February 24, 2024

This week in TV Guide: February 22, 1969

I think most of us are aware of the secret life of Raymond Burr, how he constructed a life's story that was almost entirely false, not out of any particular malice, but in order to keep his private life private. His homosexuality, to be sure, but I think the creation of his alternate life's story went far beyond what was necessary to simply keep quiet that part of his life. For years, until after his death, this story was accepted almost without question by so many news sources, but in part two of a two-part profile of Burr, Edith Efron takes a very close look at the actor, and finds some things that hint at the mystery of the man, and how not everything is what it appears.

There's her conversation with Linda Galloway, wife of Ironside co-star Don, who offers this view of him: "Ray is the most variable, individual man I know. He changes from minute to minute. He is like a lot of different men. Sometimes he is sharp, sometimes he is dull. He can say the same words on different days and they'll mean a hundred different things. Sometimes they'll be a caress, at other times an insult or a snub. He is so... complicated!" Like a lot of different men—isn't that an interesting description?

Burr, one of America's most popular actors, has often come across, Efron says, as "a combination of Falstaff and St. Francis of Assisi," a mixture of jollity and benevolence. But, she says, these are "scarcely the essence of Raymond Burr. They are his disguise." Underneath that disguise, he is solitary, remote, a man of "both massive strengths and massive weaknesses," an "unstable, darkly tense man who constantly reveals signs of inner torment." His many compulsions range from eating to tidying, working, and do-gooding. Most are, she says, more subtle; "He is locked up in repressive defenses and finds it virtually impossible to open up emotionally." Disguises, repressive defenses. "His own complex identity weighs heavily on Burr’s mind—he is often in an introverted, brooding state of selfinspection. But mainly he attempts to escape his inner anxiety." And most of his escapes, she says, are "creative." That may come across as a lot of psychobabble, but it also kind of strikes close to home, don't you think?

Efron notes his apparent disconnection during a dinner given by civic leaders to acknowledge his humanitarianism. He frankly admits his boredom with such events. But, he acknowledges, "The fun isn't there for them if you’re not a little available. So you go through with it. But it’s a terrible drain, a terrible drag." He's left tolerating people, but, he says, "Behind the social façade, I'm remote." There's that word façade

     Looking over his shoulder?
Why the inner conflicts? One friend says he feels Burr, a man of strong emotions, values, and convictions, "doesn't feel he should express them openly. He seems to feel there is something wrong about it. Almost as if it's guilt." Another calls him "a violently self-=assertive man who thinks self-assertion is wrong. . . Now he feels he should crucify himself for the world. But he doesn't want to. He's really greedy for life. He’s spent his life submissively climbing onto crosses, hating it, and hating himself for hating it." The result is a man who "exists in a state of virtually nonstop tension, alienation and self-condemnation," a man "with a brilliant capacity for life who can’t permit himself to live it."

It's all very interesting, but at the end, are we really any closer to understanding why Burr chose to create a fake life to tell the world? Perhaps not, although the hints of shame, guilt and and self-abnegation that pepper these snippets might give us a tantalizing clue. He names Socrates, Gandhi and Schweitzer as his moral ideals; perhaps he couldn't stand to have had a life that was, by comparison, so ordinary. In the end, though, I think it might just be that Raymond Burr couldn't have done it any other way, that his desire to create barriers and shields made it imperative, inevitable, that he would have done it. And maybe, in some odd way, he had something of a last laugh after all; maybe all this, too, was an illusion, one that allowed him to live a life that nobody knew about. Perhaps not, but maybe.
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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: Broadway takes a bow as Ed presents stars and other cast members from three current musical hits: Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, and Zorba. Also: the 5th Dimension, Glenn Yarbrough, Michele Lee, comedians Myron Cohen and Dickie Henderson, and Hugh Forgie’s Novelty act.

