Do you ever wonder how the TV moguls handled the television day back in the fifties? Probably not. But, I'm going to tell you anyway. This was a time of broadcast TV only---and often a limited amount of that, since the stations went off the air at late night with the ever-present test pattern to drone in our sleepy ears. As most were, our TV set was a black and white contraption, FADA by name, gold mine by nature to the repairman. I can only remember that one TV throughout my childhood. While color TV was ostensibly available, like the space shuttle it was beyond the means of most viewers. Besides, the number of color presentations was miniscule.
Since the date I've chosen from the TV Guide is Wednesday, December 28th, 1955, I'd have been home on Christmas vacation from grammar school. It had been a snowless Christmas, according to my old photos. So, it may have been cold, but the ground was bare. Anyway, what fun would snow have been then? School couldn't have been called off because we were all on vacation. Kid's logic. Save the snowstorms for school days.
I don't remember what I received for Christmas that year, but I'd have been watching television even if I was doing something else at the same time. I've always liked the combination. At 10 am, I would watch 'Garry Moore'. It was opposite 'Ding Dong School', but I was ten and no longer needed Miss Frances. 'Arthur Godfrey' against 'Ernie Kovacs' at 10:30 was no contest. Ernie was among my favorites, especially with his 'Nairobi Trio' skits. At 11 am, I'd have to turn the thing off because I wasn't interested in 'Home and Women's News,' 'Janet Dean', or the 'Romper Room'---though beginning at 11:15 I could watch 'Life With Elizabeth', 'Beulah', and 'Mr and Mrs North.' These latter three were 15 minute shows [about the length of one of today's commercials], bringing us to noon.
My favorite at-home lunch was Campbell's Tomato Soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Salty fare for sure, but very tasty. Nothing on television could keep me away from the aromatic kitchen table, although on rare occasions Mom let me take the meal into the living room. But this being Christmas, I probably enjoyed turkey sandwiches and cold stuffing---on fresh hard rolls if possible. I was never a fan of stuffing sandwiches because it seemed somewhat redundant [I didn't really understand the word at that time] and too bready.
Noon was the traditional start to the Soap Opera Day, this time with 'Valiant Lady.' Competition included 'Tennessee Ernie', 'Merry Mailman' [also past my years], The Christophers [a ubiquitous religious show], and the 'Coffee Club.' 'Love of Life', another soap, checked in at 12:15. Then at 12:30, the soap 'Guiding Light' aired. Soaps were rather short at the time, most being just fifteen minutes---barely enough time for a TV kiss these days.
'Jack Paar' arrived at 1 pm with his variety show. There wasn't much shown against him: 'Food for Thought' [not cooking], Nancy's Kitchen, and a couple of old movies. 'Love Story' at 1:30 was an interview show. Then, a game show, and two movies ['The Bunker' and 'Ramrod'.] At 2 pm, we move on to 'Robert Q Lewis', a 'Richard Willis' beauty show and some more movies ['Dr Mac', 'The Stars Don't Shine', and 'Road to Alcatraz.']
'Art Linkletter's House Party' meandered in at 2:30 against 'Jinx's Diary' [Jinx Falkenburg's fashion], 'Maggie McNellis' [today: modern French furniture], another film ['Some Small Nobility'], and the musical 'Florian ZaBach' show, this day with 'Glow Worm', 'Last Round-Up', 'April in Portugal', and 'Danny Boy.' 3 pm announced itself as it did when school would naturally be in session. 'The Big Payoff' quiz show, 'Matinee Theater', another movie ['Trouble Preferred'], and 'The Ted Steele Show', with guests Corkie Robbins and Ceil Loman. Oh, and Dione Lucas had a cooking show. At 3:30 'Bob Crosby' rolled in with 'Sixteen Tons' and 'The First Snowfall', followed by 'Window Shopper', 'Candid Camera [Alan Funt; I always thought this show was old film, but later I realized I was watching original shows], and 'Jewish Talent Unlimited.' The latter featured Able Ellstein presenting Fern Field and Bill Werbell. Short shows for the hour included 'Mr and Mrs Jewish TV' and 'Les Paul and Mary Ford.' Throw in a five minute news show.
More from the soap genre at four with 'Brighter Day' and 'Date With Life'---'Jessie hears the news and makes an angry decision.' Also at 4 pm was the 'Wendy Barrie Show', a Hopalong Cassidy western, more Ted Steele, a western with Buster Crabbe, and another movie: 'Rocketship X-M.' Soap 'Secret Storm' rolled in at 4:15, sided by 'First Love.' A quiz [On Your Account], 'World of Mr Sweeney' with Charles Ruggles, the 'Outdoor Adventure Club', and---drum roll!!---'Junior Frolics' with Uncle Fred Sayles---though I wasn't watching it regularly at the time. Age ten was almost 21, so I was leaving the kid stuff behind me. As you'll remember, 'Junior Frolics' was a cartoon calvacade led by Farmer Gray and his mice 'friends.'
The 5 pm movie was 'Diplomatic Passport' with Marsha Hunt. 'Pinky Lee' amused the younger crowd, and Ted Steele had his teenaged 'Bandstand'---Young Judeans from Kingsbridge, Bronx. Tom Tyler starred in 'Feud of the Trail', and finally we reach Annette and the 'Mickey Mouse Club.'
Mickey's Club had newsreels of water pets, horse hobbies, good shepherds and a dog's life; 'Mr Toad Car', 'Musical Farmer', and a bio of the black bear. It wasn't noted, but I think it fair to assume that Annette and Jimmy had a song or two, probably with the Club. 'Howdy Doody' signed in at 5:30. 'Howdy and Heidi discover that Doodyville has been sold to the Army. It was to be used as a site for the testing of bombs.'
