February 26, 2022

This week in TV Guide: February 29, 1964

From 1963 through 1969, ABC broadcast a very good series of historial documentary specials under the umbrella title The Saga of Western Man, produced by author and ABC News correspondent John Secondari and his wife, Helen Jean Rogers. The series focused on the people and events that Secondari and Rogers felt had propelled the development of Western civilization—from the birth of Christ to the life of DaVinci to Columbus and the discovery of America.*

*I've often wondered why no one has ever made a series out of Will and Ariel Durant's 11-volume work, The Story of Civilization. Maybe this is as close as they'll ever come. 

On Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. PT, the topic is "1898"—the year that "marked America's emergency as a world power." It was a significant year indeed: the Indian wars had been concluded, the age of the oil, railroad and steel barons was upon us, and immigrants were providing low-cost labor. Perhaps most significant was the emergence of a figure who was to become larger than life on the American scene: Theodore Roosevelt.* As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt played a key role in the construction of what would be known as the Great White Fleet, famous for their 1907 tour around the world (at the command of none other than President Theodore Roosevelt); later in the year, Roosevelt would lead his Rough Riders against Spanish troops in Cuba. If you want to argue that this was a watershed year in American history—the birth of the modern America, if you will—then I won't disagree with you.

*Actor Sidney Blackmer, who played Roosevelt a dozen times in the movies, provides T.R.'s voice in various readings.

   The destruction of the Maine, which
   led to the Spanish-American War
You wouldn't have a series like The Saga of Western Man on network television today, for a variety of reasons besides the fact that none of the commercial networks would ever run a series of historical documentaries in primetime. For one thing, it couldn't be called "Man," for reasons I hardly need to explain. You couldn't treat Western civilization as something to be celebrated, either; we all know that the West is the source and summit of everything that's wrong with the world. And you couldn't talk of the United States as a world power, because it isn't one anymore; born in 1898, one could say that it died in 2021. If this country has become a laughingstock in the world, it's only because it has fallen so far. 

I wonder what Theodore Roosevelt, who believed in what one might call "Muscular Americanism," would think of all this. For that matter, what would John Secondari think of it?

l  l  l

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: Ed welcomes songstress Anita Bryant; comic Jack Carter; ventriliquist Rickie Layne and his little pal Velvet; and Julius Monk's "Baker's Dozen" revue.

Palace: Host Efrem Zimbalist Jr. shares some laughs with his old 77 Sunset Strip buddy Louis Quinn and introduces Kate Smith; the Great Wallendas, high-wire artists; Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Trigger and the Sons of the Pioneers; comedian Corbett Monica of The Joey Bishop Show; and Albert Rix and his trained Russian Bears.

First things first: as far as novelty acts go, I'll take trained bears over ventriliquists any day. Now, I always thought and still think Anita Bryant had a lovely voice, and Jack Carter can be very funny at times. But let's be real: Kate Smith and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (with or without Trigger) are quality headliners. The Flying Wallendas were and may still be the most famous high-wire act in history (and were even moreso then, when they were only two years removed from their tragic accident in Detroit). With all that, Efrem Zimbalist and  Louis Quinn (who played Roscoe on Sunset Strip and must have been there for comic relief) are just icing on the cake. It's an easy call: The Palace takes the honors.

l  l  l

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. 

Bill Dana's character José Jiménez ("My name José Jiménez") debuted on The Steve Allen Show in 1959, and rode the contrails of the Mercury astronauts to stardom (he was a favorite of the flyboys, who found his astronaut skit hilarious); after appearing as a character in Make Room for Daddy, it's not a surprise that in 1963, at the height of his popularity, he was spun off into his own sitcom, which probably could have been called José Jiménez but instead carried the title The Bill Dana Show when it premiered on NBC.

As Cleveland Amory describes him, José  is "the little man fighting to better himself but convinced, due to his helpful nature, that every man was put on earth to better his fellow men." He works as a bellhop at the Park Central Hotel in New York; naturally, he is the nemesis of his boss (Jonathan Harris) and the house detective (Don Adams), and proves a frustration to his fellow bellhop Eddie (Gary Crosby), who was trying to keep José from being taken advantage of. 

