November 27, 2021

This week in TV Guide: November 25, 1961

In 1962, Bob Dylan adapted a Canadian folk tune called "Peter Emberly" into a song which he titled "The Ballad of Donald White." It's not one of his more well-known songs, and he didn't perform it often, possibly because he only wrote the lyrics.

The song begins:

               My name is Donald White, you see,
               I stand before you all.
               I was judged by you a murderer
               And the hangman's knot must fall.
               I will die upon the gallows pole
               When the moon is shining clear,
               And these are my final words
               That you will ever hear.

In Anthony Scaduto biography of Dylan, a friend named Sue Zuckerman recounts the story behind the writing of the song. Zuckerman "recalls watching television* with [Dylan and Suze Rotolo] one night (February 12, 1962). The program was about crime and capital punishment—a film called 'A Volcano Named White.' A 24-year-old black man was sitting in his prison cell in Texas talking about his life, its oppression, his cries for help that were ignored, until he finally killed somebody and was now waiting to be executed. "Bobby just got up at one point," Miss Zuckerman says, "and he went off in the corner and started to write. He just started to write, while the show was still on, and the next thing I knew he had this song written, Donald White."

*WPIX in New York.

On Wednesday night at 8:00 PT, we see the original telecast of that documentary, The Volcano Named White, produced by Seattle's KING-TV and broadcast on its sister station, Portland's KGW. Scaduto's description of the show isn't quite on the mark; White's crime occurred not in Texas but in Washington State. But the bones of the story are there: on December 24, 1959, Don White was accused of the murder of two people, strangers he had never met: a white great-grandmother and a black longshoreman. White was arrested and tried for the crime, and in May 1960 a jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death. Today, he sits on death row in the state prison at Walla Walla, waiting while his appeal follows the process.

The story, narrated mostly by White himself, examines "the shortcomings of society which contribute to the creation of a criminal and killer" through the environment in which the 24-year-old White grew up: an intolerable childhood spent with an unbalanced foster mother, in and out of reformatories and jails, receiving medical treatment in various institutions. And yet White is also a talented writer and painter with an IQ of 120. And so the question is raised: how does a man like this wind up a brutal killer in the death house? 

You can see how Dylan would be tempted to romanticize White's plight, at a time when the civil rights issue is front and center. Look at how Scaduto accepts the  narriative that White sits imprisoned in Texas—don't things like this always happen in the South?

In fact, the murders which White committed aren't quite as romantic as the folk ballads would have it. In 1962, White appealed his death sentence to the Washington Supreme Court; the Court decision denying his appeal includes White's own description of the first murder, that of Mrs. Alice Jumper (my apologies to anyone who might be bothered by the graphic language):



As I was passing the laundry room, I looked in and noticed a white woman doing something with some clothes. She was either folding or hanging up clothes. I decided to go into the laundry room to use the head. The woman had her back to me as I entered the door and was standing over by one of the dryers. I walked past the woman into the back and tried the door to the head but it was locked. I then turned around and started back out. When I got even with the woman I just punched her with my fist knocking off her glasses and knocking her to the floor. The glasses slid across the floor to a spot near the door. The woman wasn't knocked unconscious by my blow and she grabbed me around the legs and by one hand. I then lifted her up off the floor real fast and fairly high so that her legs flew up in the air. I then dropped her and her head hit the cement floor before the rest of her body. The woman still wasn't unconscious and was trying to get up. I then picked her up and took her back into a small storage room. I laid her down on the cement floor on her back with her head toward the door. She still wasn't unconscious so I hit her three or four times with my fists in her face. She didn't move anymore then except she sort of raised her arm and I removed her watch and ring. I then started to leave but then came back to where she was lying. I had earlier torn off her panties and had ripped her dress so when I got back into the room I had sexual intercourse with her. I had intercourse with her for about a minute but did not reach a climax. I would describe this woman as being about 45 or 46 yrs. of age with grayish black hair and with a stocky build. I don't remember what kind of clothes she was wearing. As I walked back out of the storage room, I noticed the woman's glasses laying near the door. I picked them up and put them in a laundry tub nearby. 

To top things off, White would, later that day, murder black longshoreman Willie Leroy Dixon at Seattle's Yesler Terrace Housing Project. Keep in mind that this murder, as well as the subsequent murder White committed, occurred on Christmas Eve. White was convicted of first-degree murder in Mrs. Jumper's death, and second-degree murder for the death of Dixon.

