July 4, 2022

What's on TV? Saturday, June 30, 1956



Usually I try to come up with something relevant to the day's listings; a local angle if there is one. You'd think that would be easier when we're dealing with the Southern Minnesota Edition—which, face it, looks a lot like the Minnesota State Edition minus Duluth. Maybe I've mentioned this before, but you'll note that the baseball game of the week isn't carried in the Twin Cities—that's because of the two minor league teams, the Minneapolis Millers and St. Paul Saints. It was a great time for rivalry between the two, especially on the 4th of July, when the teams would play a doubleheader, one in each city. Well, we don't have anything like that to celebrate the 4th anymore; both teams were superseded by the arrival of the Twins, and the Saints were reborn in 1993 as an independent minor league team (they're now the Triple A affiliate of the Twins). No use crying over foul balls, though, since baseball is almost unwatchable today. But back in the 1950s—well, enjoy the games, everyone. And Happy Fourth!

July 2, 2022

This week in TV Guide: June 30, 1956




I think it's appropriate, for reasons which will quickly become apparent, that we start right in with our look at Sullivan vs. Allen, the Sunday night showdown between Ed Sullivan and his NBC rival, Steve Allen.

Sullivan: Ed salutes producer-director John Huston tonight. Heading the list of Hollywood stars who have worked with Huston is Gregory Peck, star of the new film Moby Dick. Huston's career is shown through film clips of this and other motion pictures, and personal appearances by Peck, Jose Ferrer, Orson Welles, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Burl Ives, Peter Lorre and Mary Astor. A special sketch will be done by $64,000 Challenge winners Vincent Price and Billy Pearson. Price has acted in several of Huston's films and Pearson has worked as a jockey for the director and will soon appear in one of his films.

Allen: Steve's guests include singing star Elvis Presley, comedienne Imogene Coca, comedian Andy "No Time for Sergeants" Griffith, vocalists Eydie Gorme and Steve Lawrence and, in a special remote from the Berkshire Music Festival in Lenox, Mass., Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong and his band.

Do you have it figured out? Elvis Presley first appeared with Ed Sullivan on September 9, 1956, so this might be thought of as "Elvis before Elvis." And yet Presley was no newcomer to television, having appeared several times on the Dorsey Brothers' Stage Show, as well as the Milton Berle Show. In fact, it was the Berle appearance on June 6, with his controversial "bump and grind" version of "Hound Dog," that set the stage for the Allen show. Allen knew that Elvis meant ratings, which he needed for his battle with Sullivan (a friendly one, unlike many of the feuds that Ed found himself in), but he also wanted to make sure that he wouldn't wind up with a brouhaha similar to what had happened with Berle. 

The result, as documented here, was—different. Allen's "comedic concept of presenting low culture in a high-culture setting," as Presley biographer Peter Guralnick put it, was having Presley sing the song to a basset hound, an emasculation that will surely live in television infamy. It was a brilliant masterstroke for Allen, who with one stroke not only defused the Presley controversy, but trounced Sullivan, 20.2 to 14.8 in the Trendex ratings. Presley was humiliated by the spectacle; Priscilla said that after the experience, "he didn't like Steve Allen at all." The show lives in its entirety; you can see it here.

Presley's fans were aghast; record producer John Landau, 14 when the show aired, said that "As a child, I was deeply offended. There was something wrong there. "Elvis, why you letting them do that to you?" Newsweek columnist John Lardner, defending Presley, said that "Allen’s ethics were questionable from the start. He fouled Presley, a fair-minded judge would say, by dressing him like a corpse, in white tie and tails. This is a costume often seen on star performers at funerals, but only when the deceased has specifically requested it in his will. Elvis made no such request—or for that matter, no will. He was framed."

Ed Sullivan would have the last laugh, though. While Allen was hoping for more appearances, Sullivan was on the phone to Colonel Tom Parker the next morning. As Allen recounted, Sullivan "offered him $50,000 to make, I don’t know, three or four appearances on Ed’s show. Our top then was what the top price throughout television was, $7,500 a week, and I wasn’t interested in paying anyone any more than that. So by this bold stroke, Ed simply took Elvis away from us."

I suppose you'd say that with all this, Steverino should be a runaway winner for the week, but not so fast: with his all-star cast paying tribute to John Hustson (Sullivan did several such shows over the years commemorating various stars or events), Ed takes second place to nobody. Therefore, the only verdict this week is Push.

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It would make the perfect American Express card commercial: Do you know me? I was a star on Police Woman, and before that I was a "dangling participle" with Frank and the Rat Pack. I've acted with the Duke and Dino, Lee Marvin and Gregory Peck and Ronald Reagan, and nobody will forget my performance in Dressed to Kill. I was married to Burt Bacharach, and I've been called one of the world's sexiest women. But all that was after I became a honey blonde. Do you recognize me as a natural brunette? 

Such is the life and times of Angie Dickinson, who in 1956 is a 23-year-old up-and-comer, a "girl who had not yet become a 'name,' but who, at the same time, was not a bright-eyed novice." Starting last October, she agreed to keep a diary for TV Guide "of the shows she worked, the shows she had to turn down, the shows she missed, the money she made and the money she had to spend."

Between October and mid-May, Angie did "five live shows, eight film shows, three movies, and three filmed commercials." She grossed just over $6,000 for the eight-month period, while her business expenses totaled $3,000, and her agent's fee amounted to another $600 (10 percent). Due to her success, her established fee for a live hour television show rose from $191 (union scale) to $600, and her film fee went from $500 a week to $750. Her agent can now demand "nothing but 'important featured roles'," and Angie calls it "an exceptional year." Her income in 1953 was under $4,000; by 1955 she grossed $13,000; and this year, with more roles to come, it should be close to $17,000.

For Angie Dickinson, it all starts in North Dakota where she was born. Then follows a move to Los Angeles with her family, and victory in a local TV show, Beauty Parade. She's chosen as one of six TVenus girls (remember this?), and it is on the Colgate Comedy Hour that she meets Jimmy Durante, the man who changes her life. "His love of show business just seemed to pour out of him and some of it rubbed off on me. All of a sudden I was a greenhorn just dying to get into it." 

Today she takes dramatic and singing lessons, trying to improve herself. "Whether or not Angie Dickinson will make the grade as a name player or even a star depends on a number of things, chiefly the breaks she gets—being at the right place at the right time under the right circumstances." "In a way," she says, "you make your own break just by being ready for it. I'm going to be ready." As we know, those breaks come, she's ready for them—perhaps becoming a honey blonde is part of being ready—and Angie Dickinson, unquestionably, becomes a star. Could there have been any doubt?

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If there's a theme so far this week, it might be that of the up-and-coming star: Elvis, Angie, and now Paul Newman. On Tuesday, July 3, 1956, Somebody Up There Likes Me, the movie based on the life story of middleweight boxer Rocky Graziano, is released in theaters, with Newman starring as Graziano in the breakthrough role that starts Newman's road to stardom. Perhaps coincidentally, Newman is also starring in Tuesday's debut of The Kaiser Aluminum Hour (7:30 p.m. Ct, NBC). In "The Army Game," Newman plays Danny, a college jock who tries to avoid Army service by pretending to be a psychiatric case. In fact, he's so good at it that it makes one wonder if he's acting at all. 

Elizabeth Montgomery also makes an appearance in this issue, although she's not on anything this week. She's part of the repertory company put together by her dad, Robert Montgomery, for the summer session of his show, Robert Montgomery Presents. (Monday, 7:30 p.m., NBC). This week, three of her summer stock colleagues—Charles Drake, Jan Miner, and Tom Middleton—star in "Dream No More," a mystery about a con man with his eyes on someone else's money.

