December 30, 2023

This week in TV Guide: December 30, 1961

The new movie, Maestro, directed by and starring Bradley Cooper, tells the story—OK, a story—of Leonard Bernstein, the famed conductor and composer, one of the giants of the classical/pop culture crossover of the 20th Century. This week's feature article, by Edith Efron, also tells a story of Leonard Bernstein—specifically, the Young People's Concerts that began on CBS in 1958 and ran for 13 seasons and, I think, represent his most important and lasting contribution to classical music.

Efron joins Bernstein following his first telecast of the 1961-62 season, a study of impressionism that, lucidly and literately, explains the musical style to an audience of children who listen, transfixed, to Bernstein's talk—lecture would be far too stuffy a word to describe how he communicates the complexities of musical theory, in such a way that both children and adults can understand such concepts as how bitonality aids in creating the dreamy image that is impressionism. The whole of the interview takes place in Bernstein's cramped dressing room, where we're exposed to the full-on magnitude of the maestro's blinding rock-star celebrity. 

It's a chaotic scene, with Efron (the "girl reporter") crammed into a crouching position under the sink while Bernstein tries to shave without cutting himself. She's hard-pressed to get her questions in between interruptions: elegantly-dressed ladies praising Bernstein's performance; children asking for autographs; photographers asking him to pose standing up, sitting down, pretending to be conducting ("I can't fake conducting," Bernstein snaps at one); aides and press agents, all looking for a piece of the maestro. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I have to wonder if it could possibly capture the kinetic energy of the scene.

In between it all, though, we do get some interesting perspectives on Bernstein's thoughts about music. Asked why children should be introduced to music, he replies, almost disbelievingly, "The purpose is pleasure. Pleasure—nothing else. Music makes life more enjoyable, more exalted, more berable." If it's true that many children consider listening to classical music a duty, it's "[b]ecause so many adults consider it as a duty." It becomes a challenge if the parent doesn't like classical music; "Children are sensitive to parents' likes and dislikes. On the other hand, music is there. A child can discover it independently." And there should be no limit to the kind of music that a child is exposed to; "Very few things are beyond a child's comprehension. Any good music will do. The only thing to watch out for is not to strain a child's attention span." 

We learn some other things about Bernstein's philosophy. While scrambling around for his shirt (it turns out he already has it on), he proffers the idea that there is no such thing as bad taste in music. "There is only good art and bad art," he says, extending the analogy, "good Beethoven and dull Beethoven, good rock 'n' roll and bad rock 'n' roll." The last catches Efron off-guard—the master of classical music praising rock music? "Elvis Presley," he goes on. "There's one, 'I'm All Shook Up'." I like it. Presley's performance is fantastic." 

Through all this, I think we get an insight into why Bernstein was such a good teacher. Because he gives children credit for being able to comprehend ideas and concepts, he doesn't talk down to them—instead, he breaks ideas down into more digestible bits and pieces, using references that are relevant to them. He doesn't tell them to be interested in classical music; instead, he demonstrates what makes it interesting, trusting that they'll accompany him on the journey. He conveys the passion, the love he has for music, confident that they'll catch the bug as he once did. 

I was a faithful viewer of the Young People's Concerts for the few years that I was of an age to understand them. I was fortunate to be introduced to classical music in school, by the Young People's Concerts that the Minneapolis Symphony staged. I had a mother who appreciated classical music, and was willing to invest in it on my behalf. Even though I've never played an instrument, it has, in Bernstein's words, provided pleasure.

It's true that public schools don't make that investment any more. Television doesn't either; it hasn't invested in anything particularly artistic in decades. The audience for the long-haired stuff is getting older all the time, and nobody quite seems to know how to attract younger audiences. That's an issue for another day. But if Maestro the movie does well, one can hope that, no matter how fleeting, classical music can be cool again. If that happens, then the maestro will have succeeded once again.

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New Year's Day, in 1962 as well as 2024, is Monday, and that means one thing: football. Well, actually it means more than that, but we'll get to the rest later. But, as Melvin Durslag writes, football fans are "up to their eyeballs" in bowl games, and the colleges are loving every minute of it. 

There are twelve bowl games scheduled for the end of the season (as contrasted to the 42 being played this year), and none of them are named after corporate advertisers. But, as any fan can tell you, there are only four that really matter, and all of them are being played on January 1: the Rose, Sugar, Cotton, and Orange Bowls. They are the games "in whose stadia loot is collected in the largest quantities and whose fame is enhanced each New Year's Day with national television before enormous audiences."

