Sunday, April 04, 2010

Sunday Videos – A Sunday In 1957

We lost John Forsythe on Thursday at age 92. That was one hell of a rotten April Fools Joke.

John Forsythe, was born John Freund, in Brooklyn New York, the son of a Wall Street broker. He graduated from high school at age 16 and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At age 18 he became the public address announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers. At the suggestion of his father he began an acting career and had some bit parts in films before he joined the Army Air Force in 1943. He appeared in the Army Air Corps show Winged Victory and worked with soldiers who had developed speech problems during their military service. After leaving the service Forsythe became a member of The Actors Studio where members of his class included Marlon Brando and Julie Harris. He also appeared in several Broadway plays including Teahouse Of The August Moon. He appeared in a number of anthology TV shows, and larger roles in movies. He was cast in the lead role of Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry, the first of two appearances in Hitchcock films (the other was 1969's Topaz). The Trouble with Harry was a commercial failure and led to his first TV series, Bachelor Father, which had the distinction of appearing on all three commercial networks in the course of its five year career. In 1965 he appeared in The John Forsythe Show which ran for a single, rather schizophrenic, season (it started as a show about an Army Major who inherits a girls' school, and turned into a comedy spy series along the lines of I Spy). This was followed by a two year run in To Rome With Love. In the 1970s he appeared – or rather didn't appear – in Charlie's Angels as the never seen Charlie Townsend, the boss of Townsend Investigations. Beginning in 1981 he starred in Dynasty as Blake Carrington opposite Linda Evans as his wife Krystle. A dark haired Evans had previously appeared on an episode of Bachelor Father as a high school friend of the niece of Forsythe's character, Bentley Gregg, who had a serious crush on him. In 1992 Forsythe played a US senator in a short lived comedy for NBC called The Powers That Be produced by Norman Lear. While the series lasted less than a year it did feature an outstanding cast including Holland Taylor, Peter McNichol, David Hyde Pierce, and John Gordon-Levitt. Thus Forsythe is one of the few actors who had series in five decades.

While the easy way out would be to put up either clips or scenes from the various series that Forsythe starred in, I thought I'd try something different. One idea that I have been playing with in these Video segments is to take one night in one year and try to put together clips from TV shows on the three networks on that particular night. So, for example, I might pick Tuesday nights in 1966 and find clips for the shows from all three networks on Tuesdays in 1966. I thought I'd use the death of John Forsythe as a jumping off point. There's a bit of a problem with that; while it is easy to find clips of Charlie's Angels and Dynasty, some of the other shows have very little material available to them. I've decided to go with Bachelor Father, as Forsythe's first show. But this has a major problem. The only clip I've been able to find for the show has a couple of serious flaws. First, the only clip I can find comes from a commercial outfit selling DVDs of PD TV shows. The clip cuts off Forsythe's name and despite having a stated running time of 2 minutes suddenly stops showing anything new at about the 0:45 second mark.

Still Sunday nights in 1957 was a dream year for TV. Just look at the CBS line-up. The network started the night with Lassie. Next came The Jack Benny Program which alternated with Bachelor Father (the Benny clip here probably comes from before 1957 but it's a classic). That was followed by The Ed Sullivan Show, which featured a young singer named Presley. This clip was probably ripped from a commercial DVD or video tape but I wanted to actually include a clip from 1957 with Sullivan in it. Next up was GE Theater, hosted by Ronald Reagan. This clip is from a 1956 show featuring Judy Garland (the one clip I managed to find from 1957 had the commercials cut out). Following GE Theater was Alfred Hitchcock Presents. This clip is from the first part of the second season and aired in October 1956. Alfred Hitchcock was followed by a spin-off from a game show. The $64,000 Challenge took winners from The $64,000 Question and had them face challengers in their fields. If one of the contestants failed to answer a question at a specific level was eliminated while the other contestant carried on until they were eliminated. The show ran from 1956-1958 and was killed by the game show scandal. Winding up Sunday night on CBS was one of my favourite panel shows (it's really not fair to call it a game show or a quiz show), What's My Line? hosted by the erudite John Daly and an equally erudite and witty panel. They don't make shows that are this intelligent any more.

