March 23, 2024

This week in TV Guide: March 23, 1963

Let's start the week with some hoops, just for a change of pace. It is March Madness after all, even though nobody's thought to call it that yet, and the nation's two major college basketball tournaments have their championship games on Saturday—one of them rather routine, all things considered, while the other boasts a historical significance that reaches beyond the court. 

At Madison Square Garden in New York, the National Invitation Tournament, now seen as a consolation tournament but at one time the most prestigious competition in the country, comes to a conclusion as Providence defeats Canisius 81-66 (6:00 p.m. ET, WNBC, on a two-hour tape delay). Providence completes the season as the #13-ranked team in the country, but otherwise the game leaves little in the way of an imprint.

Later that same night, the championship game of the 25th NCAA Basketball Tournament tips off from Freedom Hall in Louisville, with Loyola (Chicago) taking on the two-time defending champions from the University of Cincinnati (9:30 p.m., syndicated by Sports Network Incorporated). Why is this significant? Well, remember that we're still in the era of segregated sports—there's even an unofficial rule of thumb in college basketball that no more that two of a team's five players on the court at any one time will be black. But when Loyola and Cincinnati line up for the tip-off, seven of the ten players starting the game are black—four for Loyola, three for Cincinnati; it's the first time time in championship game history in which a majority of the players are black. It is a memorable game all-around; Loyola rallies from a 15-point second-half deficit to send the game against Cincinnati into overtime, where Loyola eventually prevails with a last-second shot, 60-58 to win the NCAA championship. 

     Loyola's title-winning team.
Loyola had faced hostile conditions throughout the season due to their integrated lineup*, but perhaps the most dramatic moment came in their second round tournament game in East Lansing, Michigan against Mississippi State, which has come to be known as the "Game of Change." An unofficial state law at the time prohibited Mississippi teams from competing against black players, but Mississippi State university president Dean Colvard was determined that the team should play in tournament; in order to avoid an injunction from state, the team used decoy players and snuck out of the state on a charter plane. After a handshake between the captains of the two teams (with photographic flashbulbs popping everywhere, Loyola went on to win an uneventful game, 61-51. It's debatable as to how much actual "change" came about as a result of the "Game of Change," but regardless of its historical legacy, its historical moment in time is undeniable, as it is in the case of the Loyola-Cincinnati championship game. 

*When the team played Loyola of New Orleans the previous season, black and white players were forced to stay in separate hotels; during a game in Houston, fans shouted slurs and threw popcorn and ice at the players. 

Three years later, Texas Western, fielding an all-black starting lineup, would defeat the all-white University of Kentucky to win the championship, and that's the game most people remember as the landmark moment in desegregating college basketball. But it had to start somewhere, and there's no debating that when Loyola and Cincinnati took the court on Saturday night with seven black starters between them, it was a significant moment. I wonder how many people watching that night, either on the three stations in this issue carrying it (WNEW and WPIX in New York and WNHC in New Haven), or on stations around the country, were aware they were seeing history as it happened?

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Leading our look back at the week: a pair of documentaries on recently deceased legends, along with a pair of shows that look ahead to equally unpleasant times.

At 9:30 p.m. on Sunday (ABC), Mike Wallace hosts a half-hour retrospective on the life and career of the late Marilyn Monroe, only seven months after her untimely death. The special portrays her meteoric rise to stardom, "But while her fame grows and her public image is being formed, the seeds of her premature death have already taken root." I have always wondered how many of these "seeds" were seen at the time as predictive, and how many have been retrofitted to conform to the narrative that has grown since. I suspect Wallace got the narrating job for this documentary based on his work with the syndicated series Biography.

Gary Cooper died in May 1961, but had been a superstar long before then. NBC's documentary series Project 20 remembers "Gary Cooper—Tall American," narrated by Walter Brennan. (Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.) Cooper was a two-time Oscar winner (plus an honorary Oscar in 1961, just a month before his death), and "in the eyes of the rest of the world, he became the image of the American frontiersman." He might not be nearly as enticing or mysterious today—I don't think Elton John ever wrote a song about him—but he was every bit the star Marilyn Monroe was, and left every bit as big a legacy.

