July 23, 2022

This week in TV Guide: July 23, 1966




This week’s lead story is written by British humorist and critic Malcolm Muggeridge, the sixth in a series of articles "assessing television's effect on our society." Muggeridge wrote for TV Guide several times over the years (I think this was my favorite); he was one of many distinguished writers appearing in TV Guide through the ‘60s and ‘70s, a period when the magazine was capable of a particularly high intellectual content. (Unlike today.) As interesting a writer as Muggeridge was, he was an even more interesting individual: a leading journalist, social critic and television personality in Britain, a soldier and spy during World War II, a left-winger who eventually because staunchly anti-Communist, an editor with Punch magazine, an interviewer with the BBC, a stinging satirist who became a harsh critic of ’60s permissiveness, eventually converted to Christianity, and was widely credited with bringing Mother Teresa to popular consciousness in the West. Incredible.

In this issue, many of his talents are on display. He freely acknowledges the influence of television— "what [children] see on it more than anything else, governs their present hopes and future aspirations"—and that the medium has become a major shaper of opinion: "If Nixon had been better made up, without that devastating afternoon-shadow, for his encounters with the late President Kennedy, it is perhaps he who would have gone to the White House."

He acknowledges that television is often of dubious artistic merit ("The old music hall, as I remember it in my childhood, was, by comparison, a feast of reason and a flow of wit."), and that the quality "declines visibly year by year."  However, he also cautions against throwing the baby out with the bath water, as it were:

Let it be remembered, however, that, on the same line of reasoning, the invention of printing might be as summarily dismissed. After all, far more type is dedicated to Peyton Place and Playboy magazine than to “Paradise Lost” or “La Recherche du Temps Perdu.” . . . How tragic if, because men could be debauched by “Fanny Hill” and the works of the Marquis de Sade, they had been deprived of the solace of the New Testament and Shakespeare’s plays, which also come to them largely through the printed word!

To critics who charge that television numbs the mind and turns people into what we today would call "couch potatoes," Muggeridge replies, "Nor is it true that, before television, those who now spend their evenings viewing sat at home doing embroidery or listening to 'The Mill on the Floss' read aloud. They were much more likely to be out at the pub studying tomorrow’s racing lineup or swapping dirty stories." He adds that television may indeed be "a cultural wasteland, but what about what they replaced? Was that a well-tended garden?"

The fact is, according to Muggeridge, there has been little serious art produced in any media—there has been far more "wealth, talent, skills and endeavor" spent in the last half-century of cinema than produced the Italian Renaissance, but the yield in terms of "enduring worth and interest" is "virtually nil."  Garbo, the Marx Brothers, Chaplin: "these are not the equivalent of even a minor work or art." A bit harsh perhaps, but not without merit. Rather than being constantly disappointed by television’s output, he suggests lowering expectations—"We do not expect tabloid newspapers to serialize Kierkegaard, or women’s magazines to run extracts from Thomas a Kempis. . . Why, then, should television be expected to manifest its seriousness and concern for culture by every now and again putting on a half-fisted production of 'King Lear' or mounting a boring lecture on the French Impressionists?" Far better that TV concentrate on what it does best: news, sports, comedy, soap operas.*

*He had some definite thoughts on those who appeared on television as well, as was shown in a memorable confrontation with Monty Python's John Cleese and Michael Palin on a BBC show in 1979. Maybe we'll talk about that someday.

This is Muggeridge as he came to be known in the late ’60s and ‘70s: an acerbic wit who nonetheless could not disguise an increasing seriousness creeping into his works. And it’s in that spirit that he leaves us with this optimistic note: for as many times that people have stopped him and mentioned how they’ve seen him on television, "not one has ever so much as mentioned, let alone quoted, anything I have said."  If that same "blissful ignorance" applies to all who air their views on the tube, "how splendid!"

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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:  Satirist Allan Sherman; the Supremes and the Dave Clark Five, rock ‘n’ roll groups; Richard Kiley and Joan Diener, appearing in a scene from “Man of La Mancha”; actor Menasha Skulnik; golf champion Ken Venturi; comics Stiller and Meara; and juggler Ugo Garrido.

