March 16, 2024

This week in TV Guide: March 19, 1955

Sometimes you find the lede buried deep in the pages of TV Guide, calling no attention to itself, betraying no outward significance. Once I find that hook, that something-or-other that I can latch onto, it's clear sailing the rest of the way. That doesn't mean there has to be one, but it does tend to make things much easier. 

This week's lede almost slipped away from me; in fact, I was about three-quarters of the way through writing this before I found it. It comes on the final page of the listings for the final day of the week, and if you know the rest of the story, you'll find it almost audacious in its simplicity. It's the listing for Edward R. Murrow's interview show Person to Person (9:30 p.m. CT), in which we read that "Ed's off to the wide open spaces, where he stops at the Dallas, Tex., home of multimillionaire Clint Murchison." Clint Murchison is, in fact, one of the richest and most influential businessmen in the United States, and if that was all there was to it, you'd probably think that was all well and good, and then wonder what the late show is. And it's then that we begin, for Clint Murchison's story is as entertaining as anything we're apt to see in the dramatic anthologies that fill the nightly primetime schedule.

Murchison made his fortune in the oil fields of West Texas, and soon added natural gas to his portfolio. Having created one of the largest oil companies in the country, he began to diversify his interests, and soon he owned everything from the New York Central Railroad to Lionel Trains, plus publishing firms, insurance companies, banks, and industrial building materials suppliers. His business acumen made him hundreds of millions, and snagged him the cover of Time magazine.

It was the oil and gas business that remained his first love, though, and propelled his interest in politics, fighting to keep the government from regulating private industry. Not surprisingly, he also became an ardent anti-communist. He was a friend of J. Edgar Hoover (he was a stockholder in Henry Holt Publishing and used his influence to have them publish Hoover's book Masters of Deceit), the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (he hosted them at his ranch in Mexico), Dwight D. Eisenhower (he played a role in encouraging Ike to run for president), and Lyndon B. Johnson (he supported him for president in 1960). His patronage ensured the continuation of the oil depletion allowance, which saved him millions in taxes every year

What's more interesting, however, is Murchison's implication in several of the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy; supposedly, he hosted a party the night before Kennedy's death—a party at which Hoover, Johnson, Richard Nixon, and fellow billionaire H.L. Hunt were in attendance—after which Murchison is quoted as having said, "After tomorrow, those goddamn Kennedys will never embarrass me again. That’s no threat. That’s a promise." This story has been debunked considerably, particularly Nixon's attendance; he was seen that same night with Joan Crawford at the at the Empire Room of the Statler-Hilton Hotel in Dallas. The singer they were watching backs up the story; he even pointed Nixon out to the audience. That singer? Robert Clary. The Hogan's Heroes Robert Clary! I tell you, you can't make these things up. (As far as I know, Murchison was not an acquaintance of Clay Shaw, but who knows?) When Murchison died, in 1969, his worth was estimated at a half-billion dollars.

And the Murchison story doesn't end there! His son, Clint Murchison Jr., was also a successful (and wealthy) businessman. His distinction? He founded the Dallas Cowboys football team, among other things*. It was his idea to build Texas Stadium, and to leave the famous opening in the roof so the field would still be exposed to the elements. It was also at his instigation that the Cowboys became the first team to utilize computers in scouting; Murchison had a masters from MIT. He's a member of both the Texas Business Hall of Fame and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. Ironically, the Cowboys helped rebuild Dallas's image, which had been so tarnished—after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. 

*Murchison's supposed co-conspirator in the JFK assassination, H.L. Hunt, was the father of Lamar Hunt, one of the founders of the American Football League, and the inventor of the name "Super Bowl." His AFL football team, the Kansas City Chiefs, started out life as the Dallas Texans, competing with Murchison Jr.'s NFL Cowboys team for supremacy in Dallas; Hunt agreed to move his team to Kansas City when it became apparent that two teams could not survive in Dallas. 

In retrospect, it's no wonder that the soap opera Dallas was so popular with viewers. It provided almost as many salacious details, and was a lot easier to follow than real life.

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One of the reasons it was so important to come up with a hook for this week is that there's nothing particularly exceptional about this issue. There are no spectaculars, no close-ups jumping off the page, and because the era of contemporary movies hasn't yet begun, most of the features are B-movies from the 1930s and '40s. What was I to latch onto?

