November 12, 2022

This week in TV Guide: November 13, 1954

I trust that by now most of you know me well enough to understand that the only time I recycle a TV Guide story is when I don't have an issue for that week (hey, it happens!) and that, even then, I try to introduce something new to what I've written. I'll admit there are times, though, when I'm tempted to dip into the archives anyway, either because I'm short of time or simply unmotivated by an issue that doesn't seem to say much. (There's also laziness, but we'll let that pass.) And then I'll run across the hook, that one thing that jumpstarts everything else, and after that it all falls into place. 

For example, if you know your history, you're bound to notice a line (no pun intended) in Sunday's listing for What's My Line? (9:30 p.m. CT, CBS) that leaps out. Following the usual boilerplate ("John Daly moderates for panelists Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen, Bennett Cerf") the magazine, as it often does, adds a promo for an article elsewhere in the issue: "The panelist covers a murder trial in Cleveland, page 18.

For many years, the 1954 murder trial of Dr. Sam Sheppard was considered the most famous American murder trial of the 20th century, if not all the nation's history; it certainly was the most widely reported. The accused, Dr. Sam, was a neurosurgeon from a prominent medical family in Cleveland. His wife, Marilyn, was found bludgeoned to death the morning of July 4, 1954, along with her unborn child, in the upstairs bedroom. Sheppard claimed that she had been murdered by a "bushy-haired intruder" whom he had tried and failed to fight off. The prosecution claimed Sheppard had done it himself because of an adulterous affair he was having with a nurse at his hospital. Now, he's on trial for his life.

The Sheppard case had, Dorothy Kilgallen would say, "'[a]ll the ingredients of what in [the] newspaper business we call a good murder. It has a very attractive victim, who was pregnant, and the accused is a very important member of the community, respectable, [a] very attractive man. Then added to that, you have the fact that it is a mystery as to who did it." Reporters converged on Cleveland from around the country and even from Europe, and the story dominated the local newspapers.

Dorothy Kilgallen is no stranger to the crime beat; although known primarily for her Broadway column, her appearances as a regular panelist on WML, and her daily radio show with her husband, Dick Kollmar, she's also a respected journalist (as was her father), a crime reporter (a regular at the biggest murder trials, some of which she reviewed in her posthumously published book, Murder One), and confidant of politicians and celebrities alike. And she knows how to cover a story, which is why she's in Cleveland, representing the Hearst newspapers.

Even before the start of the trial, Dorothy's made her presence felt. During jury selection, one prospect was dismissed for discussing the trial with a friend; she explained the friend had asked her if she'd gotten Dorothy's autograph. (Dorothy sent a note to the dismissed juror: "Dear Betty, the reporters thought you would have made a good juror.") She was even invited to meet with trial judge Edward Blythin in his chambers; the judge told her that he and his wife enjoy her on TV, and later said, "I can understand why she is so popular." She doesn't mind the publicity; "I've been working hard since I was 17 years old to get where I am now, and although the attention slows me down, I am grateful to give autographs."

Just because she's covering the Trial of the Century, though, doesn't mean she's quitting her weekend job. She arrives in Cleveland at 4:00 a.m. Monday morning after appearing on WML, is in bed in the hotel by 5, up at 8, and at the courthouse at 9:45. She then flies back to New York to spend the evening with her family, gets up at 5:30 Tuesday morning to record two sessions of their radio show, and is back in Cleveland and at the courthouse by noon. When she's not travelling, she pounds out her daily "Voice of Broadway" column. Oh, and she also covers the trial.

And now, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story. You remember that quote from Dorothy, the one about this being a "good murder"? She made that comment to Judge Blythin in his chambers, when he asked her what brought her to Cleveland; he couldn't understand why such well-known newspeople as Bob Considine, Theo Wilson, and Marguerite Parton were covering the trial. That's when she said, "it is a mystery as to who did it." 

"Mystery?" Blythin replied, "It's an open and shut case."

"Well, what do you mean, Judge Blythin?" she asked, stunned.

He answered, "Well, he is guilty as hell. There is no question about it."