Palace: Host Bing Crosby and son Gary, comedian Henny Youngman; singer Rosemary Clooney; Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, dancer-choreographer Hugh Lambert, comedy xylophonist Roger Ray, and the Band of the Fiji Military Forces.

"Those are both pretty good," my wife said when I read this week’s lineups to her. "I think you have to give a very slight edge to the Palace. They’ve got Bing Crosby, even with that talentless Gary, and besides, it seems like the Supremes were on with Sullivan every other week." Hard to argue with that, not if you want to have a successful marriage. Besides, with Bing and Rosie you’ve got a White Christmas reunion, and Bergen and Charlie are always funny. Maybe if it had been the Stones instead of the Supremes—but, alas, we’ll never know. The winner: Palace, by the slimmest of bouffant hairdos.

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With Cleveland Amory taking the summer off, we're fortunate to have TV Guide's movie critic, Judith Crist, filling in. And we're particularly fortunate that this week, the subject of Crist's review is none other than ABC's blockbuster prime time soap, Peyton Place.

Back in the olden days of radio, Crist says, things were simpler, and soaps often focused on a main character. But now, "the affluent society won't settle for simplicities," she writes. "We'll take our emotional calories in assorted nuts, by the handful." And as Peyton Place "snail-paces along toward its third season," the storylines seem, if anything, to be getting more complicated: "It was possible to keep track of things in the early days but more and more outlanders are drifting into the precinct. Blink an eye and there are three more mysteries on hand, with half-forgotten characters to go with them." Crist admits to harboring a secret desire that Martin Peyton will turn out to be his own grandfather. 

Indeed, Peyton Place seems to be a miserable place to live, a place where "people face life, hunching over the ghastly sins and secrets that have taken place off-screen and long ago, and reveling in all the sorrows and suspicions and soul searching they produce on screen and in perpetuity." And the show always seems to be on the verge of some monumental reveal, some dark secret that threatens to boil over; Crist thinks it will be that "somewhere in Peyton Place there's somebody whose parents were a properly married unadulterous pair, whose birth was therefore legitimate and who has reached his 20th year without having had a nervous breakdown, committed mayhem or even murder or, hope among hopes, stumbled upon the secret of his neighbor's sins!" Well, one can always hope.

Not that there aren't some positives connected to PP: the show has shifted to color, the production values are first-class, and some of the cast members provide a dignity that can produce the illusion that this show, compared to the daytime soaps, is of a "higher class"; and Mia Farrow, caricatured above, has "eternity in [her] wide, wide eyes." But then there's the "near-camp dreariness" of the dialog, the pace that makes it clear the program was "designed for sporadic viewing," and those complicated plots. Watching Peyton Place, Crist concludes, "is getting a big much—and lower-calorie diets are healthier in the long, long run."

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Since the death of Dorothy Kilgallen the previous November, the What’s My Line? crew from Goodson-Todman has been engaged in "The Great Woman Hunt," a furious search for a permanent replacement for Kilgallen, who had been with the show since its inception in 1950. So far, the seat has remained in the possession of a rotating cast of guest stars—everyone from Kitty Carlisle (a stalwart of Goodson-Todman’s To Tell the Truth) to Dr. Joyce Brothers, with magazine publisher Helen Gurley Brown, TV Guide critic Judith Crist, columnist Sheilah Graham, and actresses Joanna Barnes, Joan Fontaine and Dina Merrill thrown in. Even Muriel Davidson, the author of this article, has been considered for the list. It’s a tough gig, though, coming into a long-running show with a veteran cast; as host John Daly puts it, "If she doesn’t fit into our family, we’ll just freeze her out."

At press time there are three clear contenders for the seat. There’s Phyllis Newman, another veteran of To Tell the Truth, married to legendary Broadway composer Adolph Green; charming, bubbly and very girlish (and I mean that as a compliment), always having to tilt her head upward slightly during the Mystery Guest segment so her mask wouldn’t fall off. Sue Oakland is a surprise finalist; married to TV producer Ted Cott (David Susskind’s cousin), she’s got both beauty and brains: "Besides being breath-takingly beautiful and gowned, she is a near-genius, with a Master's degree in political science from Columbia University and with one lovely leg up on a Ph.D.*

*Her Master’s was in the inside workings of the United Nations; her Doctoral dissertation was "The Function of Television on the Presidential Election Campaign of 1968."

