. on WDTV. Three years later, he'll become the play-by-play voice of the Green Bay Packers, and as the team comes to dominate the NFL in the 1960s, Scott becomes one of the most recognizable, and most popular, announcers in the game. I always loved his "just the facts" style of broadcasting; we could use more of that today.

Columnist Harold V. Cohen notes that "Phil Silvers is being groomed for the Red Buttons time next season. I've always felt Silvers could be a very funny fellow on television with half a chance, and I'm sure he will be." He's one season off in his estimation, but come the fall of 1955, Silvers gets his half-chance as Sergeant Ernie Bilko in You'll Never Get Rich, which you'll probably know better as The Phil Silvers Show. As for Buttons, Cohen hopes the networks haven't given up on him; "That little fellow has a genuine comedy talent that is going to be channeled in the right direction one of these days and there will be no stopping him." Buttons, whose show was rated #11 in 1952, never does make it big again on television, but he channels that talent into an Academy Award in 1957 for his dramatic performance in Sayonara.

And George Burns is one busy man, according to the Hollywood Teletype. Not only is he starring with his wife Gracie in The Burns and Allen Show, his McCadden Productions company has a couple of series in the works. One of them, Life with Father, starring Leon Ames and Lurene Tuttle, premieres in November and runs for a couple of seasons. The other is a new comedy starring Robert Cummings as "a Hollywood commercial photographer," and debuts next January for a four-and-a-half season run. In first run it's called The Robert Cummings Show, but its more familiar syndicated title is Love That Bob, and my friend Hal Horn can tell you all about it.

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This week's starlet has a role she can really, well, sink her teeth into. It's Vampira, hostess of KABC's 11:00 Saturday night movie (appropriately called The Vampira Show), and the show—along with its star—has been a sensation ever since. 

Vampira's real name is Maila Nurmi, and despite what you see there, she's actually an attractive, blue-eyed blonde (measurements: 38-17-36) who was discovered several months ago when she attended a costume party in her getup and was seen by ABC producer Hunt Stromberg Jr. The rest, as they say, is history. (Speaking of history, Maila's uncle knows a bit about history himself: he's the great distance runner Paavo Nurmi, winner of nine Olympic gold medals and former world record holder in the mile.)

Nurmi delights in being eccentric off-camera as well as on; when she's wearing her five-inch nails, she has to be waited on hand and foot; her lunch consists exclusively of Bloody Marys ("It's almost bedtime" for vampires, she points out), and rarely ever goes out in public as anything other than her famous character.

Her personal life is every bit as colorful as that of Vampira; she had a child with Orson Welles while he was married to Rita Hayworth, was a close friend of James Dean, and was the model for Maleficent in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. After The Vampira Show is cancelled by KABC, she takes the character to KHA for a similar show, and continues to parlay her role for several years, including a memorable performance in the immortal Plan 9 From Outer Space. Today, she's remembered as television's first horror host, and that's something you can hang your hat on. Or your wig, as the case may be.

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And finally, an answer to one of the questions that has vexed humans for decades, caused men with minds greater than mine to scale mountaintops in search of the wise counsel of lamas, and lies at the heart of everything that we hold dear. It's deeper than the meaning of life, greater than why bad things happen to good people, and has more impact than life, the universe and everything:

Why do TV Guide's listings run from Saturday to Friday?

As we've noticed in the earliest issues of TV Guide, the listings originally ran from Friday to Thursday, and in this week's message from the editor, we're told that the decision to change the format was not made lightly, but only "after careful study of how the magazine could best improve its service to readers." But first, a tutorial on how each week's edition of TV Guide is assembled:

Collecting the mass of information that appears in the magazine each week requires staffs of trained personnel in New York and Hollywood, the major origination points for network programs, and local staffs in each of the cities where TV Guide is published. Details on network programs move from both coasts to local offices throughout the country on our own private leased wire Teletype system. In each city, information on locally originated programs is obtained from the stations and correlated with the network information received via Teletype.

All this takes time, of course, and during the 15 months that TV Guide has been in business nationally, meeting deadlines has been a constant struggle. And so: by starting on Saturday rather than Friday, "we now will be able to bring you those extra items of late information."

I'll be frank: the whole explanation was kind of anticlimatic. I was expecting something profound, perhaps even existential: aligning the television week with the restorative powers of the weekend, for example, Instead, it's the publishing equivalent of "I Subscribed to TV Guide and All I Got Was This Lousy Explanation." 

Still, to quote Bing Crosby in White Christmas, while it may not be a good reason, it's a reason. We don't have printed television listings anymore, and if your goal is accurate, up-to-the-minute information, it's a good thing: what used to require days to update can now be done in a matter of moments and instantly delivered to you via the internet or on your television. The romance of publishing, like that of newspapers, is a thing of the past; it's the kind of thing we sacrifice in the name of progress. TV  

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate the mention of Ray Scott. I grew up in east central Illinois and in the mid-60s, he was the TV voice of the Packers on CBS, and was the NFL lead announcer for the playoffs. While we lived in Bears broadcast territory, we got a lot of Packer games too. Scott was the best I ever heard. Minimalist in style, he expertly told you what you needed to know about the games and the players with a pleasant economy of words.
    Funny, I don't remember if anyone else was in the booth with him. I do believe CBS used two-man booths (like NBC with Curt Gowdy and Al DeRogotis).


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