March 11, 2023

This week in TV Guide: March 12, 1966

My goodness, but we see a lot of articles about The Beverly Hillbillies in this job. There was a cover story on the female stars just a couple of weeks ago, and now the gang is back again. The British seem to have a particular fascination with the show; you'll recall Malcolm Muggeridge wrote a feature just the previous year that was probably more serious than it appears on first glance, and this week it's Ronald Searle, the British artist and cartoonist currently living in Paris (his illustrations accompany the article). 

It's not just the Hillbillies that fascinates, of course; the entire concept of America seems to cast a spell on Europeans, as if they're encountering some form of alien life. (And, in the case of Meghan Markle, they probably are.) The American West holds a particular interest for them; as Searle says, "The American Western is considered one of the fine arts. A dress shop, with appropriate decor, may be called "Ranch," a bar may be hung with saddles and pistols, and the jeunesse wouldn’t be seen dead in anything but "louees"—Levi’s, to you." The "West" is also, according to Searle, an approximation—"Somewhere beyond New Jersey," he says.

Searle's particular fascination with The Beverly Hillibillies has to do with the show's success. "By normal standards their rustic program should have been strangled at birth. And yet they have achieved the thing for which many an alchemist sold his soul to the devil: the transmutation of base metal into gold. Golden corn to be specific." And it's not just American captivated by these corn-shucking millionaires; "The adjective 'corn' has been tossed at the Beverly Hillbillies in many languages the world over," he notes, but "the Clampetts are still running way up top on Tokyo TV and, no doubt, in Hong Kong and Hanover. You name it, they probably have it in their rustic bucket."

Why the popularity? Searle isn't sure; "Braver men than I have tried to fathom the success of this comic strip from the backwoods." That isn't important, though. What is important, and undeniable, is that "in every nook and cranny in the United States where men and women are assembled together, millions of dreams are realized through the Clampetts. Week after week harmless citizens wish themselves into the boots of Granny and Jed and Elly May and Jethro."

Granny rules the roost
That's where Searle's article ends, but the question is a lasting one. The Beverly Hillbillies has long served as the poster child for the decline of American television—its dumbing down, if you will. Not because of any particular animus toward the show or its cast, I think; Searle noted that "a nicer bunch you couldn't wish to meet." Undoubtedly critics latched onto the Hillbillies because of the show's massive popularity; it was the number one series in the ratings for the 1962-63 and 1963-64 seasons, the first sitcom to hold that position since I Love Lucy in 1956-57. It broke up the domination of Westerns in the top spot; between 1957 and 1967, it was the only top-rated program not named Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, or Bonanza. In the 1963-64 season, Hillbillies had a 39.1 rating; the 2018-19 top-rated series, NBC's Sunday Night Football, had a rating of 10.9. The most-watched episode of Hillbillies, 1964's "The Giant Jackrabbit," was the most watched telecast up to the time of its airing, and remains the most-watched half-hour episode of a sitcom.*

*One critic speculated that it could have been helped by having followed LBJ's State of the Union address, but I'm not sure that holds water, given that the first primetime State of the Union wasn't until 1965.

Yes, I know things have changed a lot over the years, but that remains a hell of a lot of people watching that show, and enjoying it. Muggeridge, in his article, speculated that it might have had something to do with the show's innocense in a cynical age: "We, too, yearn after wealth which does not corrupt; after an innocence which triumphantly survives the possession of riches." Jed may have hit the jackpot with that oil strike, but it hadn’t fundamentally changed either him or his family, and there's something tremendously appealing about that. He felt that the reason for the show's worldwide popularity was also clear: "Backward or undeveloped nations are shown by means of television the way of life toward which they so ardently aspire." And if we skip ahead to August of 1966, we'll see a review of Hillbillies by Judith Crist that points to the same thing, that "what makes the show both durable and endurable," is its "utter lack of pretension."
Whatever the reason, and whatever you think about it, The Beverly Hillbillies remains one of the most popular weekly shows in the history of television. Given its success in a turbulent time, could it achieve a similar success today? Well, not to that extent; no show, save the Super Bowl, attracts that kind of audience anymore. And you'd have to have a unique cast, one that radiated warmth and likeability rather than stupidity and snarkiness. Still, you have to wonder: wouldn't it be nice to see a show about a family unspoiled by wealth, untouched by the corruptions of modern society?

