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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: Pre-1965, part 3 – 1961-62

Written By:

Alan Boon
Cain's Hundred, 1961

Ah, telephemera… those shows whose stay with us was tantalisingly brief, snatched away before their time, and sometimes with good cause. They hit the schedules alongside established shows, hoping for a long run, but it’s not always to be, and for every Street Hawk there’s two Manimals. But here at STARBURST we celebrate their existence and mourn their departure, drilling down into the new season’s entertainment with equal opportunities square eyes… these are The Telephemera Years!

Pre-1965, part 3: 1961-62

There’s no concrete reason why The Telephemera Years begins in 1965, except for arbitrary reasons of available content and the more solid fixed point that is the great colour transference of that year, when it was announced that half of all network programming would be broadcast in colour from the Fall 1965 season. The years before we were gifted My Mother the Car, Lost in Space, and (eventually) Batman may look thinner in terms of genre programming but there were still those hardy souls doing pioneering work in the field of the strange and the fantastic.

So, while The Beverly Hillbillies, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Wagon Train dominated the ratings, less rustic thrills could still be found dotted across the schedules, right up to a 1964 Fall season which saw The Addams Family, Bewitched, Flipper, Gilligan’s Island, Jonny Quest, The Man from UNCLE, The Munsters, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea all make their TV debuts. So sit back, pop on your slippers and light up your pipe, have the little lady bring you a little treat, and see what the pre-1965 era has in store for us…

‘Way Out (1961, CBS): The legendary Jackie Gleason was, among many other things, a UFO enthusiast and so he must have allowed himself a wry smile when CBS opted to replace his cancelled show with this anthology series, leaning heavily into the worlds of horror, fantasy, and science-fiction. As well as presenting his own talk show, producer David Susskind was tasked with finding a replacement for The Jackie Gleason Show at short notice in March 1961 and created ‘Way Out in collaboration with Roald Dahl, then known mostly for short stories for adults published in American magazines rather than acerbic children’s tales.

Dahl was generous and offered only one of his own stories for adaptation (the series opener, “William and Mary”), preferring instead to shepherd TV writers into the job, with submissions from the likes of Elliott Baker and Sumner Locke Elliott, alongside an early offering from Larry Cohen. Dahl himself hosted the show in the manner of Rod Serling on The Twilight Zone, although he initially agreed only to host the first three episodes in order to earn enough to pay for surgery needed for one of his children; he enjoyed the job so much that he agreed to stay for the planned full run of twenty-six episodes.

'Way Out, 1961

Among the stories presented by Dahl were “Dissolve to Black”, Irving Gaynor Neiman’s tale of a woman hired to play a murder victim for a TV show who finds the show becoming real, and Phil Reisman Jr’s “Soft Focus,” which starred Barry Morse as a man who finds half of his face has been erased. Morse was joined by a parade of character actors, including Constance Ford, Henry Jones, and Milton Selzer.

The show was sponsored by cigarette manufacturers Liggett and Myers, and as such featured many, many scenes of characters smoking, with Dahl himself smoking a cigarette during his introduction. The smoking was so blatant that complaints began flooding into local affiliates, accusing the network of leading their children astray (although over 40% of Americans were regular smokers), and the regional stations started to drop the show, resulting in a loss of income from the sponsor, whose contract stipulated certain levels of viewership. After fourteen episodes, income from the sponsor had fallen below the threshold needed to keep the show on air and so ‘Way Out was cancelled, its last episode going out on July 14th 1961.

Great Ghost Tales (1961, NBC): Hosted by plummy-accented radio announcer Frank Gallop, Great Ghost Tales was a Summer 1961 replacement for The Ford Show, a long-running variety showcase built around the prodigious talents of folk humourist Tennessee Ernie Ford (and was also sponsored by the Ford Motor company). The twenty-five-minute drama went out live each week, the last of its kind as the practice became increasingly rare as the 1950s turned into the 1960s, and as a result nothing but fond memories remain of the show.

The brainchild of young female producer Audrey Maas, who had cut her teeth as a story editor on NBC’s Kraft Television Theatre, Great Ghost Tales took classic stories by the likes of Algernon Blackwood, Edgar Allan Poe, and Saki, adapting them into studio-based teledramas, even if the story – such as the Canadian wilderness-set “The Wendigo” – would ordinarily require location shooting.

Great Ghost Tales, 1961

Debuting on July 6th 1961 with Poe’s “William Wilson” (the story of Robert Duvall’s titular drifter followed everywhere by a man who is his spitting image), Great Ghost Tales brought small dollops of fear to Summer Thursday nights, with subsequent terrors including monkey’s paws, compulsive singing, and a flesh-eating beast whose curse is transferred to whoever kills it. As well as Duvall, the show also gave roles to Walter Matthau, Richard Thomas, and future Oscar winner Lee Grant, with Daniel Petrie and Seymour Robbie among those taking their turns behind the camera.

Twelve episodes were produced, the last airing on September 21st 1961, and that was as much Great Ghost Tales as NBC could handle, replacing it on the schedule with domestic servant sitcom Hazel. After taking a career break in the mid-1960s, Maas returned to the business in 1974, producing Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and winning a Prime Time Emmy for shepherding TV mini-series Eleanor and Franklin onto the screen. That last award was posthumous as she sadly passed away in July 1975, at the age of thirty-eight.

Calvin and the Colonel (1961, ABC): An animated adaptation of beloved radio comedy Amos ‘n’ Andy, this prime-time animated series from producers Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher (a team who would go on to create Leave It to Beaver and The Munsters) featured the radio show’s Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll as two friends forever chasing get rich quick schemes dreamt up by the useless Calvin, a bear voiced by Correll, while Gosden’s Colonel was nearer to the character of Kingfish, for whom he also provided the voice on the radio show.