I suppose we could include Jim Davis; he features in this week's issue in the review of the Western series Stories of the Century, which runs in syndication, and while he's a familiar enough face in small, low-key roles in mostly Western series, it won't be until he assumes the role of Jock Ewing in Dallas that he reached fame, so much so that even though he died during season four of the series, he'll be an ongoing presence for the remainder of the show's run. 

Perry Mason, anyone?
Television series themselves shouldn't be left out; according to the Hollywood teletype, Dan Jenkins tells us that the "choice for the title role in the still unscheduled, unfilmed, hour-long Perry Mason series now lies between Raymond Burr and Robert Sterling." I know that William Hopper had tested for the role of Perry before being cast as Paul Drake, but I just can't see Sterling projecting the kind of gravitas that Burr has in the role. At any rate, Mason won't remain unaired for long, and I suspect it's been aired somewhere every day since.

And while the Summer Olympics aren't for another five months—they're being held in late November and early December in Melbourne—there are sure to be some future stars on display at the United States Olympic Track and Field Trials (Saturday, 3:00 p.m., NBC). A couple of names that jump out: Bob Richards, who wins his second consecutive gold medal in the pole vault and, two years later, will become the first athlete on the cover of the Wheaties box; meanwhile, sprinter Bobby Morrow takes gold in the 100- and 200-meter sprints and the 4x100 meter relay. As an aside, the basketball gold medal goes once again to the United States, and although the team was selected at another date, it is led by the young center from San Francisco, Bill Russell. He'd join the Celtics as a rookie following the Games.

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"A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a television studio. . .  " Well, maybe this isn't exactly how the ABC religious series Crossroads works, but it makes for a good start. 

The last time I wrote about a religious television program, other than Life is Worth Living, it was, I believe, Fr. Elwood Kieser's Insight, a staple of Sunday morning television for more than twenty years. Perhaps Crossroads isn't quite as well remembered—it's hard for me to tell, since I dwell in the world of old TV Guides—but it's no less powerful. The show has just completed its first season on ABC, and after summer reruns, will be embarking on its second. Like so many successful programs, it almost didn't make it to TV; when it was brought to the attention of producer Bernard L. Schubert, he tried for weeks to come up with the right format and had all but given up on the idea, when his son came back from a boys' club meeting raving about a talk given by a Catholic priest (Bishop Sheen?) and Schubert decided to give it another try. 

The show's stories center around the situations that clergymen encounter in daily life—thus the three-man committee of a priest, a minister and a rabbi, who review story ideas to approve of their religious content. At first, they were concerned the show might be too melodramatic, but they were won over by the first story, in which a Catholic priest (Don Taylor) who'd gone to a prison to give last rites to a death-row inmate is held hostage by three prisoners, until the priest talks them into surrendering. "Since that first show was televised," Schubert said, "we've had no story problems."

Schubert also says that he's had no trouble getting name actors—Brian Aherne, J. Carrol Naish, Luther Adler, Gene Lockhart, Pat O'Brien, Arthur Franz and Ann Harding are among those who've appeared on the show—because, in contrast to the average clergyman in the Barry Fitzgerald age group, "it gives them a chance to portray a cleric while they're still young." And he and his researchers scan newspapers around the country looking for stories that fit the show's concept, that which was articulated by Rabbi William F. Rosenblum when he originally came up with the idea for the show about six years ago: "I wanted to show that we clergymen are not just people with folded hands, who deliver sermons once a week from our pulpits," he said. "I thought we could show. . . that the day-to-day crises that arise in their lives can be solved through prayer and through faith."

That picture on the left is of Brian Aherne, playing Fr. Anthony Kohlmann in episode two. Fr. Kohlmann, convinced a thief to return stolen goods when the man told him about it in Confession. He refused to disclose the thief's identity, and the proceedings resulted in the New York government recognizing the sanctity of the Seal of Confession. It's a right that's once again come under threat in recent years by governments both in the United States and around the world. I wonder who might portray the next Fr. Kohlmann? 

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Finally, the answers you've been demanding to your burning questions: Why is it dangerous to handle a picture tube? Does it pay to repair my old television set or would it be better to purchase a new set? Can I use a wax to clean the glass on my television?

Back in the day, if something went wrong with your television, you didn't just run out and buy a new one. They were expensive, something you made payments on, and if it went out before you'd even finished paying it off, then you called the neighborhood repairman and had him come out and fix it. He might be able to do it there, if the repairs weren't too drastic, or he might have to take it in to the office, where he'd work on it there. Joseph F. Valenti, of Brooklyn is one of those repairmen, an expert in his field, and this week he's here to provide the answers to the questions you ask most often.

As it turns out, there's actually a formula you can use to determine whether you should get your set fixed or buy a new one. After adding up the amount you spend on repairs over the course of a full year, do you spend an average of at least 25 cents a day on repairs? If so, then your set is in "very poor condition" and should be replaced. On the other hand, if the amount is between 1 and 15 cents, both you and your set are in good shape.

Which reminds me of a story. . .
To answer your other questions, it's dangerous to lift your picture tube; a 24-inch tube has a vacuum of about 15 pounds per square inch, or about 8,700 pounds over the entire face. Not good if you drop it. And no, you shouldn't wax the glass on your tube; it will leave an oily film on the glass (no matter what the commercials say about waxy buildup on your kitchen floor), thus distorting your picture.

If this seems like too much fuss over an appliance, remember that television is a guest in your home, the most intimate form of entertainment media there is. You take good care of your family; wouldn't you want to take at least as good care of your TV?

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Question: What do they call Independence Day in England? Answer: The Fourth of July, of course.

If you're reading this over the weekend, have a safe and restful holiday, and don't be afraid to celebrate a day that represents, or should represent, the fundamentals that make this nation great. Our city's fireworks display was last night, but depending on where you live, go out and see the red glare of a few rockets, and listen to some bombs bursting in air, and enjoy this Glorious Fourth. TV  

July 1, 2022

Around the dial




At The Ringer, Alison Herman and Miles Surrey have an interesting discussion about how streaming television has eliminated the traditional need for episodes to have set running times; after all, with no schedule to worry about, why sweat the length? I've touched on this before, in writing about half-hour dramas and how they require a certain storytelling discipline (not to mention not creating melodramatic B plotlines). Hint: it applies to hour-long shows as well. Just because you can doesn't mean you should. 

I don't know about you, but I'm always up for a savage review, and when I can't get to Cleveland Amory, I'm more than willing to settle for one like this week's at The Flaming Nose, on the current Epix series Domina. Yes, it's not from the classic era, but when a show is described as "the single worst piece of garbage to ever pretend to be based in some sort of historical context," it attains its own form of classic status. 

On the other hand, if you're looking for a recommendation of what to watch (rather than a condemnation of what not to watch), you can gravitate toward RealWeegieMidget and Gill's review of The Six Million Dollar Man episode "The Solid Gold Kidnapping" from 1973, featuring the wonderful Luciana Paluzzi.

On Wednesday you got the latest update on the shows I've been watching lately, but I'm not the only one doing this; at Cult TV Blog, John gives us a look at his own playlist. I always enjoy looking at these for tips, since I've got a region-free DVD player; I have to admit that the only title I recognize is Whodunnit, some episodes of which I've seen thanks to the mighty Mike Doran!

At Bob Crane: Life & Legacy, Carol and Linda continue to defend Bob Crane from the fake news and misinformation that's out there. Good for them, and I despise the laziness of people who don't take the time to get their facts straight. It's one thing to make an honest mistake; it's another to simply build on top of misinformation that's been going on for years, thereby perpetuating it.

