July 3, 2021

This week in TV Guide: July 4, 1964




James Lileks once said that every lawyer's secret dream was to have the theme to Perry Mason played at his funeral, and I've no reason to think this isn't the case. After all, according to the cover of this week's issue, Perry Mason is "The Indestructible Hero." But part one of Dwight Whitney's two-part profile of Mason deals not with its star, Raymond Burr, but its creator, Erle Stanley Gardner.

In 1964 Gardner is 74 and still going strong, pumping out Mason mysteries on a regular basis. (Whitney reports he dictates "several books a year.") To date, Gardner had written 73 Perry Mason books, having sold over 100 million copies. Perry has served Gardner well; it's gotten him four homes, including a ranch in northern California and a house in Palm Springs. Our image of Mason comes from having seeing Raymond Burr play him for nine seasons; we know what he looks like, how he sounds, how he interacts with Della and Paul; but until the birth of the series in 1957, Gardner didn't even bother to describe what he looked like, other than that he was big and broad-shouldered. "I can't tell y ou what he looks like," he tells Whitney. "I blurred everything as much as possible, wanted the reader to create his own image."

We also can't imagine anyone other than Burr as Mason, but several actors played him in a series of movies which weren't really very good. (In part two of the interview, which runs next week, we read about how disgusted Gardner was with the movie depictions of Mason, so much so that it was quite a struggle before he'd allow weekly television to have a crack at him.) There was a Mason radio series for several years, which made it to television (sans Perry) under the title The Edge of Night and ran for 28 years; you might have heard of it.* There was even a Mason comic strip. In fact, Raymond Burr didn't even try out originally for the role of Mason, but for Mason's nenesis, the hapless D.A. Hamilton Burger. The story goes that Gardner took one look at Burr, who was allowed to audition for Mason as well, and said, "That's Perry Mason." The rest, of course, is history.

*The Mason surrogate in Edge, Mike Karr, was played for several years by John Larkin, who played Mason in the radio series—and appeared several times as various characters in the television series.  

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The Republican National Convention is only a week away, scheduled to start on in San Francisco on July 13, which,  considering the luck the GOP had that year, should have been a Friday but was instead a Monday. It's hard to imagine now, but conventions used to be in the summer back then, not right around Labor Day. It's also hard to imagine, but coming into this convention there was no guarantee as to who was going to win. The favorite (and eventual winner) is Barry Goldwater, but he's facing a challenge from Pennsylvania governor William Scranton, a surrogate of New York's liberal governor Nelson Rockefeller, who had jumped into the race only a couple of weeks earlier.

This will be, in significant ways, a landmark convention for the GOP. It's the first time the liberal and conservative wings of the party have truly duked it out in public (the 1952 battle between Eisenhower and Taft wasn't nearly as visible, or as deep), and it's one of the first times we'll see a real hostility toward the media by the convention delegates. (former President Eisenhower, in his speech to the convention, will make passing mention to not allowing the media to exploit the party's fissures in public; the moment electrifies the delegates, who start booing and shaking their fists upward at the network broadcasting booths.) Goldwater's defeat will leave the Republicans in truly horrific shape; the recovery begins with Nixon's victory in 1968, and finally comes to fruition with Reagan's win in 1980.

The convention promises high drama, and the networks are ready, with coverage you wouldn't even expect from C-SPAN nowadays; NBC plans to televise the Platform Committee's hearings all week (4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday), and ABC offers a couple of hours of previews (Thursday, 12:30 a.m., and Friday, 9:45 p.m.). But CBS has what is, for my money, the best show for , one that might even bring a tear to the eye of the political junkies nostalgic for the good old days. It's called Great Conventions (Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.); hosted by Eric Sevareid, it's an hour of famous speeches, platform battles, floor fights, multiple ballots decided in smoke-filled rooms. 

The idea that conventions used to be dramatic, tense, battles for the heart and soul of a political party, with the outcome often in doubt until the last minute—well, for political junkies like me it's kind of sad. Today a political convention is as relevant as, well, someone's appendix. After all, I don't have one, and I get along quite well without it.

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Saturday is Independence Day, which, of course, means baseball: the Minnesota Twins are in New York for a holiday doubleheader against the Yankees, and the Twins television network has game one of the twin bill (Noon CT, WTCN). The Yankees will win the American League this season, their last time for over a decade; the Twins take the crown the following season. Neither wins the World Series, for what it's worth. 