Well, this is, after all, the Golden Age of Television, an exciting time of boundary-breaking broadcasts: live drama anthologies from New York featuring soon-to-be famous directors and actors; variety shows starring some of the biggest names in entertainment, original programs that captured the affections of the viewing public. And boxing: in 1955, there are no less than four primetime boxing broadcasts each week.

All these shows are presented in TV Guide, for the most part, with little to no fanfare. Those working behind the scenes in the television industry knew that they were part of something special, something  revolutionary, not to be duplicated. Were viewers aware they were part of the Golden Age, though? Once they got beyond the simple miracle of television itself, these were just the shows they watched every week, some better than others, but all in all, nothing out of the ordinary. Just open the pages, and there they are. Let's take a look at some of them.

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Normally, Saturday night's highlight is The Jackie Gleason Show, but this week it's Stage Show (7:00 p.m. CT, CBS), hosted by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, and this week featuring special guest Nat King Cole. We're reassured that the Gleason show returns next week, but that didn't stop TV Guide from putting Art Carney on this week's cover. As Frank De Blois's accompanying story tells, Carney for years played a second banana for some of the biggest comics in show business: Fred Allen, Edgar Bergen, Morey Amsterdam, Milton Berle, and Henry Morgan among them.

Carney, Joyce Randolph, Gleason, and Audrey Meadows   
Carney's career started in junior high school, performing in front of the Elks Club in Mount Vernon, New York. After acting in a movie with James Stewart and playing on local radio in New York City, he first hit the big time with Morey Amsterdam in 1949, where his portrayal of Newton the Waiter evolved eventually into the Ed Norton character he plays today. By 1951, the Honeymooners skits were a regular part of Gleason's Cavalcade of Stars show, where the Norton character took full flight. He also found time for other roles; shows with Berle, Morgan, and Bert Lahr, and a turn as the Mad Hatter in a television adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. He has nothing but good things to say about those he's worked with, and credits Amsterdam for teaching him "plenty" about humor. "Morey’s a stand-up gagman. He’s not afraid to pass a gag along to another fellow. He’s not afraid you’re going to steal his act from him." Gleason's like that, too, he says; "The good ones aren't scared to let you have a laugh or two of your own."

Lately, as his fame has increased, he's started to branch out into dramatic roles, appearing on Studio One, Kraft Theatre, Suspense, and Climax. He's too busy, he says, for movies and Broadway. He lives modestly with his wife and three children, playing the part of, as De Blois says, "the most inconspicuous-looking $75,000-a year man in captivity." He could, in fact, be mistaken for "a fellow named Norton." 

As is typical for the time, nothing is mentioned of the alcoholism which Carney would battle for many years. And, as successful as Carney is at portraying Ed Norton (he would win multiple Emmys for the role), he would equal that success in the two forms that he said he was "too busy" for; he receives great acclaim as the original Felix Under in the Broadway version of The Odd Couple, and was nominated for a Tony for Lovers, while he wins a Best Actor Oscar in 1975 for the movie Harry and Tonto (during which he finally conquered his addictions), and later received the Best Actor award by the National Society of Film Critics for The Late Show. And every once in awhile, he'd show up as Norton in a revival of the Honeymooners. Not bad for someone who, in Carney's words, "started at the bottom in this business, and worked my way right into the sewer."

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A few weeks ago, I reviewed The Adams Chronicles, the PBS miniseries about America's illustrious Adams family. That series was based on the Adams family papers, which were donated by the family to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1954. As it turns out, that wasn't the first TV series based on the family papers; Sunday's Omnibus (4:00 p.m., CBS) presents another installment of newsman Allan Nevins's series on the family, "based strictly on the recently released Adams family papers." This week Nevins covers author and historian Henry, and his brother, railroad executive Charles Francis. The script is by Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian James T. Flexner, author of the definitive four-volume biography of George Washington; the series would later be awarded an honorable mention by the Peabody Awards.

 night features a quartet of programs that helped define CBS's success during the Golden Age,  starting with Burns & Allen at 7:00 p.m., followed by Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts at 7:30, I Love Lucy at 8:00, and December Bride at 8:30—talk about an early version of "Must See TV." December Bride is, arguably, the least-well-remembered of the four, and yet it ran for five successful seasons and 156 episodes, and spawned a successful spinoff, Pete and Gladys. Later, it's two of television's most respected drama anthologies; first, Charles Drake stars as a ruthless young actor climbing his way to the top on Robert Montgomery Presents (8:30 p.m., NBC), while Nina Foch, Glenda Farrell, and Edward Andrews headline "Miss Turner's Decision" on Studio One (9:00 p.m., CBS). And we can't forget Voice of Firestone (7;30 p.m., ABC), which began on radio in 1928 and would continue on TV, off and on, until 1962.

