June 8, 2024

This week in TV Guide: June 11, 1960

Since you're bound to wonder, that "lady comic" mentioned on the cover, the one who's apparently having zany experiences, is none other than Audrey Meadows, who says, by way of explanation, "I used to think I was the popular girl-comic because I was so stable. I pictured myself as having a great inner calm, as the mother figure to whom everyone ran for comfort. And then, one day, it occurred to me that I was just as cuckoo as the rest of them."

It first occurred to her that she was different when she found herself playing catch for an hour with Phil Silvers, which would be strange enough in itself, but this happened in the middle of a party he was throwing for thirty people, and took place inside. When she was asked if she thought anything strange had happened at the party, she replied, "No, nothing in particular." She credits her appearances with Silvers to being "the only girl he'd met to whom he didn't have to explain baseball." 

Right now she's playing Sid Caesar's wife in a series of specials for CBS, the fourth actress to do so. Caesar, she says, is a "perfectionist," and gives the cast plenty of time to prepare. Jackie Gleason, whose wife she plays in The Honeymooners, is a different breed altogether, who "ad-libs wildly and uses actors who don't panic." With Gleason, "no one knows what the show is about until it's over." He's also keyed up in the moments before a show, whereas Caesar can be glum and moody. And then, there's Audrey's brother-in-law, Steve Allen. "Steve is the only person I know who could actually forget he had a show to do," she says, recalling a time before he and Jayne Meadows were married, when Steve was at their home for dinner; afterwards, he stretched out to watch TV." "Don't you have a show tonight?" Jayne screamed. "What night is it?" he asked. When they told him, he told them they were right, and dashed to the studio. The glories of live television.

But back to that zany lifestyle. At her favorite dress show, she has the habit of stepping into a store window to beckon shoppers to come inside. "She does this all the time," a saleswoman says. One time she stood in the window for so long that the crowd outside thought she was a mannequin, "until I began to twitch. A woman almost fainted. Why do I do this? I don't know. Just cuckoo, I guess." Works for me.

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Nineteen-sixty is (in case you didn't already know) an election year, and thanks to television, you aren't likely to forget about it either. With the national conventions just a month away, World Wide 60 (Saturday, 9:30 p.m. ET, NBC), Frank McGee is the host for "Politics and Primaries," an hour-long look at the state of the presidential race. While Vice President Nixon has the Republican nomination all but wrapped up, the race on the Democratic side is still up for grabs, and McGee, along with reporters Herb Kaplow and Sander Vanocur, look at the relative strengths of the candidates, what they're doing to court support from convention delegates, and the issues that can determine the outcome. Ah, for the days when conventions actually meant something.

The trend continues on Sunday, as Senate Majority Leader (and Democratic presidential candidate) Lyndon Johnson guests on Let's Look at Congress (11:45 a.m., WPIX). That's followed by College News Conference (1:00 p.m., ABC), where former President Harry Truman will be quizzed by a panel of college students on issues of the day, including his support for fellow Missourian and U.S. Senator Stuart Symington's presidential campaign. At 3:30 p.m., political analyst Louis Bean looks at the results of the South Dakota and California primaries on Campaign Roundup (WPIX); Hubert Humphrey was the winner in South Dakota, while California goes with favorite son Governor Pat Brown, a proxy for John Kennedy. Kennedy's foreign policy advisor Connecticut Representative Chester Bowles, is the guest on Face the Nation (5:00 p.m., CBS), and the man himself, Democratic front-runner Kennedy, appears on Meet the Press (6:00 p.m., NBC). Later, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt hosts "The Future of Democracy Abroad" on Prospects of Mankind (9:00 p.m., WNEW); among her guests are presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson and Henry Kissinger, director of the Harvard Defense Studies Program. 

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Politics isn't the only thing on tap this week. The Belmont Stakes, longest and last leg of horse racing's Triple Crown, is contested at New York's Belmont Park (Saturday, 4:30 p.m., CBS); Kentucky Derby winner Venetian Way and Preakness champion Bally Ache are favored, but Bally Ache comes up lame the day before the race, and Celtic Ash pulls away in the stretch for an easy victory.