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During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup.

Sullivan: Scheduled guests for this St. Patrick’s Day salute include Pearl Bailey; comics Wayne and Shuster; the Irish folk-singing Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem; puppet Topo Gigio; comic Jackie Vernon; the Three Kims, Swedish acrobats; magician Johnny Hart; the Emerald Society Police Pipe Band of the New York City Police Department; and the McNiff Dancers.

Palace: Host Fred Astaire welcomes singers Ethel Merman and Jack Jones; Marcel Marceau, who pantomimes "Bip the Lion Tamer" and "The Butterfly Collector"; comedian Pat Morita; the Roggé Sisters, French balancing act; and the Hardy Family, tumbling acrobats. Fred dances to "Bugle Call Rag" and learns how to belt out a song in the Merman manner.

Some weeks are easier than others, and this is one of them. The Palace has one of the greatest dancers of all time hosting, one of the greatest mimes of all time as a guest, and one of the great belters of all time. With Fred Astaire, Marcel Marceau, and Ethel Merman, the show hardly needs one of the smoothest singers of the time, Jack Jones, but why not? Ed's big gun is Pearl Bailey, no slouch to be sure, but on mesasure this really isn't a contest: Palace wins in a song.

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's weekly reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the shows of the era. 

One of the revealing aspects of the TV Guide collection is finding out how some of today's best-loved shows were, on first glance, not that big a deal. You might recall that Cleve was no great fan of Carol Burnett when her show first premiered, but it wound up outlasting his column. The same can't be said for I Dream of Jeannie; it only runs for five seasons, but it's been in reruns ever since, and remains one of the most popular of the classic TV sitcoms. To be fair, Our Critic doesn't hate the show, which he calls "the NBC answer to ABC's Bewitched (an unfair comparison, I'd say); in fact, he says that Jeannie, "which is only moderately well acted and directed, has at least three redeeming features."

Not surprisingly, first and foremost on that list (as it is with you, I'm sure) is Barbara Eden. Not only is she "a very good-looking girl," she's also capable of all the special-effects magic that Bewitched and other shows produce. And third, the show occasionally veers into actual satire; witness how Tony (Larry Hagman) can make Jeannie go back into her bottle any time he doesn't want her around. That would, Cleve points out, "make her the ideal wife." That's what Tony's friend Roger (Bill Daily) thinks, anyway, but Tony warns him not to go there. "Your friends will turn on you. Their wives will hate you. Do you think they’re going to watch her treat you with kindness and understanding and compassion? Do you think they’ll let her destroy everything they stand for?" Ouch.

Amory enjoys the fact that Jeannie, being a very jealous genie, which allows the writers to have a field day, as in the episode where Jeannie threatens to turn one of Tony's old girlfriends into a pillar of salt, whereupon Tony replies by threatening to pour ink in her bottle. She desperately wants to marry Tony; after being single for 2500 years, "I don't want to be an old maid." There's also a streak of michievousness in her, which can make things miserable for Tony, Roger, and Dr. Bellows (Hayden Rourke), and this, he says, "makes I Dream of Jeannie bearable for the rest of us." Now I grant you, this is the show's first season, so we don't know if Cleve modified his views as the series progresses. One would hope so; otherwise, Jeannie might just make one particular critic disappear.

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The latest effort of the American space program, the launch of Gemini VIII, is scheduled for Tuesday, March 15; it actually comes off the following day, following the successful launch of the Atlas-Agena target vehicle with which the Gemini capsule is scheduled to perform various docking manuevers. Network coverage begins with the twin launches on Wednesday morning, and continuesentire with the planned docking in the late afternoon. The networks also warn that programs "may be pre-empted" for coverage of the spaceflight, and if you know anything about Gemini VIII, you know that this promise was more than fulfilled.