Palace: An all-comedy potpourri is hosted by Laugh-In’s Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, who offer their own brand of enlightenment about old songs and charades. Sharing the spotlight are fellow farceurs Ron Gaylord and Burt Holiday; banjo-playing pantomimist Gene Sheldon; double-talking Simmy Bow; telephone gossip Betty Walker; and stand-up comics Jackie Gayle and Irwin C. Watson. 

The Broadway stars appearing with Ed tonight aren't necessarily the names people associate from the original casts or the movie adaptations—Harry Goz is Tevye in Fiddler, Anita Gillette and Martin Ross in Cabaret—it's still a star-studded lineup, more than enough to overcome the all-comedy presentation on Palace. This week Sullivan takes the bows, and that's no laughing matter.

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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. 

Every once in awhile you run across one of those shows that simply leaves no impression, like the smallest of kittens walking across a bedspread. It could just as easily have been from the 1950s or the 1990s for all you know; it doesn't even ring a bell from having been in TV Guide. It's the opposite of total recall; there's no recall at all. Such a series, at least for me, is My Friend Tony. Had I not run across it on YouTube a few years back, I would have been like the man at his high school reunion who has no idea who his friend Tony is. There must be a good reason for this, so we turn to Cleveland Amory for encouragement that we didn't miss some hidden gem. As usual, he doesn't let us down.

My Friend Tony is, says Cleve, "one more show which starts out-with high promise and reasonable premise and promptly falls flat on its console." NBC has had too many of these "fallen soufflés," he continues; "It's time they either got a new chef in charge of locking at what's cooking or else a new Vice President in Charge of Believability." Sheldon Leonard, the producer who's developed much better series than this, terms the show a "mystery-comedy," which leaves something to be desired; "Mystery loves comedy all right these days, but whether or not they should get married is, judging by this show, an entirely different matter." Tony, the eponymous friend in question, is a young Italian (played by Enzo Cerusico) serving as the "fun-loving legman" for John Woodruff (James Whitmore), one of those professor/detectives (James Whitmore) that populate TV. John met Tony (a "street urchin") in Italy during the war, and later on Tony became one of his students. 

The mysteries, such as they are, are contrived and overly complicated; in one episode, Brooke Bundy plays a young woman who is, incredibly, not only the good girl, but the girlfriend of the crooked crime commissioner, and the sister of a murderer who kills someone she fingers, before he's killed himself. Not only that, she manages to fall for Tony, for whom the feeling is mutual. As Tony leaves, she says, ""Most girls cry at a time like this.' We couldn't have agreed more, except for one thing—she was almost at the end of the script and should have been happy as a clam." Cerusico is actually both good and likable in the role; what he isn't is believable. Whitmore is another example of what we've seen too many times this season, "a fine actor in a phony part." Perhaps Tony has the last laugh, after all. One of the reasons he has such a good time is because his English isn't very good, "and in a show like this, that's a big advantage."

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Looking through these issues of the late 1960s and early 1970s, it's impossible to overstate how traumatized news organizations were by the experience of Chicago, 1968. No matter how hard I might want to avoid it, it just keeps coming up, even though we're now almost six months after the fact. 

This week we lead off with the third of a four-part series by Neil Hickey entitled "How the Networks Stubbed Their Toes," which examines aspects of how the media covered the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and suggests that, just maybe, things weren't quite as bad as people made it out to be. The popular conception—certainly the one I've always read—is that the coverage was one-sided, "a straight-out contest of good versus evil: the good dissenters (both inside and outside the hall) versus the bad Establishment." But Hickey finds that there was, from the very beginning, an attempt by journalists to set a balance between the demonstrators and Mayor Richard Daley's police. 

