November 4, 2023

This week in TV Guide: November 6, 1953

For one of the first times in its short history, TV Guide has the chance to cover a real, live breaking news story, one of the biggest TV has yet seen: Arthur Godfrey's dismissal of Julius La Rosa on live television.

For the uninitiated, Julius La Rosa was a singer and a popular regular on Arthur Godfrey's show. On October 19, following a song by La Rosa, Godfrey announced—on the air—that "This was Julie’s swan song with us. Julius has asked for his release, and I will never stand in the way of anybody trying to improve himself. We wish him Godspeed." La Rosa, in fact, had no contract with Godfrey, and was given no warning that he was about to be sacked, let alone that it was going to happen on a live broadcast. Two days later, at a press conference, Godfrey confirmed that he had fired La Rosa. He said that La Rosa had "lost his humility," had refused to go to ballet class (required for all the regulars, so that they might appear more graceful on-air), and that morale among the cast was a problem. 

How big a story is this? Well, the New York Teletype, ordinarily one page, is two pages this week, both devoted one hundred percent to the Godfrey-La Rosa story.* More than this, however, the report is the kickoff to a flood of stories, almost all negative, that TV Guide runs on Godfrey over the next few months. 

*Lost in the hubbub was that Godfrey had also fired his longtime orchestra leader, Archie Bleyer, for having done some recording work with Don McNeill, star of ABC's Breakfast Club, on the air directly opposite Godfrey's morning show. The fact that Bleyer also owned the label for which La Rosa recorded was said to be a coincidence, not connected to Godfrey's move. Bleyer goes on to work with the Everly Brothers, Andy Williams, and others.

This isn't to say that TV Guide is singling out Godfrey for particular scorn; indeed, Godfrey had frequently featured in the magazine throughout the months since the national version had started. And the press which Godfrey received in the wake of the La Rosa firing was almost universally negative, if not outright hostile. Godfrey had never been particularly easy to work with, and there were plenty of negative stories out there about him, but given his popularity with the public, most of those stories were either spiked or ignored by a press that sought to cultivate favor with the Old Redhead. Now, however, the gloves are coming off, and, given all that hostile press, it could be said that TV Guide is merely reporting what's going on; if their coverage appears to be against Godfrey, it could simply be a reflection of the coverage at large.

This week's Letters section bears out how the public has been galvanized by the controversy. "A Disgusted Reader" in Streator, Illinois stands up for Godfrey; "It burns me up the way some people are always telling things they don't like about Arthur Godfrey. Why don’t they keep it to themselves or turn the dial? I wonder if they are not jealous. For as long as we can remember, Godfrey he has been a very big favorite of ours." On the other hand, "Teen-Agers" from Leland, Illinois provide the kind of negativity that Disgusted Reader is apparently talking about: "What is the matter with that dumb Arthur Godfrey? We teen-agers have always watched his shows but not any more if Julius La Rosa isn’t around. Why didn’t he fire Frank Parker—one of the worst singers there is? When Arthur was in the hospital, Robert Q. Lewis did a better job as a substitute." Robert Q. Lewis! Ouch!

La Rosa and Godfrey in happier times
The story continues to percolate over the years; Godfrey would later claim that one of the reasons he sacked La Rosa was that the young singer was engaged in an affair with one of the McGuire Sisters who happened to be married at the time; Godfrey not only disapproved of it personally, he also felt it would reflect poorly on his family show. Others felt Godfrey was jealous of the attention La Rosa got; it was said that his fan mail had begun to exceed Godfrey's. La Rosa rarely rose to the bait when the subject came up; he acknowledged that Godfrey "wasn't a very nice man" to him, but always gave him credit for having made his career. La Rosa would go on to make thirteen appearances on Ed Sullivan's show, sparking a feud between Godfrey and Sullivan.

As for Godfrey himself, he never recovers from the incident. The phrase "no humility" becomes a punchline for stand-up comedians, and Godfrey's relationship with the press deteriorates completely, with articles appearing linking Godfrey to affairs of his own with several female cast members. He fires more than twenty cast and crew members over the next couple of years, and in a bizarre incident his pilot's license is suspended for six months after he buzzes the control tower of Teterboro Airport in his DC-3. Most painful of all for Godfrey is the backlash from his formerly loyal fans. Having at one time hosted his morning show on both CBS TV and radio five days a week, with two additional prime-time programs on TV and another two on radio, by the late 1950s, he is reduced to his daily radio program, plus appearing on occasional TV specials. He is teamed up with Alan Funt as host of Candid Camera, but the coupling fares poorly and Godfrey is replaced after a single season. 