When I think of the Fourth of July, one sport I don't think of is Olympic track and field, but tonight ABC presents coverage of the Olympic trials, taped this afternoon at Dowling Stadium on Randalls Island in New York. (8:30 p.m.) Today's winners will be heading off for Tokyo and the Summer Olympics in October.

Something else I don't normally associate with July 4 is the 24 Hours of LeMans, one of the greatest auto races in the world. The main reason I don't think of it because it's held in June—except, that is, in years like 2021 when it's postponed for a few months because of the virus. But in 1964 we're seeing taped coverage of the June 20-21 race on ABC's Wide World of Sports (4:00 p.m.). How quickly things change: the next year, ABC will be showing the beginning and end of the race live via satellite. Also on Wide World: coverage of the men's finals at Wimbledon, taped last Saturday. That won't be shown live in the United States until 1979.

Otherwise, there's no other holiday programming on the tube—not even Yankee Doodle Dandysave Lawrence Welk's tribute to American music. (7:30 p.m, ABC). That's not so surprising, perhaps; the Fourth of July has always been a communal, community event. Parades, picnics, fireworks. Better things to do than sit at home on a lovely summer day and watch television.

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There is, however more baseball, and that's one of the highlights from the rest of the week.

C'mon, Darren!
On Saturday afternoon, the syndicated rerun of Riverboat features a dilemma for Captain Grey Holden (Darren McGavin), who viewed his romance with Marie Tourette (Suzanne Pleshette) as just a dalliance. But she didn't, and she wants to get married. (Must be a case of Tourette's Syndrome?) Seriously, Darren: you're turning down Suzanne Pleshette? What's wrong with you, man?

It's always fun when shows set in the past have their main characters run into someone famous (or about to become famous), and Bonanza is no exception when, on Sunday, the Cartwrights run into novelist Charles Dickens, who's touring the United States and just happens to stop off in Virginia City. (8:00 p.m., NBC) The proud and supercillious Dickens is played by the proud and supercillious Jonathan Harris—perfect casting! (And before you complain, I'm a big fan of Harris, who was nothing like that in real life).   

On NBC's Monday Night at the Movies (6:30 p.m.), Dan Dailey plays baseball great Dizzy Dean in the movie The Pride of St. Louis. Richard Crenna plays his brother Paul (aka Daffy), and Joanne Dru is Diz's wife. The script is by Herman Mankiewicz, and newsman Chet Huntley (long before the Huntley-Brinkley Report) has a small role as a sportswriter. 

The Pride of St. Louis
serves as a warm-up for major league baseball's All-Star Game (Tuesday, 11:30 a.m., NBC), from spanking-new Shea Stadium in New York, right next to the World's Fair. It might be hard to believe nowadays, or maybe I've just gotten cynical over the years (after all, I miss political conventions), but at one time the All-Star Game was actually appointment television, back in the days when most people only saw the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week, unless you lived near a major league team (which might televise 25 or 30 games a year). It was a rare treat to see baseball's biggest names, and for those who did have a local team, it was the only time, other than the World Series, when you got to see stars from the other league. (My friend Steve knows what I'm talking about.) There are 19 players from both rosters who will wind up in the Hall of Fame; the American League blows a 4-3 lead in the ninth inning and loses 7-4.

Johnny Carson is on vacation for the holiday, and so Woody Allen is guest host for the week. Wednesday night (10:30 pm., NBC), Woody's guest is satirist Allan Sherman, which must have been a pip of a show. Other guests for the week include Bill Cosby and Godfrey Cambridge; with a comedian as guest host, it's not surprising that the accent's on comedy for the week. I never would have thought of Allen as guest host material, but he subbed for Johnny several times over the years, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

The show I'd probably have watched on Thursday is The Jimmy Dean Show (8:30 p.m., ABC); I always liked Rowlf, the first Muppet I ever saw; the other guests are Eydie GormĂ©, Jim Reeves, and Don Adams. A pretty good lineup, I'd say. Later that night, (11:30 p.m., KMSP), a rerun of Thriller features Boris Karloff himself in the starring role; those were some of the best episodes of that series.

