Television

September 28, 1957 – Mike Wallace Interviews Frank Lloyd Wright

 

Frank Lloyd Wright in 1957. Photo: Ed Ford, New York World-Telegram and Sun Collection

Frank Lloyd Wright in 1957

On September 28, 1957, the Mike Wallace Interview show aired the second half of a two-part interview with visionary architect and iconoclast Frank Lloyd Wright.  Mike introduced Wright as “perhaps the greatest architect of the twentieth century . . . and in the opinion of some, America’s foremost social rebel.  Fellow architects have called him everything, from a great poet to an insupportable windbag.  The clergy has deplored his morals, creditors have deplored his financial habits, politicians, his opinions.”  Wallace’s questions ranged over a variety of topics – from politics, to religion, to morality, to architecture – seeking Wright’s opinions and at the same time hoping to provoke him into outrageous statements.  Wright displayed a witty, canny intelligence.  He was well up to the task of  handling “fishing” questions, revealing just as much as he wanted to and no more, while actually getting Mike to laugh at himself once or twice.  The following are some gems from an entertaining interview which may have intrigued, irritated, and amused the American viewing audience.

Wallace: “I’d like to chart your attitudes specifically . . . first of all, organized religion.”
Wright: “Why organize it?  Christianity doesn’t need organizing according to the Master of it, the great master poet of all time didn’t want it organized, did he?  Didn’t Jesus say that wherever a few are gathered in my name, there is my Church?  I’ve always considered myself deeply religious.”

Wallace: “Do you go to any specific church?”
Wright: “Yes, I go occasionally to this one, and then sometimes to that one, but my church I put a capital N on nature and go there.  You spell God with a capital G, don’t you?  I spell Nature with an N, capital.”

Wright: “I’m against war.  Always have been, always will be.  And everything connected with it, is anathema to me.  I have never considered it necessary.  And I think that one war only breeds another.”

Wright: “I think the common man is responsible for the drift toward conformity now.  It’s going to ruin our democracy, and is not according to our democratic faith.  I believe our democracy was Thomas Jefferson’s idea.  I mean I think Thomas Jefferson’s idea was the right idea, but we were headed for a genuine aristocracy.  An aristocracy that was innate, on the man, not of him, not his by privilege, but his by virtue of his own virtue, his own conscience, his own quality, and that by that we were going to have the rule of the bravest and the best.  But now that common man is becoming a little jealous of the uncommon man . . . .  He’s a block to progress.”

Wallace: “I understand that last week in all seriousness you said, ‘If I had another fifteen years to work I could rebuild this entire country, I could change the nation.”
Wright: “I did say that.  And it’s true.  Having had now the experience of going with the building of seven hundred and sixty-nine buildings, it’s quite easy for me to shake them out of my sleeve, and it’s amazing what I could do for this country. . . . I don’t think the mob knows anything about architecture, cares anything about it.”

Wallace: “Is the nation’s youth a mob?”
Wright: “No.  I believe that a teenager is a teenager, and I think that with him lies the hope of the future.  Now architecture with us is a matter of the future.”

Wright’s sharp humor came out regarding his recently published book (which Wallace had a copy of and Wright claimed not to have seen), self-exiled Charlie Chaplin, intellectuals, his voting record in the last Presidential election, and Marilyn Monroe’s acting ability.  He waxed eloquent on the role of architecture to “grace the landscape” and change the character of individual lives.  He lamented that American culture had become “drenched” in sex “from the bottom up”.  He loved the “Russian spirit” of the Soviet people but hated their communist government.  He felt strongly about the principles enumerated in our Declaration of Independence.

Wallace asked Wright to share the “something” he lived by. Wright replied, “The answer is within yourself . . . . And Jesus said it, I think, when he said, ‘The Kingdom of God is within you’ . . . . That’s where humanity lies, that’s where the future we’re going to have lies. If we are ever going to amount to anything it’s there now, and all we have to do is develop it.”

Brandes Residence, by Frank Lloyd Wright; Sammamish, Washington

Image Credit: Ed Ford/New York World-Telegram and Sun Collection; Dan DeLong/Seattle Post-Intelligencer

September 22, 1957 – “Maverick” Blazes a New Trail

Bret and Bart Maverick

On September 22, 1957, ABC aired the first episode of a new-fangled Western series, Maverick, starring James Garner as card-playing, bullet-dodging, but good-with-his-fists Bret Maverick, and Jack Kelly as his more conservative brother, Bart Maverick.  Dressed up in fancy black attire, avoiding trouble whenever possible, Bret and Bart represented a new type of hero (some called them anti-heroes) who preferred to outsmart the bad guys rather than risk life and limb.  Venturing into harm’s way also usually required a good chance of financial gain, according to Bret and Bart.  Their consciences, however, led them to virtuous, courageous action and their scrupulous honesty clearly marked them as morally right.

