August 20, 2022

This week in TV Guide: August 21, 1954

Considering how sexual television has become, the kiss is perhaps one of the tamer expressions of sensual pleasure we're likely to see, although, as the Baptists say about dancing, we all know how one thing can lead to another. As a matter of fact, I was briefly concerned that this story might be a little too hot to cover here, before I concluded that the average reader of this blog is probably old enough to handle such a frank discussion. I don't have any demographic information to back that up, though, so if it turns out that you haven't had that talk about the birds and bees yet (or if you're a Baptist worried that I'm going to be writing about Dancing with the Stars), accept my apology and, please, don't complain to Blogger that this blog should have a "mature content" label.

But to return to the point, Kathy Pedell's article is on how the simple kiss is anything but simple when it comes to 1950s television. While Hollywood and Broadway are cool with the heat, when it comes to TV, "a conference is called. The producer, director and continuity acceptance (censorship) department discuss the matter thoroughly. A most unromantic prelude to passion." When all is said and done, the decision often is to skip the kiss altogether; "not doing something is the best way to avoid offending."

Example #1: "Some time ago,* a TV version of a stage comedy, "Reunion in Vienna," stressed kissing, lots and lots of it. This was bad enough, but during some of the bussing, the actors were just a bit too sincere. Everybody, hardened [sic] critics too, objected. So now there's an unwritten law: No prolonged kisses on TV."

*The article doesn't specify, but based on extensive Google research of at least three minutes, it may well have been the Celanese Theatre production of January 9, 1952, which starred Melvyn Douglas and Signe Hasso.

Example #2: "On Studio One recently, a couple met after walking out on their respective spouses. It was kismet, or whatever operates at such moments, and they planned a mad whirl in Spain. But they never kissed. They never got to Spain, either. You could see why that didn't happen, but why the ban on kissing? 'Not proper,' explained producer Felix Jackson. 'They're married to other people and any such manifestations of affection might antagonize viewers.'"

I might be a little slow on the uptake here, so let me see if I've got this straight: according to Jackson's reasoning, adultery would be fine, just as long as the couple doesn't kiss. Is that about it? I ask because I was a pre-law minor in college, and as far as I can remember, the act of adultery does not require kissing; it does require a somewhat different act of affection, however, which also doesn't require kissing, and isn't shown on TV either. 

One of the challenges facing television producers is that "it's never been clearly defined when a TV couple may or may not kiss. Nor has the length of a TV kiss been formally limited, not even by the code of the National Association of Radio and TV Broadcasters." Says Herbert Carlborg, part of the CBS censorship—that is, continuity acceptance—department, "We don't want to be stuffy, but we're so gun-shy of what people will think, we blow the whistle on almost everything."

The whole thing seems kind of silly; even Mister Peepers didn't get to kiss Nancy until he gave her the engagement ring. As Pedell remarks, "the kisses TV 'husbands' and 'wives' give each other will never do a thing to promote marriage." It's one thing to suggest that married couples never sleep in the same bed, but to defer from expressing any type of normal affection is hardly a ringing endorsement of the quality of television programming. It serves to put into context the perennial complaints we've read here by TV writers beefing about their lack of freedom in writing about adult subjects.

Still and all, it is a slippery slope, isn't it? One minute a teen couple is shown kissing, and the next thing you know, they're dancing on American Bandstand. And we all know where that leads.

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Well, I don't know about you, but after all that I feel like I need a cold shower. And when you find yourself in that kind of situation, who better to bring you back to earth than Ed Sullivan? Ed's show this Sunday (7:00 p.m. CT, CBS) is noteworthy in that it's the first ever color telecast for Talk of the Town. It's an experimental broadcast by the network; as the listing notes, Ed has appeared on many of CBS's such broadcasts, and after a brief review of the wonderful world of color television (to coin a phrase), Ed brings out his guests: sultry songstress Eartha Kitt; Janis Paige and John Raitt of the Broadway musical The Pajama Game*, "Miss Malta and Company," a dog act; a European dance troupe, The Andrea Dancers. Not an overwhelming lineup, perhaps, especially considering that one of Sullivan's favorites, Alan King, is appearing opposite on NBC's Summer Comedy Hour.

*The better-known movie version starred Doris Day in the role played by Paige.

The Fall Preview issue doesn't come out until September 25, but some of our favorite stars are getting a head start on the new season. Perry Como returns with his 15-minute, thrice-weekly program (6:45 p.m., CBS), as is Eddie Fisher's show (Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. NBC). Life With Father returns at 9:00 p.m. Tuesday on CBS; did you know that one of the stars is Marion Ross? You probably did; I'm always among the last to know. Dragnet's season premiere (Thursday, 8:00 p.m., NBC) puts Friday and Smith on the trail of someone pushing "objectionable material" in a high school; I'll bet it doesn't depict two people kissing, which is probably why it can be shown on TV. Also on Thursday, Lux Video Theater debuts its new one-hour format after four seasons of half-hour dramas, as Dorothy McGuire stars in "To Each His Own" (9:00 p.m., NBC), a story of a woman dealing with tragedy from World War I. And on the local scene, which in this case means Chicagoland, The Howard Miller Show returns on Friday night for two hours of music and guest stars (11:00 p.m., WBBM).