At bare-bones e-zine, Jack introduces us to another Hitchcock Project writer, Victor Wolfson, and his first script for the series, the first season episode "The Perfect Murder," a great adaptation of a story with a marvelously wicked twist at the end.

"Bilko" is such a great name for a shifty character like the one that Phil Silvers plays in The Phil Silvers Show, isn't it? This week at The Horn Section, Hal takes a look at "Bilko's Perfect Day," and you can bet on this: if it's being called "perfect," it most assuredly has a fly in the ointment somewhere. 

At Television's New Frontier: the 1960s, it's a look at the 1962 episodes of The Twilight Zone. The show's starting to show the effects from having to produce high-quality episodes week after week, and Serling & company are feeling burnout, but TZ is still capable of putting out some classic stories.

Martin Grams provides an update on the continuing project to release the entire run of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (all 435 episodes) after the passing of David Nelson. As Martin reminds us, if you want to see the whole series released, put your money down on the first two seasons that have come out. TV  

June 29, 2022

Shows I've been watching: May, 2022



Shows I’ve Watched:
Shows Next on the List:
Dante
Surfside 6
The Rat Patrol
The Baron
Tightrope



Xhen it comes to half-hour television programs, we've been conditioned to think, first and foremost, of the sitcom. That wasn't always the case, of course; back in the late 1950s, there were often 20 or more half-hour dramas on the tube. Shows like Gunsmoke and Naked City started out at 30 minutes before expanding to an hour*, and series from Dragnet, The Rebel, Whispering Smith and Adam-12 to Peter Gunn, N.Y.P.D., Highway Patrol and Sea Hunt never found the need to stray beyond their original length.

*The Twilight Zone had one occasionally successful season at an hour before returning to 30 minutes.

This isn't meant to be a TV history primer, but noticed that half-hour dramas have popped up frequently in this feature over the past couple of years. And guess what! You're in for some more this month, with varying results. 

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When I was a kid, I remember enjoying The Rat Patrol, that World War II adventure series about four guys in two jeeps who seem to take on the entire Afrika Korps every week, blowing up cargo supply depots, foiling German plots, and generally making a nuisance of themselves whenever those Nazis in their sand-colored uniforms show up. I'm glad to have it in the collection, particularly since it seems, in retrospect, to be an odd choice for DVD release. 

Christopher George and Lawrence Casey
However, to present-day eyes (and those are the only ones worth considering, as far as this goes), The Rat Patrol seems to fall somewhere in-between Hogan's Heroes and Garrison's Gorillas, and not in a good way. For one thing, the commander of the group, Sergeant Sam Troy (Christopher George), has a way of rubbing one wrong. As a leader, he can be abrasive, creating doubt among the three men under his command. He never refers to them by their first names, and despite the amount of time they spend together, there's no particular suggestion of a personal, comradery relationship between the quartet. I realize that this may be the way it actually was over there, and I thank God that I've never had to find out for myself, but there's still a Band of Brothers vibe missing.

Actually, if it were left up to me, the group would be headed up by the Brit in the unit, Sergeant Jack Moffitt (Gary Raymond). He often appears more perceptive than Troy, sizes up situations quickly, and displays a humanity, an ability to understand the others in the group, that frequently seems to elude Troy. I'm thinking particularly about an early episode in which Moffitt's father is being flown to assist with a mission due to his expertise in Arab archaeology. When dad's plane crashes, Troy is dead-set against heading to the wreck to see if there were any survivors, insisting they proceed with the mission. Not only is Moffitt outraged by the decision, but the other two members of the unit, Hitchcock and Pettigrew (Lawrence Casey and Justin Tarr) seem to question him as well. I realize that Hogan's Heroes was a sitcom, but Hogan always managed to balance the needs of the mission with the needs of his men in such a way that neither his superiors nor those under his command lost confidence in him. More than once, I've felt Troy bordered on being relieved of his command, but again, I'm no expert.

It's true that Garrison's Gorillas, with an hour to play with, manages to offer us stories that are far more fleshed out than the often-truncated missions that the Rat Patrol go on, but I think you also have to acknowledge that Lieutenant Garrison is a better strategist, a better leader of men, a better inspirer of confidence, than Troy. His men are also tougher; in a showdown between the two, I'd take the Gorillas over the Rats any day. Or Hogan and his heroes, for that matter.

The real star of the show
Oddly, what often saves The Rat Patrol is the appearance of the German commander, Captain Hans Deitrich, played by Hans Gudegast—or, as we know and love him from The Young and the Restless, Eric Braeden. Not only is he by far the best actor on the show, he displays a far more nuanced character than any of the Americans. In several episodes he shows a humanity that we don't necessarily associate with Nazi officers—but then, as also becomes apparent, Deitrich is likely no Nazi himself, just a professional soldier, one who would probably never carry out the atrocities that so many did in Europe. (He must have some political acumen to keep his own command though, considering how many times he loses to Troy when they face each other in battle. And if this isn't treasonous to admit, I sometimes find myself rooting for him to come out on top at least once, like the Trix rabbit.) A la Lieutenant Gerard in The Fugitive, Deitrich is not in every episode, but he makes those that he is in better for his presence. While ABC kept The Rat Patrol on maneuvers for two seasons, Garrison's Gorillas only lasted one. I think they picked the wrong show myself.

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It's not quite "all Howard Duff, all the time" here, but in addition to his regular Thursday appearances on Felony Squad, we've just completed the run of his single-season half-hour series Dante, which ran for 30 episodes in 1960-61 on NBC. The always-reliable Wikipedia describes Dante as an "adventure/drama" series, and I suppose that's accurate as far as it goes, but you also have to realize that any series created by Blake Edwards is going to have a bit less gravitas than, say, Götterdämmerung. Put another way: if you liked Richard Diamond and Peter Gunn, you're probably going to like Dante.

Unlike those other two shows, Willie Dante (Duff) is not a private detective, although he does spend most of his time solving crimes that involve him either directly or indirectly. No, he's a restauranteur in San Francisco, and I guess we can blame Gordon Ramsay for not having come along twenty years earlier to show us just how dramatic a series about a restaurant could be. Actually, there's plenty of drama implied, since Willie used to straddle both sides of the law, running a previous incarnation of his restaurant—named "Dante's Inferno," naturally—with an illegal gambling joint in the back room. Willie's gone straight since then, along with his two associates, Maitre d' Stewart (Alan Mowbray) and bartender Biff (Tom D'Andrea), who go back a long time with Willie and also know how to play the game. They also aren't afraid to exert a little muscle, although Willie can throw a right as well as anyone.

Howard Duff and Alan Mowbray
And it's a good thing he can. You see, even though Willie's an honest businessman now, nobody really believes that. The police don't, and they're constantly suspecting Willie of not telling all he knows whenever something suspicious comes up (which is roughly every episode). His former underworld cronies don't, and they're always trying to move in for a piece of the action on a game that doesn't exist. Even Biff encourages him to get at least a little action going, but those days are long gone for Willie; his establishment may be called "Dante's Inferno," but it would appear that this is a circle that Willie himself doesn't want to visit.

There's a healthy dose of humor in each episode, an Edwards trademark, and the three regulars are enjoyable to watch. Duff in particular is always good, and he makes you kind of wish that the writers wrote stories that demanded more of him, because he can handle it. Interestingly enough, Dante—like Richard Diamond before it—started out as a series of eight dramas on Four Star Playhouse, played by Dick Powell,* and these take place as a prequel, before Willie gets out of the gambling business. The tone of Powell's Dante is slightly darker than the series, and Powell once again proves just how well he made that transaction from song-and-dance man to two-fisted noir star. This isn't a knock on the series, though; Dante will never win any awards, and it doesn't go very deep, but it will provide you with an entertaining half-hour that's enjoyable, straightforward, and unencumbered by the neuroses of today's storylines, and that works for me.

