March 5, 2022

This week in TV Guide: March 7, 1959

Walter Brennan—veteran of nearly 40 years in the movies, three-time Oscar winner, and currently the star of ABC's The Real McCoys—has some interesting thoughts on television: "It's like ice cream. Awfully good stuff but you've got to be careful not to 'eat' too much of it."

In truth, he wonders why anyone would willingly choose to do a television series, given the workload. "We have to cover 14 script pages a day and do 39 shows a year. I wake up in the middle of the night wondering why a man in his right mind does it. Why, I see more of the people I work with in The Real McCoys than I do my own wife."

On the other hand, he also understands that television is the future, and that anyone who wants to continue working is going to have to gravitate towards it. "TV is the thing that is modern, and you've got to go along with it. They sorta talked me into this series against my better judgment. Now that I'm in—well, I think we've got a good show. Anyway, people seem to like it. And I like the people on the show. And I'm rather taken with [his character] Grampa McCoy."

I suppose it's likely more people saw Walter Brennan during the six seasons (plus endless reruns, not to mention DVD and streaming) of The Real McCoys than all of his movies put together. It's true that his three Best Supporting Actor Oscars came from a different time in the movies, when the role of the supporting actor was well and exclusively defined. (One wouldn't see Meryl Streep, for example, slumming in a Supporting Actress role.) And television has been very good to Brennan, giving him an income that, with his careful management, has allowed him to become a wealthy man. With that kind of security comes the freedom to be outspoken, and Brennan has some definite thoughts on TV. He's fond of it and watches it "a good deal" until something on it starts to annoy him. He's a big fan of his own show (never misses it), and prefers programs like Gunsmoke, Lawrence Welk, George Burns and Red Skelton to the "prestige" dramas such as Playhouse 90.

On the other hand. . . "I don't watch to criticize, but of course you can't help it. I even criticize myself. I don't like all this violence on TV these days. I don't like depressing things. I have an instinct to watch the other guy. . . If a guy thinks at all, he knows he's fortunate to have had a little recognition. He'd be silly to think it was all him." He recalls a conversation he had with a successful film director, to whom he said, "'God has been very kind to you.' He said, 'What do you mean! I did it all myself.' I said—well, you can't print what I said."

Brennan and Dezi Arnez once figured that The Real McCoys would be good for about five seasons before hitting the wall, and that's just fine with him.  "To be in this business longer than that a man really has to have a hole in his head."  It's not his last go-round in the weekly series department, though, with upcoming stops such as the underrated The Guns of Will Sonnett (a curious late-60s Western that debuted long after the golden age of Westerns had ended) and To Rome With Love.  For anyone familiar with Brennan's Western persona, a must-see is his lampooning of that character in the wonderful James Garner comedy Support Your Local Sheriff!

l  l  l

Here's a headline you don't see often: "How Television Encourages Children to Read." This is so contrary to the conventional thinking, both then and now, that it deserves a closer look.

The idea is that television shows send children running to the library to learn more about what they've seen, whether it be stars like Wyatt Earp, Robin Hood and Davy Crockett, or books on "how to make a monster."

The bulk of the article details the ways in which libraries are learning how to use the new medium to their own advantage. In Philadelphia, for instance, librarians publicize upcoming shows such as Peter Pan or Sleeping Beauty and suggest to kids that they'll want to read the book before they see the program. In Los Angeles, where their evidence suggests "television programs stimulate children to read more widely," Davy Crockett is such a big hit that one patron contributed enough funds for the library to purchase 50 copies of Crockett biographies. Denver reports that Shirley Temple's Storybook has sparked new interest in fairy tales, and in New York, Golden Press is working on book adaptations of popular TV shows such as Maverick and Leave It to Beaver. The head children's librarian in San Francisco goes so far as to say that TV stimulates children to find out more factual information about the characters in their favorite shows.

All is not completely rosy, however; in Chicago, one librarian says she could not convince a child that Cinderella was written by Charles Perrault—the child was sure it was Rogers and Hammerstein.* Children do tend to be confused when shows are widely different than the books on which they're based (but then, aren't we all?), and kids from "poorer" reading groups often want simplified versions of the stories they see, rather than the real thing.