The Teletype notes that September 11 will see the first-ever broadcast of the Miss America Pageant, with John Daly emceeing the broadcast (Bob Russell hosts the actual pageant). By contrast, the last pageant was streamed only. The following month, the premiere of CBS's action series Climax (airing October 7) will be Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye, featuring Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe. Having played Marlowe in the big-screen Murder, My Sweet (and then in two radio adaptations of the same story), Powell becomes the first actor to play Chandler's iconic detective multiple times; to my mind, he remains the definitive Marlowe.

And a premiere of sorts; on Saturday, August 28, NBC will be kicking off weekly coverage of Canadian Football, presenting games of the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union (which exists today as the East Division of the Canadian Football League), and the network introduces viewers to this strange version of the game with a preview of the new season Monday night at 8:00 p.m. Things were a little different back then; American professional football wasn't quite as lucrative as it is today, and some Canadian teams paid more than their American counterparts; additionally, many black American collegiate players found it easier to play in Canada than the U.S. All this means that you might well recognize several of the names playing this season north of the border. For comparison, this year's CFL season began on June 9.

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You may remember how Mac Davis had a hit song back in 1980 called "It's Hard to Be Humble," and if you're one of those unfortunates who have that problem, all you have to do is look at the life of Steve Allen, and you'll develop, as I have, an instant inferiority complex. Wonder why? "He's a panel stalwart on What's My Line; the star of a critic-caressed late-night New York variety show NBC plans to give nightly coast-to-coast showcasing effective September 27 [that would be, in case you're wondering, The Tonight Show]; a writer of TV dramas; a composer of song hits; an aspiring novelist." Not only that, he turned down the opportunity to host Talent Scouts in the event the show's current host, Arthur Godfrey, decides not to return in the fall. Oh, and did I mention he just got married last month, to the charming Jayne Meadows? Not only does his career make me feel inferior; I now feel as if I should have written a better paragraph describing all this; punchier, more fitting for a man of his accomplishments. 

Allen doesn't look the part of a typical comedian; he's "quiet-mannered, soft-spoken, relaxed" and laughs self-consciously when he tells a joke. He rejects the idea of being a "smart and sophisticated" comedian, and says he likes to make people feel they're part of the joke. Scheduled to be the last comedian on the bill for a benefit show, his quick mind and quicker wit helped turned a potential disaster into triumph by "basing his material on what was done by those who were on before him," becoming the hit of the evening.

You might recognize Jayne from her time as a regular panelist on I've Got a Secret* (like Steve's What's My Line?, a Goodson-Todman production; nothing like keeping it in the family), and now that she's got a new husband and his three boys from a previous marriage, she's planning "devote all her time to Steve, his sons and TV." And while NBC is considering a series starring the two of them (an idea from Jayne), Steve jokes that they "may do a show together some time during the next 20 years."

*Ironically, Steve would wind up hosting I've Got a Secret on CBS after Garry Moore's departure, but Jayne had long since left the panel, replaced by Bess Myerson.

Before we go, let's take a moment to consider Steve Allen's career. In addition to Tonight, he hosted a variety show that went head-to-head with Ed Sullivan (we occasionally grade those matchups), wrote 8,500 songs (including his theme, "This Could Be the Start of Something Big") and won a jazz Grammy, wrote more than 50 books (including a series of ghostwritten* murder mysteries that starred both him and Jayne and should have been made into a television series), created Meeting of Minds, a PBS series that featured discussions between famous figures of history, and campaigned against what he called "the rising tide of smut on television." (I wonder how he felt about kissing?) He was a religious skeptic, a political liberal, a witty and clever entertainer, was mentioned on Mystery Science Theater 3000 as having thought of "everything," and a man who led an extraordinary life. Now if you'll forgive me, I think I'll just dry up and fly away.

*One of the ghostwriters, Robert T. Westbrook, is himself an accomplished mystery writer, most notably the series featuring Howard Moon Dear. Quite a fascinating life: his mother was Sheilah Graham, columnist and former lover of F. Scott Fitzgerald; his father purportedly was actor Robert Taylor. You can't make this stuff up,

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I'll admit, perhaps I've gone a little overboard in returning things to an even keel after the excitement of that lead story. In fact, I wouldn't blame anyone for dropping off there for a few minutes in the middle of that discussion about Canadian Football. Hopefully, I can raise the temperature a little bit with this concluding piece, a letter to the editor from Mary Tocts of Racine, Wisconsin, who'd like to see a special kind of pin-up. "I love to watch wrestling on TV," she writes, "but they never show the faces of wrestlers clearly. Would you please tell me where I could write to get some pictures of all the wrestlers?" The answer from the editor: "Cameramen and directors apparently subscribe to the theory that close-ups of the grunt ’n groaners might frighten the viewers. However, if you’re an indomitable muscle fan, try writing to the stations on which wrestling is seen."

Hot and sweaty groaners. Just the thing that television needs, right? TV  

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1 comment:

  1. In 1958, Allen was nominated for an Emmy in the "Best Continuing Performance (Male) in a Series by a Comedian, Singer, Host, Dancer, M.C., Announcer, Narrator, Panelist, or any Person who Essentially Plays Himself" category. He lost to Jack Benny.


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