She didn't reveal this story at the time, or for many years afterward; she felt she was not at liberty to do so, she explained, since the conversation was off the record. Sheppard was found guilty of second-degree murder on December 21 after a 9-week trial (a verdict with which Kilgallen was outraged; as a result, her column was dropped by Cleveland newspapers) and was sentenced by Blythin to life in prison. Blythin died in 1958, and in 1964 Kilgallen casually mentioned her conversation with him at an event attended by Sheppard's new lawyer, F. Lee Bailey. Bailey got her testimony in a deposition in May, and included it in his appeal. A judge overturned Sheppard's conviction in July on grounds of pre-trial publicity and judicial prejudice; that decision was upheld in a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1966, which ordered a new trial. Sheppard was retried in October, 1966, in the same courthouse in which he had been convicted 12 years earlier, and was acquitted. He died in 1970. A 1975 TV-movie was made about the case; I wrote about that here.

By the time of Dr. Sam's retrial, Dorothy Kilgallen, who had so criticized the verdict and whose deposition played a role in the overturning of Sheppard's conviction, had been dead for a year, apparently of an accidental overdose. She had covered Jack Ruby's 1964 murder trial in Dallas and had interviewed Ruby, and she was skeptical of the Warren Report' conclusions regarding the assassination of John F. Kennedy. There are many to this day who think her death was murder and was related to her investigation into the assassination.

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Well, if I can't build on that, I should probably just wrap it up, and judging by the number of lines you see below this one, it's probably apparent to you that I've decided to keep going, perhaps to my detriment. (You'll be the judge of that.) Two of America's most successful comics have also decided to keep going, and according to this week's joint review (probably written by Dan Jenkins), it may be detrimental to them as well.

For five seasons, one of the Golden Age's shining moments was Your Show of Shows, starring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. Then they split up, choosing to go their separate ways (as did their director, Max Liebman). Everyone agrees that the three of them, separate, are less than the sum of their parts; unfortunately, the one who seems to have suffered the most is Coca. (Saturday, 8:00 p.m., NBC)

Part of the challenge for Coca, Jenkins says, is that she is "a performer who must be given an idea, rather than a script; a direction, rather than set lines." After five years, she's exhausted the bits from her nightclub act, and "everyone has seen her several times more than once"; she also "appears to have run out of writers who know what to do what her gamin-like qualities." That's not to say that every sketch is a dud; she has excelled in some of them, but too often they run too long. And as everyone knows, "Brevity is still the soul of wit."

Our other star under the gun is Red Buttons, who in the off-season moved from CBS to NBC, from Monday nights to Friday nights (7:00 p.m.), and from one writing staff to another. But, says Jenkins, "he is still Red Buttons. If one is an aficionado, he is the greatest. Otherwise . . ."

The problem is that Buttons "has no comic traits peculiar to him alone. He is not funny per se. A Jack Benny can be hilarious just standing with his arms folded, staring at an old lady in the front row. Buttons can't. He needs material." And Red's writers, "whose numbers must by now be as forlorn as they are legion," can only recycle old bits. Television is a demanding medium, one that demands staying power, "a basic talent which can rise above material and carry its own weight on off-weeks." So far, Red "has displayed very little of it."

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Is there anything interesting to report from the industry? Well, here's something; at the Hollywood Teletype, Dan Jenkins reports that "New, young CBS comic Johnny Carson will replace Jack Paar for several weeks in January." That would be Paar's weekday morning show, which airs at 7:00 a.m. on CBS. It won't be the last time; Johnny takes Jack's place again in 1962, this time permanently. As I recall, that turns out pretty well.

The first reports are in on how television covered the 1954 midterm elections, and it's described as "generally creditable," which is probably better that what we just had. NBC pulled off something of a technical coup, with a four-way split screen discussion between their commentators in New York, D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles. And here's something: since WRCA in New York broadcasts in color (it's the NBC affiliate, now known as WNBC), it asked the parties what they'd like for their "official TV color." The Democrats choose green, the Republicans blue. Red, of course, would have been unthinkable for either party given the Cold War.

And remember how I wrote about how companies get involved with the shows they sponsor? It seems that the Campbell Soup Company, which sponsors the sitcom Dear Phoebe on NBC, doesn't like canned laughter. Therefore, they've ordered the laugh track deleted from the show. Now, that's the kind of sponsor interference I can get behind.

