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  

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!