At 6 pm was the news, 'Wild Bill Hickok', with Guy Madison and Andy Devine, 'Rocky Jones', 'Gene Autry', and 'Durango Valley Raiders' with Bob Steele. The Early Show [movie] was 'Heartbeat', a comedy starring Ginger Rogers. We skimmed through sports, weather, 'Looney Toons', 'Cisco Kid', 'Ramar of the Jungle', and a Roy Rogers and Dale Evans western. Hang on, folks, we're getting near prime time.
Starting at 7 pm we enjoyed a New York City special of the top ten local stories from the year, 'Kukla, Fran and Ollie', a detective movie ['Unforgotten Crime'], more news and weather, 'Les Paul and Mary Ford' again, and the ubiquitous 'Film Shorts.' The 'Brave Eagle' of Keith Larsen galloped in at 7:30 along with the 'Eddie Fisher' show ['Something's Gotta Give', 'Naughty Lady of Shady Lane', 'Love is a Many-Splendoured Thing'], a few more movies ['The Black Book' with Robert Cummings and Arlene Dahl, and 'Knight Without Armor' with Marlene Dietrich and Robert Donat], and 'Disneyland', where the viewers visited 'Tomorrowland' for 'Man in the Moon.' This was a time of only Disneyland [just opened] as a huge theme park. Disneyworld in Florida was still a dream. More news, Liberace, and the first installment of the 'Million Dollar Movie' [M$DM] followed quickly. The M$DM for the week was 'Three Husbands', starring Emlyn Williams, Eve Arden, Howard Da Silva, and Vanessa Brown. It must be noted again, that the same M$DM was shown each evening at 7:30 and 10pm, several times on Saturday and Sunday for the week. The movie was hard to miss. And if you liked it, you were like a pig in-----well, you had plenty of opportunities to watch it.
Prime Time! Prime Time! 8 pm greeted us with 'Godfrey and Friends', 'Director's Playhouse' ['Titanic Incident'], 'Cases of Scotland Yard' [The Candlelight Murder'], and 'Oral Roberts.' At 8:30, the Anderson family joined us in 'Father Knows Best.' Robert Young, Jane Wyatt, Elinor Donahue led us into that daily adventure. George Murphy [later Senator] hosted 'MGM Parade' [Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald; Robert Benchley; a Susan Hayward dramatic scene; and a few other shorts], and Jack Webb starred in 'Badge 714' with Ben Alexander, asking for 'Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts.'
Deep into prime time came 'The Millionaire', and Marvin Miller as my favorite person, Michael Anthony. He was charged with delivering $1 million checks [tax free!] to friends and neighbors and following up with the details of what happened. I'm still waiting for mine. Against that was the 'Kraft Theatre' ['Eleven O'Clock Flight' with Joanne Woodward,] 'Masquerade Party', 'China Smith' [Dan Duryea with another air drama, 'Plane to Tainan'], 'Confidential File', 'College Basketball' with Iona [my alma mater] against Springfield College. I have no idea who won. I was only ten and couldn't bet anywhere---though I found out a few years later that my barber would have been the connection I needed.
'I've Got a Secret' with Garry Moore arrived at 9:30 along with 'Break the Bank', 'Strange Stories' ['Out of the Dark'], and Broderick Crawford in 'Highway Patrol.' The former two shows didn't tell us in advance what they were about. At 10 pm, another movie studio presented itself in the '20th Century Fox Hour', this time with Cameron Mitchell, Sylvia Sidney, Vera Miles, and Alan Hale Jr [of 'Gilligan's Island' fame in the hazy future.] Ralph Edwards gave us 'This is Your Life.' The surprisee wasn't named in this TV Guide, but it was probably some unknown Hollywood technician or director. Willie Pep fought Andy Arkel in Miami, the M$DM signed in again, and Herb Philbrick [Richard Carlson] acted out another espionage instalment of 'I Led Three Lives.'
At 10:30 you could toss back a cold one and watch the 'Rheingold Theatre', tonight with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. On other channels were news, sports, and a Bill Stern interview. Eleven o'clock rolled in with the news shows, CBS and NBC at ten minutes, and Dumont at fifteen. We could also choose 'Star Showcase' [Slide, Darling, Slide'], 'Damon Runyon Theater' ['The Good-Luck Kid' with Gene Barry and Barbara Hale], a Liberace reprise, and another mystery movie ['Castle in the Desert' with Sidney Toler]. Throw in the 'Late Show' ['Gay Desperado' - Nino Martini and Ida Lupino], and 'Featurama' [a daredevil car race; a salmon's fight for life; and a Paul Killiam comedy], and we arrive at Steve Allen and the Tonight Show. His show started at 11:20 for local variety, and then became national with the 'Tonight Show' at 11:30, this time: 'exhibition by an elephant lifter and a talk with the Dartmouth College Indians; songs by Gloria Mann and Steve Lawrence.
Les Paul and Mary Ford made another appearance, and Boris Karloff starred in 'Juggernaut.' The movie, 'Four in a Jeep' and 'Evening Prayer' brought us to the finale, the 'Late Late Show', 'Riverside Murder' [time approximate] with Alistair Sim. We could 'Count Sheep' with Nancy Berg at 1 am and finish the day with the Rev Michael McLaughlin on 'Sermonette' and Father Patrick Ahern on 'Give Us This Day.'
Okay, fade to the Test Patterns until 6:50. Each one sounded like a smoke alarm that couldn't be turned off. And when you did turn the TV off, the picture disappeared slowly into a tiny point in the center of the screen.
I notice that the Reverend McLaughlin, after giving the Sermonette at 1:05 am, returned with the opening Sermonette at 6:50 am Thursday morning, December 29th. Hang in there Rev!