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Here's another one of those stories that jumps off the page. I must have read Brooks and Marsh's Complete Director to Prime-Time Network TV Shows from cover to cover when it first came out in 1979, and one of the things that stuck with me for some reason was an anecdote about an episode of CBS's Studio One—the episode that's on this Monday night at 9:00 p.m., as it happens. It's called "Let Me Go, Lover," a drama about murder and corruption in the record industry, and since producer Felix Jackson needed a song, he went to Mitch Miller, head of recording for CBS's subsidiary, Columbia Records. "Miller gave [Jackson] an obscure ballad called 'Let Me Go, Devil,' and urged that it be sung on the soundtrack by an unknown songstress rather than by an established star, in order to heighten the dramatic impact. With remarkable foresight he then saw to it that, prior to the telecast, record stores were well stocked with her Columbia recording of the song."

The song, sung by Joan Weber, was renamed, "Let Me Go, Lover" to match the title, and was used throughout the story. The next morning, "record stores were deluged with customers wanting 'that song that was on TV last night'—and 'Let Me Go, Lover' became a phenomenal hit," selling a half-million copies in the next five days (it eventually became a million-seller) and hit #1 on the Billboard charts. Mitch Miller knew what he was doing, which is why he was the success he was, and after more than 40 years, I've finally gotten to use that anecdote.

What else is on? There's Orson Welles' noirish version of Macbeth (Sunday, noon, WTMJ), with Welles in the title role, plus Jeanette Nolan, Dan O'Herlihy, Roddy McDowall, and Alan Napier in a non-Alfred role as "A Holy Father." Also on Sunday afternoon, Hallmark Hall of Fame presents "A Matter of Principle," the story of how John Adams defended the British soldiers accused of the Boston Massacre (4:00 p.m., NBC). 

The latest NBC color spectacular is the Pulitzer Prize-winning romantic comedy "State of the Union," on Producer's Showcase (Monday, 7:00 p.m.), with Joseph Cotten and Margaret Sullivan in the roles previously played on the big screen by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Wednesday's highlight is the World Lightweight Championship fight between champion Paddy DeMarco and challenger Jimmy Carter (no, not that one), from the Cow Palace in San Francisco (9:00 p.m., CBS). Carter, who lost the title to DeMarco in March, regains it with a TKO in the 15th round. And on Thursday, CBS presents its own spectacular, as Shower of Stars uses Betty Grable, Harry James, and other stars in sketches about entertainers traveling from gig to gig. The sponsor, incidentally, is Chrysler. Coincidence?

Before I forget, The Liberace Show airs on Wednesday at 9:30 on WBKB, and the young lady on the cover of this week's issue is Liberace's latest squeeze (pronounced "beard"), Joanne Rio, a struggling young actress who's described as "the only girl he takes home to mother." Despite the headline in one article entitled "Liberace Fiancee Tells of First Kiss," she denies that the couple are engaged, saying that "We just enjoy each other's company, that's all." 

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Finally, we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving next week with an appropriate issue, but in the meantime, the deadline is at hand to order tickets for TV Guide's Thanksgiving Day TV Party, which takes place live on WGN from 3 to 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 25. The tickets are free for both kids and adults, and all kids receive a free gift package.

The show will be hosted by Super Circus star Mary Hartline and features the top Chicagoland TV children's favorites: Uncle Johnny Coons; John Conrad and Elmer the Elephant; "Pied Piper" Art Hern; Two-Ton Baker, the Happy Pirate; singing cowboy Bob Atcher; and Romper Room's Miss Rosemary. There's also a contest to select two lucky kids as "Mr. Pilgrim" and "Miss Pilgrim," and in addition to appearing on the show, the lucky boy and girl each get this impressive haul of prizes:
  • A 21-inch Sentinel table model television set.
  • A genuine Schwinn Hornet bicycle, complete with horn, headlights and all features.
  • A pedigreed cocker spaniel puppy and a month's supply of Rival Dog Food.
  • A handsome 21-jewel Lady or Lord Elgin wrist watch.
Those kids are making out like bandits, aren't they? I wonder how many hundreds of them were begging their parents to let them send in their names and photos? I wonder how many parents were trading side glances about the dog? And I wonder how much the tax added up to for the winners?

