April 15, 2024

What's on TV? Monday, April 18, 1966

Tonight's Academy Awards broadcast begins at 7:00 p.m. here on the West Coast, which means it starts at 10:00 p.m. out East. Now, if you think that's really late, remember that the show is scheduled to run for only two hours, as we can see from the shows scheduled to air after the Oscars, and because of the live broadcast, ABC affiliates in this Northern California edition get a bonus hour of prime time programming (starting at 7:00 and ending at 11:30). Speaking of which, at 10:30 it's Twelve O'clock High (a Quinn Martin production!), and if you live in Sacramento, after that you can see the movie on which it was based, starring Gregory Peck and Dean Jagger. I wonder how many times that happens?

April 13, 2024

This week in TV Guide: April 16, 1966

I can appreciate that some of you are, by now, tired of the continuous references to Vietnam in the TV Guides of this era. If, like me, you lived through that time, you might well prefer not going through it again; on the other hand, if you're too young to remember all that, you might not care about what seems to you like ancient history. 

Nevertheless, the fact that Vietnam is written about so frequently in a television magazine shows how thoroughly it dominated the culture in the second half of the 1960s. Such is the case once again this week, in "A Remarkable Letter from Vietnam,"* written by Jesse Zousmer, ABC's vice president and director of TV news and a veteran newsman, shortly before he and his wife were killed in a plane crash near Tokyo. 

*Which, I should add, has absolutely nothing to do with the pictures of the three beauties from Petticoat Junction that grace the cover.

The letter was written to Elmer Lower, president of ABC News, in an attempt to explain, to him and all ABC staffers concerned, about the problems encountered in covering this war. "It is," he says, "like trying to cover our South in revolt on a bicycle with one correspondent." It is, he continues, being 13 miles from the biggest battle of the day "and not [hearing] a word of it, even though I talked to such as Westmoreland, Kinnard, the 7th commander, Col. Moore and more damn [Public Information Officers] than you could smile at." His point: "They didn’t know either."

You'd better be ready to find your own way around, too. "It is just frequently not possible to get from one base to another. If we score a big victory, the Army will lay on planes for all who want to go. But generally you are on your own. You just show up at the airport and check in." You pack the night before, "the shaving mirror and the anti-insect stuff, the extra everythings, the toilet paper and the candy, the extra towel for around the neck to absorb sweat and keep the sand from settling on your collar and giving you a rash." It's unspeakably hot, especially when the sun comes up; "When it gets noonish, run for the shade." And it's important to stay in constant shape—it's the only way to keep up, and you must keep up.

      Jesse Zousmer
Just as the jeep was the mode of transportation in previous wars, in Vietnam it's the helicopter. "And each time you ride, a gunner sits half out the left and right sides, peering for action. We saw no bullets and heard none. But these kids don’t kid around." The choppers take off and land 24 hours a day, every day. "There are so many you can't ever count what you can see at one time." They take you to a bombed-out jungle—"We are Americans. Where there are jungles, we tear them down. Where there are forests, we level them. Where there are mountains, we cut roads through them. Where there are bomb-blasted tree stumps, we use them as foundations for our construction." One sniper can threaten the whole area; "If he fires one bullet at us, we respond with an arsenal of howitzers and mortars and all those ugly things that have big numbers followed by mm... like 105 mm and 155 mm etc." And there's one motto: "Kill the VC's." [Viet Cong]

The correspondents sleep 15 to a tent with no pillows, no blankets. Cooking is done inside on Coleman stoves; the tent's flaps are down to keep the blackout. "It’s a night of racking coughing, and some guys dreaming out loud." Then, there are the pounding sounds of the heavy guns and the ever-present helicopters. "Let the VC’s fire a gun . . one of our birds someplace up there sees it, and for fun or fear he calls in artillery corrections, etc. God, how the hell the VC’s must feel . . . how hopeless against our power .. . what they must consider our waste ... if they had any comprehension of our costs." (Yeah, probably felt hopeless all the way to victory, right?)  

Zousmer has great admiration for the correspondents reporting from Vietnam, particularly the cameramen lugging their heavy equipment everywhere. "Our guys are superb," he says. "Smiling, helpful, hep, quick, brave." That's nothing compared to what he feels for the soldiers there, though; "veteran soldiers, all kids, all in different kinds of the same clothes, each carrying a different weapon, or a different piece of gear." 

All in all, Zousmer's depiction of covering the war is a depressing one, and that's just for the press; it must have been multiple times worse for the soldiers themselves—miserable conditions in the middle of nowhere, out of contact, not sure why they're there, with even their leaders not sure what's going on. As many have written, before and since, it was a war unlike anything we were used to, and one can only think that the troops showed great courage in the face of it. It's too bad that courage proved to be in a wasted effort.

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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: Ed's scheduled guests: Jimmy Durante; singer Petula Clark; the rock 'n' rolling Animals; opera singers Franco Corelli and Dorothy Kirsten; comic Myron Cohen; Gita Morelly, contortionist; and, in a taped segment, the Swingle Singers, who use jazz rhythms in performing classical music.

Palace: Singer Tony Martin and dancer Cyd Charisse (Mrs. Martin) introduce actor Cesar Romero, who appears in the sketch "At Home with the Martins"; singer Vikki Carr; the comedy team of Rowan and Martin; comedian Norm Crosby; juggler Bobby Winters; and the acrobatic Suns Family. 

Tough call this week. I like a lot of Ed's lineup, from Durante to a really good lineup of singers (including Petula Clark, who's identified in the listing as "Pet" Clark), and Myron Cohen, who generally has a very funny routine. On the other hand, I also like Rowan and Martin, and Norm Crosby (although I know some people don't like his schtick), and I'd enjoy seeing the skit with Cesar Romero and the Martins. And if Cyd Charisse dances, well, that's a bonus. So what would you do? As Crow T. Robot would say, "If you're past midfield, go for it. Or just punt." That's what I'm going to do—punt. This week is a Push.

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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. 

The Wild' Wild West is, Cleveland Amory says, for those who appreciate the good old days, the "post-Civil War times when men were men and women were women and there weren't any teen-agers at all." And while the show's two stars, Robert Conrad and Ross Martin, are pretty good, what's really wild about it are the gadgets. I mean, who among us wouldn't want our man cave to be a pool hall with one ball that turns into a smoke bomb, and two cues that turn into, respectively, a rapier and a gun? Or to walk around with a pistol in the heel of our shoes, bullets in the belt buckle, and secret pockets with keys to open every door? Says Cleve, "The only thing lacking to make a real vacation of it was credit cards."

