January 7, 2023

This week in TV Guide: January 4, 1958

Well, here we are at the start of another year of TV Guides, and if you'd told me I'd still be paging through these old issues after all these years, I'd have said you were crazy. Wait, no—I'd have said I'd be crazy to be doing this for so long. Now, that's a conclusion I'm sure many of you reached long ago, but there's a lot to be said for self-awareness, and the fact one knows they have a problem means they're not too far gone.  

In the meantime, though, since any such treatment will prove to be time-consuming, we'll continue with this week's issue, and since controversy is always a rich topic, we'll start with the latest wave of censorship scourging the airwaves: cartoons. Woody Woodpecker cartoons, to be specific. It seems that ABC, in preparing its late-afternoon Woody Woodpecker Show, had to make at least 25 edits to the 52 cartoons included in the package—even though all of them had passed through the restrictive Breen and Johnston Offices and had received the Purity Seal to play in movie theaters, which they have been doing for years "with nary a critical comment." Says Walter Lantz, Woody's creator, "I was quite surprised when TV censorship was applied. I thought we were safe." 

The culprit, as always, is the sponsor, in this case the Kellogg cereal company. Wally Ruggles, from the Leo Burnett Company advertising agency, explains that "If there was a question at all on a scene, our feeling was why do it? It might cause some group or other to bring pressure, and Kellogg doesn't want to make any enemies." The cartoons reviewed included not only Woody, but other characters like Andy Panda and Oswald Rabbit, and some musical cartoons. Among the scenes that endured the censor's snips:

  • All cartoons with black characters. There were eight such cartoons, but, says Lantz, "we never offended or degraded the colored race, and they were all top musical cartoons, too." Oddly enough, a cartoon with African Pygmies was "found acceptable."
  • All drinking scenes, including one in which a horse drinks cider from a bucket and then drunkenly tries to walk a tightrope. (Don't ask.) "On TV you'll still see the tipsy horse on the tightrope but, since we cut out the scene showing his drinking the cider, you won't understand why he's groggy."
  • The "Abu Ben Boogie" cartoon was rejected entirely due to "a little harem girl wiggling her hips." 
  • Any kissing scenes in which cartoon animals kiss cartoon human beings. Cartoon animals are allowed to kiss other cartoon animals. Imagine what would have happened if these standards had been applied to Bugs Bunny.
  • Physical or mental disabilities, including a scene in which Woody's antics cause him to have a nervous breakdown, and he's hauled away by two other woodpeckers wearing white coats. There's also a scene in which "Three Blind Mice" are changed to "Three Lazy Mice," and they're shown to be only pretending to be blind.

Lantz concedes that some of the changes were a good idea; a mouse putting his mouth over a gas jet and floating around like a balloon was cut, and he concurs, "because it's visual and a two-year-old might try to imitate what he saw without understanding the consequences." Although the Woody cartoons have considerable action and violence, Lantz points out that nobody really gets hurt. "A character may be run over by a steam roller but in the very next scene we see that he's perfectly well and ready for more adventure." 

The final word goes to Thomas Kersey, manager of ABC continuity acceptance. He took the edited cartoons without making a single change, but notes that "in television, there are 50 million continuity acceptance editors. You can't please everybody. The best I can do is try to use common sense."

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I have to be honest; when I saw the combination of Lawrence Welk and censorship on the cover, I was hoping that it might have something to do with Welk's former "Champaign Lady," Alice Lon, and how the Maestro sacked her for "showing too much knee." Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't. Alas, in this case the cover story is about Welk's formula for success. "If I had to analyze our music in one word," he says, "the word would be 'melody.' Second in importance is a good beat. At least I think we have a good beat. I know we play the melody."

Welk bases his success on "what 26 years' worth of constant experience tells me the great majority of the audience wants to hear." He constantly talks with his live audiences and insists on reading critical letters first. He recalls the time a new arranger advised him to "quit playing this ricky-tick, cornball music and get into something a little more modern." So he tried it at his usual live haunt, the Aragon Ballroom, and found the audience holding back. He asked them why. "They thought I had changed. They didn't like my music any more. So the arranger left and his arrangements left with him."

His early influencers included Guy Lombardo, Glenn Miller, and Tommy Dorsey, and from there he developed his own style. He admits that he doesn't understand progressive musicians like Stan Kenton and Dave Brubeck; "I think it is much complicated for the average person to understand." His own personal tastes, which he thinks it would be unfair to impose exclusively on his band and audience, include "Claire de Lune," "Stranger in Paradise," and "Moon Love," and he admires the music of Montevani and Paul Weston, although he thinks that Andre Kostelanetz tends to "overarrange."