*Powell also played the original Amos Burke of Burke's Law.

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How about an hour-long show to top things off? The Baron is yet another ABC series, this one an import from the Brits (it was a prime time for imports; The Avengers, Secret Agent, The Saint, The Prisoner, The Protectors, The Persuaders!, etc.), and, in fact, if you want a thumbnail description of the series, it would be "The Saint as played by an American." 

The titular Baron is John Mannering (Steve Forrest*), a successful and wealthy American antiques dealer working in London, with a sideline gig as an occasional secret operative for British intelligence. His frequent travels and hobnobbing with rich clients make him a perfect choice for undercover missions, and because of his reputation, his expertise, and his numerous contacts, he occasionally finds himself involved in adventures that are, for lack of a better word, freelancing. 

*I always, always forget that Steve Forrest's brother was Dana Andrews, until I run across it again.

To be upfront, The Baron is going to fall into the "fun" category of shows that I review here. It's not as good as The Saint, hardly as thought-provoking as The Prisoner, and not as much fun as The Persuaders! It doesn't have to be, though, and it does have several advantages. First and foremost, by casting an actual American in the role of the Baron, you're already guaranteed a level of authenticity that's often missing in British shows. Second, while Forrest isn't a great actor, he's a good one, and makes a good presence; smooth, likeable, clever, and convincing as an educated man who can also be a very tough one (he was a former Army captain during World War II). If you think "Roger Moore lite," you wouldn't be far off the mark. It also doesn't hurt that he's often assisted by Sue Lloyd as Cordelia Winfield, a "regular" agent. And of course it has the British "sound"—not the accents, although they're there, but the music by Edwin Astley

Terry Nation is the script supervisor for The Baron, and if you know your British television, you'll recognize him as the creator of Doctor Who's Daleks. And while the Baron doesn't run into anyone that bad, he'll meet plenty of nasty people along the way, and you'll be glad you're on his side. The Baron doesn't have a regular place on the Hadley television schedule; it fills in on Saturday nights when our Saturday-night movie runs short, and that seems to be the perfect place for it. TV  

June 27, 2022

What's on TV? Wednesday, June 29, 1966




I always like to hang on to an item or two from Saturday to share on Monday, and there always seems to be something worth sharing. This week is no exception; for instance, on NBC's Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre. Cliff Robertson delivers an Emmy- winning performance in "The Game," a story of high-stakes gambling on the French Rivera; Maurice Evans, Dina Merrill, and Nehemiah Persoff co-star. The episode's director won an Emmy as well: Sydney Pollack (although they spelled his name "Sidney" here). Bob Crane and John Banner guest on The John Gary Show on CBS; and Malachi Throne is Falseface on part one of a Batman rerun; when this episode was originally aired, Falseface's identity was kept a secret in the credits, the first and (I think) only time that happened. See what you can learn from this Minnesota State Edition?

June 25, 2022

This week in TV Guide: June 25, 1966




How many times has this happened to you: you're driving through a strange town when your car breaks down. While you're waiting for repairs, you have a run-in with one of the local punks, who just happens to be the son of one of the most important men in town. Later on, the punk turns up dead, and guess who the prime suspect is? You!

I don't know about you, but that's never happened to me. I won't say that it won't ever happen, because that seems to be just the kind of person to whom it does happen. At least that's the cliche that's on display in this week's episode of Run for Your Life (Monday, 9:00 p.m. CT, NBC), starring Ben Gazzara as the doomed Paul Bryan, a man with only a few months (years?) to live.* We know Paul didn't do it, because he's the show's star; and we know he won't be convicted, because the show's called Run For Your Life and not You're Sentenced to Life. So why even bother with a storyline like this? Perhaps because it gives you a heavy you can really hate, or a heavy who reforms once he discovers the true meaning of life, or because it gives West Coast writers a chance to ridicule small-minded small-town America. Your guess is as good as mine. But with absolutely no prior knowledge of what I'm going to find, let's take a look through the listings and see if we can find any other TV cliches—or tropes, as they've come to be known—on the small screen this week.

*That hasn't happened to most of us either, I'll wager. At least not more than once.

Here's one, on Daniel Boone (Thursday, 6:30 p.m., NBC): "Daniel, the fort's best runner, sprains an ankle, which spells bad news for the settlers who have bet on him to win the hotly contested annual foot race with the Indians." Yes: whenever I get sick or come down with some debilitating ailment, I always check the calendar, because I know something important is about to happen. Don't ask me how, I just know it. Did you ever notice how you never see a listing like "Daniel sprains an ankle, and is grateful he doesn't have anything planned for the week"? Of course not; that doesn't make for very interesting television. You'd have to add the sentence "And then one thing after another seems to pop up" just to get a script out of it.

There's a rerun of Lee Marvin's M Squad (Wednesday, 12:15 a.m., KSTP) that has another typical police story: "An ex-convict, suspected of murder, is about to commit suicide by leaping from a high window. Ballinger races to get enough evidence to clear the man before he jumps to his death." Will Ballinger get the evidence, and will it be in time? What do you think? "A man suspected of murder threatens suicide. Ballinger looks into the case, but discovers the man really is guilty, and his death wouldn't change a thing." Have you seen that lately?

The Big Valley (Wednesday, 8:00 p.m., ABC) offers a slight variation on the episode from Run For Your Life: "Gil Anders comes to the Barkley ranch looking for Heath and is shot from ambush by two bounty hunters, who claim he's wanted for murder." This will, of course, come as a complete surprise to Gil, who has no idea why anyone would suspect him of murder. Whether or not you think he's guilty of the crime depends on whether or not you think Barbara Stanwyck would let her son hang around with cold-blooded killers. Heath's a lawyer, anyway, so he'll be sure to get Gil off.

In Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (Sunday, 6:00 p.m., ABC), the Seaview takes on a couple of men adrift in a lifeboat, "unaware the they're rescued a pair of escaped convicts." Because people are never what they seem to be. Look for a scene where the radio operator gets a message about two convicts on the run, and the crew gradually put two and two together. One of the escapees is Nehemiah Persoff, which means you get two tropes for the price of one since Persoff is never who or what he appears to be either, and if you ever run into him on a dark street you're right to feel uneasy.

Petticoat Junction (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., CBS) has a storyline that's typical of what happens when misunderstandings occur: "A feud between Charley and Floyd has sidetracked the Cannonball and paralyzed Hooterville Valley." If you doubt the likelihood that the two train engineers will get their feud patched up by the end of the thirty minutes, you also probably think next week the train will be piloted by Arnold Ziffel. Besides, it just wouldn't be as romantic if the service was being run by Amtrak. 

On The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (Saturday, 6:30 p.m., ABC): "Harriet has been receiving a daily rose from a secret admirer." Will this be the end of the Nelson's marriage? Will we see Ozzie next week on Divorce Court, or perhaps it will be Perry Mason defending "The Case of the Cantankerous Crooner"? I'll bet there's a logical explanation for the whole thing, something that will be discovered in just under thirty minutes that will leave Ozzie feeling foolish, Harriet secretly pleased that Ozzie can still get jealous, and the whole family having a good laugh.

I could go on, but you get the point. There are only a handful of original stories in existence; most people use the number seven, but that could be a cliche in and of itself. And while some of them are commonplace, things that could happen to any of us, too many of them are like the one that Paul Bryan faces in Run for Your Life: ones that we scoff at for being so utterly absurd, and that keep us tuning in each week.