Of course it requires a certain suspension of disbelief—what action series, then or now, doesn't?—it's also true that the action keeps you on your toes enough that you won't have time to notice it. And, after all, why should we be in any doubt about a plot to assassinate a Supreme Court justice masterminded by a master puppeteer operating a world of steam-filled puppets under the sea, assisted by a beautiful girl puppet who turns out to be a real woman? Or an episode starring Nehemiah Persofff, who turns out to be Victor Buono in disguise? Admit it: considering the headlines we're subjected to every day in the news, does this really seem to be that implausible? It makes a hell of a lot more sense than anything I've read online lately.

What's most implausible, Amory says, is the title. Originally it was to be called The Wild West, but "some genius upstairs had the wild idea of calling it The Wild, Wild West." Which was pretty stupid, since the hero's name is West and it is a Western. It should have been called The Wild West West. But who, I ask you, would believe a series with a title like that?

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The entertainment highlight of the week is the 38th Academy Awards, hosted once again by Bob Hope, and broadcast for the first time in color! (Monday, 7:00 p.m. PT, ABC) George Christy, in this week's cover story, makes a compelling case for the idea that the best show actually happens off camera. (Considering what the Oscarcast has become over the last few years, one would hope this is still the case.) Take 1961, for example, when Mitzi Gaynor, scheduled to interview the winners, was left waiting because Best Actress winner Elizabeth Taylor had passed out in the ladies' room. "Poor Mitzi was left on camera with egg on her face," says producer-director Dick Dunlap, doing this year's show for the sixth time; "Nobody bothered to say much to her; all the action was backstage" with people, including the other winners, off looking for Liz.

Costume consultant Edith Head, an eight-time Oscar winner for costume design, announces the red carpet arrival on television and radio, and always checks the stars' gowns at the Sunday afternoon dress rehearsal. But it seems as if some of the stars are determined to defy her; "Come evening, when the show is in progress, Edith, looking at her notes, announces, 'Here comes Judy Garland in black velvet'—only Judy has switched at the last minute to red silk, and when Edith looks up, she feels like a goon," Dunlap recounts grimly. 

No article on off-camera drama would be complete without recounting the 1963 Oscars, and the clash between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. Both women, who had co-starred in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, were scheduled presenters; in addition, Davis had been nominated for Best Actress for the movie, while Crawford (who had not been nominated) had agreed to accept for Anne Bancroft—nominated for The Miracle Worker—should she win. "There are only two large dressing rooms backstage," Dunlap explains. "Sinatra [that year's host] was automatically assigned one, and who do you think took over the other? Joan, of course, who moved right in with two Pepsi-Cola coolers, a portable bar stocked with champagne and booze, and a buffet table." Dunlap arranged for Davis to use Sinatra's dressing room to wait in, and as Maximillian Schell began to read the names of the nominees, the drama rose to peak pitch, leaving Dunlap with a decision to make. "[T]here is a desperation between actresses to win. [Bette would have been the first three-time Best Actress winner.] And Joan was not even a nominee, but if Anne Bancroft won, she would save face and dazzle the audience. For a second, I debated: Should I show the scene to the viewers? I decided I couldn’t—it would have been cruel."

In the end, Schell ripped open the envelope—and announced Anne Bancroft's name. "Joan instantly stood erect—shoulders back, neck straight, head up. She stamped out her cigaret butt, grabbed the hand of the stage manager, who blurted afterward that she 'practically broke all my fingers with her strength.' Then she soared calmly on-stage with that incomparable Crawford composure. Backstage, Bette bit her cigaret and seemed to stop breathing. Joan was out there; suddenly it was her night." Now, how could anything on-screen hope to compete with that?

As far as this year's broadcast is concerned, it's become fashionable for nominees to be no-shows, so only two of the Best Actor nominees are present: Lee Marvin for Cat Ballou, and Rod Steiger, for The Pawnbroker. Either would be worthy winners, but it's Marvin who takes home the prize. He joins Julie Christie, who wins Best Actress for Darling, and Robert Wise, Best Director for the year's Best Picture, The Sound of Music

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Sometimes we run into one of those "where are they now" moments, when we read about someone who was supposed to become the Next Big Thing but instead turned out to be someone we've never heard of, who has an IMDb listing of one or two lines. It happens in the sports world as well as the entertainment business, as we see in the ABC News documentary The Big Guy (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., KOVR in Sacramento), a profile of heavyweight boxer Jim Beattie. The show covers Beattie's preparation for an upcoming fight against journeyman Dick Wipperman at Madison Square Garden in New York.  Beattie, who weighs in at 6' 9" and 240, is touted as a future contender for the heavyweight crown, but the fight against Wipperman, who comes in with 26 wins in 30 fights, is a major step up. 

In the fight, Wipperman gives Beattie a tough battle before Beattie scores a TKO in the seventh round. Beattie's rise in the rankings finally comes to an end in 1968 when he's knocked out by heavyweight contender Buster Mathis; after losing his following fight, he steps away from the sport. Although he makes a comeback in 1976, fighting on local cards in his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota, he retires for good in 1979 with a career record 0f 40-10, never really fulfilling that early promise. His closest whiff of the crown coming in the 1970 James Earl Jones movie The Great White Hope, where Beattie plays "the Kid"—as you can find in IMDb. 

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Elsewhere in sports, Saturday is the season debut of the baseball Game of the Week (11:00 a.m., NBC), with the New York Yankees taking on the Baltimore Orioles, led by their newest addition, former National League MVP Frank Robinson. In October, the Orioles will win the World Series, while Robinson wins the Triple Crown and American League MVP. Meanwhile, on Sunday it's the first game of the NBA Finals (11:00 a.m., ABC), as the defending champion Boston Celtics host the Los Angeles Lakers. It's the tenth consecutive appearance in the finals for the Celtics, seeking their eighth straight title; although the Lakers win game one in overtime, 133-129, the Celtics come out on top in a thrilling seven-game series.

sees the debut of The John Bartholomew Tucker Show (weekdays, 3:30 p.m., KPIX in San Francisco). Tucker comes from radio, where he worked for WJZ in Baltimore, hosts this live "variety show for happy people," with former Miss Minnesota Sharon Carnes and the Ralph Sharon Trio; guest on this opening show is Jimmy Dean. By the way, for those of you who remember NBC's radio program Monitor, Tucker was one of the final two communicators with the show when it ended in 1975.