Tuesday features one of the great head-to-head matchups of all time: Milton Berle's variety show, currently called The Buick-Berle Show (7:00 p.m., NBC), vs. Bishop Fulton Sheen's Life is Worth Living (7:00 p.m., DuMont). It's a good-natured rivalry; Bishop Sheen once referred to himself as "Uncle Fultie," while Berle joked of Sheen that "He's got better writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John." Two stalwarts of the 1950s follow: Make Room for Daddy (8:00 p.m., CBS), starring "one of America's great entertainers," the now all-but-forgotten Danny Thomas; followed by The Red Skelton Show (8:30 p.m., CBS), with Red's guest, singer-comedienne Mary McCarty.

Wednesday evening starts with one of the most important shows in the evolution of 1950s television: Disneyland (6:30 p.m., ABC). Not only did it stabilize a network in desperate need of a signature hit, its success signaled the arrival of the major movie studios into television production; it also, by the way, financed the construction of Disneyland. Tonight's episode is the Academy Award-winning short Seal Island, accompanied by a short that gives viewers a look at how the Disney team of naturalist photographers goes about gathering the footage for their nature films. Here's a video of the Seal Island show that was broadcast on November 10 of the previous year, but the description suggests that the show's content is much the same as it is tonight. Later in the evening, it's Kraft Television Theatre (8:00 p.m., NBC), the anthology series which began in 1947 and, when it left the air in 1958, was the longest-running show in television history. Tonight's episode, "The Story of Mary Surratt," stars Doreen Lang, Bruce Gordon, and Paul Mazursky. Oh, and there's more boxing.

Friday and Smith on the trail of "The Big Number"    
We start Thursday with another anthology, Climax (7:30 p.m., CBS), and "The Darkest Hour" starring Zachary Scott and Joanne Dru, directed by John Frankenheimer. Climax ran for four seasons; two of its most notable episodes were "The Long Goodbye," with Dick Powell reprising his role as private eye Philip Marlowe; and "Casino Royale," the first adaptation of a James Bond story, with American Barry Nelson playing the superspy. You can't celebrate the Golden Age without an episode of Dragnet, now, can you? Jack Webb's groundbreaking police drama is in its fourth season: tonight (8:00 p.m., NBC), Friday and his partner Frank Smith (Ben Alexander) track down a bank robber in "The Big Number." Another anthology rounds out the evening: Four Star Playhouse (8:30 p.m. CBS); the four stars, who co-own the production company and rotate as stars, are Charles Boyer, Ida Lupino, David Niven, and the aforementioned Dick Powell.

Friday night has a host of familiar shows, beginning with The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (7:00 p.m., ABC), in its third of 14 seasons. That's followed by Topper (7:30 p.m., CBS), which only ran for two seasons but remains a part of pop culture; Our Miss Brooks (8:30 p.m., CBS), the spinoff of the long-running radio series with Eve Arden; The Line-Up (9:00 p.m., CBS), a very good police drama which could be thought of as the San Francisco version of Dragnet and ran for six season, starring Warner Anderson and Tom Tully; and Edward R. Murrow's interview show Person to Person (9:30 p.m., CBS), which set the stage for celebrity interview shows, albeit with Murrow's gravitas thrown into the mix. 

And this doesn't include daytime shows, such as Today (7:00 a.m.), The Garry Moore Show (9:00 a.m., CBS), and Arthur Godfrey Time (9:30 a.m., CBS); The Tonight Show, in its second year with Steve Allen; the CBS soap operas Love of Life (11:15 a.m.), Search for Tomorrow (11:30 a.m.), and The Guiding Light (11:45 a.m.); and kids' shows like the nationally-franchised Romper Room (11:00 a.m., WGN) and Howdy Doody (4:30 p.m., NBC), which started in 1947 and continues as a daily show until next year, when it moves to Saturday mornings. 

Many of these programs have since become cherished institutions, part of television history. Others, while big at the time, are just footnotes today. And while some of them look dated to us today, some are as fresh as ever, stories that stand the test of time. 

You just have to know where to look. 