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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: singer Jerry Vale; Metropolitan Opera soprano Birgit Nilsson; comics London Lee and Nancy Walker; the singing Swinging Lads; the comedy team of Stiller and Meara; ballerina Joyce Cuoco; the Arirang Ballet, Korean dance and instrumental group; the Yong Brothers, balancing act; and the Berosini Chimps..

Palace: Host Ray Bolger presents singer Kay Starr; jazz vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, accompanied by 7-year-old drummer Jim Bradley; impressionist Rich Little; comedian Norm Crosby; escape artist Michael De La Vega; and the Five Amandis, teeterboard act.

This surely must rank as an outstanding week for each show. Ed has one of the greatest opera singers ever in Birgit Nilsson, one of the most pleasant voices of the 1960s in Jerry Vale, and one of the most lasting of husband-and-wife comedy teams, Stiller and Meara. The Palace counters with one of the great song-and-dance men in Ray Bolger, the legendary Lionel Hampton, and the great jazz and pop singer Kay Starr, plus Norm Crosby and Rich Little. Perhaps those two make the crucial difference, and put The Palace over the line by a nose.

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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, it's the readers' turn to tell Cleveland Amory what they think, with the annual season-ending Letters column. As in: "I think it's a shame that you have someone like Cleveland Amory to review T.V. stories. This man hardly has anything nice to say ever. Everyone has their own taste. But this man has no taste what so ever. . . Please tell me one thing, does this man like anything? There are no two ways about it. Mr. Amory is for the birds." 

That was from Helen Rubino of Union City, New Jersey, who doesn't think Cleve likes anything. But James R. Hilt, of Milford, Connecticut, complains that "he gives a good review for an idiotic show such as Batman." Considering that I own the Blu-Ray version of Batman, I think I'm offended by that one. I feel comforted by Cynthia Neel of Villanova, Pennsylvania, who says that "It's a pleasure to see that Cleveland Amory is one of the few people who recognizes a good show." That's not to say she was talking about Batman, but still.

A "very dissatisfied ex-reader" says Amory has "a lot of nerve" to knock The Legend of Jesse James, "the best program on television, and Chris Jones is the best thing to come along since summer vacation! My grandmother used to say Jesse James had some good points to him. He wasn't all bad. She should know, she let him hide in her barn." That last fact, frankly, is more interesting than the letter, but Jesse James ran for 34 episodes in 1965-66, ending just a month before this issue. As for the real Jesse James having some good points, I suppose everyone does. Hitler liked dogs. And, like Jesse James, he was also a narcistic, psychopathic killer.

Mrs. R.A. of Manchester, Massachusetts says the best thing on TV is the news. M.G.P. of Louisville, Kentucky, says the worst thing on TV is the news. "A TV Guide reader" says that "Johnny Carson is great. Why doesn't Mr. Amory say so?" "Disgusted" replies that Johnny Carson "must think that the public patience with his repertory group is as limitless as they limited, and "can see no reason for his having the same people saying so little on so much." 

The last word goes to C.A., of The Moon, who simply says, "See, you can't win 'em all. See you next fall."

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A program that might represent some of the best that television has to offer is Cappella Paolina (Sunday, 9:00 a.m., CBS). Cappella Paolina is the Vatican's Pauline Chapel, and for the first time in history, television cameras are being allowed inside the chapel to take a closer look at two of Michelangelo's least-known frescoes: "The Conversion of St. Paul" and "The Crucifixion of St. Peter." It's too bad this program wasn't broadcast in color, because I'd imagine that the beauties and subtleties of Michelangelo's work are most appreciated that way. (To see if I'm right, check out a more recent documentary here.) It's also too bad that WCCO, the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis, didn't consider this program worth airing, but then they were committed to Business and Finance and Religious News. When I was growing up, I doubt I ever knew Lamp unto My Feet and Look Up and Live even existed.

"The Conversion of St. Paul" (left), "The Crucifixion of St. Peter." Interstingly enough, 
the TV Guide Close-Up shows
"The Last Judgment,' which is located in the Sistine Chapel.

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So Henry Steele Commager says television must reform itself or else. To which you might ask, "or else what?", and who the hell is Henry Steele Commager anyway?

To answer the second question first, Commager was a noted historian, a champion of the Enlightenment, and a chronicler of modern liberalism. Insofar as Commager defined what liberalism was, he could be seen as a liberal version of William F. Buckley, Jr.* Commager's article is the fifth in TV Guide's ongoing series "assessing the effects of television on our society," which is a lot like the mission of this here blog.

*Who once wrote a letter to Commager asking if he had changed his middle name to "Steele" in admiration of Josef Stalin, the "Man of Steel."  It's that kind of cheekiness that I always admired in WFB.

Commager acknowledges the importance of television, calling it "the most important invention in the history of the communication of knowledge" since the inventions of the University and the printing press. He believes it foolish to think that, as some people put it, the only changes left for television are technical ones, such as color vs. black and white; it is a young medium, he says, continuing to evolve, which means that this look at TV should be regarded as "an interim judgment." And part of the problem that television faces is that, in its 25 years, it hasn't quite figured out what it should be.

Commager from an early '50s TV interview
Arguably it should be a medium devoted to serving the public interest, as is set out in the FCC act of 1934. And, as Commager points out, there are enough money-making enterprises out there that television shouldn't have to be one of them; "all the important contributions are to be made to the commonwealth, not the private wealth." The rub, so to speak, is that television as an industry is controlled by "men without vision or imagination in anything other than their major interests - manufacturing, marketing and finance." Yes, and it's probably also true that only men with those kinds of interests would have had the wherewithal to create the mighty networks that exist in 1966. Based on this assessment, it would seem as if the question Commager asks—is TV a form of entertainment and information, or is it a form of education similar to the University and the Foundation—has a self-ordained answer. Yes, he concedes, it can be both, but "who can doubt that the proportions are badly mixed?" And while the men who run television boast of their independence from government control, they say very little about "independence where it really counts"—freedom from the advertisers who "determine policy and content."

So we're faced with an argument that we've read and heard many times—it is the drive for profit, and the resulting lowest-common-denominator programming that results—that is responsible for the quality (or lack thereof) of television. Television, Commager laments, has failed utterly in the realm of education: "it neither transmits the knowledge of the past to the next generation, nor contributes to professional training, nor does it expand the boundaries of knowledge." It has no professional standards and practices. What "meager" contributions it has made in these areas has been more than offset by "its contributions to noneducation and to the narrowing of intellectual horizons."

As it happens, I can agree with Commager on much of this. But the question remains: what is one to do about it? We've created a public broadcasting station that is supposed to be independent of pressures created by ratings and advertising dollars, but in its effort to solicit direct financial contributions from viewers, which would be the purest way of judging a network's ability to connect with the public, it is forced to rely on the basest form of crowd-pleasing shows, with virtually no attention to the educational and cultural forces which we were assured would result from its creation.

Commager's answer to this, not surprisingly given his ideological bent, is government control, specifically an empowering of the FCC. Were television to be treated like any other utility, it would have to constantly show the ways in which it serves the public interest, lest it lose its license. An FCC reconstituted in this manner would have "authority to make findings and impose decisions with respect to such matters as content and advertising, and to refuse to license stations which fail to devote themselves to the public interest." Again, the problem with this is that Commager fails to appreciate that at least a part of the "public interest" consists of what the public is interested in. With this attitude, television soon becomes a kind of medicine that people dread taking, even though they're being told that it's good for them. And by allowing a commission—one with political appointments, no doubt, and how could anything possibly go wrong with that?—rather than the public to choose what should be broadcast, how does one truly find out the pulse of the viewers?