Anyway, it sounds like a lot of fun, doesn't it? This whole idea of a Thanksgiving TV party, with celebrities from all the local stations—not quite like a family get-together, but something special. I know other stations did things like this, for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Of course, without local kids' shows, I don't suppose you'd see anything like it today. But then, sometimes it doesn't seem as if we have as much fun today, either. TV  


  1. I see you're working once again from a Chicago edition - which, as it happens, is one that I have.
    It's early Saturday morning as I write this, so I'll be getting into details later.
    In the meantime, though, may I draw your attention to Page A-29 in the programming section - specifically to the half-page ad for Channel 5's news commentator Alex Dreier.
    I've had occasion to mention Mr. Dreier in the past here; He was hugely popular in Chicago TV in the Fifties and Sixties, before moving westward to kick off an acting career in movies and TV.
    When I got into reading mysteries as a teenager, it struck me that Alex Dreier would have been a perfect choice to play Nero Wolfe in a movie or TV show; he had the manner (just a touch imperious), the voice (a deep, booming baritone), and the physique (just this side of 300 pounds, give or take).
    When Dreier arrived in Hollywood circa 1968, getting roles on TV shows and in movies, I sort of expected that he might be a candidate for a Wolfe series - if only Rex Stout weren't so fervently opposed to film and TV.
    After Stout's passing in 1975, when his family made Wolfe available for the visual media, Alex Dreier was about 60, and very much available himself - but nobody seemed to notice ...
    Anyway, I'd ask you to just take a look at the head shot of Alex Dreier on page A-29; You can't hear his voice, and you don't get a good look at his build, but that face - when he read the news, Dreier's face reflected a stern manner which always seemed to teenaged me as distinctly Wolfean.
    "Long ago, and oh so far away ..."
    (By the way, did you ever get a copy of The Misadventures Of Nero Wolfe?
    Just askin' ...)

    Standing down now; back with more later, maybe ...

    1. Just one more thing, as another less-corpulent TV detective was known to exclaim, Alex Dreier was later the chairman of the board for the Annenberg Center for Health Sciences. Yes. The same guy who...

    2. These connections just keep getting better and better!

    3. Mike,

      I've heard Alex Dreier doing his commentary on ABC radio during its JFK assassination coverage, and I agree with you completely!

      Just took a quick look at the bookshelf, and I didn't see Misadventures there, so I'll check again tomorrow when I'm more alert. Otherwise, I have to get it!

    4. Mitchell:
      Thanx - nice to see this, first thing in the blessed AM!
      Just so you know:
      I just checked Amazon (where I get most of my books these days) - and you can get The Misadventures Of Nero Wolfe for $7.98 ... which is $10 less than what I had to pay for it new (that was two years ago).
      Go to Amazon's website, and look up Josh Pachter,the editor; be prepared to stick around for a while, because he's got a load of interesting stuff on here - as author, editor, and translator (he's been at all this since he was a teenager - and he's a year younger than I am (*sigh*).

      I trust that you've still got The Misadventures of Ellery Queen that I sent you that time (also edited by Josh Pachter - and did you ever send for The Further Misadventures of EQ? Just askin' ...).
      (Plugola ends here.)

      Back from looking over that list of all the Chicago TV people from the '50s - the people I grew up watching as a kid.
      Ohboyohboyohboyohboyohboy ...
      Those B&W/Motorola/Muntz memories - and it occurs to me that you only can read the names and look at the pictures (ten years younger and in a different city and all), but 60+ years later, I can see and hear those old shows as if they were on right now - and I'm guessing that if there were any surviving kinescopes of any of these on YouTube, I'd be almost incommunicado by now ...
      ... maybe best not to think about it much ...

    5. I'll be filing my Amazon order soon, and I'll include the Further Misadventures!

      I know what you're saying about the ability to see those shows you grew up with. When I got into collecting old football gams a few years back, I was shocked to find how accurately my memories of them were, right down to some specific plays. Hope I never lose those memories.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!