He remains a giant in the history of radio and television, a fascinating and contradictory man with many interesting viewpoints. He also remains an abject lesson in how quickly the mighty can fall—and how far. 

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On the cover this week is Warren Hull, emcee of the quiz show Strike It Rich, one of the most popular—and most controversial—shows on the air. As it happens, I wrote a piece about this show many years ago, in the early years of this blog, as an example of how television exploits people in order to provide entertainment for the masses: 

On this show, the halt, the blind and the needy catalogue their woes before 25,000,000 viewers and then, by answering routine quiz questions, tap the sponsor for money. And, if they’re lucky, some viewer's heart may be touched to the extent that he calls the show on the "Heart Line" and contributes more cash or gifts.

Henry McCarthy, New York's Commissioner of Welfare, has been a harsh critic of shows such as Strike It Rich. In particular, he's concerned about the children of families who benefit from appearing on the show; he fears they'll be harmed by "exposing their families to public gaze as objects of beggarly solicitation. It’s a miserable thing to do to children and may scar them for life." Other critics of the program—and there are many—say that the contestants could easily be given what they need without having to "debase" themselves in public, and that those involved with the show don't deserve the praise they receive, given that "they make a good living out of it." 

Of course, not everyone agrees with this assessment, especially the emcee. 

"We don’t force people to appear on our show or to say anything they don’t want to say," Hull says in answer to criticism that the "poor unfortunates" appearing on the show are forced to bare their souls to the public. "Let the people who have been criticizing us read some of the mail from people whose lives have been saved by us." Adds Walt Framer, producer and originator of the program, "We've been on the air over five years and in that time we’ve given a new start in life to over 1000 people." He also thinks that seeing stories of people in truly dire circumstances gives viewers a different perspective on their own problems—"First World problems," we'd call them today.

Since Strike It Rich started, it's given away more than a million dollars in cash, which Framer says is a "drop in the bucket" compared to contributions received by viewers. As for the accusation that he's profiting from the misery of others, "I could make just as good a living producing dramatic or musical shows. Of course, I make a good living from this show, but I don’t make nearly as much as I could." But Commissioner McCarthy points out that the show presents “no opportunity to make painstaking plans that will really rehabilitate."

There are many different angles to a story like this: the old "give a man a fish vs. teach a man to fish" canard; the question of whether refusing charity is an indication of excessive pride; and the oldest one of all, whether or not the end justifies the means. The article ends with the note that, "The final arbiter will, of course, be the viewer." In that case, Strike It Rich is the winner; it began on radio in 1947, and its run on television lasted until 1958. But then, we still enjoy watching people bare it all for our entertainment today, so why should we be surprised?

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Academy Award winner Loretta Young is one of several Hollywood stars making the jump to TV this season, and she's done so with an NBC anthology series which she both introduces and stars in: Letter to Loretta. The title alludes to the show's unique format, in which the stories are based "on the fan mail which Miss Young receives from people seeking her advice on their personal matters." I'm cynic enough to take that explanation with a grain of salt, and in fact midway through the first season the title is changed to The Loretta Young Show, which makes a lot more sense. 

The show's trademark throughout its run, although it goes unmentioned in this week's review, is Young's entrance onto the set (said to be a recreation of her own living room), showing off her gown with a twirl as she comes through the front door of the room. It was, as the always-reliable Wikipedia points out, a gesture which was much parodied at the time, including by Ernie Kovacs; Young herself said that it allowed her a moment in each episode where she could be glamorous, after which she could play any character in the subsequent episode without fans wondering about her appearance. 

But enough about all that. Our question is this: is the show any good? Well, the critic seems somewhat surprised to report, it is. Based on the "weepy-eyed characters" Young has played throughout her movie career, one might have expected this to be a "glorified soap opera," but instead, the weekly stories are "full of charm and good humor." Young herself is more poised and confident than virtually any movie star who's ever made a similar transition to TV, utterly believable whether playing a department store clerk, a young mother, or a sophisticated wife. Her supporting casts are equally good, and the productions are of a uniformly high quality. It may not be the greatest drama ever seen on television, the review concludes, but it should provide the viewer with "many a pleasant half hour," as indeed it will for eight seasons and 165 episodes.