Using anthropomorphic animals avoided the racial controversy that had brought down Amos ‘n’ Andy, a show voiced by two white men but featuring a predominantly (and caricatured) black cast of characters. Several of Connelly and Mosher’s scripts for Amos ‘n’ Andy were recycled for Calvin and the Colonel, which began its run on Tuesday nights in October 1961, sponsored by the Lever company, a former backer of Gosden and Correll’s radio antics.

Calvin and the Colonel, 1961

The animation was provided by Shull Bonsall’s TV Spots studio, who had previously brought Crusader Rabbit back to screens and would go on to produce a series of shorts based on George Herriman’s Krazy Kat strip for King features, and featured a laugh track, common to other adult animated shows of the time such as The Flintstones. Early episodes saw the pair become television delivery men, attend a costume ball, and try to make it in the movies, but ratings were low and the decision was made to cancel the show after just two months and six episodes.

However, the contract with Lever called for a certain number of episodes to be broadcast and so the remaining twenty episodes were shown on Saturday nights from January 1962. Two issues of a tie-in comic book were published by Dell Comics, and the show earned a second life in re-runs on Saturday mornings, where – as long as they were kept hopped up on sugary cereals – audiences were less discriminating.

Cain’s Hundred (1961, NBC): Paul Monash was an award-winning scripter for TV shows such as Studio One and Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, and had just written and produced the pilot episodes of The Untouchables when NBC gave him room to create his own crime show, to be shown on Tuesday nights as part of a solid line-up that included Laramie and Alfred Hitchcock Presents…

Cain’s Hundred starred Peter Mark Richman in his first regular role as Nicholas Cain, a former underworld lawyer who tries to go straight after he gets engaged, much to the chagrin of his former employers. After a mob hit gone wrong kills his fiancée, Cain begins working for FBI, setting out to bring 100 criminals to justice in the name of revenge.

Cain's Hundred, 1961

For the pilot episode which established the series premise, Monash partnered with David Karp, a novelist who he’d worked with on The Untouchables, and Monash would employ many of his former show’s writers and guest actors on his new show, as well as turns from future stars Robert Culp, Gavin McLeod, and Telly Savalas, among others.

As it turned out, Cain got nowhere near his hundred, although an impressive thirty episodes were produced before NBC pulled the plug, his final case coming in May 1962 when he tried to help a reporter caught up in organised crime walk the same path he’d done. Monash went on to create Peyton Place, the first prime-time soap opera on US TV, and Judd for The Defense, before switching primarily to producer roles, adding Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Carrie, and Big Trouble in Little China to his already impressive résumé.

I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster (1962, ABC): Although he’s primarily known as Gomez Addams (or even The Riddler) for those genre TV fans in Generation X and after, John Astin had already turned heads in TV land before he donned the pinstriped suit and pencil moustache in 1964. After guest roles in top-rating shows such as Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, and Ben Casey, Astin landed the role of Harry Dickens, one half of a pair of inept carpenters with Marty Ingels’s Arch Fenster.

Ingels had also started with guest roles before being given his first starring role alongside Astin, having popped up on The Phil Silvers Show, The Detectives, and The Dick van Dyke Show, and the two had immediate comical chemistry, bringing the mostly physical comedy of creator Leonard Stern to life. Stern – one of the men who created the Mad Libs game – made his name writing for Silvers, Abbott and Costello, and The Honeymooners, but I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster was his first solo effort, also acting as producer and (occasional) director on the show.

I'm Dickens, He's Fenster, 1962

ABC gave it a prime slot on Friday nights with The Flintstones as a lead-in, and the first episode aired on September 28th 1962, with Harry inveigling his way into a job as a foreman on a construction project. The supporting cast included Emmaline Henry as Dicken’s wife, Kate, a character who was notable for being the first wife on TV to have a job of her own (at a hospital), with a series of guest stars as Fenster’s latest girlfriend that included Yvonne Craig and Lee Merriwether.

Critical response to the show was positive, with some reviewers favourably comparing I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster to Laurel and Hardy. Indeed, Stern claimed that Stan Laurel wrote him a fan letter proclaiming the show as the only one he watched on TV. In terms of ratings, however, the show fared poorly against Route 66 on CBS and was cancelled after one season of thirty-two episodes. Ironically, by the time the completed episodes had finished airing, I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster was winning its timeslot but it was too late to bring back Astin and Ingels, who’d moved on to other things.

Next time on The Telephemera Years: Our final stop on this pre-1965 express checks in with Arrest and Trial, Astro Boy, and the only genre failure of the Fall 1964 season!

Check out our other Telephemera articles:

The Telephemera Years: pre-1965 (part 1, 2)

The Telephemera Years: 1966 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1967 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1968 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1969 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1971 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1973 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1975 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1977 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1978 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1980 (part 12, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1982 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1984 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1986 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1987 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1989 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1990 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1992 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1995 (part 12, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1997 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1998 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2000 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2003 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2005 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2006 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2008 (part 1, 23, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Irwin Allen

Titans of Telephemera: Stephen J Cannell (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: DIC (part 1, 2)

Titans of Telephemera: Hanna-Barbera (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Titans of Telephemera: Kenneth Johnson

Titans of Telephemera: Sid & Marty Krofft

Titans of Telephemera: Glen A Larson (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Quinn Martin (part 1, 2)

Titans of Telephemera: Ruby-Spears


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