*Kids nowadays wouldn't have the faintest idea who Rodgers and Hammerstein were.
The consensus, though, seems to be that television should no longer be seen as the enemy, but as something that can be "a useful instrument in a child's education."

l  l  l

Television's favorite opera composer is back with a new production this week. It's Maria Golovin, the newest from Gian Carlo Menotti; commissioned by Peter Herman Adler, head of NBC Opera Theatre, it makes its television debut Sunday afternoon (4:00 p.m. CT) with a two-hour color broadcast. Maria Golovin is heavy stuff, telling the story of the romance between a blind, former POW and a married woman living in a European country a few years after a recent war.

Menotti was once famous enough that he appeared on the cover of Time magazine, and he won two Pulitzer Prizes in the '50s for his operas. By 1959, however, Menotti's star has begun to fade. Golovin receives only fair reviews, and his subsequent operas, such as the made-for-TV Labyrinth and The Last Savage, are poorly received. Today, he's a much-underrated composer; although his most famous composition, Amahl and the Night Visitors, continues to delight audiences young and old, most of his operas have fallen into disuse, which is a pity. Occasionally one comes across a revival of his Pulitzer-winning operas, The Consul (a brutal take on a totalitarian government) and The Saint of Bleecker Street, and Menotti deserves to one day be back in the opera house on a regular basis. I fear, however, that it will happen about the time opera makes a comeback on network television.

l  l  l

I'll note once again why something like NBC Opera Theatre can be seen on a Sunday afternoon—it's because sports on television is in 1959 nowhere near as prevalent as it is today. Saturday is the busier of the two days of the weekend. CBS has the NHL game of the week between the New York Rangers and Chicago Black Hawks at 1:30 p.m. while there are a pair of college basketball games on at 2:00 p.m. Cincinnati vs. Bradley on NBC, Missouri vs. Kansas State on ABC. A couple of made-for-TV bowling programs round out the day's sporting activity—and that's it. Sunday is even leaner, with the NBA game of the week between the St. Louis Hawks and Minneapolis Lakers (1:30 p.m., NBC) being the only major event, unless you want to include another bowling show, and a roller derby match between the San Francisco Bombers and the New York Chiefs (3:30 p.m., KWTX).

So what exactly did all-weekend sports replace on TV? Well, there are a lot of movies, Westerns, and Western movies that run on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. There are syndicated programs such as Mr. District Attorney on WFAA and Abbot and Costello on KFJZ. There are local and national variety shows, cartoons, and Sunday afternoon religious, news and public affairs programs. There's G-E College Bowl (this week: Notre Dame vs. Georgetown). There is, in fact, a great deal of diversity in the programming. Compared to the infomercials that too often dominate non-network hours today, I think that's not such a bad lineup.

l  l  l

Speaking of variety shows, we know that the golden age of variety has long since disappeared from television, but it's useful to see just how many shows there were in 1959. In fact, as we run through the week, we find at least one on each night, many with the sponsor's name as part of the title.

Saturday night has always been a good night for variety, and there's plenty of it this week. At 6:30 p.m., The Dick Clark Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show (try saying that five times fast) features Jaye P. Morgan (pre-Gong Show), Paul Anka and Dale Hawkins, and Fabian and the Coasters (on ABC, natch). That's followed at 7:00 by Red Foley's Country show Jubilee U.S.A., with Tex Ritter and the Schmitz Sisters (also on ABC); opposite that, Perry Como's colorcast on NBC has Ronnie Burns, Eve Arden (Our Miss Brooks) and Max Gallop. Lawrence Welk is on at 8:00 with what was known formally back then as the Dodge Dancing Party.