I've often thought of the irony that Lawrence Welk and his music tend to skew to an older audience; he's still popular with that older audience, only now it's comprised of a couple of generations who made fun of their own parents and grandparents for liking Welk. Personally, I think when you reach a certain age, a switch goes off in your DNA, and the next week you find yourself tapping your toe to the champagne music. But, as of 1958, Lawrence Welk had a gross income that approached $4 million a year. Who are we to argue with that?

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The TV Teletype crystal ball is working well this week. In Hollywood, Dan Jenkins reports that "NBC will continue to go along with the new Rowan and Martin comedy team, has scheduled them for six major guest appearances for this year." NBC will continue to stick with them—eight years later, they're the summer replacement for Dean Martin, and the following year they graduate to their very own series, Laugh-In. It runs until 1973. Also: "ABC has a situation-comedy format in mind for Donna Reed." Yup, that's The Donna Reed Show, which debuts in September 1958 and runs for eight successful seasons, until 1966.

There's more: "CBS is talking seriously to Rod Serling, wants him to produce as well as write an hour-long series next season dealing in fantasy and science fiction." That, of course, is The Twilight Zone, which ran from 1959 to 1964. From what I've read, it was Serling who originally wanted an hour-long series, but the network prevailed upon him to do a half-hour, and in time he came to see that it fit the format for TZ perfectly, so much so that he was not happy with CBS when they did expand the show to an hour. 

Things are looking up for them in the coming year.

Not to be ignored, at "Late and Exclusive," Burt Boyar says that "Garry Moore's desire [is] to emcee a variety show every week." Garry gets his wish; he's currently hosting I've Got a Secret in primetime and The Garry Moore Show Monday through Friday mornings, but in September of 1958 he'll end his morning show in favor of that hour-long variety show, which runs until 1964.

Not everything we see is a hit, though. Jenkins correctly reports that Johnny Desmond "is the leading candidate for the permanent love-interest in Joan Caulfield's Sally series." And Desmond does indeed get the role of Jim Kendall—for what it's worth. NBC's already considering cancellation of the series, which premiered in September 1957, as it's being devoured in the ratings by Maverick and The Jack Benny Program. Desmond's appearance as a regular is part of a retooling of the show's concept, but things don't improve; Sally is cancelled in March, meaning Johnny Desmond got to play his new role for all of seven episodes.

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Starting in 1954, Steve Allen helmed his own NBC variety show which, at the beginning, aired opposite that of Ed Sullivan. It didn't run as long as Ed's, of course, but then Allen said his goal was never to conquer Ed, just to coexist with him, which he did for several seasons. Let's see who gets the best of the contest this week. 

Sullivan: Fredric March and Florence Eldridge are seen in an extended excerpt from "A Long Day's Journey into Night," by Eugene O' Neill. Other guests include Johnnie Ray, vocalist; the Everly Brothers, vocal due; Bambi Linn and Rod Alexander, dancers; the Vienna on Parade Orchestra": The Amandis, teeter-board act; Tex Barton and his horse, novelty act; Clifford Guest, ventriloquist. 

Allen (color): Steve's guests tonight include: Ward Bond and Robert Horton, of TV's Wagon Train; Xavier Cugat and his orchestra with songstress Abbe Lane; and Singer Sam Cooke and comedian Johnny Haymer. Tom Poston, Louis Nye.

I've mentioned before that Sullivan and Allen are really two different kinds of programs; while Ed's show is built around his guests, with him usually just the emcee, Steve is an active participant in a show that's maybe closer to Dean Martin or Carol Burnett, with sketch humor and regulars in addition to a smaller number of guests. So you ask yourself which of the two is likely to retain your interest for the whole show? One thing Ed could do, with his proximity to and influence with Broadway, is bring in top stars to perform scenes from their latest plays and musicals, and that's what we have with tonight's excerpt from "A Long Day's Journey into Night," which brings Broadway into the homes of people who may never visit New York. On the other hand, I'm not sure teeter boards, horses and ventriloquists are going to hold me for the rest of the hour. Steverino's got a pretty good lineup, so based on depth, I'll give Allen the advantage

However, I'll put in a good word as well for the show that follows Allen on Sunday: The Chevy Show (9:00 p.m., NBC), with comic actor Tom Ewell, dancer Shirley MacLaine, musical-comedy star John Raitt, and singing actress Anna Maria Alberghetti. If you just keep your dial tuned to NBC after Steve, you've got a pretty good couple of hours going. 

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Let's see, what else is on this week?

On Monday, it's the debut of the daytime quiz show Dotto (11:30 a.m., CBS), hosted by Jack Narz, in which questions are answered to connect the dots on a drawing; the first contestant to identify what the drawing is wins, and gets to continue against a new opponent. Now, you ought to recognize Dotto for a couple of reasons: first, while CBS continues to air the show in daytime, NBC will simultaneously begin broadcasting a weekly nighttime version beginning in July. You don't see one show on two different networks at the same time too often. Nor do you see a successful show—Dotto had become one of the most popular shows on television*—cancelled so abruptly, when both the daytime and nighttime versions are axed in August. The reason: a little thing about the results being fixed. No matter where we are in 1957 and 1958, we can't seem to keep from running into signs of the brewing scandal.