Also on Tuesday is an ABC news special that looks to the future, even though we don't know it yet. "A Conversation with the Vice President" (10:30 p.m.) is a half-hour interview with the current holder of the office, Lyndon B. Johnson. During his term, Johnson has traveled throughout the world on behalf of the United States; in addition to his official duties as president of the Senate, he's also chairman of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, and a member of the National Security Council. Johnson is very unconvincing when he tells ABC correspondents about how satisfying he finds the Vice Presidency; he comes across as a once-powerful man who knows his political career is all but finished. Portions of this interview are replayed on ABC the night of November 22. 

In that same vein, one of Andy Williams's guests on his NBC variety series (Thursday, 10:00 p.m.) is comedian Vaughn Meader, fresh off his success with his best-selling record The First Family, in which Meader and his supporting cast satirize President Kennedy and various family members. (Here's a clip of him from that show.) It was, at the time, the fastest-selling record in U.S. history, and would go on to win the 1963 Grammy as Album of the Year. His career would, essentially, be over by the end of the year.

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Speaking of Andy Williams, he's this week's cover story. He's been successful in nightclubs and on records, and he's done his time as a summer-replacement host, but this is his first shot at success with a show that belongs to him—or, perhaps more accurately, a show with his name on it, because it's pretty clear that the TV people don't know what in the world to do with him. You'd think this would require very little thought; take a young man with natural, easy-going charm and one of the best sets of pipes in the business, throw in a guest star or two each week, and let him do what he does best. But, as Dwight Whitney points out, that's not how it works in the TV business.

You see, in order to succeed, you have to have an image. And those TV people who know about such things don't know what Andy Williams' s image is. The goal, according to head writer Mort Green, is to develop him as a Bing Crosby-type, the kind of entertainer who would "go on forever." But he's an "unknown entity. There was nothing for him to talk about. Crosby’s writers could make hair jokes (Crosby wore a toupee), money jokes (Crosby was rich), kid jokes (Crosby had lots of kids), horse jokes (Crosby’s horses were notably slow), Bob Hope jokes, etc., all bouncing off commonly known facts about Crosby." Said one friend, "Mort just didn't know what to do with Andy, whether to make him into Mortimer Snerd or Noel Coward."  All he knew, the source says, was that "this troubadour should become the biggest thing since Corn Flakes." 

Ideas are tried and discarded: The New Christy Minstrels were added for a time, and that worked fine "until they began to be staged like the Bolshoi Ballet." A couple of "coffee-house types," Marion Mercer and R.G. Brown, were added for comic touches. It was all as appropriate as "ketchup on ice cream." Ratings floundered, and last month the network told Andy that for the coming season, his show would be cut back from weekly to a series of twelve one-hour specials. Even Williams admits that "there are times when I'm confused about what I am." 

That's not to say that everything has been a bust; the "most significant addition," according to Whitney, has been the addition of the Osmond Brothers, "whose youngest member, Jay, 7, bore a startling resemblance to Andy when he first began to wow them" (wait until they see Donny), and under producer Bob Finkel, the show has taken on a "folksy, all-purpose informality" including a ramp that brings Andy closer to the audience. But regardless of what happens on television, Dwight Whitney says not to worry about Andy's future; his natural milieu is the night club and, after all, "He is a singer, and as long as those pipes hold out, he'll find a market." Like Branson, say09.

With all of this, one is left to wonder0- just how it was that Andy Williams became one of the most popular stars on television? Well, despite all the confusion portrayed in Whitney's article, The Andy Williams Show winds up winning an Emmy for Outstanding Variety Series in 1963, while Andy himself is nominated for Outstanding Performance. And then there are the Christmas specials, which include the Williams Brothers, mom and dad, wife Claudine, and an increasing number of children; those specials came to rival those of none other than Bing Crosby himself, enshrining Andy as Mr. Christmas to an entire generation of television viewers. You can even see clips from his non-Christmas programs on YouTube, and buy DVDs of them. People liked Andy Williams, and once they were allowed to see him, they watched him.

You'll remember that just last week we read about Tennessee Ernie Ford, another entertainer who knew more about what viewers wanted to see than the supposed TV experts did. A similar situation existed with Jimmy Dean, who knew—far better than the executives did—what his viewers would buy, as we saw in a piece from several years ago. "In the show's first season," I wrote then, "when the network had tried to pass him off as urbane and sophisticated, the show teetered on the edge of cancellation until Dean put his foot down. 'Lemme do it mah way,' he told the suits, and the ratings took off." These examples, and others (like trying to make Richard Pryor appropriate for TV) show that you can't always rely on the "experts" to know what's best. Sort of like economists, I guess, or those scientists at the CDC.