Roy Huggins created the highly popular series which ran from 1957 to 1962, adding two more Maverick brothers along the way.  Smooth Scot Sean Connery was offered and turned down a role; it was Brit Roger Moore, pre-Bond days, who joined the show in 1960 after Garner left due to a contract dispute.  Moore starred as previously disgraced brother Beau, who had been banished to England for accepting a Civil War service medal.  Fourth brother Brent, played by Garner-esque Robert Colbert, was also added to offset declining ratings after James’/Bret’s departure.  Objecting to being cast as purely a Bret clone, Colbert reportedly pleaded with production company Warner Brothers to “put me in a dress and call me Brenda but don’t do this to me!”

Maverick developed such a following that the Kaiser (“quilted” foil) Aluminum-sponsored show often drew a larger audience than time-slot competition behemoths The Ed Sullivan Show and The Steve Allen Show.  A large part of the show’s popularity depended on its quirky humor, its strong slate of supporting actors and actresses, and cameo appearances by other well-known stars.  The comedic aspect of the show was eventually expanded with storylines created to lampoon other prime-time television programming from Gunsmoke to Dragnet.  Big names appearing on the series included Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Joel Grey, Robert Redford, Stacy Keach, Sr., Slim Pickens, John Carradine, Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies), Adam West (Batman), Jim Backus (Gilligan’s Island), Ellen Burstyn, Louise Fletcher, and Connie Stevens.

Image Credit: Warner Brothers Television

September 21, 1957 – Perry Mason’s First Case

Hamilton Burger, Arthur Tragg, Della Street, Perry Mason, Paul Drake

On September 21, 1957, defense attorney Perry Mason tried – and won – the first of many cases in the Los Angeles County Courthouse, as one of television’s most successful and longest-running legal series premiered on CBS.  Broadcast from September 1957 until May of 1966,  Perry Mason featured Raymond Burr as cool, brilliant, masterful Mason, Barbara Hale as his attractive, husky-voiced, confidential secretary, William Hopper as blond, handsome, semi-playboy private detective Paul Drake, William Talman as hapless, clownish District Attorney Hamilton Burger, and Ray Collins as smug, thick-skulled police Lt. Arthur Tragg.

Each episode title began with the familiar phrase “The Case of the . . .” and the show progressed following a formula, as well.  The first part of the show set up the audience for the murder of a disagreeable, deserving victim and the presence on, or near the scene, of a likable, innocent, soon-to-be defendant to the crime.  Perry would take on the case, Drake would investigate (dropping into the office through his private back entrance and calling Della “Beautiful”), and soon the courtroom drama would begin.  Over-confident DA Burger would present his case, with evidence from gloating Lt. Tragg, Perry would call witnesses, examine and cross-examine, the real killer would get uncomfortable, Drake would arrive at the courtroom in the nick of time with an important envelope, and all of a sudden Perry would force an anguished or angry, emotional confession from the real murderer.

It was formulaic, but it worked.  Perry Mason was highly popular.  Most everyone could hum the show’s theme song, “Park Avenue Beat”.  Many famous actors and actresses appeared as guest stars over the years, including (just to name a few) Robert Redford, Bette Davis, James Coburn, George Kennedy, Angie Dickenson, Louise Fletcher, Burt Reynolds, Barbara Eden, Ryan O’Neal, Diane Ladd, Fay Wray, Cloris Leachman, Lee Meriwether, Dick Clark, Jackie Coogan, De Forest Kelley, Werner Klemperer, Harvey Korman, June Lockhart, and Marion Ross.  Erle Stanley Gardner, the detective fiction author who originally created the story’s characters, played a judge in the final series episode on May 22, 1966.  From 1985 to 1995, 30 made-for-television movies aired on NBC, most starring Burr and Street, with other actors filling in the main roles.  The original episodes are in syndication to this day.