Fred Astaire concludes a rare dramatic television role on Dr. Kildare (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m., NBC), in the conclusion of a four-part story, in which he plays pool shark Joe Quinlan, reunited with his seriously ill daughter, a nun (Laura Devon). By this time Kildare is a half-hour series, broadcast twice weekly, so the story isn't really as long as it might seem; it's really a two-hour story spread out over four episodes. In tonight's final episode, Quinlin—himself suffering from a heart ailment—insists on leaving the hospital to play in a big-stakes tournament, with plenty of stress.

Wednesday, Danny Thomas returns with another in his series of variety specials, a spoof of the Bing Crosby-Bob Hope "Road" movies (9:00 p.m., NBC). It all begins on The Today Show, where Crosby tells Hugh Downs that he doesn't want Hope as his co-star in his latest movie, The Road to Lebanon. Danny Thomas would be perfect," Crosby says. "He's younger, fresher, and Lebanese." Claudine Auger, the Bond Girl in Thunderball, rounds out the cast (no pun intended). 

Horrors! The Howells find out from a radio broadcast that they're not legally married, in a traumatic Gilligan's Island (Thursday, 8:00 p.m., CBS). Without looking this episode up, I'm willing to bet that the solution to this awkward situation is to have the Skipper marry them, since we all know that ship's captains are authorized to perform marriages, right? Wrong! According to the always-reliable Wikipedia (which I verified by watching an episode of Perry Mason), a ship's captain does not have the legal right to officiate a wedding at sea, unless he's either a judge, a justice of the peace, a minister, or a Notary Public. (Hey—you could have been married by me back in the day!) Now, it is true that most Princess Cruise captains have Bermuda licenses to perform weddings, so you can get married on certain Princess ships. But you have to go to a judge and swear that everything in the documentation is accurate. There are various theories as to how the trope came into being, but it's not worth going into now; if you're planning to get married at sea in the near future, I'll leave it to you to check things out beforehand.

On Friday, it's the fourth and final movie in the series of UN dramas shown on ABC over the last three years, The Poppy is Also a Flower (7:30 p.m.). The series, which I wrote about here, dramatizes (or propagandizes, depending on your point of view) the vital role played in the world by the UN—in this case, the fight against the international drug trade. Like the others, tonight's movie is sponsored by Xerox and presented without commercial interruption, and features a true all-star cast from top to bottom: directed by three-time James Bond director Terence Young, based on a story idea by Ian Fleming, introduced by Princess Grace of Monaco, and starring (among others) E.G. Marshall, Trevor Howard, Angie Dickinson, Yul Brynner, Rita Hayworth, Marcello Mastroianni, Omar Sharif, Barry Sullivan, and Eli Wallach. It makes my fingers hurt just to list them all.

Also on Friday, it's the final episode of Sammy Davis Jr., ill-fated variety show (8:30 p.m., NBC). I wrote about some of the show's challenges here; although Davis would buckle down in an effort to right the ship, it came too late to save it from the chopping block. Tonight's show is, quite possibly, the best of the series: a one-man show starring Sammy, which you can see here.

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MST3K alert: The Amazing Colossal Man
(1957) After being burned in a plutonium explosion, an Army colonel starts growing at the rate of 10 feet per day. Glenn Langan, Cathy Downs. (Wednesday, 5:00 p.m., KGO in San Francisco) Unfortunately, since the rights to use the movie expired, you can no longer see the MST3K version, except on YouTube. However, you can still catch the unwanted, unasked-for sequel, War of the Colossal Beast, with a completely different cast. Take it from me: if you've seen one colossal man, you've seen them all. TV  

April 12, 2024

Around the dial

All right, we're ready for another week, and we'll start at Comfort TV, where I've been enjoying David's trip through 1970s TV; he's now up to Saturday, 1973, and unless you have a favorite somewhere else, you'll be bowled over by the epic CBS lineup: All in the Family, M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, and Carol Burnett. Has any other lineup come close?

At Cult TV Blog, John takes on "The Black Tower," one of the adaptations of P.D. James's famous Adam Dalgliesh detective novels, with Roy Marsden as Dalgliesh. I'm always partial to him because his is the Dalgliesh I saw on Mystery! too many years ago; I think you'll like it as much as John does.

The Broadcasting Archives has a brief but neat post, complete with picture, about Garroway at Large, the 1949-54 series starring Dave Garroway (who else?), which provides an outstanding example of what came to be known as the "Chicago Style" of TV, furthered on Today.

This is from last year, but it's new to me, so it counts: at A Vintage Nerd, it's 10 hard-to-find classic TV shows. Some of them are harder to find than others, but a little effort will turn most of them up, and you'll find they're worth it.

A View from the Junkyard returns to the world of The Avengers (I should say that we return to it, since I've linked to other things the past couple of weeks), and the Steed/Tara episode "All Done with Mirrors." involving spies, a telescope, and a lighthouse. What more do you need? 

How old does a show have to be to qualify as "classic"? I've often wondered whether or not what I write about is really more like "vintage" TV, but regardless, 15 years is probably long enough, and since I live in Indiana, I can hardly ignore Terence's take on Parks and Recreation at A Shroud of Thoughts.

You'll remember my review last week of Lon Davis's terrific book Stumbling into Film History, and this week Lon appears on Richard Skipper Celebrates to discuss his book, and more. Sit back and relax, and let Lon take you back to a wonderful and fascinating time! TV  

April 10, 2024

The New Top Ten: Mystery Science Theater 3000

Considering the number of times I've mentioned Mystery Science Theater 3000 here, it can't be a bombshell that it's now part of the Top Ten; in fact, the only thing surprising about it is that it wasn't there in the first place. (We'll get to that later.) And let me assure you that this isn't a case of hometown favoritism either, although it didn't hurt to be from Minneapolis at the same time that Mystery Science Theater made its local debut.