There's a saying, in fields as diverse as sports and politics, that goes, "Let [name of person] be [name of person]." In other words, stop fooling around with a particular way of packaging someone, and let that person be himself or herself, not someone else. It's a lesson that some people never learn, which is why so many ideas that look great on paper turn out to be failures. In the case of Andy Williams, I'd say they finally got it right. 

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As you can see from this two-page spread, Steve Allen is back on late-night TV. His new show, syndicated through Group W, premiered in June of last year, three months after Jack Paar's final Tonight, and a little less than four months before Johnny Carson's debut. (Note that the quotes compare Allen favorably to both Carson and Paar.) The timing was important; there was no certainty that Carson would succeed, let alone become a legend, and word is that Allen is positioning himself in the event that NBC deems the Carson experiment a failure. We all know how that turned out, don't we? 

The show is very much in the vein of Allen's previous shows, which is to say it wasn't a strictly traditional talk show; think of something more like David Letterman's early work. For instance, a show from the first season began with Steve perched, with his piano atop a 75-foot flagpole in the parking lot of the Hollywood Ranch Market; that show also featured an elephant tug-o-war. Allen was joined by a cast of regulars, including Don Knotts, Bill Dana, Tom Poston, and Steve's wife Jayne. 
You can find out more about The Steve Allen Westinghouse Show in this interview with Allen from the Emmy Legends YouTube channel; it's well worth watching. Allen would leave the show after a little less than two-and-a-half years following a dispute with Westinghouse over creative control, but not before putting on an episode that featured a roundtable discussion involving historical figures in costume, a demonstration episode for a new series Allen was proposing, which became his show Meeting of Minds.

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Some other highlights of the week: 
  • Zero Mostel and Julie Harris star in Magic Magic Magic (Sunday, 7:00 p.m., WOR), an "enchanting full-hour of entertainment," featuring magician Milbourne Christopher. It's the first in a series of hour-long specials for the whole family. 
  • Lucy visits the White House with Viv and their pack of Cub Scouts on The Lucy Show (Monday, 8:30 p.m., CBS); comedian Elliott Reid, known for his impression of John F. Kennedy, plays "The Voice." Could have been Vaughn Meader. . 
  • On Tuesday, Festival of Performing Arts (9:00 p.m., WNEW) showcases folk singer Miriam Makeba, who was "introduced to U.S. viewers four years ago on Steve Allen’s network show."
  • Also on Tuesday, Jack Benny (9:30 p.m., CBS) does an adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado," with Jack as Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner; Dennis Day as the Wandering Minstrel; and Don Wilson in the title role as the Mikado. 
  • Winthrop Rockefeller, brother of New York Governor Nelson and himself future governor of Arkansas, is Harry Reasoner's guest on Portrait (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., CBS). 
  • Andy Williams' wife, Claudine Longet, is one of the guest stars on McHale's Navy (Thursday, 9:30 p.m., ABC). She plays a French beauty who invites Tim Conway's Ensign Parker to spend the weekend at her father's island plantation.
  • On Friday night, Dave Garroway's Exploring the Universe (8:00 p.m., WNDT) examines the possibility of life on other planets. Astronomy was one of the many interests of Garroway, a true Renaissance man. 

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Finally, it's time for the fourth annual TV Guide Awards, in which you, the readers, choose the winners! And while the deadline for sending in your ballot has long passed, I thought you might be interested in seeing the ballot with the nominees in the eight categories. What are your picks for the winners? We'll have the final results in a future issue.


1 comment:

  1. What 11-year old me would have voted: 1, The Defenders 2, Stoney Burke. Though I was a fan of both Beverly Hillbillies and McHale's Navy...good year for new shows. 3, Not sure, I just know I couldn't stand Danny Kaye at any age. 4, The Tunnel. 5, Uncle Walter. 6, Disney, though I'll admit to having a gigantic crush on Shari Lewis. 7, Red Skelton. 8, Lucille Ball.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!