Friday, Robert F. Kennedy is Jack Paar's special guest, reminiscing about the late President Kennedy. (9:00 p.m., NBC) It was on Paar's show back in March that RFK made his return to the public eye following JFK's assasination, so we shouldn't be surprised that he'd be a repeat guest tonight. George Gobel and Helen O'Connell are Jack's other guests. It's up against ABC's Fight of the Week, a heavyweight bout between Bob Foster and Ernie Terrell (9:00 p.m.); Foster wins the world light-heavyweight champtionship in 1968, while Terrell fights (and loses toel Barrymore) Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight title in 1967.

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I wrote a few years back about Breaking Point, the ABC psychiatric drama that I like a lot, and this week an unbylined article looks at one of the show's stars, ◄ Eduard Franz (left), an actor of great dignity—with emphasis on the word actor. Franz, the author says, "has a genuine passion for acting, but his secret weapon is that it is not the ruling passion of his life." He paints and draws, has been married to the same woman for 40 years, and has many, many friends. "In short, he is the very model of an essentially civilized man managing to move gracefully in an essentially uncivilized profession."

Because of his noble profile, especially his "large Roman nose," Franz his been cast as "learned doctors of philosophy, Viennese physicians, Supreme Court justices, and Indians." He came in through the ranks with Eugene O'Neill's Provincetown Players, acting with Paul Robeson and Walter Huston; he described O'Neill as "a man nobody knew, a shadowy figure who sat at the back of the house watching and listening." He gained his credentials on the stage because Ethel Barrymore, the grand lady of the theater, insisted on having him appear in three plays with her. She didn't particuarly like him, but there was something about him, a calming influence, to which other actors were drawn. Mario Lanza wouldn't do a movie without him.  

In his current role, as Dr. William Raymer on Breaking Point, he is the elder doctor to Paul Richards' young Dr. McKinley Thompson. He wasn't terribly excited about playing the surrogate father, a la Dr. Zorba and Dr. Gillespie, but he wasn't dissuaded either. He just wanted to make sure he wasn't window dressing. When it appeared that Richards was going to get the lion's share of the attention, he calmly went in to the producer's office, reminded him that the two actors were co-stars, and demanded his release. He didn't throw a tantrum, go to the press, suddenly become "sick" during shooting. As a result, he got his fair share of storylines. Both Richards and Franz are very good in their roles, but I have to admit a fondness for those in which Franz has the lead.

Breaking Point only runs one season—a pity—but, as far as it goes for Eduard Franz, "as long as there's room for civilized men in television, he'll be working.

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Finally, For the Record's Henry Harding says NBC is planning to give the made-for-TV movie another shot. The network started out with Johnny North, starring Lee Marvin, Ronald Reagan and Angie Dickinson, but that wound up being too violent, and it was released in the theaters as The Killers. But now they've started on a new production, tentatively titled The Widow-Makers, with John Forsythe, Senta Berger and Jane Wyatt. The plan is to air it on either Wednesday or Saturday Night at the Movies, sometime in the fall. And guess what? The name changed—to See How They Run—but it did indeed air as the first TV-movie, on October 7, 1964. The story: "Three children are stalked by hired killers after they unknowingly take evidence pointing to the existence of a corrupt international cartel, which has just murdered their father." Yep, sounds a lot less violent than The Killers to me.

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Hey, it's the Glorious Fourth tomorrow, so if you're celebrating, firing off some rockets of your own, or just going somewhere for the long weekend, be sure to be careful out there, and don't forget to take a moment to remember what the day is all about. Enjoy! TV  

2 comments:

  1. Interesting that you bring up, "The Breaking Point" this week. Last night, I broke the seal on my Dr Kildare DVD for the 1963-64 season. The first episode I watched was "Four Feet In The Morning," a radical plot re: teen pregnancy that started on Kildare and finished on the NBC counterpart of Breaking Point, "The Eleventh Hour" with Ralph Bellamy and Jack Ging.

    In the episode a mature Wally Cleaver (Tony Dow) plays a spoiled 17 year old who gets his girlfriend (Marta Kristen, a la Judy Robinson)pregnant. The end of the Kildare episode showed Dr Gillespie and the character played by Bellamy wondering how the teen father will handle his sudden responsibility which would complete on that week's episode of 11th Hour.

    Unfortunately, the Dr Kildare DVD does not have the 11th Hour completion episode. At the tender age of 11, I remember seeing the rerun of this episode of Kildare in the summer of 1964 while staying with my grandparents. 57 years later I had to wonder why they let me stay up and watch it!!!

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  2. Ironically, the original air date of this episode was Thursday, November 21, 1963.....

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!