On Sunday, Ed Sullivan celebrates his 12th anniversary on the air with comedian Victor Borge; heavyweight boxing champion Ingemar Johansson and challenger (and former champion) Floyd Patterson, promoting their title fight on June 20; Louis Prima and Keely Smith, backed by Sam Butera and the Witnesses; Jay North of Dennis the Menace; singer Connie Francis; the comedy team of Wayne and Shuster; and Dick Gautier, later to be Hymie the Robot on Get Smart but presently starring as Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie

Andy Griffith is the guest star on The Danny Thomas Show (Monday, 9:00 p.m., CBS), in "Danny Meets Andy Griffith," the backdoor pilot for The Andy Griffith Show, as Danny is nabbed by Sheriff Taylor for running a stop sign in the small Southern town of Mayberry, North Carolina. Ronny Howard appears as Andy's son Opie, while Francis Bavier is on-hand as well, not as Aunt Bee but as Mayberry resident Henrietta Perkins. Although this isn't listed as a rerun, the episode originally aired in February.

Tennessee Ernie Ford hosts How Tall is a Giant? (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m., NBC), a 90-minute documentary on the Little League baseball team from Monterrey, Mexico, comprised of small boys from poor homes, that made history by coming from nowhere to become the first team from outside the United States to win the Little League World Series. This real-life Hoosiers story, in which "pint-sized, ambidextrous" pitcher Angel Macias hurled the first (and, to this date, only) perfect game in the championship, is narrated by the team's coach, Cesar Faz.

Last week we read about the demise of Armstrong Circle Theatre; for the last several years of its run, Circle Theatre alternated on a every-other-week basis with another of television's great Golden Age anthologies, The U.S. Steel Hour. This week's story (Wednesday, 10:00 p.m., CBS) demonstrates why that reputation is well-deserved; it's "The Imposter," the story of an amnesia victim who may or may not be Alinda's husband, a long-lost World War II veteran. Ann Sheridan, in a rare television appearance, plays the hopeful Alida; Jean Pierre Aumont is the mystery man.

You have to wait until late night for Thursday's highlight, as politics returns with the appearance of Senator Kennedy on The Jack Paar Show (11:25 p.m., NBC); he shares top billing with actress Anne Bancroft, currently starring on Broadway in The Miracle Worker. Here's a clip of Paar interviewing JFK; it marks the first time a presidential candidate has ever appeared on a late-night talk show; Paar, who was a friend of both Kennedy and Nixon, would have the latter on his show later in the year.

Person to Person, the venerable CBS interview program, is no longer hosted by Edward R. Murrow; newsman Charles Collingwood took over those duties in 1959, and will remain with the show until it goes off the air in 1961. The format of the show remained the same under Collingwood, however, and on Friday the CBS cameras visit the North Hollywood home of Gordon and Sheila MacRae, and their four children (including daughter Meredith); in the second half of the program, he talks with portrait photographer Philippe Halsman, who was responsible for many magazine covers over the years including TV Guide, from his New York apartment.

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We've already covered the story running across the top of the cover, so now it's time to get to the feature: the surprise success that is Bachelor Father

For four seasons, the sitcom has exploited one of the oldest clichés in television: that of the bachelor parent. "The aunt who is raising a nephew, the uncle who is raising a niece, the widowed father who is mothering his children," as one CBS executive put it. Despite this, Bachelor Father become one of the most popular shows on television when it premiered, alternating in its time spot with The Jack Benny Program for two seasons before moving to NBC, where it is about to start its second season as a weekly series. 

Its star, John Forsythe, is just as unlikely a choice to play swinging bachelor Bentley Gregg, who unexpectedly finds himself raising his niece after the death of her parents in an automobile accident. Forsythe, a former public address announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers who came to television after a career spent between New York (where he acted on Broadway and in television) and Hollywood (doing features and radio serials), is anything but a swinger; he's married with three children, and he took the role in Bachelor Father because he wanted to settle down and do a regular TV series. A pilot, "Uncle Bentley Steps Out," attracted little interest until it came to the attention of G.E. Theater; it turned out to be one of G.E.'s most popular shows of the 1956-57 season, and American Tobacco picked up the show to alternate with Benny.

