March 30, 2024

This week in TV Guide: April 1, 1961

Xoap opera fans have always been known as a loyal and hearty lot. It might be hard for many to appreciate today, with the soaps all but gone from television, but in those first decades of TV fans were consumed by the stories of their favorite series (reminding us once again that the word "fan" derives from "fanatic") with a level of passion perhaps rivaled only by European soccer fans, with stories of actors and actresses accosted on the street by fans furious over some misdeed they'd perpetrated in a recent story.

However, things reached a new high (or low) earlier in the year when CBS' The Edge of Night decided to kill off D.A. Mike Karr's faithful wife Sarah, by having her hit by a car while saving her small daughter from being run over. (Melodramatic, in the best tradition of soap operas.) Although it was actress Teal Ames' choice to leave the show in order to pursue work on Broadway, that didn't stop the show's devoted fans—over seven million each day, mostly housewives—from letting the network and the show's sponsors, including Pet-Ritz, know how they felt about it.

CBS received 2,500 letters the the first week, and the mail was still pouring in as this article was written. A "disillusioned" viewer from Columbus, Ohio wrote that she was finished with Edge, and with CBS. "I had baked a Pet-Ritz cherry pie, but I could hardly eat it last night for supper after that terrible episode.  No more Pet products for me." Meanwhile, a high school in Delco, North Carolina said that "Shakespeare himself did not create a more convincing cast of praiseworthy personalities," and wondered "what perversion of common decency prompted anyone to shatter such a team?" One writer suggested that "you have these sadistic writers locked up in a safe place."

Here's that complete episode, including the melodramatic conclusion that triggered so much angst in the faithful. It was, as TV Guide styled it, a "Death in the Afternoon."
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Sunday, April 2, is Easter, with appropriate programming for the day. On the religious side, CBS leads off at 9:00 a.m. with the special Songs of Triumph from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston; that's followed at 10:00 a.m. by a Protestant service live from Riverside Church in New York City, the former home of William Sloane Coffin.

Also at 10:00, NBC has a live broadcast of the Easter Sunday Mass, back at Holy Cross in Boston, presided over by Richard Cardinal Cushing. The live broadcast is only scheduled for an hour, which seems awfully short to me; I wonder if it was a low, rather than high, Mass. Locally, WTCN presents a live broadcast at 11:00 a.m. from the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Mark in downtown Minneapolis; I've been in that church, which is architecturally stunning.

Under the category of "holiday viewing for the whole family," The Shirley Temple Show (6:00 p.m., NBC) presents a rerun of "The Land of Oz," L. Frank Baum's sequel to The Wizard of Oz, with Agnes Moorehead as the evil Mombi the Witch (three years before she plays another witch on Bewitched); Jonathan Winters as the equally evil Lord Nikdik, who plots with Mombi to take over Oz; Shirley herself as Princess Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz; and comedian Ben Blue, as the Scarecrow. You can see it for yourself on YouTube.

Ed Sullivan's Easter program features Charlton Heston, reading selections from the Bible; opera star Leontyne Price; singer Anita Bryant; and the Bill Baird Marionettes. Later, on G.E. Theater, hosted by Ronald Reagan, it's the iconic French short The Red Balloon (8:00 p.m., CBS), the charming story of a balloon that takes on a life of it's own. It's an unusual presentation for G.E. Theater, which usually shows original programming, but it won't be unprecedented for CBS; three years later, perhaps inspired by this showing, The Twilight Zone airs the French short feature An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, which goes on to win the Best Short Subject award at the Oscars.And Roy Rogers and Dale Evans host a "down-home Easter party" on The Chevy Show (8:00 p.m., NBC), with guests Eddy Arnold, the Limeliters, Martin Milner and George Maharis, Cathie Taylor, and Cliff Arquette, probably as Charley Weaver.