Despite the revenue and exposure generated by the games, there are critics in the educational realm who feel the games are unnecessary, creating an overemphasis on athletics. That the regular season usually ends in late November, with the national champion already chosen before the bowls are played, only strengthen the argument. It's one reason, in fact, why, Ohio State's faculty council declined the invitation to the 1962 Rose Bowl despite the Buckeyes winning the Big 10 championship, which would ordinarily have resulted in a trip to Pasadena. They hoped their decision would "vastly improv[e] the university's reputation as an academic institution fit for service in a Cold War political economy."* At any rate, as Durslag points out, money being thrown around by TV has boosted the overall budgets of the participating schools and their conferences to such an extent that any sentiment to the contrary is becoming a moot point.  

*I went into the behind-the-scenes drama of the 1962 bowl selection process in this 2012 article, which you can read here.

Which brings us to the big day itself, starting at 12:45 p.m. ET with ABC's coverage of the Orange Bowl, pitting #4 LSU against #7 Colorado, reported by Curt Gowdy, Paul Christman, and Jim Simpson. (LSU 25, Colorado 7) At 1:45 p.m., NBC kicks off the first of its New Year's Day doubleheader, with undefeated national champion Alabama taking on #9 Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl; Lindsey Nelson and Art Gleason are behind the mic. (Alabama 10, Arkansas 3) If that's not enough for you, CBS joins the fray at 2:15 p.m. with the Cotton Bowl, as Tom Harmon and Johnny Lujack covering the action between #5 Mississippi and #3 Texas. (Texas 12, Mississippi 7) Finally, it's the Granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl, beginning at 4:45 p.m. on NBC, with Mel Allen and Braven Dyer calling the game between #6 Minnesota, becoming the first Big 10 team to make consecutive appearances in the Rose Bowl, and unranked UCLA. (Minnesota 21, UCLA 3) 

These games were, practically speaking, exhibition games, originally meant to boost tourism in the host cities. They did not count in the standings, the national champion already having been selected; and they served as a reward for excellence, with players often expressing preferences based on the cities they'd like to travel to. (New Orleans was always a popular destination.) Perhaps it wasn't the best way to choose the best team, and Heaven knows there was plenty of corruption in college sports even then, but it seems like it was much simpler, maybe even more fun than it is today. I feel for those who never got a chance to experience it, even just as a fan.

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There's more to New Year's than football, though, hard as it may be to believe. I myself used to scoff, back in the day, at the idea that there could be anything more important than the bowl games. Not being a partier, my idea of a good time on New Year's Eve was sitting down with one of the lesser bowl games and then watching the ball drop in New York. The parties that we did go to were sedate ones with family or friends, always in someone's home. Lately, it's been New Year's Eve marathons with The Three Stooges, Thin Man or Matt Helm movies, and so on. If we make it to midnight, it's been a good day.

So I have to ask, is New Year's Eve still a thing? Do people go out, or did the virus finally kill all that off? It was a thing back in 1961; as kind of a pre-show, Gordon and Sheila MacRae host Highways of Melody (10:00 p.m., NBC), a musical hour sponsored by Cities Service (Citgo), which explains the "Highway" motif. Their guests include George Chakiris, Buddy Ebsen, Kathryn Grayson, Jack Jones, Rita Moreno, Jane Morgan, the Cities Service Singers and Dancers, and Paul Lavalle and the Band of America.

At 11:15 p.m. on NBC, the serious shows begin. Bandleader Xavier Cugat and his then-wife, singer Abby Lane, host a New Year's Eve party from the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. (NBC). Just before midnight, the cameras switch to Times Square, where Ben Grauer covers the ball drop. Mr. New Year's Eve himself, Guy Lombardo, does the honors on CBS (11:15 p.m.), with newsman Robert Trout in Times Square.

That brings us to New Year's Day itself and the parades, and you'll notice the plural. It actually starts on Saturday night, with live coverage of the King Orange Jamboree Parade in Miami, with Jim McKay and George Fenneman describing the spectacular (7:30 p.m., ABC). This parade ceased after the national television contract ended (a misfortune that also befell the Cotton Bowl Parade), but it made the game itself feel more special, more than just a simple football game.

This being a Philadelphia edition, it's appropriate that Monday morning begins on multiple channels with the Mummers Parade (9:30 a.m., WFIL and WCAU in Philadelphia, plus stations in Lebanon, Harrisburg, and York), a marathon that runs nearly five hours, either non-stop or sandwiched between bowl games, depending on the station. At 11:30 a.m. on NBC, it's the Granddaddy of all parades, the Tournament of Roses, live and in color (except for the first 15 minutes). Former Tournament president John Davidson narrates the opening portion of the telecast, reviewing the history of the parade and what to expect today. He's then joined by Betty White and NBC newsman Roy Neal (a curious choice) for commentary. Among the stars appearing in the parade are actors John McIntire, Scott Miller, Frank McGrath, and Terry Wilson from Wagon Train; John Russell and Peter Brown from Lawman; and Grand Marshal Albert Rosellini, governor of Washington, who was probably chosen based on Seattle hosting the 1962 World's Fair.

