December 4, 2021

This week in TV Guide: December 5, 1964

I have a friend who, for the last 30 years without fail, has called me on November 1 to leave a message on my voicemail: "Let the holidays begin!" For him, it was the best time of the year; putting pumpkins and haystacks on the doorstep, other decorations throughout the house, and before long it would be Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, and then New Year's. Yes, it is the best time of the year.

I'm not quite as quick on the draw as my friend is; for me, it starts to sink in on Monday of Thanksgiving week. But there's no doubt that by the time we reach the December 5 issue of TV Guide, the holiday season is in full swing, and our television programming reflects it. There's not a lot this week, but what there is is big time, beginning with the very first airing of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, on Sunday afternoon's General Electric Fantasy Hour* (4:30 p.m. CT, NBC). The debut is accompanied by a full-color feature story with color pictures; in it, we learn that each figure cost upward of $5,000 to make, and it took 100 technicians and 22 room-sized sets to make the 25-year-old song into a reality. Even an eyebrow out of place could cost the production a week's worth of expenses to reshoot.

*It airs in the afternoon partly because it's a family program, partly because there's not yet the connection to adult nostalgia that there will be in years to come, partly because there's no doubleheader football showing on a regular basis, and mostly because this is the regular timeslot for GE's other big weekly show, College Bowl. It also preempts Meet the Press, for what it's worth.

This year will be the 58th broadcast year for Rudolph, and I wonder if anyone could possibly have imagined that when it started out? Says Arthur Rankin of producers Rankin-Bass, "When a film takes a year to make and costs a half-million dollars, you can be sure you won't see it on TV every day." No, but what about every year?

It's a bit early for other Christmas specials; we haven't yet created the avalanche of cartoons that will signify the toy-buying season; the only other one at present is Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol—but the other event this week spells quality as well. It's the movie We're No Angels, presented on Wednesday Night at the Movies (8:00 p.m., NBC), and those of who you haven't seen it really should. It tells the story of three criminals (Humphrey Bogart, in a rare comedic appearance, Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray) who escape from the infamous Devil's Island penal colony in French Guiana on Christmas Eve, and become involved in the lives of a good-hearted but hapless dry goods store manager (Leo G. Carroll), his wife (Joan Bennett) and their daughter (Gloria Talbott). The trouble begins when the absentee owner of the store, who's also the villain of the piece (Basil Rathbone, all but twirling his mustache), shows up unexpectedly.

The movie, directed by Michael Curtiz (who was also responsible for Casablanca and White Christmas, among many others), is perfect for anyone who can't take the saccharine sweetness and sickly sentimentality of the Hallmark/Lifetime made-for-TV schlockfests; the three escapees are, respectively, an embezzler (Bogart, wry with a hint of menace) and a pair of murderers (Ustinov, chewing the scenery wonderfully, and Ray, the wackiest of the three), and the tone throughout is that of a very dark, very funny comedy. By the way, did I mention their pet viper, Adolphe? You should check this out—I don't believe you'll be disappointed.

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During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Sullivan: Scheduled guests include Sophie Tucker; Sid Caesar; Jerry Lewis; drummer Gary Lewis (Jerry's son) and the Playboys, instrumental quartet; the folk singing [Chad] Mitchell Trio; singer-dancer Piccola Pupa; and comic Bob Lewis.

Palace: Phil Harris is the host and his guests include Ginger Rogers; comedian Bill Dana; the McGuire Sisters, who do a medley of their hits; singer Gary Crosby; the Jubilee Four vocal group; Dwight Moore and his mongrels; and the Merkys, acrobats.

Tough one this week. The headliners are solid on both programs—stars (Jerry Lewis and Phil Harris), sons of stars (Gary Lewis and Gary Crosby), comedians (Sid Caesar and Bill Dana), vocal groups (the Chad Mitchell Trio and the Jubilee Four). Ultimately, the tiebreaker goes to Ginger Rogers (even without Fred Astaire) and the McGuire Sisters, and that gives the slight edge to the Palace..

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's weekly reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the shows of the era. 

This week, Cleveland Amory sets his eyes on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. And for once, Cleve has good things to day in his review. I think, that is; sometimes it can be hard to tell. His description of Jim Nabors' Pyle is "a goof-off, a goldbrick and pea-brained knucklehead - and, on the occasions when he is late, a late goof-off, goldbrick and pea-brained knucklehead." In addition, however, Nabors is "as fine a broad comedian as your screen has mustered up this season."