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This week's cover story is on Roger Smith, suave and handsome co-star of ABC's 77 Sunset Strip, destined to become one of the luckiest men in Hollywood in a few years when he marries Ann-Margret. But for now, the focus is on Smith's (Ouch!) penchant for being accident-prone; an interesting penchant for a man who makes his living in a television show that "requires that he be slapped, socked, slugged, banged, bashed, bonked, creamed, cracked, and coshed."
"I don't know why it is, but I always seem to be getting hurt," he tells author Richard Gehman that "I was sewed up 22 times before I was five," and since then was knocked out while playing football in college, has had nine car accidents, sprained his ankle doing a stunt for the show, and suffered a blot clot after bumping his head that was diagnosed only hours before it would have been fatal. As he and Gehman chat, walking down a studio street, Smith promptly trips over an electric cable. "They treat me like a child around here," he says. "They won't let me do anything, they're so afraid I'll get hurt." They would appear to be entirely justified in doing so.

Smith is a happy man, charming and engaging and, as Gehman puts it, spreading "effervescence and ebullience"; not cocky, but "full of himself," which seems to be the proper disposition for a man who's destined to marry Ann-Margret. He's also full of energy, from his incessant conversations (Gehman notes that he barely had to ask a question during three days of interviewing) to his exhausting work for charities, which "would make Jerry Lewis seem reserved." He's obsessed with working around the house, helping build the swimming pool in the backyard, and doing all the work on the garden. Oh, and he's also building an atomic-bomb shelter under the house, including a door that he got from an old Navy destroyer that he found in a junkyard. And did I mention that he's also written scripts for Sunset Strip? And that, as he's telling Gehman all this, he turns the corner and runs into an actress from Hawaiian Eye?

Yes, Roger Smith is a man who has everything going for him. "I never thought when I was a kid I'd have this much fun when I grew up." (And this is without Ann-Margret.) Here, he pauses to stumble over the threshold of the studio. "And you know what? It was all an accident." I can't imagine a more fitting way to put it.

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And now for the sports. On ABC's Fight of the Week (Saturday, 9:00 p.m.), Emile Griffith wins the world welterweight championship, knocking out champion Benny "Kid" Paret in the thirteenth round. The two would meet again in September, with Paret winning back the title. Just under a year later, on March 29, 1962, the two men would fight for a third time, and this time Griffith would deliver a twelfth round KO, putting Paret into a coma from which he would never recover; his death ten days later was the beginning of the end for regularly scheduled prime time boxing on TV.
The NBA playoffs continue this weekend on NBC, with games on both Saturday (1:00 p.m.) and Sunday (1:30 p.m.). Now, there's nothing particularly unusual about this, except for a couple of things. First, both games involve the St. Louis Hawks, and in today's era, where back-to-back games are kept to a minimum, the idea of a team playing playoff games on consecutive days is unthinkable. Second, Saturday's tilt is the seventh and deciding game of the Western Division finals, with the Hawks defeating the Los Angeles Lakers four games to three; for Sunday's game, the Hawks have to fly to Boston for game one of the finals, with no rest, against the two-time defending champion Celtics, who haven't played since March 26. Is it any wonder that the Celtics win that game, 129-95, en route to a third straight championship, defeating St. Louis four games to one.

Making sure we give all three networks some coverage, The Masters begins on April 6, with CBS covering the final two rounds next Saturday and Sunday. To prepare viewers on what to watch for, current PGA champion Jay Hebert* (pronounced AAY-bear) provides TV Guide readers with a look at the final four holes, where the championship will likely be one or lost, as has been the case in the last five years. These holes, writes Hebert—or, more likely, his ghostwriter—are among "the greatest finishing holes in golf," demanding everything a golfer has to offer. "[T]here are no let-up holes at Augusta," Hebert warns the players, and "if you fall asleep there, this course will get you." There was no let-up in the weather, either; rain forced the final round to be played on Monday, when Gary Player would win the first of his three green jackets, beating Arnold Palmer and amateur Charles Coe by one shot after Palmer double-bogeyed the final hole.