The two first-time astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott, successfully dock with the Agena (the first such docking in history), but shortly after passing out of communications range, the coupled spacecrafts began to rotate along all three axes at a high rate of speed. Concerned that the rate of roll could cause the Agena to explode, Scott uncoupled the Gemini, whereupon the tumbling increased violently, along roll, pitch, and yaw, at a rate of 60 revolutions per minute. Charts and checklists flew around the cabin, and the unfiltered sunlight came through the windows with the effect of a strobe. With the astronauts close to blacking out, Armstrong decided to use the craft's reentry thrusters to stop the spinning. It was a bold, but necessary gamble; Scott later said of Armstrong, "The guy was brilliant. He knew the system so well. He found the solution, he activated the solution, under extreme circumstances ... it was my lucky day to be flying with him." Once the re-entry controls had been activated, mission rules required that the flight be aborted, and Gemini VIII prepared for an emergency landing. 

Much like the Apollo 13 mission just over four years later, the networks interrupted regular programmingThe Virginian on NBC, Batman on ABC, and, ironically, Lost in Space on CBS.  Reentering over China, the craft landed safely in the Pacific; although it was still daytime at the splashdown site, it was the first to take place at night in the continental United States. The crisis itself had lasted for about 30 minutes; the entire flight, which had been planned for three days, ended after around ten hours. 

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The Open Mind, hosted by Richard Heffner, debuted on public television in 1956, dedicated to "thoughtful excursion into the world of ideas." It reminds me of David Susskind's Open End, in that it tackles topics that you don't always see on programs like, say, Meet the Press. On Saturday night (8:00 p.m., KQED), we've got one that wouldn't be out of place today: "Are Flying Saucers Only Science Fic- tion?" And in fact, the program could still take up the topic (and include foreign balloons in the bargain!) since The Open Mind is still on the air, the 13th longest-running television program in American history, about to enter its 67th season and hosted by Richard Heffner's grandson, Alexander.

One other note about Saturday: NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies presents the American TV debut of A Place in the Sun (9:00 p.m.), based on Theodore Dreiser's novel An American Tragedy, and starring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Shelley Winters. Saturday Night at the Movies expands to two and-a-half hours for this movie, and a note at the end of the listing explains why: "The Los Angeles Superior Court recently ruled that this film could not be televised if its artistic qualities were harmed. NBC is presenting it without cuts." That would have been quite something, considering the editing of movies due to length or content was a common, and controversial, practice back then.

Spring is in the air, and with it the promise of baseball; KTVU gets things started with a spring training game between the San Francisco Giants and Cleveland Indians, live from Phoenix (Sunday, 12 noon). Sunday evening, The Bell Telelphone Hour (6:30 p.m., NBC) presents an hour of music from American movies, hosted by Ray Bolger, and starring Robert Merrill, André Previn, and musical-comedy performers Ann Miller, Gloria De Haven, Peter Marshall, Constance Towers and Judi Rolin. The Telephone Hour remains one of the 1960s last weekly programs to be done live on a regular basis.

A very funny parody of The Untouchables is the highlight on The Lucy Show (Monday, 8:30 p.m., CBS), with Robert Stack as an FBI agent who recruits Lucy to pose as the girlfriend of a soon-to-be-released-from-prison gangster, played by Bruce Gordon. Steve London, who played one of Eliot Ness's men on The Untouchables, is Stack's assistant, and the narration is provided, as it was then, by Walter Winchell. They even use the same theme music—but then, since Desilu produced The Untouchables, they shouldn't have had any trouble getting the rights. Stack and Gordon were good friends; Gordon never shied away from his casting as gangster Frank Nitti, so I wouldn't be surprised if they had a great time filming this. You can watch it all here.