It all begins on Thanksgiving night, 1988. Now, if you've been reading this site for any length of time, you'll know that as far as television goes, Thanksgiving is synonymous with only two things, parades and football, and the parades were long gone. (As were the drumsticks.) Normally, I'd have been watching the late football game, but we were at my grandmother's apartment—and no, we didn't have to go over the river and through the woods to get there—and, as she didn't have cable TV, I had to make due with the over-the-air stations, one of which was KTMA, which was premiering a new series called Mystery Science Theater 3000, hosted by the local comedian Joel Hodgson. I'd heard of him, had seen ads in the local alternative papers for his stand-up act at various clubs. In fact, a friend of mine, attending one of his shows, had been invited to come up on stage and battle him in a game of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. He lost to Hodgson, several times, after which Hodgson revealed he'd nailed the head of his own robot down so it couldn't pop up.

The premise was pretty simple—science fiction movies with commentary provided by a guy and two robots, who appeared as silhouettes on the bottom of the screen. Riffing, they called it. For the premiere, they were doing a double-feature of Supermarionation movies, Invaders from the Deep and Revenge of the Mysterions from Mars (which you can see at the links). The comments were funny, sarcastic, smart-assed—qualities I'd well-developed by then, and laced with pop culture references. I got it, liked it—and then I don't think I ever watched another episode. Four months or so later I moved to Maine, where of course there was no KTMA, and pretty much forgot all about it.

A few months later, I read that Comedy Central was adding Mystery Science Theater 3000 to its lineup. It was nice to see a hometown show make good, and I started checking it out. This time, I kept watching. It was a funny show then, it's a funny show now; the more absurd, the better. There was, for instance, the time Joel tried to play Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" on electric bagpipes made out of a vacuum cleaner. There were running jokes about Peter Graves on Biography, Ted Kennedy's driving, Jack Ruby fantasy camps, and Rush Limbaugh. There were catchphrases: "A planet where apes evolved from men." "Bite me!" "By that time, my lungs were aching for air." Gorgo, Gamera, Godzilla, Torgo, Santo the Silver Maskman, Japanese sci-fi, biker movies. The Thanksgiving Turkey Day marathons. The dumber the humor, the more obscure the references, the better. Most of the episodes were on YouTube, and eventually, long after the original series had ended, it was incorporated into the regular Saturday night viewing schedule.   

So why wasn't it on my original list of Top Ten shows? Who knows? Not every program I enjoy made it; there's only room for ten, after all. But then a funny thing happened one day: a channel on the streaming service Pluto devoted to MST3K 24/7. And then there was a Shout! TV channel devoted to MST3K. And a YouTube channel! Suddenly, it wasn't just for Saturday nights or Thanksgiving marathons; it was for whenever you felt like it, good for when nothing else fit, when things weren't going well, or for just vegging out. It didn't matter that we'd already seen some of the movies two or three times; in fact, it seemed as if every time we watched Beginning of the End or Radar Men from the Moon or Lost Continent, there was something we'd missed the first five or six times. It was the epitome of what my friend David Hofstede refers to as "Comfort TV," good for whatever ails you. And it was obvious that it deserved not just a place on the Top Ten list, but a high one.

There are, of course, two basic questions for any MSTie: one, where do I stand on the great Joel vs. Mike question? If it's not quite to the level of "Which Darren is your favorite" on Bewitched, it's still important. Mike—Michael J. Nelson, the show's head writer—stepped into the lead role when Joel Hodgson left the show, and shepherded the series through its move to the Sci-Fi channel, the big-screen movie, and the eventual end of the series, and there is a school of thought that one has to be either Joel or Mike. I don't buy it, and while it may have taken awhile to get used to Mike as the host (he'd appeared many times as various characters during the Joel era), it was for the most part an easy transition for me. Besides, how could you not like someone who not only could tell a joke featuring Muir Mathieson, but could pronounced his name right?

The second question, perhaps more relevant to today: what do I think of the MST3K reboot, which Joel Hodgson launched a few years ago, following a monstrously successful crowdfunding campaign? Well, the short answer is that I'm glad there are three more seasons, but as is the case with so many remakes and reboots, you can't really go home again. Joel himself has only occasionally appeared on the show, while an entirely new cast of voices play the robots Tom Servo and Crow. Perhaps I'm just too old, but I'm also too attached to the old cast to warm to the new one; the voices themselves sound like they're just not quite right for the characters. Additionally, the riffs and cultural references don't quite fit my demographic, and the movies aren't the black-and-white sci-fi flicks that I enjoy the most. And the low-budget feel of the original was an important part of its charm. But then, that's just me, and I know there are lots of people out there who enjoy the new series just fine.

Be that as it may, it's the classic version of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that takes its rightful place in the new Top Ten, along with Judd for the Defense and Maigret. Those shows made the list because they make me think, but MST3K belongs there because I can watch it over and over and it makes me laugh out loud, and there are very few shows about which I can make that statement. As long as we have shows like this to watch, we're in good shape—to infinity and beyond, coining a phrase. There's more I could say, much more, but I have to go now: Samson vs. the Vampire Women is about to start. TV  

April 8, 2024

What's on TV? Tuesday, April 6, 1976

Unlike politics today, the Republican presidential nomination was anything but wrapped up by April 6, which makes tonight's network coverage of the New York and Wisconsin primaries must-see viewing for political junkies. The incumbent, Gerald Ford, had gotten off to a strong start against challenger Ronald Reagan, and by late March Reagan was being urged to drop out of the race and endorse Ford. But Reagan would score an upset victory in the North Carolina primary on March 23; although he will lose Wisconsin to Ford tonight (and New York will, for the time, remain uncommitted), Reagan will score additional victories in Arizona and South Carolina later in the month, before winning Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and Indiana in early May. The two will go to the convention with the nomination still in doubt (the last time this happened in American politics), and while Ford wins a narrow victory, it is obvious that the hearts of the delegates belong to Reagan, who will win the nomination (and the election) four years later. You'll be able to read about that in the Northern California listings as well! 

April 6, 2024

This week in TV Guide: April 3, 1976

Our introduction to Liz Torres, the newest cast member of CBS's sitcom Phyllis, comes with the heavy shadow of Barbara Colby, the cast remember she replaced, who was murdered on July 24, 1975 in Los Angeles. Nine months later, her murder remains unsolved, writes Don Freeman, "[w]ith no clues, no motives and no suspects." He calls it a "bizarre case," and so it remains to this day. 