Fine, too, is Frank Sutton, who up to this point has been seen most often as a small-time crook in shows like The Untouchables and Naked City, playing Pyle's foil, Sergeant Carter*. Sutton's sputtering reactions to Pyle's naïve bumbling, says Amory, have "that wonderful rage in reserve—the quiet, low-voiced, clearly enunciated third-degree burn."

*Not to be confused with Sergeant Carter on Hogan's Heroes.

Each week's show features at least one "epic" moment, such as the time when Carter, in desperation, tries to get the sleeping Pyle to sign a receipt. "Write your name," he whispers to Pyle, only to find out later that this is just what Pyle has written: "Your Name." Just as epic, though, is Amory's imitation of Pyle's thick Southern accent; "Naow, thayut's sneaky. Whut I done wuzn't sneaky," he writes at one point, and if Amory had written on a computer with spellcheck, that sentence would have broken it. My impression is that Amory doesn't see Gomer Pyle as great art, let alone great television; it's fun television, though, well worth an evening's viewing.

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It's the last day of the college football season, and NBC's game of the week is the Egg Bowl between Mississippi State and Ole Miss (1:45 p.m.), neither of which are having a very good season. So if that's not to your liking, the NFL has a Saturday game to offer as well, with the Green Bay Packers taking on the Chicago Bears from Wrigley Field (1:00 p.m., CBS). They're not having stellar seasons either, but it's something different. Besides, your alternative is the Miss America Rodeo—or Miss Rodeo America, as it's actually known—from Las Vegas (1:00 p.m., NBC), although I'll admit it might be fun to see Miss Alabama trying to wrestle steers with that sash and swimsuit on.* In fact, the most interesting football note is in the TV Teletype section, which notes that in two weeks ABC will be televising the Liberty Bowl, from inside the Atlantic City Convention Center in New Jersey—coincidentally, the venue of the Miss America pageant. Maybe they should have held the Miss America Rodeo there instead of Vegas.

*Oh, you mean it isn't that kind of Miss America?

On Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings travel to Yankee Stadium to play the New York Giants (1:00 p.m., CBS), followed by the Los Angeles Rams vs. the 49ers in San Francisco, joined in progress at around 3:30 p.m.; it's the last CBS doubleheader of the season. Meanwhile, on the AFL side of the ledger, the Boston Patriots play the Kansas City Chiefs (2:30 p.m., ABC). Maybe you're better off with Rudolph.

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It's still a little early for weekly shows to be running their Christmas episodes, but that doesn't mean they aren't worth watching. On Saturday, The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo (7:00 p.m., NBC), which was born in the wake of the success from last year's Magoo's Christmas Carol, presents the fourth and final part of "Robin Hood," with Magoo in the role of Friar Tuck, and Howard Morris voicing Robin Hood. That's followed by NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies, and a true classic, the crime thriller Bad Day at Black Rock, featuring a brilliant performance by Spencer Tracy and a nasty one by Robert Ryan. 

The weekend continues with Sunday's Wonderful World of Color (6:30 p.m., NBC), with the conclusion of "Big Red," starring Walter Pidgeon. That's followed by The Bill Dana Show; I've talked about him from time to time, always favorably, usually when he's playing his José Jiménez character. José's taken up many occupations, most famously an astronaut, but here he plays a bellhop, spun off from Make Room For Daddy, where he was an elevator operator.* 

*Ironically, one of Dana's costars is Jonathan Harris, who would later indeed go into space, in a manner of speaking.

Monday night begins with No Time for Sergeants (7:30 p.m., ABC), the unsuccessful sitcom adaptation of the very successful play and movie, both of which starred Andy Griffith. The TV version offers us Sammy Jackson, who graces this week's cover along with his series girlfriend, Laurie Sibbald. After that, you can opt for Andy Williams (8:00 p.m., NBC), and his guests in this pre-Christmas show are Robert Goulet and Bobby Darin. And speaking of ABC, what would Christmastime be without Der Bingle? This isn't his Yuletide clambake, though, but a regular episode of his single-season sitcom (8:30 p.m., ABC), in which he portrays a retired singer named Bing Collins. Hmm.