It hasn't exactly been smooth sailing since, either. Benny worried that the show would be a weak audience attraction until the ratings came in, and sponsors have tried, without success, to foist guest stars on the show; its ratings have been high anyway. For one thing, there's a satisfying chemistry between the cast members, which include Noreen Corcoran as Bentley's niece Kelly, and veteran Chinese-American character actor Sammee Tong as Peter, Bentley's houseboy. A motivational researcher attributes its success to the fact that the characters are real, and "shown as able to suffer." Forsythe himself thinks it's the "basic joke" that lies behind the show's premise: "The real joke is not that I, a bachelor, am the girl’s father. The funny part is that Sammee Tong behaves, in all our family crises, as if he were her mother. The basic idea may be a cliché, but Sammee and I are the funniest parents on the air, in the opinion of a lot of people."

At the end of the coming season, there will have been 118 episodes of Bachelor Father made, enough to provide it with a successful syndication run. (It eventually runs for 157 episodes over five seasons, the last of which is on ABC, making it the only primetime series to appear in consecutive years on all three networks.) Forsythe, who owns a half-share in the series, estimates that its value by then will be about a million dollars, but he's already preparing for that day when Bachelor Father is no longer. He and his producer have optioned two novels for motion pictures, neither of which involves a bachelor parent. Nor do the two hit series that will round out his long and successful career: Charlie's Angels and Dynasty

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Some scattered notes to fill out your day: NBC's color schedule for 1960 will total 920 hours, an average of just over two-and-a-half hours per day; the march to color is now well under way. Dennis Weaver has announced that this coming season of Gunsmoke will be his last, having played Chester for six seasons. I think he'll make out all right. And ABC's Western series Bronco and Sugarfoot will no longer air weekly; instead, they'll become part of the rotation for Cheyenne.

Frank DeBlois, reviewing Today, describes the morning show, now in its ninth season, as "a book where flowers bloom and maidens gambol in the dreadful wasteland of daytime network TV." Don't let the flowery prose get to you, though; DeBlois praises the show's consistent excellence, as well as its dedication to taking viewers all over the world. In April alone, the program followed John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey battling it out in the Wisconsin primary; spent a week in Rome, where Dave Garroway took viewers on a tour of the city and then explored modern Italian art and fashion; reported on the racial problems in South Africa; and featured a Martin Agronsky interview with Vice President Richard Nixon. 

That was followed up in May by coverage of the aborted Paris summit between President Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Khrushchev (aborted, in case you were wondering, by the U2 spy plane incident); showed a clip from the new movie The Gallant Hours, plus Garroway's interview with the movie's star, James Cagney; went behind the scenes with Jerry Lewis directing his TV special; and hosted guests including Arlene Francis and Vivien Leigh. "If you're not afraid of mental stimulus so early in the morning," DeBlois says, "Today's not a bad bet at all

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Finally, a last note on the campaign: there's been some talk that the major party candidates for president just might get together to debate the issues on national television. If, that is, they can get around the equal time requirements under which the networks labor, and if you think that's much ado over nothing, consider that in 1956, there were eleven presidential candidates on the ballot in one state or another. In order for one-on-one encounters (or, for that matter, for joint interviews by newsmen, or just plain speeches) to take place, the networks have asked Congress to approve a measure that would permit them to donate free air time to the major party (i.e. Republican and Democratic) candidates without having to do likewise for the minor party candidates.

The editors of TV Guide are one hundred percent in favor of this measure, seeing it as "a sensible and orderly" way to avoid last-minute scrambling to raise money, buy time, and pre-empt regularly scheduled programming. "Because Congress is thinking about adjournment, it is necessary that this public service broadcast measure be passed without delay," the editorial concludes. "A word to your Senators, and to your Congressman, would be helpful." 

It might be useful at this point to recall that the first Kennedy-Nixon debate, which took place on September 26, was the highest-rated broadcast in American television history. We also should remember, though, that these, and all those that have followed, could hardly be considered "debates" in the formal sense of the word. They most often consist of pre-rehearsed talking points, filled with attractive soundbites, that might possibly address, in some vague way, a question that itself might or might not be relevant; more often than not, they completely ignore the question altogether. Nor is there any real back-and-forth debate between the candidates; instead, what we have is more like a joint press conference, run by a news media that frequently has its own agenda, comprised of risible questions that, as Perry Mason might say, "assume facts not in evidence." 

In other words, that "word to your Senators and Congressman," if asked today, would likely as not be a resounding "No!" Still and all, the editors might have had a point; how many of us today would remember the Kennedy-Nixon-Hess-Decker-Faubus-Dobbs-Sullivan-Lee Debates?  TV  

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