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  

1 comment:

  1. Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker summed up America's attitude with his famous line: "I don't want to hear about that war! I don't want to hear about that ___damn war no more!" Both generations, WW2, Boomers, liberals and conservatives cheered at that line because it expressed what America felt like by the time it was over.
    Woody Harrelson tried to say the same lines several years ago in a remake. But he just didn't have the power or the impact O'Connor had when he said it.


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