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That seems like a pretty big start to the year, but there's more. Not content to turn the spotlight over completely to the college game, the NFL Championship is Sunday, with the New York Giants taking on the Green Bay Packers in the first championship game ever played in Green Bay (1:45 p.m., NBC). Lindsey Nelson, who heads to New Orleans after the game to cover Monday's Sugar Bowl, and Chris Schenkel are on the play-by-play. The Packers, who lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Philadelphia Eagles in last year's title tilt, rout the Giants 37-0, the start of a reign of terror over the rest of the league that will result in five championships over seven years (including three in a row), plus the first two Super Bowls. They remain the last team to win three consecutive league championships. It's the oldest NFL Championship game for which the original TV broadcast exists; you can see the game in its entirety here.

Also on Sunday is a curious program that attracted my attention for an even more curious reason. It's called Let Freedom Ring (3:00 p.m., CBS), featuring Richard Boone, Laraine Day, Howard Keel, and Dan O'Herlihy, and starring the group now known as the the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. It's an hour of patriotic music, interspersed with dramatic readings and performances by the four stars; Boone recites the Gettysburg Address, for example, and Day reads Lincoln's famous Letter to Mrs. Bixby; neither of these choices was coincidental, given that 1961 was the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's presidency. It is, in its way, a perfect example of a Sunday afternoon program, one that would have been at home on Omnibus. It's a bit static, very serious, and ultimately sounds a hopeful note for the nation as the new year approaches.

As for the curious reason why this stood out for me: the program was rebroadcast by CBS on Saturday morning, November 23, 1963, as part of the network's coverage of the aftermath of JFK's assassination. You might think this an odd choice, and if it were to be seen purely as an entertainment show, you'd be right. But the very nature of it being static, serious, and hopeful is why it was shown: it was a reminder to a shell-shocked nation about the greatness of America, reflected in part through the words of its first martyred president. Of the several memorial concerts broadcast over that weekend, I think this was the only one not specifically done for the occasion. But then, maybe this kind of thing only interests me. 

With the bowl games taking up Monday, there are several weekday programs making their debuts on Tuesday, including Your First Impression, a new game show hosted by Bill Leydon (noon, NBC). It's a variation on the mystery guest segment of What's My Line?, with a panel of celebrities trying to guess the identity of the guest based on clues given to them by Leydon; Dennis James is a regular panelist and fills in for Leydon on occasion. The show has a healthy run, lasting until June, 1964. Also premiering this day is Floyd Kalber's five-minute afternoon newscast (2:25 p.m., NBC), a staple for many years. By the way Kalber's nickname was "The Big Tuna"; has any newsman ever had a better one? Jane Wyman returns as host and occasional star of her eponymous dramatic anthology series (2:00 p.m., ABC), and NBC debuts the serial Our Five Daughters (3:30 p.m.), "the story of Helen and Jim Lee and their daughters." It had better be a short story; the series is gone nine months later, barely time for one of the daughters to have a baby.

There's a pictorial feature this week on how makeup artists prepare Sebastian Cabot's beard for the detective series Checkmate (among other tidbits, the reddish-brown hair is sprayed with glit paint, since it shows up as jet black on B&W), and his beard needs to be in good form in Wednesday's episode (8:30 p.m., CBS), as Jack Benny makes his TV dramatic debut playing a comedian who discovers someone has planted a bomb in his suitcase. Also on Wednesday, Bonanza stars Lorne Greene and Dan Blocker guest on Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall (9:00 p.m., NBC).

The end of the year is a great time for year-end reviews: poet John Ciardi hosts Accent on 1961 (Thursday, 9:00 p.m.), a special edition of his weekly CBS series, and his words accompany a picture montage of the major events of the past year. And what a year it was—Alan Shepard's space shot, Roger Maris's 61st home run, Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall, the Freedom Riders in the South, the JFK inauguration, and more. The flip side of a year-end review is a preview of the coming year, and that's what NBC has in store with Projection '62 (Friday, 9:30 p.m.), with Frank McGee hosting hosting the network's domestic and foreign correspondents in a look back at the year past, and predictions on what might be ahead. And it tells you something about how large news staffs used to be, with McGee talking to correspondents covering Berlin, Moscow, Tokyo, Africa, South America, India and the Middle East, London, Paris, Southeast Asia, Cuba and the Caribbean, and the White House. Not for nothing was NBC the leading news source on television.