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Topper is another program getting the review treatment this week. Based on the 1937 movie starring Cary Grant and Constance Bennett as married ghosts and Roland Young as the man who purchased their old home, and whose life they haunt, this version made its debut this season, and already it's considered "one of the better new telefilm comedy programs of the season." 

Robert Sterling and Anne Jeffreys, real-life marrieds, are George and Marion Kerby, the fun-loving specters who died while skiing (along with their St. Bernard, Neil) while Leo G. Carroll plays Cosmo Topper, the "harried and henpecked bumbler" and subject of a reclamation project by the Kerbys, who decide they simply have to inject some fun into Topper's life. As is par for the course with these kind of characters (e.g. Mr. Ed, Mr. Snuffleupagus), only Cosmo can see the Kerbys and Neil, which is inconvenient for him but most convenient for us viewers. 

Topper is a fine adaptation not just of the movie, but of the bestselling novels by Thorne Smith that spurred the big screen comedy in the first place. The humor is sophisticated, sharp and witty—a family comedy, such as Father Knows Best, it is not—and contains fine doses of the satire which permeates Smith's novels. Sterling and Jeffreys are "probably the most charming pair of apparitions to have assumed bodily form on TV in years," and Carroll is the perfect foil for their shenanigans. The special effects, particularly the materialization and dematerialization of the Kerbys and scenes of objects floating through the air, are excellent. The only concern is whether or not the writers can keep things from wearing thin, and they're able to succeed for two seasons and 78 episodes.

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Friday night's Topper episode (7:30 p.m., CBS) involves Marion developing a crush on Cosmo Topper's new personal trainer; it's the fifth episode of the series, and it seems as good a place as any to start our look at the week's highlights. Meanwhile, on Person to Person (9:30 p.m., CBS), Ed Murrow's guest is composer Richard Rodgers.

An increasingly popular feature in today's saturated world of sports is the "whiparound," in which the studio host (or hosts) switches viewers back and forth between a number of different games depending on where the most excitement is at the moment. It may seem like something made for today's short-attention span fans, but it really isn't all that new; NBC is doing that very thing in 1953 with college football; they call it "Panorama Coverage," for weeks when the network is airing multiple regional games rather than one national broadcast. This Saturday is the second Panorama week of the season, with the network covering Florida vs. Georgia, South Carolina vs. North Carolina, Northwestern vs. Wisconsin, and Kansas vs. Kansas State. (1:45 p.m.) It's duly noted that the time blocked out for college games back in 1953 is two hours and 40 minutes; today's games run at least an hour longer than that. I suppose as long as it makes for more commercials, it's progress.

The Ed Sullivan Show and the Colgate Comedy Hour go head-to-head this Sunday, with Ed's program coming from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. (7:00 p.m., CBS) Ed takes viewers backstage, as some of opera's greats are shown rehearsing for upcoming performances; Rise Stevens, Richard Tucker, Cesare Siepi, Hilda Gueden, Robert Merrill and Roberta Peters are among those appearing. Over on NBC, Jimmy Durante is the host of Comedy Hour, with Jimmy's old partner Eddie Jackson, Roy Bargy and his orchestra, and special guest Frank Sinatra. Even with Frank, I think I'd have to go with Sullivan on this one. And on our other reviewed show this week, Letter to Loretta, Loretta Young plays a young widow and mother being wooed by a New York magazine editor who doesn't understand her devotion to her six-year-old son. (9:00 p.m., NBC)

I think most of us know that professional wrestling was one of the TV hits of the 1950s, with many of wrestling's stars becoming larger-than-life household names. Perhaps it's because they're such cartoonish characters that the description for Monday's All-Star Wrestling (7:30 p.m., WGN) asks the question, "Are wrestlers human beings?" That might sound a little humanistic, but TV Guide promises to get to the bottom of it: "The first of our series on wrestlers, in next week's TV Guide, gives the lowdown on phony wrestlers." Phony wrestlers?? Next, they'll be telling us that Santa and the Easter Bunny aren't real. Horrors.