White's appeal does not claim innocence; the above, after all, comes from his own confession. Instead, the appeal is based on several technical issues, including White's confession having been recorded without his knowledge, and the refusal of the trial judge to permit psychiatric testimony that had been obtained under the influence of truth serum, which would have enabled the jury to "better understand the basis of the psychiatrist's opinion that [White] had a psychotic reaction which was chronic, recurrent, and episodic." Although White's appeal was denied and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to get involved, a subsequent appeal was upheld in U.S. District Court, overturning White's conviction and ordering a new trial, which occurred in 1966 and resulted once again in White's conviction, and this time a sentence of two concurrent life terms. Washington Governor Daniel Evans commuted White's sentence to time served on June 30, 1972. 

Bob Dylan's song ends with the following lines:

               But there's just one question
               Before they kill me dead,
               I'm wondering just how much
               To you I really said
               Concerning all the boys that come
               Down a road like me,
               Are they enemies or victims
               Of your society?

To the best of my knowledge, neither Dylan nor anyone else wrote a song upon White's release. 

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There are other, less volatile, programs on this week. 

For most of the country, this weekend's top college football matchup pits undefeated Ohio State against bitter archrival Michigan, but you can probably tell by the way this sentence begins that such will not be the case in this week's issue. Yes, out West, viewers are getting the battle for the Apple Cup between Washington State and Washington, live from Seattle. (Saturday, 1:15 p.m., ABC) Washington, winner of last season's Rose Bowl, enters the game with a record of 4-4-1, while Washington State, led by end Hugh Campbell (who will win five consecutive Grey Cup championships as a coach of the Edmonton Eskimos) is 3-6. Maybe it's not Ohio State-Michigan, but it's a tight game anyway, won by Washington 21-17. 

Later Saturday (8:30 p.m., CBS), The Defenders presents an intriguing situation: the Prestons (E.G. Marshall, Robert Reed) defend a man (Edward Binns) who was arrested for a murder committed during a robbery. He then suffered a complete nervous breakdown, and has spent the last 25 years in a mental hospital. He's now being released—and he'll be put on trial for the crime. The premise reminds me a lot of the Naked City episode "Which Is Joseph Creeley?" which I wrote about here. (And, you'll note, my friend David Hofstede cited this episode in his comment on that piece. I love it!)

On Sunday (8:00 p.m., CBS), Ed Sullivan's guests are actor Richard Boone, singers Johnny Mathis, Sophie Tucker and Gloria Lynne, comedians Jackie Mason and Will Jordan, and country singers Deedy and Bill. Later, Hugh Downs appears as himself in Car54, Where Are You? (8:30 p.m., NBC)—Toody and Muldoon (Joe E. Ross, Fred Gwyne) nick Hugh for speeding, and try to leverage it into getting their friend on the Jack Paar show. (Hugh, by the way, fills in for Jack on Tuesday night.) 

One sure way to tell what the hot trends are is to watch kids shows; on Monday, the space race comes to Kukla and Ollie (5:00 p.m., KGW), as Kukla interviews the first "lady astronaut"—Beulah Witch. (Who beats Valentina Tereshkova into space by a good 18 months.) Jimmy Durante, playing himself, is special guest on The Danny Thomas Show (9:00 p.m., CBS), and Dennis Hopper is—what else?—a psychopathic killer on 87th Precinct. (9:00 p.m., NBC) No typecasting at all, right?

If you're a fan of MST3K, or schlock horror movies in general, you'll recognize the premise of Tuesday's Red Skelton Show (9:00 p.m., CBS), which features special guests Marie Windsor and John Carradine: in a sketch called "The Great Brain Robbery," Dr. Prager (Carradine) plans to send a gorilla into space with a human brain—George Appleby's (Red). Next, on the discussion show Family Castle, it's the first seasonal program of the year: a method of wrapping Christmas presents for mailing is shown. (9:30 p.m., KOAP)

A few months ago I wrote about the David L. Wolper documentary series Hollywood and the Stars; Wednesday we see the de facto pilot for that series, Hollywood: The Golden Years (7:30 p.m., NBC), a one-hour look at Hollywood's silent era, culminating with the premiere of The Jazz Singer. Gene Kelly narrates; Elmer Bernstein composed and conducted the music. If you're more interested in the present than the past, Steve Allen gives you a good reason to feel that way: special guest Sophia Loren. (7:30 p.m., ABC)