Roger Mudd of CBS, for instance, took a harsh view of those delegates who favored the Vietnam peace plank that was defeated on the floor. "It occurs to me that we're suffering at this convention from a massive case of political bad manners," he said, "and the special goat became Mayor Daley." Did the dissidents, he continued, really think the convention could have been conducted without security? As far as his observations on what came to be called the "police riot" conducted against demonstrators in Grant Park, "I talked to reporters last night who were there who said that the police were right. I don't know that we're absolutely correct in calling it unprovoked." Hickey cites several similar comments by ABC's Howard K. Smith and NBC's Chet Huntley, calling out demonstrators for "being quite purposeful in their baiting of the police." 

According to William Wood professor at the Columbia School of Journalism, the strong feelings which many have regarding the events in Chicago may color their perceptions of how the story was handled. Nonetheless, he acknowledged that the reporters occasionally let their private feelings come through, when they're supposed to be "absolutely impervious" to such lapses. He also believed that at times the networks latched on to more sensational stories, ones lacking in substance, while saying to themselves, consciously or unconsciously, "Let's keep this thing going." He urges the FCC to be judicious with any demands they make of the networks to defend their coverage, but overall stresses a need for "quiet self-examination" by the news departments. Penn Kimball, a professor at the Columbia School, thinks that there might have been a benefit for reporters to have done "an old-fashioned news-gathering job on foot," feeding the information to the anchors, rather than reporting from the scene with cameras and microphones. 

One story that swept the convention was a rumor that Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy might make himself available as a last-minute compromise candidate. The rumor swept through the convention hall like wildfire, but there's never been any real evidence that such a rumor was true. Says Kimball, "There was indeed something to the story, but the boom was never real, and TV—and everybody else inflated it." CBS's Eric Sevareid wondered aloud if the rumors "were not, at least, in part, the creation of TV reporters looking for an intriguing story."

Demonstrators aren't fools; they know that reporters and cameramen are watching them, and they know how to stage events for their benefit. Kurt Lang, a sociology professor at SUNY Stony Brook, says that the journalists on the scene "inadvertently contributed to the uproar in their search for interesting interludes." That's not, however, the same thing as slanting the news, he stresses. He adds that the problem wasn't too much coverage, but not enough of the right kind of coverage. Television had an ideal opportunity to look at "what these demonstrations and these young people really meant," he says. "Who were they? Where did they all come from? Why, in fact, did they come to Chicago at all? What does it say about our institutions? Why should young Americans walk around waving a Vietcong flag? What moves them to shout, 'I want to destroy the whole Establishment and see it come tumbling down'?"

I've commented in the past that I see a lot of disturbing parallels between 1968 and what we're experiencing today, and while I think the experts in this article made some excellent points, the larger question still remains. The demonstrators in Chicago and elsewhere, protesting the war and the establishment—they're not much different from the young people of today, protesting on campuses and in the streets, with their anti-American slogans and chants. I don't suggest that they're representative of all young people, or all Americans; I'm just suggesting that those questions Lang mentions, the ones that weren't being asked in Chicago, aren't being asked today, either. The media may or may not be biased, but are they doing a good job covering the story? More important, are they even letting the public know there is a story? Lang concludes by saying, "Nobody I know in TV has attempted seriously to answer these questions. The networks were covering the violence, all right, but not what it means to all of us for now and the future.” Hickey adds, and I agree, that this is the better story.

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It's kind of a lean week, TV-wise, but here's a program that caught my eye: "The Experiment," an episode of CBS Playhouse, a kind of attempt to resurrect the old Playhouse 90 quality-drama idea (Tuesday, 9:30 p.m.) It distills almost every issue of the 1960s into one story: youth rebelling against the establishment, premarital sex, racial conflict. About the only thing missing, as far as I can tell without actually watching it, is drug use, but that might have been worked in there as well.