Phyllis, as you may recall, is a spinoff from The Mary Tyler Moore show, with Cloris Leachman reprising her role of Phyllis Lindstrom, who has moved from Minneapolis to San Francisco following the death of her husband, Lars. The premise has Phyllis taking a job as an assistant in a photographic studio owned by Julie Erskine, played by Colby. After having appeared in three episodes, Colby and a fellow actor, James Kiernan, were shot and killed shortly before midnight while walking from an acting class to their car. Colby died instantly; Kiernan was able to tell the police little before he, too, died—only that they'd been shot by two black men he didn't recognize, who had pulled up in a light-colored van, told them to put up their hands, fired two shots (each being hit by one), and then driven off. Neither Colby nor Kiernan were robbed, which would seem to rule that out as a motive. Left with little else to work with, the police concluded that it was either a "targeted killing" (i.e. a hit?) or a random drive-by shooting.

Today, nearly 50 years later, the murder remains unsolved. Colby was, at the time, separated from her husband, Bob Levitt, the son of Ethel Merman, but the couple were said to have been on good terms, and it appears he was never considered a serious suspect. There had been a string of crimes in the West Los Angeles-Santa Monica area that night, including another murder; police looked into the possibility that the crimes were related, and six gang members were taken into custody, but as far as the murders of Colby and Kiernan are concerned, nothing ever came of it.

In a filmed tribute, Leachman called Colby "one of the most joyful and giving people I have ever known," and referring to the decision to recast the role with Torres, she said "It was not easy to replace Barbara Colby as an actress, and it is impossible to replace her as a person." The tribute was intended to be shown prior to the start of the series, but it was vetoed by CBS. "It was felt simply that the film was inappropriate," an unnamed official at CBS says, "and that airing the three episodes in which Barbara Colby appeared was enough." "CBS probably felt we were visiting on a lot of people something they knew little about," Grant Tinker, president of MTM replies. "The network saw the film we made and said no. I think they were wrong." So does Ed. Weinberger, executive co-producer of Phyllis. "It’s a delicate, sensitive issue and the network does have its prerogative. We objected but we were all so disconsolate about Barbara that we had no stomach to fight for what we thought was just and proper. I don’t think the network was callous, just mistaken."

    Colby and Cloris Leachman on Phyllis
Today, such a tribute would almost certainly have been aired. Weinberg's conclusion that CBS was "mistaken" sounds very much like something said by someone who knew they would have to work with the network in the future, and didn't want to burn any bridges. The decision does sound callous, in other words, very much a standard operating procedure from a television network that long since lost any intension of providing anything that didn't, in some way, augment the bottom line. We've seen too many poor judgements over the years, too much meddling, too much unfounded arrogance, to think otherwise.

As for the show, it would run for two seasons before being cancelled. Torres continued in the role that Barbara Colby had begun for the rest of the season, before the character was eliminated. Whether or not that was by design—Torres says of taking the role, "I miss New York, but you go where the work is." She added, "I'm an actress who replaced an actress who was murdered. The show must go on. But there are times when I feel—a bit strange."

There are several podcasts and videos exploring the murders of Barbara Colby and James Kiernan, and you can find them easily enough. It is, however, surprising that the murder of a television actress is not better remembered that it is. Perhaps, being that it remains unsolved to this day, networks like CBS don't look at it as being commercial. Perhaps it doesn't have a happy-enough ending.

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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. 

Do you remember a series called Sara? Not Sarah, Plain and Tall (if you remember that), just Sara. I swear, this is the first time I've ever heard of it. Granted, these are the days of the World's Worst Town™, when I didn't have regular access to a CBS affiliate; still, I did have access to TV Guide, and if I ever saw this show in its pages, it didn't leave an impression.

Sara stars Brenda Vaccaro as a schoolteacher in 1870s Colorado Territory; she emigrated from Philadelphia, which she found "dreary and predictable." But, according to Cleveland Amory, the City of Brotherly Love was a cauldron of excitement compared to what we see here, where the stories "are so dreary and predictable that we advise you to snooze a bit. Then, when you wake up, you can figure out not what has happened (you'll already know that from being ahead before you dozed off) but what's going to happen." So maybe that was it—I slept through it all.

Sara is, it goes without saying, a liberated woman fighting a male establishment, and since she's also a teacher, this makes her cause at least twice as righteous. And predictable. One plot line involved her failure to get any new books from the school board, whereupon she decided to have her students write their own book, and have it published by the local newspaper. "Even in those days, it was publish or perish," Cleve notes, "—but in this case, it didn't matter which." So what we have here is a talented actress, Vaccaro, starring in a vehicle that moves at a glacial pace (what else do you think created the Rocky Mountains?), featuring predictable plots, stereotypical characters, and not much else. How this series survived for twelve episodes a mystery to me. One thing seems for certain, though; in this case, a bad memory serves to be a blessing.

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On weeks when we can, we'll match up two of the biggest rock shows of the era, NBC's The Midnight Special and the syndicated Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, and see who's better, who's best.

Kirshner: Performers include Ike & Tina Turner ("Oh My My," "Sexy Ida"); C.W. McCall ("Convoy," "Green River," "Classified"); Queen ("Bohemian Rhapsody").

Midnight: Hostess Helen Reddy welcomes Barry Manilow ("Something's Comin' Up"); Fleetwood Mac ("Rhiannon"); pop group Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds; rock group Queen; and rock artist Gary Wright. Also featured is a tribute to Roger McGuinn and the Byrds.

Keeping in mind that these are all my personal opinions, not intended to inflame anyone with preferences to the contrary, this week's offering provides me, for once, with a clear choice. I would have been watching The Midnight Special, given that it was all that was available to me in the World's Worst Town™; nevertheless, I don't care for Helen Reddy, I don't care for Barry Manilow, and I really don't care for Fleetwood Mac. But what about Queen? Well, I like them, but I can get them on Kirshner, and besides, I can get Tina Turner as well. I think I can stand C.W. McCall in return for that. This week, Kirshner takes the prize.

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A couple of the week's more noteworthy programs unwittingly highlight how far TV Guide fell from its pinnacle to its final days as a weekly with local listings; we won't even discuss what it's become today.

