October 22, 2022

This week in TV Guide: October 23, 1954

A few years ago, someone left a comment regarding this weekly feature that said, in essence, "why so few issues from the 1950s?" It was a good question, as most questions from all of you are. After all, issues of TV Guide from the 1950s don't necessarily cost any more than from any other era, unless the person on the cover went on to become really famous. I suppose it's a combination of things: first, that not having been alive during the 1950s, I'm not able to offer any personal experiences to augment the stories that these issues tell. Second, as we all grow older, fewer and fewer of the programs from the Fifties create the kind of pop culture impact that make them worthwhile to those of you reading them. 

Or at least that's what I might have thought. However, over the last two or three years, I've made a conscious effort to include more TV Guides from the decade of the Fifties, and I've found that a good story is a good story regardless of when it happens; and also, that there are plenty of things from the Fifties that merge perfectly well with the culture of today. This week's issue is just such an example.

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Walt Disney is known as one of Hollywood's great creative geniuses. His two greatest creations, "The Mouse" and "The Duck" (as he refers to them) have become an established part of American folklore. As a studio head, he's right up there with Mayer, Zanuck, Selznick and Warner. He's also known within the industry as a shrewd, perceptive businessman, and we'll see proof of that this week with the premiere of his new series, Disneyland, on ABC.

One of the questions being asked is "why," as in why Disney has chosen to become the first studio boss to produce a weekly television series. It's not for the money the show will generate; on the contrary, he expects to lose money on the actual show. No, the answer lies with 160 acres of barren land in Anaheim, California, 15 minutes from Los Angeles, which Walt purchased last May. On 60 acres, he plans to build (at a cost of $9,000,000) "what will undoubtedly be the most magnificent amusement ever constructed in this or any other country." (The other 100 acres, the unbylined article notes, "will become a picnic-parking area.")

Like the show, the park will be called "Disneyland," and like the park, the show will be divided into four segments: Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, and The World of Tomorrow. By the time Disneyland opens next July, an aide confides, "there will be hardly a living soul in the United States who won't have heard about the Disneyland amusement park and who won't be dying to come see it." Television, he concludes, "is a wonderful thing." 

And while it's true that Disneyland the show will be the most fantastic commercial possible for Disneyland the park, it's typical of Disney the man that he views the show as more than just promotion; he envisions presenting a program that will be "new, different, and wonderfully entertaining." About 60 percent of the programming will be new, he estimates, while 40 percent will come from the fantastic Disney library—and "some of that 'old' footage will be stuff the public has never seen. We'll show, for example, an entire sequence from Snow White that never got into the final picture."

Mickey, Donald, Goofy and the rest will be the stars of Fantasyland (along with a tour of the studio); many of the Adventureland stories will come from the studio's "Real Life Adventures" pictures; Frontierland will feature original stories (the first one will be Davy Crockett, starring Fess Parker); and The World of Tomorrow will be populated by scientists such as Dr. Werner Von Braun and Dr. Willy Ley. Alone among his studio contemporaries, Disney has long been aware of the potential and profitability of television; he did two hour-long Christmas shows in 1950 and 1951 (each giving a boost to full-length features that were being released), and last year he was the subject of one of Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town tribute episodes. "All very happy experiences," Walt says. "Sold a lot of tickets at the box office." As far as the prospect of going up against Arthur Godfrey on Wednesday nights, "I've been up against tough competition all of my life. Wouldn't know how to get along without it." Inferring, the article concludes, that "Godfrey ain't seen nothing yet." And neither has the rest of the world.

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If you're wondering what to watch Sunday night, oh, say around 9:00 p.m. Eastern, you have one choice—and if you don't like it, you're pretty much out of luck.

You see, we happen to be celebrating the 75th anniversary of light. Yes, I know you probably thought light went back much farther than that, perhaps as far back as the first day of Creation. You know, all that "Let there be light" stuff. That's just a detail, though; we all know that light really began with Thomas Edison's invention of the electric light, which he demonstrated to the public in 1879 and patented in 1880. (Yes, I know that others have a claim to inventing incandescent lightbulbs as well, but this isn't the History Channel. For that matter, the History Channel isn't the History Channel anymore, The point is, we're not going to debate the origins of the lightbulb here, unless I run out of other things to write about.) Now, 75 years later, David O. Selznick (speaking of movie moguls) is producing a two-hour variety special, Light's Diamond Jubilee, to air on all four networks, at a cost of $750,000, sponsored without commercial interruption by General Electric (along with over 300 companies from the electrical industry). 