Sunday is Ed Sullivan's night, of course, and this week Ed's guests include Jane Russell and her younger brother Kevin, Shelly Winters, Fred MacMurray, Jan Murray, Joe Howard, David Seville and the Chipmunks, and Shecky Greene. (7:00 p.m., CBS) Before that, though, NBC has a program called Music Shop (last show of the series), hosted by Buddy Bregman and starring the great Billy Eckstine and Dodie Stevens. Steve Allen follows Music Shop (although next week Steve movies from 7:00 to 6:30, to get a half-hour jump on Ed). For this week, Steve's guests are Zsa Zsa Gabor, Vic Damone, Jane Harvey, Johnny Carson (!) and Earl "Father" Hines. NBC's variety show block concludes at 8:00 p.m. with The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, with Tony Randall, Ella Fitzgerald and Betty Grable.

Monday has what I'd consider an unusual variety show: a special presentation of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, with ringmaster Ernie Kovacs (6:30 p.m., ABC). I don't know if it lives up to its billing as The Greatest Show on Earth, but with a host like Kovacs it has to be fun. Then there's the Arthur Murray Dance Party (9;00 p.m., NBC), with Kathryn Murray interviewing Cornelia Otis Skinner, Rita Gam, Denise Darcel, Mitchell Parrish, Enzo Stuarti and Judy Lynn. Opposite that is The Patti Page Oldsmobile Show (9:00 p.m., ABC); Patti's guests are Duke Ellington and the Dukes of Dixieland. Edge to Patti there.

On Tuesday, George Gobel and Eddie Fisher (aka Mr. Elizabeth Taylor) alternate in the 7:00 p.m. slot on NBC; this week, it's George's turn, and his guests this week are opera singer Patrice Munsel, Johnny Cash and Paul Lynde. Lucille Ball appears on Arthur Godfrey's show (8:00 p.m., CBS), followed by Red Skelton, with Cesar Romero and Terry Moore (8:30 p.m., CBS), and Garry Moore returns from vacation to welcome Ed Wynn, Jane Powell, the Mills Brothers and Sue Carson (9:00 p.m., again on CBS).

Lawrence Welk is back on Wednesday with Lawrence Welk's Top Talent (7:30 p.m., ABC), while NBC counters with Milton Berle on the Kraft Music Hall, with guest Martha Raye. Thursday night sees The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom with Maureen O'Hara (8:00 p.m., ABC), while on The Ford Show (the car, not the entertainer), Tennessee Ernie Ford (the entertainer, not the car) welcomes special guest Liberace. There's no regular show scheduled for Friday, but Bob Hope's back with another of his specials (7:00 p.m., NBC), featuring Julie London, Guy Mitchell, Chuck Conners, Fess Parker and Gail Davis. It's sponsored by Chrysler, of course.

If that isn't enough, there are also Monday through Friday daytime variety shows: Arthur Godfrey's back every morning at 9:30 on CBS, The Peter Lind Hayes Show features on ABC at 11:30 a.m.,  Jimmy Dean has a show on CBS at 1:00 p.m,, as does Liberace on ABC, Art Linkletter's House Party follows Jimmy at 1:30 p.m. (CBS), Bert Parks hosts County Fair at 3:30 p.m. on NBC, and we can't forget Dick Clark and American Bandstand at 4:00 p.m. on ABC. And then, lest we forget, there's Jack Paar's late night Tonight show. If you include those, you come up with, I think 57, plus two specials for the week.* Granted, there were only four stations in most markets back then, but there really is something for everyone, don't you think?

*This statistic brought to you by Heinz. 

l  l  l

Finally, there's the show I would have wanted to see that week: Sunday's G.E. Theater (8:00 p.m., CBS) presents "The Incredible Jewel Robbery," a comedy without dialog starring Harpo and Chico Marx as two criminals plotting a jewelry-store robbery. With Groucho hosting You Bet Your Life on Thursdays, that means the three biggest Marx brothers are all on television this week. (There's also, according to TV Guide, an unbilled cameo from a mustachioed gentleman who, contractually, must remain anonymous.) And if that isn't "the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," try this: you can watch the episode on YouTube.

I've said it before, but for all the trouble it causes, technology can be a wonderful thing. TV  

No comments

Post a Comment

Thanks for writing! Drive safely!