For the most part Sunday was variety night for NBC. First up, opposite Lassie, was The Original Amateur Hour featuring Ted Mack. The show was considerably less polished than the closest modern equivalent, America's Got Talent, but that may be part of whatever charm it has. Following The Original Amateur Hour, was an extremely obscure situation comedy called Sally as a department store sales girl who becomes the "lady's companion" of a somewhat daffy wealthy woman on a world tour. Sally was played by Joan Caulfield, while Myrtle Bascomb was played by Marion Lorne. A format change at midseason changed the setting to a department store and added the always dependable Gale Gordon as store manager and co-owner Bascomb Beacher Sr. and Arte Johnson as his bashful son Bascomb Jr. There do not appear to be any clips of Sally available on-line (okay Toby, prove me wrong!). After Sally NBC rolled out the big guns. The Steve Allen Show was the prime time show that Steve Allen did after he left the Tonight Show. Well that's not entirely accurate since when the show started Steve had not yet left the late night show, but was working on cut-back hours. By 1957 he had left late night however and was working his hardest to be NBC answer to Ed Sullivan (literally since Steve was on opposite Sullivan). These two clips are fairly typical of Allen's prime time efforts and features Tom Poston as the straight-laced host, Pat Harrington as the "hipster Lawrence Welk." Louis Nye, and Steve himself. After Steve Allen came the Dinah Shore Chevy Show. The show was a typical variety show with singing and comedy bits. This particular clip doesn't feature Dinah singing "See the USA in a Chevrolet" but it does feature a comedy bit starring Shore and her husband George Montgomery, Ernie Kovacs and his wife Edie Adams, and band leader Louis Prima and his wife, singer Keely Smith. The fast cuts between the three couples is almost as hilarious as Louis losing track of the word play. Finally we have the Loretta Young Show, an anthology drama series hosted by Hollywood star Loretta young. Originally titled Letter To Loretta the original "gimmick" of Young reading a fan letter as a way of introducing the episode's half hour play was dropped after about 13 episodes of the show's first season. What wasn't dropped was Loretta's sweeping, twirling entry through the doors of "her home" in those glamourous – and vaguely preposterous – dresses. The only extensive clips from the show (which show the actual acting) on YouTube are from the 1953 season, so we'll have to content ourselves with a Loretta Young entrance from the 1954-55 season.

ABC was "the third network" and their Sunday line-up showed it. There were only two shows of real note. Leading up opposite Lassie was the show that you would have to describe as the "original reality show," You Asked For It. The format of the show was amazingly simple. Viewers would write in to the show asking to see some sort of action or event and the show would present it. I have a memory of seeing this show as a child, with the show's second host, Smilin' Jack Smith. The clip here isn't dated but it is probably before 1957, which was the original host Art Baker's last year on the show. I picked it because it represented the sort of thing that I remembered the sort of thing that I remember the show doing, although apparently Baker liked to get show business people on the show. You Asked For It was followed by another show that I have very real memories of Maverick. This extended clip features Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick rather than the more popular James Garner. The clip also includes a number of stars from other Warner Brothers series that may or may not have been on ABC. Wait till you see what Edd Byrnes is doing with his comb in this one! The rest of ABC's line-up was a show called Bowling Stars (opposite the last halves of The Ed Sullivan Show and The Steve Allen Show, a public affairs show called Open Hearing up against GE Theater and the first half of the Dinah Shore Chevrolet Show and the half hour All American Football Game Of The Week against Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the second half of Dinah Shore.

Please let me know what you think of this idea. It probably won't be the only way that these Video segments could go but I confess that it's an idea that I'm warming up to.


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Mike Doran said...

Would you call this post a pilot?

If so, then by all means go to series, and good luck finding the clips you need.

I just have one little note to add:
Warner Bros. did all their TV business with ABC at this time. More specifically, Jack Warner allowed Leonard Goldenson to talk him into TV production (Warner had been Hollywood's most vociferous TV holdout). So all those cameos in the Maverick clip were in both the WB and ABC families. Small point, perhaps, but clear now.

Best of luck in finding any ABC non-film clips before the Paramount Theaters merger in 1953; the company tries to pretend that period didn't happen.

Looking forward to the next one...

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