Joseph Cotton serves as host, with a glittering guest cast featuring Helen Hayes, Walter Brennan, George Gobel, Thomas Mitchell, David Niven, Eddie Fisher, Judith Anderson, Brandon de Wilde, Guy Madison, Kim Novak, Dorothy Dandridge and Lauren Bacall. And in case you still don't think Selznick's serious, included is a filmed tribute to Edison by President Eisenhower.

And just how do you celebrate the creation of electric light? Well, here are a couple of samples of sketches included in the show:
  • "A Kiss For the Lieutenant," by Arthur Gordon. The buddies of a young Air Force lieutenant dare him to ask a beautiful girl for a date. Guy Madison, Kim Novak.
  • "The Girls in Their Summer Dresses," by Irwin Shaw. On a warm Sunday morning in November, Mike and Frances Loomis are walking in Greenwich Village. But all Mike can do, it seems, is admire the pretty girls as they pass. Lauren Bacall, David Niven.
Yeah, I'm not sure what the connection is, either, but I'm sure there is one. It probably would help to actually see some of the bits, and here's a clip from one, featuring George Gobel.

This kind of network-spanning broadcast wasn't completely unprecedented back in the day; a similar program, General Foods 25th Anniversary Show: A Salute to Rodgers and Hammerstein, had aired on all four networks in March, and if I'm not mistaken, Jacqueline Kennedy's White House tour aired simultaneously on CBS and NBC, with ABC showing it at a later time. I suspect that today, the only time we'd see something like this (outside of news specials) is for a charity telethon.

As for how the show went over? Robert at the always-excellent Television Obscurities reports that New York Times critic Jack Gould gave it a generally favorable review (“a striking cavalcade of the American individual” and “a remarkable theatrical achievement"), but Broadcasting was much harsher in its assessment, calling it, "(1) a free plug for pleasant but elderly clips from Hollywood shelves; (2) an array of disjointed scenes whose waste of writers, actors and money perhaps surpassed any previous mish-mash in television history; (3) examples of bad taste in pitting amorous scenes against faith and hope; and (4) further proof that Hollywood’s hackneyed press agentry and program formats are bad television," which sounds about right to me.

Considering the lede this week, one is forced to ask the question: how much better might Light's Diamond Jubilee have been like had it been produced by Walt Disney?

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Speaking of anniversaries, there's a full-page ad in this week's issue celebrating the 7th anniversary of Baltimore's WMAR, Channel 2. It's still around, with the same call letters; in this issue it's a CBS affiliate and would remain so until 1981, when it moved to NBC for 14 years; it's now an ABC affiliate. I mention this because there's such a sense of wonder as well as satisfaction implicit in the ad; WMAR started out in 1947, virtually the dawn of American television. (It was the 14th commercial television station in the United States.) What an exciting time to be involved in a new medium! Who would even know if this television would succeed? And here they are, seven years later, still up and running, still broadcasting seven days a week, with some even in color! It's quite a story when you think about it—no wonder they're proud.

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What else? We've looked at a couple of longish pieces, so let's take a quick trip around the dial and see some of the rest of the week's highlights.

DuMont has exclusive coverage of Saturday night NFL games, and tonight at 8:00 p.m. it's the Philadelphia Eagles vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Steelers 17, Eagles 7) Opposite that, The Jackie Gleason Show welcomes the Honeymooners back in an hour-long adventure (8:00 p.m., CBS). At 9:00 p.m., it's another colorcast of the monthly Max Liebman Presents (NBC), with the musical comedy "The Follies of Suzy," starring Steve Allen, Dick Shawn, and Parisian singer Jeanmarie. 

NBC celebrates United Nations Day (yes, there still is such a thing) on Sunday with a special concert from the General Assembly Hall at the UN (2:30 p.m.), with Charles Munch conducting the Symphony of the Air and the Schola Cantorum, and speeches from New York Mayor Robert Wagner, UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, and Eleanor Roosevelt. See what electricity hath wrought? And on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town, guests include dancer Carol Haney, singers Robert Merrill and Pearl Bailey, jazz combo the Treniers, and the acrobatic team of Vivien & Tessi. (8:00 p.m., CBS)

Monday gives us two of the Golden Age's prestige anthologies: first, Robert Montgomery Presents (9:30 p.m., NBC) tells the story of a young Southern lawyer-politician arrested on suspicion of the murder of his secretary; the story features E.G. Marshall, and wouldn't it be great if he was playing the suspect's defense attorney? (The young Lawrence Preston adventures!) Incidentally, the IMDb entry for this story describes it as "The effects of television coverage on justice are highlighted as facts get distorted along party lines and the cameras cover the 'event' inside and outside the courtroom." Sounds rather relevant on several levels, don't you think? I'd rather like to see that sometime. Meanwhile, our other drama, Studio One (10:00 p.m., CBS) stars Polly Bergen in a mystery "set in the Paris salon of designer St. Pierre." Oui.