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Speaking of familiar faces, one of the most familiar faces of the era is Tennessee Ernie Ford, the country and gospel singer currently hosting a weekday variety show (11:00 a.m., NBC). That's one of the shows featured in this week's Program of the Week review. It's a pleasant-enough show, our critic reports, but there's nothing unique about it, nothing special. The fault lies not with Ernie himself—he's "an accomplished and versatile singer"—and his supporting cast, headed by 15-year-old Molly Bee, is personable enough, mixing well with Ford. No, what really drags down the show is Ernie's interviews with his guests; while he's "glib enough to make his interviews interesting" when he's got the right material, too often they simply "plod along." One wonders, perhaps, "that the 'real' Ernie isn't strong enough to carry a day-after-day show." 

One wonders, on the other hand, if perhaps they should simply have let Ernie be Ernie. Later in the year, he'll score his biggest-ever hit with "Sixteen Tons," which holds the number one position on the Billboard country chart for ten weeks, before crossing over to the Billboard pop chart where it's number one for an additional eight weeks, and next season, Ernie lands in primetime with The Ford Show, featuring the animated versions of the Peanuts gang in segments directed by Bill Melendez. The Ford Show runs for five successful seasons, and the "hillbilly characterizations" which seemed not to win the critic's favor in this issue seem not to be a liability here. 

Of course, Ford can also a polished and smooth personality when he so chooses—on The Ford Show he would famously do adaptations of The Mikado and H.M.S. Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan—but he would demonstrate that he knew, perhaps better than the experts, how to reach his audience. "Television's still in its infancy, as far as entertaining a live audience is concerned. There is a lack of knowledge on how to entertain in the home," he would tell TV Guide five years later. "People get kinda used to thinkin', 'Well, tonight's the night ol' Ernie will be here.'" As for the hymns that he sings to close his show, the executives were against it; "They told me I couldn't sing hymns because it 'brings people down.' That's ridiculous. I don't think the good Lord cares for a bunch of deadheads. I mean, you don't have to put on sackcloth and sit in a pile of ashes to sing a hymn. Some of the most beautiful music is in hymns. Well, sir, I won, and now the hymns are the biggest think we have on the show."

The second show being reviewed this week, The Star and the Story, falls at the other end of the familiarity spectrum. It's another dramatic anthology, with the "gimmick" that each week's star chooses their own play, i.e. playing to their own strengths. So far the series has offered excellent performances by Edmund O'Brien, Angela Lansbury, and Judith Anderson, among others, and they've demonstrated that they know "both the type of character they can best portray and what makes for good TV viewing." (Not unlike Ernie Ford, come to think of it.) The verdict on The Star and the Story is that "the stars and the stories, aided by fine production, [make] this a high-quality entry." Maybe so, but I dare say it doesn't have as long a shelf life as Tennessee Ernie Ford does.

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MST3K alert: Lost Continent (1951) A rescue mission discovers a "Lost Continent." Cesar Romero, Hillary Brooke. (Sunday, 9:00 a.m., WGN) This brief description hardly does the movie justice, and editing it down to fit a one-hour Sunday morning timeslot doesn't help things. But without the interstitial MST3K features, you don't have a movie anyway: Crypto-dad Hugh Beaumont as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, rock climbing, and Cesar Romero—really, who could ask for anything more? TV  


  1. Monday night's I LOVE LUCY episode on CBS was "Don Juan Is Shelved", part of the show's arc that had the Ricardos & Mertzes in Hollywood.

    MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY was on ABC, not CBS. It didn't move to CBS until 1957, by which time its name was changed to THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW.

    Molly Bee, a regular on Tennessee Ernie Ford's daytime show, was 1 of 3 hosts (Jimmy Draper & Roy Clark were the others.) of NBC's SWINGIN' COUNTRY, a daytime country music variety show which lasted through the 2nd half of 1966.

    1. I wish I had the time and the room to include as much of the episode details in the listings as I'd like to - which is why I appreciate your contributions!

  2. My mother used to talk about "December Bride". It was never in syndication as far as I know. Outside of being the first show that spawned a spin-off, it was also taped on the same set as I Love Lucy.
    Speaking of mom, she LOVED Tennessee Ernie Ford and his variety show.
    Dad used to talk about the anthology shows and Martin Kane Private Eye.
    I think our WW2 era parents didn't think of it as a 'golden age' at the time, you never realize what you had until it was gone.

    1. I think you're spot on with that last comment, James.

      Re: Ernie Ford, I had a 45 recording of his that was a promotional recording for Green Giant (the original pea-picker, I suppose), and I used to play it at 78 speed, because it would remind me of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Shows you what kind of a childhood I had!


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!