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On the cover this week is Cynthia Pepper, star of the new ABC sitcom Margie, set in the flapper era of 1926. Actually, Jim Henaghan's story is as much about her stage father Jack, a failed vaudevillian who reared Cynthia for the very purpose of stardom. Despite being called "one of [20th Century Fox's] most valuable properties," her career is of limited duration; Margie is her only starring role in a series, and she might be just as well-known for playing Midge in Elvis Presley's Kissin' Cousins. I wonder what Leonard Bernstein thought of the music in that? Still, as I always note in situations like this, her movie career lasted a lot longer than mine. 

There's also an interesting behind-the-scenes look at one of the most high-pressure quiz shows on television, and the exhaustive preparation required by the participants prior to appearing on it. No, it's not Jeopardy; that doesn't even premiere until 1964, and anyway, as far as intellectual wattage is concerned, it doesn't even begin to compare to the show in question, G-E College Bowl. I always considered it a moment of great pride to be able to correctly answer one question on that show; I'm not sure that the hardest question on today's Jeopardy would even make it to a practice round of College Bowl. At the time of this article, Allen Ludden is the host of College Bowl, but as his other show, Password, adds a nighttime edition to its weekly daytime version, he cedes the role to Robert Earle, the host whom I remember. I was always sorry about the show leaving the air; t the time, with violent dissent running wild on college campuses, General Electric decided it was bad optics to be associated with such radicals. It was revived for a couple of seasons in 2020 with Peyton Manning as host, but I'm sorry—after Ludden and Earle (and Art Fleming, who hosted an earlier revival), it's hard to take a show like College Bowl seriously with Peyton Manning as host. 

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And so we come to the end of another year of "This week in TV Guide," and for the first time in many, many years, we've had 52 new issues, with no repeats from previous years, something I'm very pleased about. Unlike many collectors, I don't own a full set of TV Guides covering multiple decades; in fact, I don't even have a complete set of issues from any single year. I've been fortunate enough to piece together this year thanks to a combination of issues I own, those loaned to me by others, those from the Internet Archive, and some from other online sources. Although I've got a couple of dozen lined up so far for next year, with more to come, I don't know if we'll ever see an entire year of new issues again. 

Nevertheless, it's been satisfying to pull it off, and I've got you to thank for helping me do it. I've done around 500 through the years, and if you have an issue you'd like to see me cover, feel free to email me about it. And when we come back on Monday for the listings, they'll be from a new year, 1962, and we'll be in a new year, 2024. Until then, have a safe and happy New Year. TV  


  1. I haven't got this issue, but I believe a sidebar subject came up:
    Floyd Kalber's nickname, "The Big Tuna", was not intended as a compliment.
    The real "Big Tuna" was Tony Accardo, who for many years was a leading figure in what we in Chicago call "The Outfit" (if you know what I mean).
    Kalber got the tag from the power he wielded over the NBC-Chicago newsroom, with specific reference to careers and access to airtime.
    It's a complicated story, and when Floyd Kalber advanced to the NBC network with Today, that power sort of diminished ... but that's another story ..

    This was going to be it this morning, but I found myself distracted by a local rerun of a 1953 episode of Superman.
    This show had to do with a bogus nightclub mindreader who was masterminding a robbery ring: Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane were tracking them down, and Superman ultimately saved their hash ...
    What caught my eye (and ear) was when I recognized the fake swami as Larry Dobkin, who several years after this scored a guest shot on Trackdown, playing a con man of quite a different sort (you might have heard of this other show hereabouts)...
    "It's really quite touching, how these old reruns are making celebrities out of Hollywood's relics like me ..."
    That's Lawrence Dobkin, in character, from the 1972 pilot film of Streets of San Francisco (you'd have to see the show) - I think I'll look at it again later on ...
    This is the enjoyment that I get from Olde TV - the reason I put up The Wall.
    More later, maybe ...

    1. I gathered from what I'd read when Floyd Kalber died that the nickname didn't start out as a flattering one, although it added that eventually it became a term of endearment. I tell you, nobody could do nicknames like the old mobsters did -- sportswriters today could take a lesson from that instead of coming up with the lame monikers they do!

      And you can't really beat Lawrence Dobkin. You're right; one of the benefits of classic TV.

  2. That was indeed a fascinating story on the 62 Rose Bowl, Mitchell. I encourage everyone to read your article from 2012. Thanks!!

    1. Thanks, Randy! It was a fascinating story to unpack, and very much a sign of the times.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!