This much is clear: Commager is leery at best, and opposed and worst, to the idea of private ownership of television broadcasting. It may be the norm here, he states, but not in the rest of the world. Which, one would suppose, is why there's such a call for American television programs in the rest of the world, right? Or why the shows imported from Britain so closely resemble ones being shown here. Henry Steele Commager is not a stupid man, but he's something like a lumbering ox, an easy target. He makes some very good points about the problems and challenges of television, but like so many, fails to come up with many answers. I can't really fault him for that, either, though; after all, you don't see many coming from me, do you?

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On the other hand, For the Record gives us a speech by Edwin Bayley, VP of National Educational Television (NET), who says that money for educational television should come neither from federal nor state government. Once you get government involved in funding, Bayley says, "the inclination is to dictate program content." He cites various civil rights programs that were rejected by educational television stations in the South due to worries "they would offend state legislatures that had provided them with funds." The preferred source for funding, according to Bayley, is "foundations, industry and business."

Not much to see in the Teletype sections this week, other than a note that "ABC's daytime show Confidential for Women goes off the air July 8. It'll be replaced by The Newlywed Game." We all know how that turned out. CBS has a new Peanuts cartoon planned for around Halloween, and hopes that It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown will have some of the success of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

The fortunes of dramatic programming ebb and flow in TV Guide, depending on what year you read. This year it's a bull market for drama, with ABC talking about a monthly Sunday Night at the Theatre in addition to Stage 67. NBC is producing a version of "Othello," while CBS, basking in the glow from their critically acclaimed production of "Death of a Salesman," looks to duplicate the results with "The Crucible" and "The Glass Menagerie," which wind up airing on CBS Playhouse. Just wait a year or two, and the tide will turn again.

"Unlike the U.S. House and Senate," the British House of Lords is considering bringing television cameras in to the chamber. They've agreed to a trial run, over the objections of Lord Balfour, who memorably observed that televising the Lords (which would invariably lead to cameras in the House of Commons as well) might cause viewers to look at the House "rather as a zoo, and frankly I do not think the public would like all the exhibits." As he said this, notes TV Guide, "at least two members were asleep, and several front-benchers were hunched down in their seats, their feet wedged against the tables opposite them." Good thing that would never happen in this country. TV  

June 24, 2022

Around the dial




The cruellest part of living in the World's Worst Town™ (and there were many) was that, while we were limited to one commercial station, the Minnesota State Edition of TV Guide provided listings for all stations, a subtle way of taunting those of us by reminding us of the shows we couldn't watch. Perhaps they were in cahoots with TV aerial manufacturers to get us to buy one of those tall antennas to put on the roof. (This was long before the age of satellite dishes, of course, because I'm old.) And so it was that, while I was never able to watch the legendary TV-movie The Night Stalker, I was all-too-well aware of it. Eventually I had the last laugh, as I've got both the two movies and the complete series on DVD.* This is, admittedly, a rounbdabout way of introducing us to this week's first link, to Classic Film & TV Café, where Rick reviews The Night Strangler, the memorable sequel to The Night Stalker, and the clincher that there would be a Kolchak series on ABC in the fall. 

*Which only goes to show the truth of the old maxim that justice delayed is not justice denied.

At Comfort TV, David has a really terrific, thoughtful piece on cutting the pop culture cord. In it, he voices many of the criticisms of contemporary entertainment that I've made or thought, in a very succinct manner. It's a very hard thing to explain to those who aren't a part of the classic TV community—why preferring old shows is not the same thing as living in the past or denying the present. Times change, ways of life change. Religious beliefs, public and private morals, codes of conduct, the social contract, and a common national culture—I don't want to say that these are completely non-negotiable, but they were never meant to be tossed aside like a piece of crumpled paper and ignored. That's what we see too often today, and it's those lost things that we respect, those lost things that we look to respect and emulate, at least in our own lives.

I hope you've been reading John's excellent series "The Prisoner in the Asylum" at Cult TV Blog. I mention it each week as new installments come in, and while I haven't had the chance to try it out against a Prisoner episode, the analysis is nothing less than fascinating. This week, it's part one of a two-part look at "The Girl Who Was Death," and how many of you haven't known that? 

On a lighter note, Joanna has announced this year's "Christmas in July" festivities at Christmas TV History, and it should be a fun one: an entire month of daily reminisces about Christmas TV episodes, specials, and movies inspired by It's a Wonderful LifeWe all know there are a lot of them out there, but I rather expect there are even more than we're aware of. TV  

June 22, 2022

Over the Transom: Ironside


by Stephen Taylor

We were not an Ironside household as I grew up. I never saw a single episode of the show as a child, and grew up knowing only that it involved a cop in a wheelchair; that was the extent of both my knowledge and my interest in the show. I’m much older now, and I have time to watch old television shows, and I thought I’d give Ironside a try. I’ve always enjoyed Raymond Burr, and thought the show might be fun to watch. I’ve watched the first three seasons, and thought I’d offer a few comments.

The premise is this: Robert T. Ironside (Raymond Burr) is the Chief of Detectives for the San Francisco Police Department. He survives an attempt on his life, but suffers an injury which leaves him a paraplegic. Forced to retire, he returns to the SAPD as a consultant; he forms a special unit comprised of Detective Sergeant Ed Brown (Don Galloway), Officer Eve Whitfield (Barbara Anderson) and assistant Mark Sanger (Don Mitchell). He reports to Police Commissioner Dennis Randall (Gene Lyons). The special unit handles almost every sort of crime, from con artists to car thieves to murder to property theft to security for dignitaries and more. Sometimes they’re directed by the Commissioner to handle certain crimes, but they mostly spring into action unbidden. It’s a standard police drama centered around Burr, except that he’s in a wheelchair.

The two-hour pilot aired in March of 1967. It was pretty good; it introduced Ironside and his team to the audience, and explained how Ironside came to be in that wheelchair. There is a lengthy list of suspects, as Ironside was not popular with quite a few people. The ending was fairly suspenseful; the murderer was not who you might think it was, and the pilot made a basic attempt to show how Ironside assembled his team. Sgt Brown and Officer Whitfield he wanted because “they’re good cops!” Mark Sanger was a different story. Ironside had already sent Sanger to jail twice. Hearing that Sanger was downstairs in booking and making threats about “getting” the Chief, Ironside had Mark brought to his office, where he offered Sanger a proposition: come to work for him or go back to jail. Push the wheelchair, assist Ironside in getting around, perform odd jobs, other duties as assigned. All for the princely sum of $20 a week. Sanger accepts, but he’s an angry black man. Very angry. Angry, but not stupid, and knowing that he’s entered an important fork in his road, he accepts. His hiring set up some of the only conflict between characters the show ever had.

Raymond Burr was an excellent actor. He’d been a supporting player in movies since the Forties, and could play a variety of parts. He committed a murder in Rear Window, and starred as a psychopathic gangster in a movie called Raw Deal* in 1948. He already had a lengthy track record on television; he’d starred in Perry Mason as the titular character in the long-running series about a defense attorney. America knew Raymond Burr, and they liked him. Never a father figure, he was the gruff but avuncular uncle who always knows how to be stern with an adult but kind to a child; understanding always, but insistent on a moral code based on honesty and integrity. The part of Chief Ironside called for this character, and it fit Raymond Burr to a T; he’d been playing a variation on that character for the last 10 years. For his part, Chief Ironside had been a cop for at least twenty years. It’s mentioned that he’d been in the Navy, presumably in WW II. He’d risen through the ranks to Chief of Detectives, where he stayed until the attempted murder. Even as a consultant he’s still called “Chief” by his subordinates and others. There are exceptions; those exceptions being his aunt; who calls him Robert, and Commissioner Randall, who, along with all his old flames, and there were many old flames, calls him Bob. 