Some classy entertainment on Thursday, but you'll need two sets to catch them both. At 9:30 p.m. on NBC, Hallmark Hall of Fame presents "Victoria Regina," with Julie Harris as Queen Victoria, James Donald as Prince Albert, and Basil Rathbone as Disraeli. That takes you to 11:00, which means you'd miss all of Yves Montand on Broadway (10:00 p.m., ABC), as the French star teams up with Polly Bergen, John Raitt, Helen Gallagher, and Bobby Van. A pair of great shows, but they'll cost you Sing Along With Mitch and The Untouchables in return.

On Friday, Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic return with a new season of Young People's Concerts (7:30 p.m., CBS; the first in the series to be shown in primetime). Tonight's subject: "What is Impressionism?" No, it's not Rich Little or Frank Gorshin; it's the French composers Debussy and Ravel. (Follow the link to the video.) I'm sure this would be considered way too elitist for kids today. And Dinah Shore takes the prize for star power (9:30 p.m., NBC), with her guests Frankie Avalon, Nelson Eddy, and Milton Berle. And it's all brought to you by S&H Green Stamps!

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In addition to The Volcano Named White, a couple of other shows merit pullout status. First, NBC's occasional documentary series Now. . . In Our Time presents "The Good Ship Hope" (Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.), a look at the famed American hospital ship (privately financed) that travels around the world, spreading medicine and good will. Ralph Bellamy narrates, and in a separate article writes about the journey that he calls "one of the most dramatic experiences of my life."

The S.S. Hope spent nearly nine months in Indonesia and South Vietnam, "[providing] medical training—and some curing, operative and postoperative treatment" in the area. Bellamy recounts the conditions the doctors found, which left them "in something bordering on disbelief" as they toured Bien Vien Hospital in Saigon, as "hundreds of the lame and the blind were streaming in off the streets," waiting patiently for the doctors to get to them. Hope doctors became involved immediately, helping the overworked doctors treat some of the 2,500 patients they saw every day. From Saigon, the doctors headed to Can Tho, an area in which Vietcong guerrillas operated almost every night, and then to Phung-hiep, where guerrillas had attacked just two hours before. Bellamy describes how the villagers live in fear of the Communists—"[T]hese gentle people want no part of Communism. They are furiously opposing it. They're desperate for help. They are deeply moved by the American help being given through the SS Hope." It is, indeed, quite a story.

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Hope of another kind is the message of Billy Graham in his article "Spreading the Word Throughout the World," a tie-in to an NBC documentary The World of Billy Graham, that airs Wednesday at 10:00 p.m., almost as an antidote to The Volcano Named White. The documentary, narrated by Alexander Scourby, tells of how the North Carolina farm boy became a internationally-renowned evangelist and confidant of world leaders and presidents, and shows Graham both on the road and back home in Montreat, North Carolina.

"Christianity," writes Graham, "is a faith with a built-in compulsion to communicate. It is a secret that cannot be kept; a light that cannot be hidden; a dynamic that cannot be contained." Its progress began with the apostles traveling by ship and communicating the message via letters to Asia Minor and Europe; Gutenberg's press carried the Word through books written in the common language of the people. Radio enabled the Gospel to be taken to the ends of the world. And now, television: as the Chinese say, "A picture is worth a thousand words," and television, Graham writes, is the ideal medium to fulfill Christ's command that the Word should be proclaimed throughout the world. 

Graham relates how, during the 14 weeks in which his New York Crusade was televised Saturday nights on ABC, "scores and hundreds of people were brought to Christ and the church." One man, listening to the broadcast in a bar, "left his drink and ran to Madison Square Garden, where he took his place with those deciding for Christ." He then returned to the family from which he had been separated. A pharmacist 700 miles away locked up his store and traveled to New York; he's now studying for the ministry.

Television makes this evangelization possible, Graham says. In an era when the threat of Communism and its dedicated followers is omnipresent, it is only through a moral and spiritual awakening that the threat can be defeated. And Graham is convinced that "television, as the greatest means of communication, has a vast responsibility in the rekindling of spiritual values in the West." What more can you say to that besides "Amen"? TV  

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