Tuesday's 11:30 p.m. movie on KGO (not to be confused with the All-Night Movie, which doesn't start until 1:20 a.m.) is The Private Lives of Adam and Eve, which I would swear I'd seen on a program guide for an adult movie channel, but apparently not, since it's making its Bay Area TV debut. It's co-directed by Mickey Rooney, and it tells the allegorical story of a group of people seeking refuge from a storm in a country church. Rooney stars as Nick, aka the Devil, while who else could possibly play Eve but Mamie Van Doren? Need I include the fact that it's a comedy?

We don't know for sure what actually aired on Wednesday, what with the coverage of the Gemini VIII emergency, but the Bob Hope Comedy Special (9:00 p.m., NBC) sounds as if it would have been a good bet; skits include Phyllis Diller in "Pagoda Place" as a woman who's remarried, only to find out her first husband is still alive; an Academy Awards spoof with Jonathan Winters as Rock Surly, an actor accused of bumping off his fellow nominees; and Lee Marvin, one of those real-life nominees, as Slim Premise, a sissified gunfighter, and Bob as El Crummo, a bandit chief.

Part one of this week's Batman adventure was interrupted by last night's bulletins (at least twice, according to oral histories), but that won't stop ABC from airing part two on Thursday (7:30 p.m., ABC). It's called, unironically, "Better Luck Next Time," and it wraps up the first appearance of the one and only Catwoman (Julie Newmar). That's on up against The Munsters (7:30 p.m., CBS), which presents a rare look at the show's backstory, as Herman is visited by Dr. Frankenstein IV, decendant of the man who assembled him, and an evil Herman lookalike named Johann. Now that's scary!

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 night's episode of Camp Runamuck (7:30 p.m., NBC) features Spiffy (David Ketchum) falling under an oriental philosophy that causes him to make a truce with the ladies of Camp Divine. And that leads us to this week's starlet, Nina Wayne, who plays the "curvaceous counsellor" of the girls' camp, Caprice Yeudleman—also known as "the tall show girl with the tiny voice."

She didn't start out for a career in show business. Believe it or not, and there's no reason not to believe it, she and her sister Carol were afflicted with weak ankles and skinny legs—oh, and they were also pigeon-toed. Their uncle, a doctor, suggested they try ice skating, and they would up good enough at it that they joined the Ice Capades when Nina was 15. The Wayne Sisters toured with the Capades for two years, finally hanging up the skates when Carol fell and injured her knee.

From there, Nina moved first to Vegas and then Chicago, where she became "a model by day and a dancer by night"; her mother's only comment was that "Daddy and I would prefer that you wear a few more beads." She started working with Van Johnson in his nightclub act, which led to an appearance on The Tonight Show, where Johnny was charmed by her "kind of coo-coo way of speaking," and a comedy style that he described as "early idiot." (When Carson asked her, "How does it feel to work without any clothes on?" Nina answered, "Naked." David Swift, putting together a cast for a new sitcom, happened to see that appearance ("She has the voice of a grape comng out of a banana"), and two day slater she was doing the pilot for Camp Runamuck.

She wants to be a "big star," but her acting coaches are under instructions not to tamper with that voice; Swift says, "She has almost an armor of naiveté, translated directly without being filtered." And while Camp Runamuck, scheduled opposite The Wild Wild West and The Flintstones, won't be around much longer, she's hoping to be heard from again. In fact, her career continues until the mid-'70s, including the movie The Night Strangler and a career on the stage. She marries, and divorces, John Drew Barrymore, the father of Drew Barrymore. And, in case you hadn't figured it out from all the clues in the article—a curvaceous figure, a little voice, a last name of Wayne, and a sister named Carol—that sister is, indeed, Carol Wayne, the Tea Time Movie sidekick to Carson's Art Fern. Small world, so to speak.

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MST3K alert: The Indestructible Man (1956). "A death row inmate double-crossed by his lawyer gets a chance for revenge when a bizarre experiment brings him back to life. Lon Chaney, Casey Adams." (Friday, part of KGO's All Night Movie) Look for a small but pivotal role played by Joe Flynn, who's probably glad he's better-known for McHale's NavyTV  

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