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An Interesting Example of the Anthology Series of the 1950s and Early 1960s
It is really rare when a middle aged man can recall what he was doing nearly half a century earlier on a particular day when he was only 6. On September 17, 1961 my family went (it was a Sunday) upstate to West Point, where we visited the military academy and museum. When we returned that night to Queens, I was anxious that we get home by a certain time - I wanted to see a new program. It was THE DUPONT SHOW OF THE WEEK, a new anthology series. And the first episode was a history of American humor, with a narration by George Burns. I recall some parts of it - there was a silent film clip of Weber and Fields among other bits (not, interestingly enough, their verbal scene in "Lilian Russell"). Whether Burns wrote his narration I can't tell. Probably not, but his delivery was perfect. I keep wondering if the show's impact was really big, because a few years later there was a kind of reference to it on the original "Dick Van Dyke Show" when Rob Petrie gets involved with a television special about American humor. I remember that the old tune "Pony Boy" was used as background music - especially when showing Will Rogers. The episode was rerun in the summer of 1962.
I don't remember if my family watched the show consistently. Probably not. But looking at the casts of the show I can't avoid noting how many great stars appeared (some close to the end of their lives) on it. Claude Rains, Franchot Tone, Brian Donleavy, Greer Garson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. all appeared in episodes. How good these were I can't recall, because I don't remember watching them all.
A few stand in my mind. It was the age of "Car 54 Where Are You?", and I watched (June 24, 1962) Fred Gwynne and Joe E. Ross (with Jayne Meadows) in a one hour version of George M. Cohan's comedy SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE. I know I thought it was amusing, but I only recall Ross as a crooked (and dumb) police chief, planning to run off with stolen money to Montreal (and asking a surprised Gwynne how to spell Montreal). My memories of two other comedies is stronger.
JEREMY RABBIT, THE SECRET AVENGER (April 5, 1965) was a play about Mr. Rabbit, a foe of the crime syndicate, who goes after it's leaders (Jim Bacchus, Brian Donleavy, Walter Matthau, and Carolyn Jones), who have been stonewalling a government investigation (like the Kefauver hearings) under Franchot Tone. Each of these criminals has a weakness. Donleavy (known as "Cheese") has the world's most perfect dentures, which he takes thoroughly good care of. He's electrocuted with his new electric tooth brush. Matthau, a golf enthusiast, is blown up by an exploding golf ball. Jones, a vain mob moll (a la Virginia Hill) is having a mud pack which turns out to be not mud but quick drying cement. Bacchus, a hypochondriac, is poisoned (with his bodyguard) at the conclusion. Each time Rabbit (Frank Gorshin) is the killer - using one of his disguises. In the conclusion he is assisted by his next door neighbor who loves him (Jennifer West).
The last one I recall was THE MISSING BANK OF RUPERT X. HUMPERDINK, with Gerald Hiken and John McGiver. McGiver is having business and wife problems. But he has a way out. Years before, when on a toot, he put a huge of money in a bank in a small Midwestern town under an assumed name. Problem is he can't recall, although he knows the town, the name he used. It turns out to be Rupert X. Humperdink, but the account (lying dormant and growing over the years with interest) has been used by Hiken, a bank employee, as a source for cash that is needed by poor people in the town. McGiver's arrival in the town is the signal for problems for Hiken (but will McGiver manage to get the remnant of the cash before his wife, Meg Myles, shows up - or before the IRS shows up?).
As you can see the show was a grab bag, and (perhaps if seen today) would not be as good as my youthful memories suggest. But it has to have some reasonably interesting moments in it's different episodes. Certainly the first one about American Comedy, or the one on March 18, 1962 (narrated by Edward G. Robinson) about criminals in the 1920s and 1930s, might be worth another look. Perhaps these episodes still exist somewhere. If so, maybe it is time to release them again.
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