One of the features that appeared in the magazine from time to time was called "Background." It was an article written by a distinguished historian or writer, putting one of the week's shows into a historical or cultural perspective, allowing viewers to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation—or to spur them to watch it in the first place, if they hadn't been thinking about it.

Case in point #1: Thursday night's Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of "Truman at Potsdam" (8:00 p.m. PT, NBC), starring Ed Flanders as Harry Truman, John Houseman as Winston Churchill, and José Ferrer as Joseph Stalin, plus Barry Morse as Secretary of State James Byrnes, and Alexander Knox as Secretary of War Henry Stimson. Based on the book Meeting at Potsdam by Charles L. Mee Jr, it's the story of the Potsdam Conference, held in Potsdam, Germany in July and August 1945, at which Truman, Churchill, and Stalin met to work out the partition of postwar Europe. It was Truman's first meeting with the other two members of the so-called Big Three, having taken office only three months before. We're given the background on all this in an article by W. Averill Harriman, former governor of New York, who was at Potsdam as U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union. In the article, Harriman focuses on the many decisions facing Truman, including Stalin's obvious reneging on commitments he'd previously made at Yalta. It's a brief but interesting look at the reasoning behind some of Truman's decisions, as well as how the Soviets wound up with a free hand in East Germany.  

("Truman at Potsdam" also merits a mention in "The Screening Room," the preview of some of the week's notable programs. The preview refers to a scene which "is bound to generate controversy," in which Truman states one of his reasons for using the atomic bomb on Japan: "What we're going to do is say to the Russians, ‘We’ve got it and we’re not afraid to use it... .'" Now, if this is accurate, and if Truman is actually justifying the use of this murderous weapon as being part of international power politics, that is truly an unconscionable decision. Granted, I've never been a fan of Truman to begin with, but his willingness to use the Bomb, and his attitude towards it afterward, have always been morally troubling, and this does nothing to lessen that.)

Case in point #2: Friday night, ABC airs The Story of David (9:00 p.m.), part one of a two-part movie presentation that concludes the following Sunday night with David and Bathsheba, with Timothy Bottoms starring as young David (Keith Michell plays the older David in part two) and Anthony Quayle as King Saul. (In case you're curious, Bathsheba is played in part two by Jane Seymour. Of course, you're thinking.) The background article in this case is provided by novelist Chaim Potok, who tells us about the historical David, his conflict with King Saul (including his twice-refusal to kill Saul when he had the chance), and his eventual rise to become king of Israel, over which he would reign for 40 years, ending with his anointing of Solomon as his successor.

Although neither of these articles runs more than a couple of pages, providing the briefest of perspectives on the stories about to appear on television, they're serious, incisive, and thought-provoking pieces, ones that could not only encourage someone to watch the programs, but also to read more about the historical events on which they're based. And while they're constrained by space considerations to offering in-depth scholarship, they're certainly heads and shoulders above the kind of fanmag mush and sensationalism that makes up TV Guide today. 

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For those of you who might think I don't pay enough attention to women's sports, here's one for you: the final two rounds of the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winners Circle Golf Championship (Saturday 3:00 p.m., Sunday, 2:00 p.m., ABC), the richest tournament on the women's tour, featuring a $200,000 total purse, with $32,000 to the winner. Dinah Shore co-founded the tournament along with David Forster, chairman of Colgate-Palmolive, in 1972; her name and involvement ensured the tournament would have a great deal of credibility, not to mention visibility. The tournament continues to this day as one of the women's tour's major championships, although it's undergone name, sponsor, and location changes in the meantime. In 1976, the top prize goes to one of the game's greats, Judy Rankin, who fires a final-round 68 to win by three strokes.

Speaking of "do you remember?" series as we were earlier, how many of you recall Almost Anything Goes? It was a show that held a certain amount of fascination for me, as was the case with so many of the shows that we weren't able to see in the World's Worst Town™; I don't know whether or not it was any good, but the idea of three teams, representing various smaller towns from around America, competing against each other in a series of stunts reminiscent of Beat the Clock or Wipeout sounded like fun. It had credible announcers as well: Charlie Jones, Lynn Shackleford, and the ubiquitous Regis Philbin. I never have seen an episode of it, so I can't say whether or not the fascination was justified. (Saturday, 8:00 p.m., ABC)

The movie highlight of the week has to be the network television premiere of Five Easy Pieces (Monday, 9:00 p.m., ABC), starring Jack Nicholson and Karen Black. Judith Crist calls it "a brilliant film, abrasive in its perceptions, brutal in its truths and near-lyrical in its composition," and it cops Nicholson his first Oscar nomination. It has some competition for the top spot, though, in a "bonanza week—for the serious film buff as well as the casual viewer." On Tuesday, it's Lord of the Flies (9:00 p.m., PBS), the 1963 adaptation of William Golding's novel, "both a gripping adventure-horror story and a frightening, thought-provoking commentary on the heart and mind of man," featuring a cast of "remarkable non-professionals." That's followed at midnight by the CBS late movie, The Fixer, directed by John Frankenheimer, written by Dalton Trumbo, and starring Alan Bates in an Oscar-nominated turn; it is, Crist says, "an intense, painful experience." And on the local side, Sacramento's KTXL chips in with a pair: first, Sidney Lumet's outstanding The Pawnbroker (Tuesday, 8:00 p.m.), with a powerful, Oscar-nominated performance by Rod Steiger as a Harlem Holocaust survivor; then, it's a two-part showing of Otto Preminger's epic courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder (Wednesday and Thursday, 8:00 p.m.), with James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, and George C. Scott. You don't see movie weeks like this anymore—but then, you don't see many movies like this anymore.