Another anthology, Studio 57 (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m, DuMont) caught my attention for another reason. It might be a great episode or it might not, but considering our subject matter this week, how can you pass up a story that takes place at "a new kind of amusement park" called "Kiddieland"? Answer: you can't. Which reminds me that Wednesday brings the premiere of Disneyland (7:30 p.m, ABC), and Walt wasn't kidding when he said he wanted to make this show different. Tonight's episode begins with a trip to Disney's Burbank studios, followed by the beloved Mickey Mouse short "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" from Fantasia, and then a look at Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre and James Mason on the set of the upcoming Disney epic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  

CBS counters NBC's Max Liebman spectacular on Thursday with the second Shower of Stars presentation, "Lend an Ear," (8:30 p.m.), a TV adaptation of the hit 1948 Broadway musical, starring Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, Mortimer Snerd, and Effie Klinker. Oh, and Sheree North, Gene Nelson, Joan Tyler, and a special appearance by Mario Lanza. That's followed by Four Star Playhouse (9:30 p.m., CBS), which (as you probably know) comes from Four Star Productions, the four partners being Dick Powell, Charles Boyer, David Niven, and the star of tonight's episode, Ida Lupino. She plays a schoolteacher investigating her own nephew's conduct and trying to figure out the rest of the story. The cast includes Hugh Beaumont, but the nephew's name is neither Wally nor Beaver.

There was a time, believe it or not, when Columbia University used to field a big-time college football program. No, really; they won the 1934 Rose Bowl, defeating Stanford 7-0.* The coach of that team, Lou Little, is still Columbia's coach, and he's Edward R. Murrow's guest Friday on Person to Person (10:30 p.m., CBS), as they discuss the football scene. Ed's second guest is the great Marian Anderson, who in January will become the first black singer to perform at the Metropolitan Opera, in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera. Marian Anderson had quite a career and quite a life—we'll have to talk about it sometime.

*A star of that Stanford team was Bob Reynolds, who after a couple of years in the NFL went into the broadcasting business, winding up as President of Golden West Broadcasting and part owner of the California Angels baseball team. His business partner in these ventures? Gene Autry.

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This week's MST3K alert is a doubleheader: Jungle Goddess (Thursday, 1:30 p.m., WTTG). Two pilots go to Africa in search of a missing heiress. George Reeves, Ralph Byrd, Wanda McKay. Radar Secret Service (Thursday, 9:30 p.m., WTTG). Uranium ore is stolen. John Howard, Adele Jergens. It all puts me in mind for a char-broiled hamburger sandwich and some French-fried potatoes. TV  


  1. I don't have this issue (although I do have the week before and the week after; I might work out something with that later on).
    But I spent the last few minutes looking at George Gobel's monolog, and something occurred to me:
    One of George Gobel's writers in 1954 was a fellow named James Allardice, who likely did much of the work on the monolog here, being familiar with Lonesome George's voice and style.
    The following year, 1955, James Allardice took on another position, for which he was recommended by his head writer on the Gobel show, Hal Kanter.
    For the next ten years, Allardice wrote Alfred Hitchcock's introductions for that gentleman's series, which worked out well for both of them (ultimately, Hitch hired Allardice to write anything else he'd have to say for public airing (Ever see the trailers Hitch made for Psycho and The Birds? Allardice wrote those.)).
    My point (such as it is): go back and listen again to Gobel's monolog, and imagine that this special was being done a year later - and instead of a diffident little guy from the rural Midwest, these jokes were being done by a portly British guy with a very dignified manner (with the necessary tweaks, of course).
    Just a fun activity to while away the weekend ...

    Back with more later ... maybe.

  2. In mentioning multi-network simulcasts, how could you overlook the greatest animated special ever, 1990's Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue?


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!