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The rest of the week's highlights, and there are many.

morning at 10:00 a,m., WTCN presents a perfectly awful movie called Granny Get Your Gun which, believe it or not (and I'd rather not) was based on Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason novel The Case of the Dangerous Dowager, only without Mason. It was said that Gardner wept when he saw it, which was one reason it was so hard to convince him to agree to a television series. Fortunately, he changed his mind. Better that we should stick to primetime, which includes Our American Heritage (8:30 p.m., NBC), hosted by news legend Lowell Thomas; tonight, Raymond Massey reprises his most famous role, that of Abraham Lincoln, in "Not in Vain," the story of the Gettysburg Address and how it was received at the time.

We've pretty much covered Sunday already, but let's add in the special Marineland Circus (7:00 p.m., NBC), from Marineland Park in Florida, hosted by Rosemary Clooney and featuring Sea Hunt's Lloyd Bridges and actor and former Olympic gold medal swimmer Buster Crabbe. If you remember those Ice Follies and Ice Capades shows we've talked about in the past, think of this as similar to that, but on water. And we shouldn't leave without mentioning The Jack Benny Program (8:30 p.m., CBS), with the aforementioned Ann-Margret, plus juggler Francis Brunn, and George Burns, who discovered Ann-Margret.

Why is it that whenever celebrities play thinly disguised versions of themselves on a show, those characters always shares the same first name as the person playing them? It happens again on Monday, when Paul Anka guests as young singer "Paul Pryor" on The Danny Thomas Show (8:00 p.m., CBS). He's auditioning for Danny, and he's grateful to "join the 'grand old entertainer' his grandfather told him about." What a burn! Later, on The DuPont Show with June Allyson (9:30 p.m., CBS), Lloyd Bridges reappears, this time in a one-character show in which he finds himself the sole person left on board a sinking ship during a hurricane. Even Mike Nelson might be challenged by this one. 

Tuesday, Buddy Hackett takes on a rare dramatic role in The Rifleman (7:00 p.m., WTCN), as Clarence Bibbs, a good ole boy janitor whose gun goes off accidentally, killing a gunfighter—and causing him to think he's now the fastest gun in the West. Among the guest stars is Lee Van Cleef, and since he doesn't play the gunman killed at the beginning of the story, I suspect he's the one who's going to call Clarence's bluff. I'm also betting that Lucas McCain's going to have to bail Clarence out before it's all over. Later, Nat King Cole is one of the guests on The Garry Moore Show (9:00 p.m., CBS); you'll also be able to catch Nat on Wednesday in his own syndicated hour-long special, with British comedian Dave King. (9:00 p.m., WCCO, preempting CBS's U.S. Steel Hour). 

is the American premiere of British import Danger Man (7:30 p.m., CBS), starring Patrick McGoohan as globe-trotting NATO agent John Drake. This half-hour show will eventually morph into a one-hour series, renamed (in the United States) Secret Agent Man* which McGoohan would quit after three seasons to begin a new series: The Prisoner. Now, die-hard fans of the series (like me) will argue endlessly as to whether or not John Drake is also The Prisoner's Number 6. McGoohan did not have contractual rights to the name "John Drake," which  could explain why he always denied that Drake and Number 6 were one and the same; personally, having watched all 86 episodes of Danger Man/Secret Agent Man through to the 17 episodes of The Prisoner, I think there are too many similarities between the two—in manner, forms of speech, and the like—for there to be any doubt. But that's just my opinion.

*Using Johnny Rivers' hit single of the same name as the title theme, which contains the provocative lyric "They've given you a number/and taken away your name."

On Thursday, Ernie Kovacs is back with another episode of Silents Please (9:30 p.m., ABC), a program concept taking advantage of the resurgence of interest in silent movies that was then in vogue. Kovacs acted as host, a role not unlike that played by Robert Osborne or Bob Dorian in later years, introducing the movie and then discussing various aspects afterward. This is Kovacs the film aficionado, not Kovacs the satirist, and the affection he holds for these old films is evident. Tonight's classic is 1923's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring Lon Chaney in the title role. Coincidentally, Tennessee Ernie Ford's guest on The Ford Show (8:30 p.m., NBC) is Charles Laughton, who, of course, played Quasimodo in the 1939 version of Hunchback.