Meanwhile, Dick Cavett tours the backlots of Paramount Studios in Backlot U.S.A. (Monday, 10:00 p.m., CBS), where he's joined by Mickey Rooney, John Wayne, Gene Kelly, and Mae West; Red Skelton (and Clem Kadiddlehopper, George Appleby, Freddy the Freeloader, and Sheriff Deadeye) hosts America on Parade (various dates and times, syndicated), a Bicentennial trip through American history, from the Walt Disney parks in Florida and California; Perry Como reminds us that he's on TV more than just at Christmastime, as he celebrates Marti Gras in New Orleans with Leslie Uggams and Dick Van Dyke (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m., ABC); Barbara Walters hosts the fourth annual "Woman of the Year" awards, honoring ten women for their accomplishments in politics, sports, entertainment, education, and other areas, as selected by Ladies' Home Journal (Thursday, 9:30 p.m., NBC). Petula Clark, Kate Smith, and the Fifth Dimension provide the entertainment, while presenters include Pearl Bailey, Carol Burnett, and Marlo Thomas; and with Easter just around the corner (April 18), NBC debuts a new Easter cartoon, The First Easter Rabbit (Friday, 8:00 p.m.), with the voices of Burl Ives, Robert Morse, Paul Frees, Stan Freberg, and Dian Lynn.

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According to the Teletype, "One of the latest entries in the miniseries sweepstakes is a multi-hour version of Alex Haley's book Roots, currently being filmed for ABC. The book, which will be published later this summer, chronicles Haley's family history from Africa, through slavery in America, up to the present day." They have no idea of the sensation that awaits, do they?

Also from the Teletype, we have a true-life mystery that one might usually find on, say, Banacek: a $75,000 diamond ring lent to The Merv Griffin Show for use by some of its female guests (including the aforementioned Brenda Vaccaro) has gone missing! The ring was one of several pieces supplied by Laykin et Cie, jewelers; S.W. Laykin, the firm's president, says, "When we got ready to leave, we packed everything up and I asked my security officer if everything that we brought was there. He said yes. Then the bag was locked. The following morning we took inventory and the ring wasn't there. There's no question either it was stolen or it dropped out of the bag without any of us seeing it." Of course, if this had occurred on a TV series, it would have been an inside job: the security officer perhaps, conspiring with someone on the show's staff, perhaps even one of the female stars. But real life isn't always that entertaining.

Doesn't this story make you want to know more? Alas, I wasn't able to find out anything more, other than that the same jeweler, Laykin et Cie, once loaned $500,000 worth of jewels to Doris Day for her to use use in the movie Pillow Talk. (Apparently, there weren't any complications that time.) Now, admittedly, I didn't spend a whole lot of time checking this out (otherwise, you'd probably be reading this three days later than scheduled), so if anyone out there knows whether or not this case was ever solved, you know what to do in the comments section.

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Since it's the cover story, I suppose we ought to make mention of Melvin Durslag's predictions for the upcoming baseball season. It's an important year of change for the sport: in fact, at press time, the owners have locked the players out of training camp in a dispute over the terms by which free agency is to be introduced; the players want to be eligible after four seasons, while the owners want eight years of experience plus a draft to determine which teams a free agent could negotiate with. The players countered with six seasons and no draft, whereupon the lockout commenced. (Don't worry; it will get settled in time.) ABC has joined NBC in national telecasts, taking over Monday Night Baseball and sharing the All-Star Game, the playoffs, and the World Series on an alternating basis. And Bill Veeck, the bad-boy entrepreneur of baseball, is back, as the new owner of the Chicago White Sox. 

As for the actual game on the field, Durslag has the Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds coming out on top in the National League, while the American League sees the Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals taking their divisions; he likes the Red Sox to win their first World Series since 1918. In the event, Mel gets three out of four right, only missing out on the Red Sox, who are beaten out by the New York Yankees; the Yankees advance to the Series with a memorable five-game playoff victory over Kansas City, but lose out to the Big Red Machine in a four-game sweep. Different team, same red color.

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MST3K alert: It Conquered the World 
(1956) Scientists discover that an outer-space monster has arrived from Venus to destroy Earth. Peter Graves, Lee Van Cleef. (Saturday, 9:30 p.m., KBHK) "He learned almost too late that man is a feeling creature… and, because of it, the greatest in the universe. He learned too late for himself that men have to find their own way, to make their own mistakes. There can't be any gift of perfection from outside ourselves. And when men seek such perfection… they find only death… fire… loss… disillusionment… the end of everything that's gone forward. Men have always sought an end to the toil and misery, but it can't be given, it has to be achieved. There is hope, but it has to come from inside—from man himself." TV  

April 5, 2024

Around the dial

Xfter last week's break, we're back for another look at the classic TV blogosphere, so let's dive right in and see what's what.

Sadly, a trio of classic television figures have passed in the last couple of weeks, and at A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence has tributes to each one: Lynn Loring (who died in December, but her family just announced it last week), Ron Harper, and the legendary Barbara Rush.

Jack's Hitchcock Project continues at bare-bones e-zine with "Don't Interrupt," the sole script for the series written by Sidney Carroll, a prime example of Hitch's description of the difference between surprise and suspense, and with a nasty twist at the end.

At Comfort TV, David continues his countdown of his 50 favorite classic TV characters with Ricky Nelson as Ricky Nelson. Was he an actor, a character, or a person? You can decide that, but there's no question about his memorable impact.

Hal continues his deep dive into the truth behind F Troop's ratings at The Horn Section,  demonstrating that the perception that the series underperformed in the ratings is a myth, and speculating on what might have been, if it had had more support from the studio and network.

"The curse of the old TV fan," John says at Cult TV Blog, "is the prolific wiping of shows, especially black and white shows." (Truer words were seldom spoken.) To back that up, he looks at another episode of the anthology series Armchair Mystery Theatre, "The Man Who Came to Die."  

At Drunk TV, Paul reviews volume three of the series Greatest Heroes of the Bible. The bad news: these episodes lack that certain "badness" that one gets from a typical Schick Sunn Classic production. What does that mean? Paul has the answer.

Cult TV Lounge returns to the world of Boris Karloff's Thriller with the 1961 episode "Late Date." We all know that Thriller can be uneven at the best of times, but this one happens to be a hit on the hit-or-miss scale, with Larry Pennell (Ripcord) in a starring role.

Certainly The Mickey Mouse Club would count as one of the iconic shows of the late 1950s (although I recall it from reruns when I was small), and Travalanche gives us his own memories of catching the show in reruns.

At The View from the Junkyard, Roger recalls the fifth season Twilight Zone episode "In Praise of Pip," a touching story (thought it didn't touch Roger in quite the right way) of a father and his son. Notable for being one of the first mentions of Vietnam on series television.

