When F Troop made the cover of TV Guide for the first time on December 11-17, 1965, the show was riding high. Three months into the 1965-66 season, it was ABC's biggest new hit despite a difficult time slot, giving top-billed Forrest Tucker his signature television role.
The show was front and center on TV Guide a second time during summer reruns eight months later, with Tuck's co-star Larry Storch being the subject of the feature article for the August 13-19, 1966 issue. (Yes, I will be profiling that one, too, when we get to its 50th Anniversary later this summer.) The ratings stayed steady through a transition to color and a new night and time in 1966-67, and the Fort Courage foul-ups made TV Guide's cover a third time, 49 years ago this week:
Unfortunately, this feature story was a bittersweet one for the show's fans. Despite solid ratings in its sophomore season, studio politics and a pending merger with Seven Arts at Warner Brothers ended F TROOP after 65 episodes and two seasons.
The feature article accompanying F Troop's third and final TV Guide cover is a heartfelt tribute to "one of the funniest ideas to have hit television in years" by frequent TV Guide contributor Ronald Searle. Of course, the British satirist and artist did the illustration of Berry, Tucker and Storch you see above, along with three more Searle classics that accompanied the three page article (see the next two pictures below).
Searle drolly calls F Troop a "virtual on-the-spot portrait of frontier life as it was lived in everyday terms" and describes meeting (well, maybe) Wild Eagle himself--coming away with an autographed souvenir scalp. Not as much information on the show as the previous cover stories on Tucker and Storch (save for de Kova's claim to have done "the only Shakespearean Indian role in the business") but Searle's wonderful tribute is still a must-read if you're an F Troop fan. The long-time (1965-1990) contributor to the best-known television weekly on this side of the pond clearly would have welcomed a third season as much as anyone. Searle wasn't alone: like its spiritual predecessor The Phil Silvers Show, F Troop quickly gained a significant following in the U.K., re-running continuously on ITV from 1968 to 1974.)
In the same issue that British freelancer Searle pays tribute to an American television classic, U.S. correspondent Robert Musel is far less kind to British TV. Musel's It Isn't Just Cricket! goes so far as to say that British TV needs a "healthy counterblast" to such pieces as the BBC's examination via 24 Hours: "How Corrupt is America?" Musel's piece is as serious as Searle's is humorous; his list of grievances can be summed up by his early statement that "the picture of life in America conjured up by the average Briton by what he sees on his screen is more caricature than portrait". It would be interesting to see the news programs cited; maybe if Musel had been watching The Avengers, The Saint or The Prisoner instead of gotcha journalism (nothing new under the sun, eh?) he would have found more to like.
Should have been available to him, since New York-born Musel was a UPI journalist based in London for many years. Musel wasn't a writer to be easily dismissed: his career dated back to the Lindbergh kidnapping case. A songwriter ("Band of Gold") as well, he died in 1999 at age 90.
It's apparently an issue of the recently cancelled, as Robert Loggia of T.H.E. Cat is the subject of the two page article that follows. Loggia's show lasted a single season, perishing opposite the CBS Friday Night Movies and failing to make the year's top 70. (It had ranked # 68 out of 91 shows at midseason.) Cut-Ups examines Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat's fencing talents, with the background on Loggia's abilities (he learned at the same time he was studying acting under Stella Adler) and offering a little credit to Loggia's double, stunt coordinator Paul Baxley.
Next up is an article that yours truly has a complaint with. Diahann Carroll up next for four pages, and we get one picture.
Three pics of Mr. Loggia and one of Ms. Carroll? I have a lot of respect for both performers, but come on, we all know who's easier on the eyes! Jeez....
The issue of race looms large throughout Edith Efron's profile, with the article's era is given away in the third paragraph: "she is a Negro first and Diahann Carroll second". By 1967 she was already a thirteen year show business veteran with a Tony award (for 1962's No Strings) and was just a season away from becoming one of TV's most popular stars in NBC's Julia. Carroll's first marriage to Monte Kay is covered; she declines to discuss the affair with Sidney Poitier that (in part) ended it. A half century later, the Television Academy Hall of Fame inductee (2011) is still going strong at 81.
Before I continue, I'd rather not make the same mistake they made in this issue. Here's a second pic of Diahann Carroll in 1967:
Next up, Melvin Durslag's How to Elbow Your Way into Television is about the latest jock-turned-broadcaster, recently retired Dodger great Sandy Koufax, whose career came to an abrupt end after the 1966 season due to elbow problems. Koufax was signed to a ten year contract by NBC. While announcing didn't come naturally to the Hall of Fame pitcher, he did end up staying on until 1973.