KPTV in Portland, Oregon – where I was born – continuously carried reruns of Perry Mason from its final episode in 1966 until September 4, 2012, when Perry adjourned to another local Portland station, KPDX. Alas, KPDX retired Mason in September of 2014. Diehard fans can now find Perry weekdays on Me TV, at 9:00 AM and 11:30 PM Pacific time.

Appearing at noon on KPTV (except for a brief period in the mid-70s when it was moved to 12:30 PM), Perry was a daily lunchtime staple for faithful fans in the Rose City. For many years, I was one of those faithful fans. As a young adolescent, I found much to love about Perry, a strong, mature man who could always be counted on to protect the good and the innocent. I have to admit that Paul Drake added his own special, erotic thrill.

Image Credit: CBS Corporation

September 15, 1957 – Mike Wallace Interviews Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus

Governor Orval Faubus

On September 15, 1957, the Mike Wallace Interview show on ABC aired a conversation between host Mike Wallace and Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, current Commander-in-Chief of the Arkansas National Guard on duty in front of Little Rock Central High School.  Gov. Faubus had just met with Pres. Dwight Eisenhower, at the President’s request, to clarify his reasons for defying a federal court order to integrate Little Rock High.  Faubus stated that he intended to respect the decisions of the court and fully cooperate and carry out his responsibilities for integrating Arkansas schools.  The Guard, he maintained, had been called out to “keep the peace and order of the community” which was “paramount to all other issues”.

Gov. Faubus told Wallace that at this time “it would not be possible to integrate without disorder and violence” and “the troops will still be on duty in the morning”.  They would be taken off duty only “under a condition of tranquility and general acceptance by the people”, the presence of which it would be his responsibility to determine “on the basis of facts and information that are available to me”.  “Eighty-two percent of the people agreed that disorder and violence would have occurred, had not I taken the action which I did,” Faubus claimed.

Wallace pressed Faubus for documentation of his claims regarding incipient violence, but Faubus refused to reveal the material he said he had turned over to the FBI, pending possible court litigation.

Wallace then asked Gov. Faubus why he had not ordered the Arkansas Guard to protect the African-American children and enable them to enter the schools, rather than prevent their entry.  Faubus replied that “the best way to prevent the violence was to remove the cause”.  Faubus pointed out that other school districts in Arkansas, the state colleges, and local transportation systems had all integrated without interference on his part because they were able to do so peacefully.  Not so Little Rock.

Faubus stated, “malice, envy, hate is deplorable, in any place or in any circumstances, but as President Eisenhower has said himself, you can’t change the hearts of people by law . . . all I’ve ever asked for, is some time for the situation to change for it to become acceptable, so that there would not be disorder and violence.  If [integration] is right, it will come about.  So, why should we be so impatient as to want to force it, because force begets force, hate begets hate, malice begets malice.”

Faubus also proclaimed his belief that “some of the finest citizens we have in Arkansas are Negro citizens and many of them have most responsible positions and they carry them out with credit to themselves and the State and the Nation and the citizenry as a whole.  I believe that each person should be judged upon his individual merits and that it should not apply to races, or classes or groups.”

Image Credit: Burt Glinn/Magnum Photos

September 13, 1957 – The Kalmikoffs Win in Buffalo

Dastardly Ivan and Karol at work.

On September 13, 1957, Ivan and Karol Kalmikoff defeated Vic Christy and Sammy Berg in a National Wrestling Alliance event at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, New York.  The Kalmikoffs tag team – a team of fictitious Soviet brothers consisting of Ivan (Edward Bruce, native son of Detroit, Michigan), and Karol (Karol Piwoworczyk, hailing from Tulsa, Oklahoma) – were very successful in the mid-50s, having begun their sweaty grappling career in 1953 in Amarillo, Texas.  Two other “brothers” participated occasionally: Nikita (Nikita Mulkovich) and Stan or Igor (Eric Pomeroy).

Populated by wild characters with quirky gimmicks, partly athletic event but wholly staged entertainment, professional wrestling featured clearly defined heroes and villains who episodically portrayed the alternating triumph of the forces of good or evil in (and frequently out) of a canvas-floored ring.  What great fun – and how vicariously cathartic – to boo the Communist Red menace Kalmikoffs while the Cold War raged.

Television fueled the popularity of professional wrestling as each of the major networks broadcast the colorful, inexpensive-to-produce matches.  As a result, the ’50s became the “Golden Age” for the pseudo-sport.