Finally, last week I appeared in a pair of episodes of Dan Schneider's Video Interview, looking back at some of the major figures in television's history: first, Barbara Walters, and second, Dave Garroway, for which Dan and I were joined by the wonderful Jodie Peeler for a delightful hour. TV  

April 3, 2024

Book review: Stumbling into Film History, by Lon Davis

Last week, I mentioned Ernie Kovac's1961 series Silents Please, and how it paralleled the resurgence in silent movies that was taking place in the late 1950s and early 1960s, thanks in large part to the movies being shown on local television. Silents Please was a labor of love for Kovacs, a true aficionado of early film history, and a good number of viewers were surprised at the absence of oddball humor that they had come to expect from a Kovacs program; for Ernie, it was all about the movies and the people behind them.

Which leads to a question that many people have wondered about, namely: how and why do historians become interested in the topics that they study? For some, it's a reflection of the environment in which they grew up; others discover their interest by accident while researching tangential topics. For me, television history has combined my interest in cultural and social history with an attempt to understand, and in some way relive, those early, pre-comprehending years of my life. In the wrong hands, trying to explain these passions can leave the reader feeling like someone being forced to look at their next-door neighbors' vacation pictures. Fortuantely, that's not always the case, and if you need any proof of that, look no further than film historian Lon Davis and his latest book, Stumbling into Film History

Stumbling into Film History

by Lon Davis
BearManor Media, 240 pages, $29.00

My rating: ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)

Davis has authored or co-authored several books on early film history (including Silent Lives and Silent Vignettes) which focused on the personalities and acts that personified those first groundbreaking decades of the industry, from Francis X. Bushman (Ben-Hur) to the Three Stooges and the Keystone Cops. But in Stumbling into Film History, Davis focuses on his own story, in a delightful and affectionate recounting of his journey through the "golden age" of cinema, and the various people he meets along the way.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Why, you wonder, is Hadley reviewing a book about classic film history on a classic television blog? Well, besides the fact that (full disclosure) I know and like the author, the truth is that television has had a lot to do with keeping this history alive. As recently as 1958, the major studios "conspired" to keep any movie made after 1948 from appearing on television, and it wasn't until NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies in 1961 that post-1950 movies became prominent. That, combined with an increasing demand from viewers for more and more movies, meant that early movies, both silent and sound, enjoyed a visibility they wouldn't again have until the heydays of AMC and TCM. For many, it was the repeated showings of these movies that would spur a lifelong interest in the industry, and keep alive the history of their times. Once again, credit television for documenting times that might otherwise be forgotten.

As is so often the case, it was an unlikely combination of circumstances that gave birth to Davis's love of early movies—a display of boxes of 8mm films bearing the images of Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, and the Universal monsters, that the author ran across while waiting for his father at a camera store; a PBS series on silent movies hosted by Orson Welles that Davis and his father watched weekly; a great-uncle who lived in the Motion Picture Country Home in Los Angeles, home to many of the stars of the early era; and a young teenager's initiative to learn more about the now-forgotten stars that he'd met through these films. The result is a fascinating look at the lives and times of the people who made the movies. But more than that, it's the author's personal journey, a fond recollection of his friendships and interactions with these figures; and just as they shared their stories and perceptions with him, he now shares the same with us.

And while any (good) historian can write a history of early film, only a very few are privileged to have, in a way, become a part of this history; certainly, Lon Davis is one of those who can make that claim, for Stumbling into Film History is his story as well as theirs, offering a personal perspective that comes from firsthand knowledge of the people he writes about. There are, for example, his stories of spending time at the Motion Picture Home with Three Stooges member Larry Fine; again, there are many interviews with various Stooges (I just read one in an old TV Guide), but they won't give you the personal insight that Davis can, including his unfortunate attempt to set up a movie projector in Fine's room which, predictably, included a clash of heads that could have come right out of a Stooge short. While Davis couldn't help but be amused by the irony, Fine wasn't quiet as sanguine; "At least I got paid to make an ass of myself," he said.

Often, the teenage Davis would form connections with these old stars simply by looking up their numbers in the phone book and calling them; many of them were delighted to talk about the past, so pleased that someone as young as Davis would take an interest in their work. In doing so, Davis provides a lesson from which we could all learn: don't be afraid to take a chance; the worst thing that can happen is for someone to say "no." That's a lesson that it took me a long time to learn, and there's something bittersweet for me in reading about how Davis's enthusiasm propelled him to reach out and make these contacts. He well knew that these people wouldn't be with us for long, and that once gone, their stories would die with them. Of course, you can't invest in retrospect; even had I had as much nerve as Davis had at that age, I hadn't yet determined on my future course as a television historian. Still, it's hard not to wonder about how many opportunities were lost, how much insight went missing, how many questions were left unanswered. The truth is that, even though times have forever changed, many of these figures are still more approachable than we might imagine. Again, what's the worst that can happen? You probably have a better chance of success than you do winning that $1.3 billion lottery jackpot. 

Davis saves the best chapter for last, as he writes of how a mutual love of old movies led to what would become a lifelong friendship with a fellow college student, and how that friendship would eventually result in marriage. Not only is it charming (and surely any scriptwriter from the Golden Age would be pleased to pen such a happy ending), it shows how important a shared interest is in forming the bonds that lead to a successful relationship. (And you thought messages like that only came from MST3K shorts!)

Of course, that's the message that runs through the various essays that make up Stumbling into Film History. It's that personal perspective that lifts this book above the typical film book; reading it, I was reminded of a similar feeling I got from Andrew Lee Fielding's The Lucky Strike Papers, which I reviewed several years ago. Part memoir, part history lesson, books like this share one important quality: a passion for the subject that becomes contagious, that urges the reader forward into a world that they may not have previously been interested in; or, if they had, it turns that interest into something more, something that can enrich your life. (Note: there's no guarantee that you'll meet your future spouse, but it's almost a certainty that you'll make lifelong friends while you're at it.)

(By the way, some of you might notice that this is the third consecutive book review in which I've given a five-star review. That doesn't mean I'm free with my stars; it does mean that I've been fortunate to have encountered some excellent books recently. And at my age, when it comes to books on TV and movies, it becomes harder and harder to spend my reading time otherwise.)

Lon Davis has been called a "Champion of the Silent Cinema," but more than that, he also tells quite a story, one you'll want to read—whether you realize it now or not. TV