A couple of first-rate actors highlight Friday's lineup; Walter Matthau reminds us of what a fine dramatic actor he is, on a Route 66 episode in which he plays a gambler who heads to Reno holding the life savings from the citizens of the small town of Knee, Nevada. They want him to "invest" their savings in order to raise money to boost the town's tourist trade (7:30 p.m., CBS). Later, in a classic episode of The Twilight Zone, Cliff Robertson plays a wagon trailmaster who's also headed West, leading a group of settlers from the East, but he won't believe what's waiting for him "A Hundred Yards over the Rim." (8:30 p.m., CBS).

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Last, but most assuredly not least, the Teletype scoops us with some chatter on coming attractions, in this case two animated series, both among my favorites. First, Hanna-Barbera is auditioning voices for the six cats in the upcoming ABC series Top Cat. So far they've heard from Hack Oakie, Ken Murray, Stubby Kaye, Jesse White, Herschel Bernardi and the man who would, legendarily, eventually voice Top Cat himself, Arnold Stang. A better choice for the role I couldn't imagine.

There's also a note about CBS's upcoming Alvin and the Chipmunks, which would eventually air as The Alvin Show, based on Ross Bagdasarian's recording characters. Now, to emphasize, this is not the Alvin and the Chipmunks of the 21st century movies, the chipmunks with an attitude (left); neither is it the pseudo-children version of the 1980s revival (center); we're talking about the originals (right):

I know, I know, I'm showing my age again, living in the past, shouting at the sky. But the original chipmunks had attitude enough—ever hear Dave yell "Alllllllvinnnnn"? They weren't punks, they weren't the kind of kids you'd cross the street to avoid. They weren't kids at all—they were chipmunks. Oh well. Classic TV wouldn't be so distinctive were there not so much to contrast with contemporary life.

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Speaking of Easter as we were, my wishes for a peaceful and blessed Easter Sunday for those of you who celebrate—and I do mean celebrate—the story of the Good News. TV  


  1. I've read that THE EDGE OF NIGHT was named that because it was on at the end of network afternoon programming, originally 4:30 PM, then 4 PM, ET. The intro's background had the skyline of Cincinnati (location of sponsor P&G) go from light to dark.

    I'm glad Shirley Temple's shows have been so well-preserved. I bought a lot of them on DVD back about 20 years ago, but I don't know if I have this particular story. The adult Shirley Temple reminds me of Beaver's teacher, Miss Landers, from LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.

    Roger Smith ended up having health problems that led him to leave acting & manage his wife's career. He remained married to Ann-Margret for the rest of his life.

    The final Paret-Griffith fight was Saturday, March 24 (not 29), 1962 (per Wiki). I remember first reading about it in the first tv book I bought, called TV BOOK, back in 1978.

    I like that TZ episode aired this week, alongside Cliff Robertson it includes a young John Astin and the doubly-named Evans Evans, who appeared on Hitchcock's series too.

    1. One of the other interesting things about The Edge of Night is that, because it was on later in the afternoon, and because Mike Karr's character made the mystery elements of the shop more prominent, it had a much larger male audience than any other soap.

  2. Roger Smith being accident-prone was tragically a symptom of Myasthenia gravis of which he was not diagnosed until the 1980's. While he went into remission from that, he later developed Parkinson's Disease which caused him to rarely be seen in public. In the end, complications from Myasthenia gravis were given as his cause of death.

    1. I knew that he'd suffered from Myasthenia gravis, but I hadn't considered that we might have been seeing some of the early signs of it even as early as this. I remember Ann-Margret setting aside her career to take care of him. Very sad, but at the same time heartwarming to see that kind of devotion in a couple.

  3. I miss the days when a mass audience felt such a strong connection to the characters on television. No different, really, then the Londoners who gathered on the docks a hundred years earlier awaiting the next serialized chapters of Dickens' "Old Curiosity Shop," and being devastated by the fate of Little Nell. I wonder if any mass media will ever have the same impact.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!