He’s gruff and something of a tyrant, yet capable of acts of astonishing kindness and generosity. He takes no guff from anyone. He demands respect and gets it; even professional criminals respect him, as they know he’s fair and will never give them a raw deal or go back on his word. He has a keen sense for when something’s not quite right, a sharp eye for detail, and a knack for interrogation. He inspires an almost slavish loyalty from his team, and sometimes abuses that loyalty; he also has a short temper and isn’t above raising his voice if something displeases him. The show was centered around Chief Ironside, and it’s fair to say that Raymond Burr carried the show. Burr, in this part being confined to a wheelchair, has to rely on his face to convey mood and emotion, and he’s gifted in doing so. He could convey anger, happiness, deep suspicion, exasperation and many other emotions with his expressions or the way he held his jaw. He’s quite good.

Sergeant Brown (Don Galloway) is a detective sergeant who landed on the team simply because Ironside approved of his work as a detective. Although portrayed as a bit of a bumbler in the early episodes, he soon demonstrates that he is fast on his feet, good with interrogation and even better at anticipating the Chief's next request/demand. He seems to have been born suspicious; his eyes squint when he smells a rat, and they squint a lot. He doesn’t seem to have any sort of personal life. And Don Galloway is woefully miscast in this part. I don’t know much about Galloway. I don’t remember seeing him either before or after Ironside. He makes no strong impression. Brown’s a detective sergeant, meaning that he’s a veteran who’s seen every side of the human condition, including a great many things civilians can only imagine. There are many ways to die, and he’s seen all of them. Yet none of it registers on his face. There are no lines or wrinkles; nothing to indicate that his experiences have changed him. He’s just an anonymous guy wearing a suit who happens to carry a badge. He has no gravitas. No bearing. He’s simply not believable. Galloway reminds me of Dick Sargent, not a detective in a large city. He’s simply too clean-cut to believably play the part. He’s not objectionable, and he does sort of grow on the viewer, but he never really makes an impression. And he’s not given a lot to do.

Only one episode, “Girl in the Night” from the first season, really centers on Brown; he meets a troubled nightclub singer (Susan St. James) and becomes attracted to her. Sparks should have flown, but they didn’t. He just isn’t believable as the sort of guy who might meet a nightclub singer and have a brief fling. Susan St. James lit up the room, but it was as though she was talking to a wall for all the good it did her. His casting was a loss to the series. It will be interesting to see if he’s given more to do in later seasons, but Brown was horribly miscast. Journeyman director Ralph Senesky directed “Girl In The Night”. On his website**, Senesky discusses the production of this episode, as well as his general opinion of Universal Television, which wasn’t favorable. He did think that “Girl In the Night” turned out well, however. 

Oh, my. I spoke too soon. I wrote the above after watching all but the last episode of the third season. After an entire season of indifferent writing and acting, would the last episode be the one to break the pattern? Yes. A very strong yes. Don Galloway, please forgive me. 

Don Galloway finally gets a chance to shine in an episode at the end of the third season; “Tom Dayton Is Loose Among Us” shows us that despite being miscast, Galloway could act, and the episode answers some questions the audience has about Sgt. Ed Brown. Bill Bixby plays a sociopath named Tom Dayton, with William Smithers being cast as defense attorney Ross Farley. Dayton tends to react violently to women in positions of authority. During one such act of violence, he causes the death of Brown’s fiancée. Finally, we get some backstory. Finally. Told in flashback, Brown, a rookie patrolman at this point, becomes obsessed with catching Dayton, and gets in the way of Ironside’s investigation into her death. Ironside isn’t happy, and he lets Brown know it, but he also senses the makings of a good cop in Ed Brown, and invites him to join the investigation. Brown comports himself well, and Ironside makes a mental note for the future. But it isn’t over. Not yet. 

Seven years later, Dayton is paroled. Brown, a Detective Sergeant by this time, is convinced that Payton will strike again. His old obsession with Payton returns; he’s angry and in danger of losing his objectivity regarding Payton; it gets to the point that Ironside has to tell Brown to stand down. And Payton does strike again. Ironside, to show his trust in Sergeant Brown, allows him to conduct the initial interrogation after Payton surrenders in the company of attorney Farley. Bill Bixby puts on an acting clinic in the entire episode but especially this scene, proving once again what a superb actor he really was; this is a juicy part and he makes the best of it. But Don Galloway, bless his heart, reaches deep within himself and finds acting talent he probably didn’t even know he had; he matches Bixby stroke for stroke during the interrogation. Sgt Brown begins by trying to build some rapport with Dayton, and he’s successful. He then pushes, pokes, prods and goads Dayton to answer, as one man to another, some questions about the most recent assault he’s committed. And as Brown continues to push, Dayton begins to lose control. Brown pushes even more, and Dayton cracks wide open. 

Defense attorney Farley can’t do anything but give himself a facepalm; he’s never seen an interrogation go off the rails like this, and it gets worse. After Brown finally goads him into losing his last vestige of self-restraint, Dayton concludes by giving a full confession; he’s proud of himself, and with rapport established, is convinced that Sgt. Brown surely understands why he assaults the women who show him disrespect. And, while conducting the interrogation, an entire range of emotion plays across Brown’s face; he’s alternately amused, understanding, angry, misbelieving and repulsed, all within the span of just a few minutes. It’s an excellent scene, with tour de force acting by Bixby forcing Galloway to up his game; he doesn’t want Bixby to show him up, and that certainly doesn’t happen here. More of this from Don Galloway, please. Give us more.

Barbara Anderson portrayed Officer Eve Whitfield. The Chief selected her at the same time he selected Sgt. Brown, because “they’re both good cops”. Barbara Anderson certainly wasn’t miscast. She could act (Lenore Karidian, call your office….) and she’s given a backstory. Eve was a young socialite with a strong sense that there might be more to life than fashion shows. The episode “Reprise” had a badly injured Whitfield recalling how she met each of her teammates. Ironside, who had an absolute gift for sensing human potential, sized her up as a potential police officer, but he had to reel her in, and the early scenes between the Chief and the civilian Whitfield were excellent. She’s a snappy dresser (Barbara Anderson was beautiful) and does a lot of undercover work on the show. 

She’s also unafraid of danger. While leaving a movie theater, she quite literally walks into the middle of a jewelry store robbery, and comports herself well in the ensuing gunfight. This was one of the best episodes of the first season; it’s called “All In a Day’s Work”, and it’s good. Eve shoots down one of the robbers, and is horrified to find that she’s just killed a teenager. She becomes afraid of her pistol, “forgetting” to put the pistol in her purse when she leaves the office and performing abysmally at the gun range. Ironside grows exasperated with her and essentially tells her to put on her big girl pants and be a cop. Which she does. The others were horrified at his attitude, but his little lecture is just what she needed. The ending is a little pat, as almost all the endings were, but this episode was a cut above the rest, due mainly to her acting and the writing by Ed McBain (Evan Hunter). I had no idea that Evan Hunter had done any writing for TV, but he did indeed, especially in his salad days in the 50’s and 60’s. You can tell it in this episode; the writing is a little sharper and the characterizations a little more vivid. And it includes one of the best scenes in the series.