Image Credit: Online World of Wrestling

September 8, 1957 – Pope Pius XII on the New Media, a “Wonderful Invention”

His Holiness Pope Pius XII

On September 8, 1957, Pope Pius XII issued the 39th of his 41 encyclicals, or circular letters, on that cultural doppelganger, the media.  At the age of 81 and midway through year eighteen of his almost twenty-year pontificate, Pius XII saw the need to give direction to church authorities and the Catholic faithful about motion pictures, radio and television – technologies that were entirely new creations during his lifetime.  Miranda Prorsus, which is Latin for “wonderful invention,” begins by claiming that television, movies, and radio “spring from human intelligence and industry,” but “are nevertheless gifts from God, Our Creator, from Whom all good gifts proceed.”  His Holiness continued with his reasons for writing his letter:

“Just as very great advantages can arise from the wonderful advances which have been made in our day, in technical knowledge concerning Motion Pictures, Radio and Television, so too can very great dangers.

“For these new possessions and new instruments which are within almost everyone’s grasp, introduce a most powerful influence into men’s minds, both because they can flood them with light, raise them to nobility, adorn them with beauty, and because they can disfigure them by dimming their lustre,  dishonour them by a process of corruption, and make them subject to uncontrolled passions, according as the subjects presented to the senses in these shows are praiseworthy or reprehensible.

“In the past century, advancing technical skill in the field of business frequently had this result: machines, which ought to serve men, when brought into use, rather reduced them to a state of slavery and caused grievous harm.  Likewise today, unless the mounting development of technical skill, applied to the diffusion of pictures, sounds and ideas, is subjected to the sweet yoke of the law of Christ, it can be the source of countless evils, which appear to be all the more serious, because not only material forces but also the mind are unhappily enslaved, and man’s inventions are, to that extent, deprived of those advantages which, in the design of God’s Providence, ought to be their primary purpose.”

Pius went on to declare that the Church had the sacred right and duty to further its mission to sanctify souls by using the new media to spread truth and virtue.  He acknowledged that governments had the responsibility to spread news and teachings for the common good of society.  Individual citizens could also use media to enrich their own and others’ intellectual and spiritual culture.  But Pius denounced people who used these new avenues of communication “exclusively for the advancement and propagation of political measures or to achieve economic ends,” or for anything “contrary to sound morals” that would put souls in danger.

Following specific sections addressed to both makers and consumers of television shows, movies, and radio programs, Pope Pius XII entrusted his new precepts and instructions to the Pontifical Commission for Motion Pictures, Radio and Television.  He expressed his “firm confidence in the ultimate triumph of God’s cause” and imparted his Apostolic Benediction on all within the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

Image Credit: The Vatican

Vintage 1957 – A Comedy Revolution

 

In the 1950s, stand-up comedy went through something of a revolution. In broad outline, comedy of the 1930s most often took the form of physical slapstick in the movies – think the Marx Brothers, Abbot & Costello, etc. In the 1940s, the rising popularity of radio broadcasts ushered in less physical and more verbal comedy. Bob Hope, Jack Benny, George Burns & Gracie Allen, and Henny Youngman all perfected the art of one-liners, story gags, and “groaners” (“I just flew in from St. Louis . . . and boy are my arms tired!” or “Take my wife . . . please!”).

Comedy in the 1950s turned topical. Journalist and author Gerald Nachman, who covered entertainment news for the New York Post, the Oakland Tribune, the New York Daily News, and the San Francisco Chronicle, shines a light on the shift in his 2009 book, Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s. Nachman provides detailed biographies of 26 comedians, including Woody Allen, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, and Steve Allen. Politics, sex, race relations, drugs, self-angst, pop media and celebrity, all were suddenly fair game for public airing, often in satirical or cynical ways.

How does comedy work? What makes us laugh?

Laughter can be cathartic. It can lighten our spirits in difficult times. The Great Depression and World War II of the 1930s and 1940s were dark times. People looked to comedy for relief from anxiety and despair.

But laughter also serves as a leveler. It can burst bubbles and open eyes, providing a wake-up call for others or for ourselves. It can be a subtle instrument or sharp weapon against complacency, pretension, self-absorption, mindless conformity, and attitudes of superiority and arrogance. It can slip in “under the radar” to powerfully say, “Take a look at yourself and your culture.”

The comedians of the 1950s – subtle or blunt – had new, sometimes uncomfortable things to say. And they were heard.

Image Credits: ABC Films; NBC Television; New York World-Telegram & Sun; Towpilot; Rollins & Joffe; Allan Warren; AP; Concord Jazz