What's really notable about this is the casting. M.K. Douglas stars as Wilson Evans, the young scientist who sells his soul to corporate America in order to further his studies, while Tisha Sterling is Tess Hayes, a student activist and M.K.'s lover, who agrees to pose as his wife in order to further his career. M.K. Douglas, complete with scraggly beard, is, as we might have guessed, Michael Douglas (and a note in the listing helpfully identifies him as Kirk Douglas's son), while Tisha Sterling is the daughter of Ann Sothern and Robert Sterling. Was this stunt casting, especially playing up the generation gap? I don't think so; Sterling had a very capable career, particularly in the movies, while we all know the success that Douglas has achieved over the years. They're surrounded by a very strong supporting cast, including John Astin, Barry Sullivan, and Susan Strasberg. Ellen Violett talks here about her experience writing the teleplay.

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With De Gaulle in Paris
The networks are paying a lot of attention to President Nixon's trip to Europe this week; understandable, given that this is the first European trip by an American president since John F. Kennedy in 1963 (the famed "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech). Planned stops include Brussels, London, Bonn, Berlin, and Paris; considering that it's only been a month since the inauguration, one can appreciate the importance to which Nixon himself must have attached this visit. Networks plan coverage of the President's departure from Washington on Sunday, as well as mid-morning and late-evening reports and expanded news coverage. In addition, CBS has prime-time specials on Thursday (8:00 p.m.) and Friday (7:30 p.m.). I mention this partly to show how extensively television covered the news back then, and partly to show how, well, indifferent we've become to overseas travel through the years. It sometimes seems as if the president flies over to Europe every six weeks or so for something or other, and if I exaggerate on that, my point is that it's become so routine, so common, that we hardly consider it an event anymore—and technology, especially things like air travel and television, has made the world much, much smaller. And it could have felt even smaller; original plans called for the Apollo 9 launch on Friday morning, but colds for all three astronauts pushed the mission start back to March 3.

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Good news if you're a fan of CBS; according to the latest from Richard K. Doan, the network has such a comfortable lead in the ratings race that, with only scattered exceptions, they'll be sticking with their current lineup. At present, only The Jonathan Winters Show, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.*, and The Queen and I appear to be definite cancellations; while it's possible that Hawaii Five-0 and The Wild Wild West could be in trouble "as too action-oriented in the present antiviolence climate," but only if "something hot comes up." Whether they're referring to something hot being a hot news event or a hot potential show isn't clear, but in the event, while Five-0 will survive and thrive until 1980, the network gives West its cancellation notice by the time this issue hits the newsstands; producer Bruce Lansbury will call the show "a sacrificial lamb … It went off with a 32 or 33 share which in those days was virtually break-even but it always won its time period."

*Gomer Pyle was, in fact, number two in the ratings, behind only Laugh-In, but left the air in favor of Jim Nabors' variety program.

Elsewhere in the industry, Rod Serling remains in the spotlight, despite his comments a few months ago in which he "swore off writing for TV presumably forever." Not only has he been working on a proposed new ABC series, The New People, he's "engaged also in writing a two-hour World Premiere movie for NBC in which he'll appear as a plot-explaining host." The premise: three "slightly related" suspense tales, with a different star in each. The movie's referred to as "Night Gallery," with Joan Crawford, Roddy McDowall and Sam Jaffe among those scheduled.

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MST3K alert: The Eye Creatures
(1945) The strange inhabitants from a flying saucer terrify a lovers' lane. John Ashley, Cynthia Hull, Warren Hammack, Chet Davis, Bill Peck. (Saturday, 11:30 p.m., KCRA in Sacramento) As you can see from the picture at the left, the original title was rendered in a stylized logo. When the movie was re-released as Attack of the Eye Creatures, whoever was in charge of graphic embellishments inexplicably added "Attack of the" to the title, meaning that it reads literally as, well, Attack of the The Eye Creatures. No fan of MST3K would ever refer to it any other way. And I think that tells you just about everything you need to know about this movie.  TV  

1 comment:

  1. Raymond Burr was certainly a person of high character and loyal to his co-workers on Perry Mason. He stood behind William Talman when CBS wanted to fire him from the show. He also demanded Ray Collins name remain in the credits after he died so his widow would be compensated.


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