Tuesday we get a chance to see one of the more amusing head-to-head contests in early television: Milton Berle's Buick-Berle Show (7:00 p.m., NBC) vs. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen's Life is Worth Living (7:00 p.m. DuMont). It was a friendly competition, with the two having the highest respect for each other; Sheen used to joke about being called "Uncle Fultie," and Berle kidded that the Bishop outdid him in the ratings because he had better writers. Elsewhere, Robert Preston stars in a rare straight-dramatic performance in the U.S. Steel Hour episode "Hope For a Harvest," co-starring Faye Emerson. (8:30 p.m., ABC) It's the story of a depression-era farmer saved from despair by the love of a good woman. 

's late-night movie on the NBC affiliate WNBQ (remember, this is in the pre-Tonight era) is Hitler—Dead or Alive, starring Ward Bond as one of three former Alcatraz prisoners hired to capture Adolf Hitler in return for a one-million-dollar reward. (11:00 p.m.) I was going to scoff at this, sight unseen, but then I got to thinking: TV shows from The Dirty Dozen to Garrison's Gorillas to Jericho have used this type of premise for years. And after all, is it really that much more implausible than the U.S. government recruiting Mafiosos to assassinate Fidel Castroif anyone knows how to carry out a hit, it should be a team of gangsters. And Quentin Tarantino did admit that the inspiration for Inglorious Basterds came from this movie. 

One of the points made in the discussion about Loretta Young's move to television centered around the number of movie stars premiering on TV this season, and I was struck by the number of them just on Thursday. There is, of course, Groucho Marx on You Bet Your Life (7:00 p.m., NBC), but Groucho's been doing that gig since 1947. Better examples are Ray Milland, starring in the sitcom Meet Mr. McNutley (7:00 p.m., CBS), Charles Boyer, one of the Four Stars of the dramatic anthology Four Star Playhouse (7:30 p.m., CBS), and Ray Bolger, in the sitcom Where's Raymond? None of them were huge hits, but all three of them ran for at least two seasons, and Four Star made it to, appropriately enough, four, plus years in syndication under various titles. 

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MST3K alert: The Mad Monster
(1942) Mad scientist develops a method of transplanting the blood of a wolf into a man. Johnny Downs, George Zucco, Glenn Strange. (Thursday, 11:00 p.m., WCAN in Milwaukee) OK, this is a really bad movie; it makes it to MST3K on merit. We do have the consolation of another episode of Radar Men from the Moon, however. And don't feel too sorry for Glenn Strange as Petro, the monster: he'll go on to play Sam, the bartender of the Long Branch Saloon, in 222 episodes from 1961 to 1973. That calls for a drink! TV  


  1. Apologies in advance, but I'm currently stuck on the whole "getting older is no fun AT ALL!" thing.
    A month ago (give or take) was my 73rd birthday, which I did not celebrate, one way or the other; all I seemed to notice was how backwards-and-sideways everything was becoming - and I didn't care for it one little bit.
    The last straw, you might say, was this past week, when I learned of the passing of Peter S. Fischer, whom I've mentioned a time or twenty in the past.
    I've been scanning Amazon and other places, hoping he had another book in the works - alas, not to be; apparently old age and ill health caught up with him.
    Peter Fischer was 88 years old when he went - and all that reminded me of was how old I was getting...
    A couple of weeks before I read of the passing of one of my favorite TV writers, Stephen Kandel, aged 96 - and I think you can fill in the rest ...
    I've got this week's TV Guide (Chicago edition and all), but I'm setting it aside for later, when I might be a bit more up for it.
    Don't get smug about this - ten years from now, your time is coming ...

    1. Thanks for the reminder, Mike! Very encouraging!

      Seriously, since I retired earlier in the year, I've been having the time of my life. Home improvement projects, more time for writing, lost 40 pounds, cut out two meds, cut back my headaches by 2/3. I still have bad dreams about some of my old employers, but hopefully that will pass as well. But to your point, one of the reasons I'm having a good time is because I've got one eye on the calendar, and I know the clock is ticking. I'm determined to get as much out of life as I can for the time that's remaining. Granted, sometimes I have to keep reminding myself of that, but I'm working at it!


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!