Predictable, to be sure, and not terribly sophisticated, but not without its charms, according to Cleve. "[I]f slapstick is your dish," he writes, "you'll get plenty of it in this show and even if it's not, once in a while you'll get a genuinely funny splituation." Much of the humor comes from José's naivety and fractured English, such as when he decides to become a "financial typhoon" by buying stock in the hotel. During the shareholder's meeting, when the chairman rules him out of order, he replies, "No, I'm not. I had a physical last week." And when the chair finally recognizes him, José responds, "You do? I don't know you." Not everyone's cup of TV, Amory acknowledges, but how many people go to a hotel for the television anyway?

l  l  l

Some interesting notes in the margins this week, so to speak. On NBC's Sunday afternoon newsmagazine, appropriately named Sunday and hosted by Today newscaster Frank Blair (3:00 p.m. PT), drama critic William K. Zinser reviews the "controversial Broadway play" The Deputy, written by German playwright Rolf Hochhuth, and the word "controversial" is something of an understatement. To this point in history, Pope Pius XII had generally been regarded, by Christian and Jew alike, as a moral and humanitarian hero of World War II; Hochhuth, instead, presented the pope as antisemetic, indifferent to the suffering of the Jews and sympathetic to Nazi Germany, which he saw as a geopolitical balance against the Soviet Union. 

Huchhuth's portrayal of Pius as the "heartless, money-grasping pontiff "who turned a blind eye to the Holocaust has become something of a cause celebre among the jejune literati, butressed by historical slanders such as Hitler's Pope by the liberal Catholic John Cornwall. We now know, for example, that the storyline was probably a product of General Ivan Agayants, chief of the KGB's disinformation department, as part of a Soviet campaign to discredit and defame Pius—a campaign that, it must be admitted, has been largely successful in popular culture. It's only been in the last few years that the pontiff's reputation has started to be rehabilitated, with the publication of several books corroborating Pius' efforts on behalf of the Jews. But, as they say, the smear story always appears on page one, while the retraction appears in the small print on page 70. 

In case you're wondering if I've actually read The Deputy, I have a copy in my library, which I used while researching my book The Collaborator. It's unorthodox, mildly interesting, and totally slanderous.

Speaking of politics, as we tangentially have been, on Thursday night ABC News Reports previews next Tuesday's New Hampshire presidential primary (10:30 p.m.). If you'd asked experts six months ago what to expect, they'd have said that the Democratic half of the equation would be pretty quiet, with an incumbent president running unopposed, while the Republican side could present fireworks and possibly a surprise winner. Well, they were right—and yet not at all in the way they thought. 

The incumbent Democrat does indeed win, but his name is Lyndon B. Johnson instead of John F. Kennedy, and that still takes a lot of getting used to, a little over three months after the fact. Meanwhile, although Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller are the principal Republicans, the winner is a total shock: not former Vice President Richard Nixon, or Michigan Governor George Romney, or Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton, or any of the other establishment figures. Instead, first place goes to a man who didn't campaign nor set foot in the state, and who's name isn't even on the ballot: Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., current U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, and formerly a U.S. senator from Massachusetts and Nixon's running mate in 1960. The Lodge write-in campaign, driven by four friends "looking for something exciting to do," and run out of a small office in Concord, is one of the great stories in modern politics, made even moreso by comparison to the precise, poll-driven methods of today. You can read all about this remarkable story here

l  l  l

On Monday, Leslie Uggams and Bob McGrath are among the soloists on Sing Along With Mitch (10:00 p.m., NBC). According to the TV Teletype, Sing Along may be headed for ABC next season, having been bumped out of its Monday night slot (in favor of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour); the network thinks it would make an ideal Saturday night companion to The Lawrence Welk Show. For whatever reason, the Miller-ABC merger never happens, and the slot following Welk winds up going to The Hollywood Palace.