And then there’s society columnist Suzy Knickerbocker, whose nameplate will eventually simply read "Suzy" rather than the letter-crunching "Miss Knickerbocker."  Her real name is Aileen Mehle and passing mention in the article is made of her having a 22-year-old son. (That son, Roger, is an Annapolis graduate and naval officer, and on the Christmas episode of WML, on which his mother is a panelist, he appears as the Mystery Guest.)

The tongue-in-cheek question remains: "Can a girl be found who can win the hearts of a great, established family, still grieving the loss of one of its most beloved members? . . . Or will her struggle for acceptance bring about the destruction of the entire, proud, 16-year dynasty?" In the end, despite the producers’ vows, none of the ladies above, or anyone else, for that matter, wind up filling Dorothy’s seat. WML is starting to show its age, "developing creaks of the Nielsen in its venerable beams," and it will leave the air in September 1967, with a run of 17½ seasons—at the time the fourth-longest-running non-news series of all time, trailing only The Ed Sullivan Show, The Original Amateur Hour and Lamp Unto My Feet. Whether the right fit was never found, or time just wound up running out, that fourth seat on the panel will continue to be filled with rotating female guests until the very end.*

*Or almost the very end; the final show features a panel of Arlene Francis, long-time guest Martin Gabel (Arlene’s husband), former regular Steve Allen, and Bennett Cerf.  Host John Daly himself plays the final Mystery Guest.

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I've mentioned before that it can be a challenge finding noteworthy shows during the summer, but I think we've done quite well for ourselves this week. As always, though, you can be the judge.

NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies has the Kirk Douglas classic Ace in the Hole, which is airing under its alternate title, The Big Carnival. (8:00 p.m. CT) It's a cynical, cynical story of a newspaperman trying for a comeback with the story of a man trapped in a cave. But it's only a story if he stays trapped long enough for a dramatic rescue. Not to disparage any of my friends in the media, and I do have them, but this kind of news manipulation could never happen today, right? Right?

Sunday, the sports world focuses on the final round of the PGA Championship, from the famed Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. (3:00 p.m., ABC) It’s an early appearance for golf’s final major championship of the year, which is usually played in August. It’s also an unplanned location for the tourney; originally it was supposed to take place at Columbine Country Club in Columbine, Colorado, but severe storms in 1965 had damaged the course, forcing the PGA to swap sites—Firestone had been scheduled to host in 1967, but traded with Columbine. After 54-year-old Sam Snead turns back the clock by leading the first two rounds, the young Al Geiberger comes on during the weekend to finish at even par, good enough for a four-shot win over Dudley Wysong.

*A footnote: that night, a few hours after the tournament, 1964 British Open champion Tony Lema and his wife are among those killed in the crash of a small plane flying Lema to Illinois to compete in a Monday event. The 32-year-old “Champagne Tony,” one of the best and most charismatic players on tour, had finished 34th in what turned out to be his last tournament. Had he not died, I think a lot more people would know who he is today.

Burgess Meredith is on prime-time three out of five nights this week, all on ABC, which is pretty good for both him and the network and a treat for us viewers. His first appearance is Monday night on 12 O'clock High (6:30 p.m.), where he plays a scientist who's developed an airborne radar that allows bombers to zero in on targets even when they're obscured by clouds. Trouble comes when the Germans figure out how to zero in on the radar. According to the Close-Up describing the episode, during one scene, "Meredith received a rare accolade: spontaneous applause from the other actors on the set." Also appearing in a semi-regular role is Robert Dornan, before he gives up acting and runs for Congress; MST3K fans will remember him from The Starfighters.

Jack Hawkins, who was so good as Quintus Arrius in Ben-Hur, is also on multiple nights; later in the week, he appears as a prim and insensitive Englishman on Bob Hope's Chrysler Theatre (in a story for which Shelley Winters would be nominated for an Emmy), but on Tuesday night he's on Dr. Kildare (7:30 p.m., NBC), as an atheist whose heart attack may have been Divine Punishment. Or not.

