Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mag Rack #2: Shocking Secrets of America's Favorite TV Shows of the '50s and '60s

Will you lose what little respect you had for me if I told you I bought this "Globe Collector's Issue" at the bookstore? Will it help if I told you I used a gift card?

Hey, I couldn't resist. It's classic TV, it's tabloid, it's glossy, and it has a picture of Ralph and Alice Kramden (along with many other icons of the medium) on the cover. I figured I'd gamble a virtual 6 bucks and take home the thin but spiffy-looking mag.

The 80-some pages go by quickly. Each show gets maybe a few pages at most, many a page or even half a page, and the photos are so big that you don't really get a lot of substance here. I know, I know, we're talking about a publication of that mass-market tabloid "The Globe." But still, while I'm not expecting a dissertation on each show's impact on popular culture by Professor Robert J. Thompson, it would be nice to get a little more content.

Those photos are purty, but I don't think there are a lot of new or rare shots here. Many entries are illustrated with the same publicity pics we've seen for decades. There are some nice extras, though. For example, while the "Honeymooners" section offers that same shot of the 4 Classic 39 cast members poking their heads through the windows of a Gotham bus, then the standard still of the 4 in the Kramdens' apartment (you'd know it if you saw it), it also features a rarer black-and-white pic of a Lost Episode segment with Pert  Kelton as Alice, plus a behind-the-pic glimpse of Art Carney rehearsing a "Twilight Zone" appearance. And of course, this being a tabloid pub, you get a few unflattering shots of stars as they looked years later or as they look today.

Let's talk about these scandals, though: Are they really Shocking and Secret? Much of the gossip in this mag is old news to anyone who has followed the tabloids for years or who has more than a surface knowledge of TV history. Yet there is something to be said for having all of it in one place. We get stories about alcoholism, behind-the-scenes squabbles, and affairs. Sometimes the writers have to strain to come up with anything remotely scandalous, as with "My Favorite Martian," which gets a short entry that basically says Ray Walston resented being known for the role. Big whoop, right?

There are some things here that surprise me, like Jane Kean saying in her recent memoir that Ed Sullivan raped her when she was 17. If I ever heard that one before, I blocked it out. Nor did I know or particularly want to that Edd Byrnes once had a threesome that involved Roger Moore. Aw, who am I kidding? I bought this thing, didn't I? I also didn't know that Clint Walker claimed to have seen a UFO. No, he didn't claim he had sex with an alien. Not everything in here is salacious.

Some of it just sad, really. Even though this publication is a slim time-passer, I sometimes wish it went a little deeper. For example, one of the big controversies for which I don't think we have a definitive answer is the saga of "Make Room for Daddy" and why star Danny Thomas canned first-season wife Jean Hagen and replaced her with Marjorie Lord. This mag mentions the change and Hagen's struggles in her personal life, but only says that she quit the show and was killed off. Gossip I've seen over the years indicates that Thomas went so far as to try to prevent Hagen episodes from being seen again, and I've also seen interesting speculation as to why he would do that. But "The Globe" doesn't address that at all.

The focus here is more on personal lives than on those kind of creative issues, and I'd love to see some of those kinds of mysteries explored somewhere. However, for 6 bucks, this is a pretty good summary of dirt from the Golden Age of Television, and while you get a lot of the usual suspects (George Reeves, Adam West and Burt Ward, Lucy and Desi), between the regular entries and a short catch-all section of paragraphs at the end, you also see info about Steve Allen, Lawrence Welk, "Wagon Train," and "Julia." So it's a pretty good cross-section of 50's and 60's TV. I'd buy another one of these things without shame. Well, not too much shame. I might not brag about it here, but I might well buy it, read it quickly, and enjoy it.

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