Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Cultural Archeologist

By Mitchell

One of the pleasures of cultural archeology is that you never know what you’re going to run across next. Case in point.

  • Does anyone out there remember the Swedish-American actress Inger Stevens? She was a very attractive television star of the 1960s, probably best known for her series The Farmer's Daughter. I've run across Inger Stevens three times in the last week: first, on a tape I was editing of an apperance on the old TV game show Password. She pops up again in a DVD I recent obtained covering ABC's coverage of the assassination of JFK, in a promo for The Farmer's Daughter, which was the last commercial anyone would see on ABC for the next four days.

    In the article, Stevens, then 28, is asked by the interviewer Robert De Roos if she wanted to get married. “Yah, very much,” she said.” [Yes, she did talk that way!] “I love men. But I think it would be unfair to get married when I’m tied up with the series. I’ve no time for a husband.”

    What’s ironic about this comment is that at the very time she issued it, she was married – to actor Ike Jones, who happened to be black – and had been since 1961 (they remained secretly married until her death). It reminds us again of how times have changed – often, marriage was seen as a liability for an attractive young actress whom the moguls hoped would have the right kind of sex appeal to the audience. Add to that the explosive connotations of interracial marriage in the early 1960s, and, as Paul Harvey would say, now you know the rest of the story.

    Knowing how that story ends, one searches the interview for some hint, some clue as to what was to come. She’s interested in working with children, she says. She doubts acting is all there is to life: “I like acting and I’m not knocking the theater. It’s just that I don’t know whether acting is the way I ought to spend my life.” As for the rest of that life, which at this point has less than seven years to run: “I’m working so hard I feel I’m wasting time. … When I lie down at the end of the road, I’ll want to have left something behind – even if it is just having helped one other person. I would like to utilize myself to the best possible advantage.” One wonders what went through her mind in those last moments of life – did she feel she’d left anything behind at all?

  • In the same issue of TV Guide we also have a reminder of how much sports on TV have changed, with a closeup of the opening game of the 1963 World Series, between the Dodgers and the Yankees. Nothing particularly new there, except for the starting time: noon (11:00 Central time) on Wednesday, October 2. In an age where nighttime Series games played in the shadow of Halloween seldom finish before midnight, the thought of a game starting at noon (regular afternoon programming scheduled to resume at 2:30 p.m.) on a crisp autumn day is almost unthinkable. Is there anyone out there who can even remember such a time, except us?

  • And just to demonstrate that you really never do know what you’re going to run across, there’s this program listing for Monday, September 30 – a new game show, hosted by Merv Griffin, called “Word for Word.” The premise: a “word game, played like anagrams. The contestant who accumulates the most words in a best two-out-of-three series is then pitted against the electronic Word-Ometer.” Merv created as well as hosted this short-lived game show, and one can almost imagine him thinking, “hmm, that anagram word game didn’t go over so well. But I still like the word idea – hey, what about a game based on hangman?” The rest, of course, is history…


  1. The 1963 World Series was in a time, too, when the problem with West Coast audiences was not a problem because of how television contracts were written.

    The West Coast teams were the ones who couldn't stand 9 AM games, and in 1971 Major League Baseball noted the concerns of having 9 AM starts to World Series games and decided night games were the way to go, to please the West Coast audiences to have mid-afternoon games.

    That's why Monday Night Football games always started at 9 PM ET -- to get the 6 PM PT starts as to not cause massive damage for affiliates. The move to cable allowed the NFL to push forward the start 30 minutes to 8:30 PM ET, but that affects West Coast markets. Because of an NFL rule requiring local markets to get the game by syndicated package from the NFL and the teams and not by the national cable provider, that cuts into the affiliate's newscast. That led to an incident September 11, 2006 in San Diego, CA, when Part 2 of "The Path to 9/11" was aired five days after the rest of the nation saw it. The ABC affiliate in San Diego holds the NFL's syndicated package for Chargers games on cable.

    It seems today sports has caved to the West Coast audiences, and today, the West Coast audience, not the East Coast audience, matters when it comes to television. All times listed are in Pacific Time.

    All World Series games (except weekend games) start at 5:35 PM. Saturday and Sunday games must start around 4:30 PM. With the new 2007 format cutting the Series to just one weekend, the Series needs to go to a top seed gets home field rule.

    The Super Bowl starts at 3:30 PM.

  2. Mitchell: Perusing old TV Guide's again? It is a hoot, isn't it?

    Inger Stevens was in a lot of TV shows, but I remember her best from Hang 'em High which I just saw on satellite TV not all that long ago. Her life was very sad.

  3. Yes, Cathy, I admit I've been in the TV Guide's again! It's getting harder to find dealers to buy them from, though!

    It is very sad about Inger Stevens - she was a striking worman. It's difficult watching stars like that sometimes, knowing how their lives are going to turn out, hoping that somehow the real story will be different. Hang 'em High was a great movie.

    Congrats on this last weekend, by the way!



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