*According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, "On NBC's July 29 episode, a contestant on the show, actress and model Connie Hines had a telegram read on air with Columbia Pictures stating interest in her as an actress. Hines later became famous as Carol Post on the popular comedy Mister Ed."

I always enjoy nights when we see big stars appearing on the small screen, and Monday also has some fine ones: Bob Hope is on The Danny Thomas Show (9:00 p.m., CBS). He's Danny's guest star at a benefit charity show, and Danny begins to worry that Bob might overshadow him. (That's on opposite CBS's Twenty-One, and there's that scandal connection again!) Then, on Goodyear Theater (9:30 p.m., CBS), Jack Lemmon is the star of the story "The Victim," as a man who realizes he's being followed by two men shortly after the death of his wife. 

As an aficionado of MST3K, you can understand why Tuesday's Red Skelton Show (9:30 p.m., CBS) holds so much appeal for me. "Guests Lon Chaney, John Carradine, and Vici Raaf join Red in a 'mad scientist' sketch tonight. Henpecked George Appleby is thrown out of the house and ordered by his wife to get a job as a laboratory assistant to a pair of experimenting scientists (Chaney, Carradine). The two scientists are attempting the transplant of animal brains to human beings." If you've seen any of these movies, you know what's coming next.

I'm assuming most of you know who Parley Baer is, but maybe not? Sure, you've probably seen him as the mayor in The Andy Griffith Show, and you've probably heard him as Chester in the radio version of Gunsmoke (and you've probably eaten his cookies; he was the voice of Ernie the Elf in the Keebler commercials), but I think he might have been on literally every television and radio show ever made. (If you're ever listening to an old-time radio program and one of the actors sounds familiar, it's probably either William Conrad, Parley Baer, or Virginia Gregg.) Anyway, he's Darby, the Nelsons' neighbor, in Wednesday's episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m., ABC). 

On Thursday, Jack Benny hosts the latest Shower of Stars (8:30 p.m., CBS), with guests Tommy Sands, Ed Wynn, Jo Stafford and Paul Weston, and the dance team of Chiquita and Johnson. (You've got to love those caricatures of Benny and Wynn by Hirschfeld.) If you're looking for something more substantial, check out Aaron Spelling's play "The Last Man" on Playhouse 90 (9:30 p.m., CBS), starring Sterling Hayden and Spelling's wife, Carolyn Jones. It's the story of a man whose wife dies in childbirth because a storekeeper delays in selling him the medicine that could save her life. Now he's settled down in the area, while planning his revenge. It's later made into the movie One Foot in Hell, which is probably a better description for the story.

Friday's Zane Grey Theater (8:30 p.m., CBS) features what could be called a Western version of Twelve Angry Men, but with a twist: the jury is deadlocked in the murder trial of a gunslinger, with eleven voting guilty and one innocent. But as the lone holdout tries to convince his fellow jurors, the gunman escapes. It's a strong cast, with Robert Ryan, David Janssen, and Harold J. Stone. That's followed by The Frank Sinatra Show (9:00 p.m., ABC), with Frank's guest Robert Mitchum. After that, Robert Taylor and George Murphy are the guest stars on The Thin Man (9:30 p.m,. NBC), with Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk as Nick and Nora Charles.

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Finally—well, I don't know. Can you call Carol Channing a starlet in 1958? She's already been nominated for a Tony, appeared on the cover of both Life and Time, and spent several years working with George Burns. She's been in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Wonderful Town, and is a regular on television. But she hasn't been in Hello, Dolly! yet, the role that brings her international and everlasting fame. So maybe we'll put her somewhere in-between.

So let's end with Sheree North. Or, rather, Sheree North's diet. She's already become well-known as one of Marilyn Monroe's potential successors, and one of the reasons she's been able to succeed at such a wide variety of roles is the health food diet that allows her to vary her weight to between 102 and 148. It includes "nothing but unprocessed, unpreserved and unchemically-treated foods available at any health-food store." She augments it with supplements such as cashew-nut butter, almond paste, and malts. Dinner, for example, might consist of raw chopped vegetables, cooked vegetables, and a broiled steak or lamp chop, with molasses and lemon juice or cider vinegar and honey for refreshment. You'll notice that you don't see recipes for these kinds of things in TV Guide. Then again, there's nothing wrong with a good steak, as long as it comes with a loaded baked potato and a salad. We won't even discuss dessert. TV  

1 comment:

Thanks for writing! Drive safely!