Ironside is talking to the mother of the dead boy; she’s played by Jeanette Nolan, one of the best character actresses I’ve ever seen. Raymond Burr was one of those actors who could draw a better performance out of another actor simply by being in the same scene, but Nolan needed little prodding. The scene lasts about three minutes, but it’s very emotional. She doesn’t want to help Ironside find the Fagin who was running the robbery ring, and Ironside has to convince her otherwise. A lot of emotion and feelings rubbed raw here, and the final moment when Nolan relents and gives Ironside the information he needs is just excellent. It’s always a joy to watch two fine actors work together, and this is a fine example of just how well Raymond Burr could act, especially with actors who were his equal.

Don Mitchell played Mark Sanger. Mark Sanger had to be easy to write for, as Sanger was an interesting character. Mark Sanger grew up on the mean streets of the city, probably in Fillmore. It was a challenging life for a boy with no father and Mark began to drift into crime. As an adult, he’d been sent to jail multiple times by Chief Ironside, and Mark didn’t appreciate that one bit. He was angry, not just at Ironside, but at everything. He was an angry black man, and meat for multiple scripts which explored his upbringing and his relationship with Ironside. He respected Ironside, and ultimately came to care for him very much. In return, Chief Ironside was proud enough of Mark that he paid for Mark’s education, which ultimately led to his becoming a lawyer.

But in the beginning there were fireworks. In “Memory Of An Ice Cream Stick” from the first season, Mark goes to visit an adult figure from his childhood named Sam Noble; Noble has just been released from prison. Mark has pleasant childhood memories of the ex-con; Noble treated Mark decently and gave him a sort of father figure to look up to. Ironside warns him against being involved with Noble, as he suspects Noble is involved in a gangland murder. Mark declines Ironside’s request, and forcefully explains to Chief Ironside that he doesn’t need or want his advice, that he is a grown man, and that the Chief simply does not understand how Mark grew up or the role that Sam Noble played in Mark’s life. He is tired of the Chief’s advice and admonishments in general, as well as his patronizing attitude. The Chief is taken aback, and, for both the first and last time in the first three seasons, apologizes. He takes Mark’s request to heart, and Mark learns a valuable lesson about childhood memories when he finds that Noble is indeed involved in the murder, and that he’s not at all the man Mark remembers. As the series progresses Mark begins to loosen up; he works well with the other members of the team, and begins doing more and more police work. 

My overall impression of the series is that it’s a routine police procedural with some nice touches. The writing and direction was routine, and the acting routine as well. In his discussion of the two episodes he helmed for Ironside, director Ralph Senensky refers to Universal as a factory; he stated further that, and I’m paraphrasing, that simply driving through the Universal gate seemed to drain all the creativity out of him. It’s tempting to say that Ironside was routine, and to simply leave it at that. Except that that’s not really fair to Universal Television. NBC, Universal and Harbour Productions signed a contract guaranteeing NBC 26 episodes of a crime drama; each episode was to be about 52 minutes long, and each episode was budgeted at between $150,000 and $200,000 apiece, and each episode had a shooting schedule of either six or seven days. It was right to say that Universal was a factory; they really were making a product, and their customer was NBC. Consistent excellence simply wasn’t possible under these conditions. And quite a bit depended on the mix of producers, writers and directors. Some dramas, such as The Fugitive, simply had a better mix of the three and were able to turn out consistently better episodes. Ironside did not. As a result of all these factors, there were many episodes of Ironside that were simply routine at best and nearly unwatchable at worst. This was never the intent, but it’s just how it played out.

Having said all this, sometimes the factory turned out some excellent television. And the best was an episode called “Price Tag: Death”. It starred Ralph Meeker as a homeless former cop, and Clu Gulager as a petty thief who lives in the bottle. During a burglary, the thief accidentally kills a homeless man, who was a friend of the fallen cop. Meeker asks Ironside for help. Jack Brody, the thief played by Gulager, is a pathetic figure. He’s a boozer. He’s lost his wife and family. He sits and smokes and drinks all day. He writes bad checks to generate an income; he’s discovered that if you buy some groceries at a supermarket, they’ll let you write the check for some amount over the purchase amount. He dumps the groceries and lives on these small sums of cash. He’s a complete loser. He goes to see his ex-wife; she wants nothing to do with him and doesn’t want him near their children. He picks up a woman at a bar and takes her home, only to wake up the next day to find that she’s cleaned out his wallet; she even returns later in the day and steals the machine he stole during the disastrous burglary, which he uses to make the checks he cashes, meaning he no longer has an income. He wrecks his car. His pitiful little life is falling apart, and he’s almost relieved to be shot to death at the end of the episode.

What to say? Clu Gulager’s acting is outstanding. Gulager was one of those actors who was never going to carry a show, and he didn’t do character roles. He spent nearly his entire career doing Guest Star roles such as this one. He was one of those rare actors that screenwriters live for; give him some good lines and he runs away with them. His Jack Brody is vivid; the cold sweat of desperation oozes from every pore on his body. He’s trapped in this cycle of petty crime, and he doesn’t know how to escape. He’s simply a bystander who watches as his life, which wasn’t much to start with, degrades with increasing speed. Clu Gulager plays this role very, very well, and is completely believable as the alcoholic loser who isn’t even a very good thief. Kudos also to director Richard Colla and writers Collier Young and Robert Earll, who wrote the lines which Clu Gulager used so effectively to define Jack Brody. This is the best episode yet in the first three seasons, and perhaps one of the best episodes of series television I’ve ever seen.


Ironside
is worth watching. It’s not great television, but it is entertaining. It doesn’t enjoy the same iconic status in our culture as other shows of the period, such as Mannix and Star Trek, but it succeeds on its own merits as simple entertainment and a pleasant way to spend an hour. This set of episodes was packaged by Shout! Factory; for whatever reason they only released the first four seasons. The second set has been released by an Australian company called Via Vision, and it’s proving difficult to find; it goes in and out of stock at all American retailers. If you enjoy vintage television from a different time and place, you’ll enjoy Ironside.

* Raw Deal is a gem. It’s one of the finest film noirs ever made. Directed by Anthony Mann, with cinematography by the legendary John Alton, it really gives Raymond Burr a chance to shine as the sadistic gangster Rick Coyle. While not the main character, Burr chews the scenery, and plays evil very convincingly; he has an epic death scene which can only be envied by other actors. ClassicFlix has re-released their restoration of Raw Deal; their restoration is pristine. This movie is an excellent introduction to the world of noir, and Raymond Burr is a huge asset to a movie which also stars Dennis O’Keefe, Marsha Hunt and Claire Trevor. John Ireland plays Fantail, Coyle's psychopathic assistant. Highly recommended. This movie is without flaw.

** Ralph Senensky has made an invaluable contribution to television history with his remarkable website “Ralph’s Cinema Trek”. Senensky, who’s still with us at 99, was a journeyman director who worked in television from the Fifties into the Eighties; he directed episodes of a great many iconic television shows, including Ironside, Mannix, The FBI, The Fugitive and many others. He’ll still be known in 100 years, after all the other shows are forgotten, for directing seven episodes of Star Trek. Senensky was a competent and respected director who could solve problems on the fly, knew how to improvise, and most importantly, he knew how to put a show in the can on time and on budget. His website is packed with his memories of nearly every episode he directed; he illustrates his stories with embedded clips from each show, as well as imagery of scripts and other documents used to illustrate his memories. His stories are priceless, as they provide a up-close look into television production of that time. My favorite article talks about how he was fired from “The Tholian Web”. Be prepared to spend hours reading the articles. He helmed two episodes of Ironside, “Girl in the Night” and “Return of the Hero”. He never liked working for Universal; he makes his reasons abundantly clear in the article detailing the productions of these two episodes He describes Raymond Burr as “aloof”; he also describes some of the troubles Burr was beginning to have with Universal. Good, good stuff. His website is at senensky.com. Give it a look-see.  TV