The next article is a nice read for us Dobie Gillis fans. It's written by Zelda Gilroy herself, Sheila James. The First Minute Hurts details her adventures in auditioning for commercials, with one breakfast ad and a ubiquitous bowl of mush getting the bulk of the attention. James was 26 and had been a regular on The Stu Erwin Show and (just two seasons earlier) Broadside in addition to her four year run as Zelda, but her acting career was winding down. She had guest starred on a January episode of The Beverly Hillbillies (Paul Henning had hired her multiple times for that series and Love That Bob) but only has a half dozen TV credits to her name since, the last being the 1988 reunion Bring Me The Head of Dobie Gillis.
|James with Hickman on a May 1962 cover|
Taking a brief jab at Governor Reagan in her article, James (now known as Sheila James Kuehl) hinted at her future career (and party). She attained her law degree at Harvard in 1978 and went into politics in 1994, serving six years in the California State Assembly and eight more in the state Senate. At 75, the Tulsa, Oklahoma native is still at it, in her first term as a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Two decades apiece in acting, law and politics; like her co-star Dwayne Hickman, she's led many lives.
Stephen Strimpnell of Mr. Terrific is the subject of the final article, giving this issue three recently cancelled article subjects, including the season's two highest-rated shows to be cancelled. Mr. Terrific ranked 36th at season's end, (F Troop was 40th), improving on the show it replaced, Run, Buddy, Run (# 62 with a 27 share). The season-ending numbers don't tell the whole story: Mr. Terrific was a midseason replacement with only 13 episodes aired, and the premiere ranking # 13 for the week. It fell out of the top 50 completely by its third segment, never to return, so the high initial rating was considered a fluke by CBS.
Strimpnell originally auditioned for the "cross-town rival", NBC's Captain Nice. That role was won by William Daniels, but Strimpnell had the last laugh in the ratings. Well, sort of--both shows lasted only half a season. Despite the demise of Mr. Terrific, Strimpnell has few complaints: the young (27) actor is living his dream. A former teacher at Uta Hagen's H.B. Studio and a graduate of Columbia Law School, Strimpnell finds his current situation "amazing and wonderful, gratifying to the senses".
Dwight Whitney's profile of "the child prodigy who grew up to be Mr. Terrific", also gives stunt double Chuck Courtney a little recognition and director Arthur Lubin is also quoted. While Strimpnell would stay active in the business for the next two decades (including roles in ALL THAT JAZZ and FITZWILLY), Mr. Terrific would remain his best remembered role by far. He died in 2006.
Moving to the listings, it's summer rerun time, but we still see the premiere of a legendary cult classic with a production history that might be even more interesting than the show itself. Coronet Blue premiered on Monday, May 29, 1967. As the Close-Up above notes, Coronet Blue was originally intended for the 1965-66 season, but CBS shelved it, deciding to burn off 11 of the 13 episodes produced two years later. Surprisingly, the show caught on despite airing opposite Run For Your Life and The Big Valley. By the summer of '67, continuing it was not an option: star Frank Converse already had a new series, N.Y.P.D. on ABC for the upcoming 1967-68 season. (It was a modest success; co-starring the great Jack Warden, it lasted until 1969.)
While Converse didn't get a chance to reprise the role of Michael Alden--or at least, hasn't to date--he did have the cult favorite Movin' On in his future as well. Paul Bogart directed the series premiere. A detailed history of the series and its long, strange journey to the airwaves can be found at the always fascinating Television Obscurities blog.
On Friday night, the upcoming fifth installment of the James Bond franchise (YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) warrants a special on NBC, pre-empting The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Other listings tidbits:
Joanne Dru is one of the Hollywood Squares this week; her brother Peter Marshall is the host, of course. Other Squares: Marty Allen, Steve Rossi, Vincent Price, Eva Gabor and Michael Landon;
Crooner Julius La Rosa (from the various Arthur Godfrey shows, at least until his "swan song" in October 1953) alongside country comics Homer and Jethro on Friday's Mike Douglas Show; La Rosa actually is in for the entire week. His public firing by Godfrey was still mentioned in the headlines of his obituaries after his passing on May 12, overshadowing several major hits including Eh, Cumpari and Anywhere I Wander. R.I.P.
What of F Troop itself? Forrest Tucker gets his chance to shine in a dual role, playing both Sergeant O'Rourke and father Angus in Did Your Father Come From Ireland? Thursday night at 8 PM.
In the "Letters" section, the May 6 John Banner article brought a thumbs-down from a reader. Yes, controversy over Hogan's Heroes was nothing new even then. One reason you might find the letter interesting--it's written by a very familiar name:
Allan S. Manings was married to Whitney Blake (Hazel) and the two of them co-created One Day At a Time in 1975. In the more immediate future, he was months away from a long run writing for Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Manings (1924-2010) won an Emmy for the latter; he also produced Good Times from 1975-1977.
Yes, I did these out of order, but the in-between issue is still coming up in August, when we will visit the world of the legendary Larry Storch. Until then, It's About TV can satisfy your TV Guide fix on a weekly basis, taking an in-depth look at a vintage issue every Saturday.