KPTV, the former ABC affiliate in Portland, Oregon, is, as of March 1, an independent station (while former independent KATU is now tied to ABC). As a result of the switch, the station has a new lineup, including, on Tuesday, the British drama The Human Jungle (8:30 p.m.), starring Herbert Lom as psychiatrist Dr. Roger Corder. I've written about this series before and will again; it's an excellent, edgy series that illustrates how fragile and yet resiliant the human mind is, and anyone who knows Lom primarily from the Pink Panther movies will be in for a surprise.

The U.S.S. Thresher is very much in the news in March, 1964. The nuclear-powered submarine sank on April 10, 1963 during deep-diving tests off the Massachusetts coast, killing all 129 aboard. Wednesday, CBS Reports looks back at "The Legacy of the Thresher" (7:30 p.m.), including footage taken by the bathyscaphe Trieste shortly after the sinking. (Reports vary as to the cause of the accident; the details are in this fascinating Popular Mechanics artice.) Many years later, a secret mission, funded by the Navy and conducted by oceanographer Robert Ballard, used the submersible Alvin to gather data on the wreckage sits of the Thresher and another atomic submarine, the U.S.S. Scorpion. In return for Ballard's work, the Navy allowed him to continue to use the submersible for a project of his own, which the Navy then used as a cover story to keep the mission secret. Ballard's project: his search for the wreckage of the Titanic.

Perry Como has been a mainstay on television since 1948, and host of the Kraft Music Hall since 1959. But now, Mr. C is scaling back a bit, and beginning with this 1963-64 season, he's replaced the weekly grind with seven specials a year—arena shows set in different cities around the country. On Thursday,  Perry broadcasts from Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans, with his guests Mickey Rooney, Martha Raye, Al Hirt, and ballet dancer Jacques d'Amboise. (10:00 p.m., NBC)

Friday, it's part one of the two-part series finale of Route 66 (8:30 p.m., CBS), and Tod Stiles (Martin Milner), who's spent four years chasing girls without being caught, may have finally met his match: the eccentric members of the Tifin family are trying to marry off their niece as a condition of inheriting $5 million, and they think Tod would make the perfect groom. Their advantage: the bride-to-be is Barbara Eden. I ask you, who could pass up that opportunity?

l  l  l

Finally, the starlet who's already a star: 18-year-old Zina Bethune, who plays student nurse Gail Lucas on the CBS series The Nurses. Zina's hardly a newcomer to the entertainment scene, pursuing dual careers in acting and dancing; at 6, she was appearing off-Broadway; at 7 she was in George Ballanchine's School of American Ballet and was a lead in The Nutcracker by the time she was 10, and in a TV production of Tennessee Williams' This Property is Condemned. She's a veteran of The Guiding Light and Young Doctor Malone, Broadway plays, movies, and TV guest apperances. In fact, as Alan Gill notes in this week's cover story, "she hasn't missed much—except the experience of being young."

Shirl Conway, who plays mentor Liz Thorpe—we're in the era of shows featuring an older mentor imparting wisdom to the young student, after all, and Conway is Dr. Gillsepie to Bethune's Dr. Kildare—says, "That kid is more worried at being 18 than I was at turning 47," and adds, "Oh, I'd like to see her run in the fields." Zina herself acknowledges that "I'm at the beginning of a road —a long, lonely road. Eventually, I'll get married. I want companionship." But she takes pride in her work; Conway says that this role "hasn't shown what she's got by a hell of a long shot. The kid's an actress."

The Nurses lasts on television for three seasons, until 1965; for the last season, it's known as The Doctors and the Nurses, and brings on Michael Tolan and Joseph Campanella as the titular doctors. It then winds up as a daytime soap for a couple of years on ABC, under its original title and with the same characters, but not played by the same actresses. So although she's no stranger to daytime drama, Zina doesn't make the transition. 

She does, however, go on to make her mark in many ways; her best-known role might be opposite Harvey Keitel in Martin Scorsese’s 1967 movie Who’s That Knocking at My Door. She founds her own dance company, Bethune Theatredanse, and choreographs more than 50 works. She becomes involved in animal rights, and she does marry, to actor Sean Feeley, with whom she is still married when she dies in 2012 as the result of a hit-and-run accident. TV  

No comments

Post a Comment

Thanks for writing! Drive safely!