One of the more interesting shows of the week is Sounds of Freedom, a half-hour film on WCCO Tuesday night (6:30 p.m.): "The Rev. Bob Richards and his family tour Germany, France and England comparing America's modern supermarkets to the food markets in these countries." It only took me a moment to surmise (correctly, as it turned out) that this might be the same Bob Richards who—well, you might know him better for this: 

Yes, Richards was the first athlete to appear on the cover of the Wheaties box, as a result of his accomplishments as a three-time U.S. Olympian. From there he went on to become an ordained minister, physical fitness advocate, and political activist.

The Bell Telephone Hour (9:00 p.m., NBC) will have a fabulous Christmas show in a couple of weeks, but this week's show isn't bad: it's hosted by the great French entertainer Maurice Chevalier, with the equally great jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain, opera star Teresa Berganza, Stanley Holloway, and the puppet cast of "Les Poupees de Paris."

Besides We're No Angels (which I just finished watching a few minutes ago), Wednesday brings us The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (6:30 p.m., ABC), in which Rick and his frat brothers decide the "dancer" Bubbles La Tassle (Mamie Van Doren, who else?) would make a fine housemother for the fraternity. Am I wrong to think this bears a faint resemblance to Working Girl? On The Beverly Hillbillies (7:30 p.m., CBS), the Drysdale's new English butler (Arthur Treacher) mistakenly reports to the Clampetts instead, and on The Dick Van Dyke Show (8:00 p.m., CBS) Rob's not about to admit to Laura that she was right when she warned him about catching a cold while playing golf. Danny Kaye's guests this week (9:00 p.m., CBS) are Tony Bennett, Imogene Coca, and the singing Clinger Sisters. And by the way, on The Tonight Show (10:30 p.m., NBC), one of Johnny's guests is the very same Pete Fountain who appeared on Bell Telephone Hour last night.

Danny Thomas no longer has a regular series, but he's back on Thursday for his second special of the season (7:30 p.m,. NBC), with a cast including Jimmy Durante, Joey Bishop and Eddie Fisher. (Next week, we'll see Danny on the cover of a much earlier TV Guide, and ask if anyone remembers him anymore.) If you want to see it, that means you'll have to pass up the nighttime version of Password (8:00 p.m., CBS), with Paul Anka and Rita Moreno as the celebrity panelists. Have I mentioned before that Paul Anka was a very good, very intense Password player? And on KTCA's educational show Town and Country (9:30 p.m,), it's "Christmas plants for the home."

Friday night means Jack Paar's primetime show (9:00 p.m., NBC), taped in London, with Judy Garland, Robert Morley, and Randolph Churchill, Sir Winston's only son. This episode features a wonderfully entertaining, slightly tipsy Judy riffing on Marlene Dietrich in a wickedly funny bit.

Yes, I know the label on the clip says it was from November 25, but I believe this is a reference to when the show was originally recorded, not broadcast. Besides, November 25 was a Wednesday. 

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Finally this week, Friday is also the night for Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, which three weeks out of four was a dramatic anthology series, while the fourth week featured a Hope comedy special. He'll be doing his Christmas show in this time slot shortly, but tonight's episode (7:30 p.m., NBC) is "The Shattered Glass," in which "Five years ago, talented young architect David Vincent turned to the bottle after his girl friend Helen married another man. Now Helen's husband is dead, and David hopes to resume the romance." If any of this sounds the least familiar (and as my friend Mike Doran would point out, the world is filled with coincidence), let's skip ahead three years to the science fiction show The Invaders. The protagonist of that series is also an architect, also named David Vincent, who accidentally stumbles on an alien invasion after getting lost on a deserted road.

Now, my theory on this is that Vincent was drunk from one of his bouts with the bottle after Helen dumped him, which explains his getting lost. It's also why the authorities suspect Vincent merely thought he'd seen a flying saucer, when it was probably something else entirely. And, needless to say, it's one of those aliens who winds up killing Helen's husband, after which Vincent becomes conflicted, since the very aliens he's been trying to out are responsible for reuniting him with his lost love, and decides to give up the fight for good. Or maybe Helen's one of the invaders. Or perhaps after her husband dies, she marries a doctor in Indiana and becomes known as Helen Kimble.

That's the great thing about television, isn't it? Absolutely anything's possible. No wonder it's the (Chrysler) theater of dreams. TV  

1 comment:

  1. In case you were wondering, they just crowned Miss Rodeo America 2022 here in Las Vegas yesterday. According to her bio, Hailey Fredericksen, 24, resides on her family’s ranch in Wellington, Colorado. Beyond the crown, Hailey greatly enjoys learning how to breakaway rope, riding alongside her parents and dancing.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!