Burgess Meredith is back Wednesday in the first of two consecutive nights on Batman (6:30 p.m. tonight and tomorrow, ABC); this week, Alfred, the butler of millionaire Bruce Wayne, is kidnapped by "that piscatorial pirate of plunder." No window cameo, alas; although Jerry Lewis had appeared in the first one earlier in the season, it didn't become a semi-regular feature until the second season.

Thursday night Eve Arden stars on an episode of Bewitched (8:00 p.m., ABC) in which Endora shows Darren what Samantha's baby will look like in 25 years. Arden plays a nurse at the hospital, while the episode also marks the first appearance of Elizabeth Montgomery in her dual role as Samantha and her Cousin Serena. Meanwhile, Rowan and Martin continue in their summer replacement series that eventually leads to Laugh-In; this week, their guests are singer Barbara McNair and comedian Jackie Vernon. (9:00 p.m., NBC)

On Friday, a delightful rerun of Sing Along with Mitch (7:30 p.m., NBC) features Shirley Temple as the special guest, performing the songs she made famous as such an adorable child star. And at 9:00 p.m. on CBS, the Canadian comedians Wayne and Shuster conclude their documentary series Wayne and Shuster Take an Affectionate Look at... with a review of the career of W.C. Fields. Unless you're in Minneapolis, that is, where WCCO pre-empts the show for a double-feature of Marshal Dillon.

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Ah, this is the kind of thing I always appreciate finding: a 1966 CBC documentary hosted by—Alex Trebek! Yes, the same Alex Trebek who hosted Jeopardy since who-knows-when and became a beloved American icon! And what makes this even better is that the original Jeopardy, with host Art Fleming, is still on NBC’s daytime schedule! Who could possibly have looked at this issue and thought to themselves that nearly 60 years later Jeopardy would still be on, and it would have been hosted for 37 by this obscure Canadian appearing on a CBC documentary being broadcast by NET?

The show itself is, I think, striking: a look at "The Cultural Explosion" of the 1960s. "More people go to concerts, museums and theaters than ever before—but are we on the threshold of a new Renaissance?" What, exactly, does this tell us about today?  It’s very intriguing; after all, we hear constantly about how the arts must appeal to young people, who are increasingly turned off by the arts, and yet when it comes to the ‘60s, we tend to assume that the young dominated the tenor of the decade.

So: were older people driving this cultural boom? If so, why? Was it merely a measure of the post-war disposable income that drove the growth of the consumer society of the ‘50s? Or did they have more influence over popular culture than we might think?

Their offspring, who today represent the demographic most interested in culture (i.e. grey-haired) must have had some of that rub off on them. If so, why haven’t they been able to do the same thing with their descendants? We know that schools played a greater role in art and music back then than they do now – is that the difference? Were they already interested in culture in the ‘60s as well, or did that interest come to them later in life?

If the latter is the case, does it suggest that today’s youth, for whom culture is dead, might yet come around when they get older?  Or is it that things have changed so dramatically over the last 60 years that they must be reached earlier, or be lost forever?

Obviously you could write a whole book about this. And yet, when those of us with an interest in the arts read daily about the difficulties faced by classical music organizations, theaters, museums, and more, there’s something depressing about this program, so full of optimism for the future, talking about a culture "explosion" and the possibility of a new age. Who would have imagined that the arts would survive the tumultuous ‘60s, only to run aground on the shoals of the new millennium? TV  

1 comment:

  1. I've been aware of who Tony Lema was for about a year or so now, when I saw him in an FETV rerun HAZEL, Season 4's "Champagne Tony". In this episode Tony's in town for a new golf tournament, organized in part by George Baxter, when Hazel accidentally puts his golf clubs in the wrong car and frantically has to retrieve them before Tony needs them. When I saw the episode, I looked him up in Wiki & read about the accident that killed him & his wife.

    I find it interesting that CBS reran this episode following Season 5 when the episode was originally on NBC 18 months earlier. I think that NBC had not rerun HAZEL after Season 3 but ran them a summer later after Season 4, so I guess the reruns lagged a season again. Either that or CBS didn't want to rerun the Season 5 episodes which eliminated George & Dorothy Baxter and replaced them with Steve & Barbara Baxter. Hazel and George & Dorothy's son, Harold, moved in with Steve, Barbara, and their own daughter Suzie for Season 5.

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!