Looking Back Sept. 23, 2012

Each week Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or mary.braswell@albanyherald.com.

It is difficult to view any television channel this time of year without seeing previews for new shows premiering soon. September in the 1960s was the beginning of many popular shows, often still seen in syndication. Here are a just few of them.

Doctor Kildare (1960 - 1966)

• This program followed the dramatic relationship between a young medical intern (Richard Chamberlain as Dr. James Kildare) and his surgeon mentor ( Raymond Massey as Dr. Leonard Gillespie).

• Over 30 actors auditioned for the lead role with William Shatner the eventual winner, though he then declined it. James Franciscus was also offered the role but had committed himself to another (eventually unmade) series at the time.

• Massey and Chamberlain appeared in all 191 episodes.

• Guest appearances included: Lee Meriwether (8 episodes), Leslie Nielson (9 episodes), William Shatner (7 episodes), Jack Nicholson (4 episodes), Fred Astaire (4 episodes), James Earl Jones (4 episodes) and Harry Morgan (3 episodes).

• Before television, Dr. Kildare was the primary character in a series of theatrical films in the late 1930s and early 1940s and an early 1950s radio series. The character was created by the author Frederick Schiller Faust, under the pen name Max Brand.

• Dell’s comic book based on the television show lasted nine issues from 1962 to 1965.

The Jetsons (1962-1963 / 1985-1987)

• With the success of The Flintstones, the modern Stone Age family, Hanna-Barbera decided to make a similar family cartoon, but set in their vision of the Space Age in the 21st century. This new series that debuted September 23, 1962 became The Jetsons.

• Set mainly in sky-high Orbit City, the show featured the family of George Jetson, Jane, his wife, their daughter Judy, and son Elroy, along with the family dog, Astro, living the average life in the future with flying space cars, instant transport tubes, and various robots and gadgets than could get their work done in a matter of seconds.

• George brought in the family income by working at Spacely Space Sprockets, run by his stocky, ill-tempered boss Cosmo S. Spacely. Often fired but always rehired, George slaved away two days a week, one hour a day on the job.

• The family’s robot maid Rosie was one of the older-fashioned models compared to most of the advanced robot maids of the future, but the Jetsons loved her and regarded her as a member of the family.

• The show, set in 2062, 100 years in the future, originally aired in primetime from 1962–1963 and again from 1985–1987.

• After the announcement of the fall 1962 network television schedule Time magazine characterized “The Jetsons” as one of several new situation comedies (along with “The Beverly Hillbillies”) that was “stretching further than ever for their situations”

• Some of the show’s characters appeared in commercials for Electrasol and Tums. In the late 1990s, George, Jane, and Astro appeared in Christmas Radio Shack commercials. Judy, Elroy and Rosie were mentioned.

The Munsters (1964-1966)

• The Munsters aired at night once a week in black-and-white on the CBS from September 24, 1964 to May 12, 1966, for 70 episodes.

• The family: Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne), Lily Munster (Yvonne De Carlo), Grandpa (Al Lewis), Eddie Munster (Butch Patrick) and Marilyn Munster (Beverley Owen (ep. 1–13) / Pat Priest (ep. 14–70).

• The costumes and appearances of the family members other than Marilyn were based on the classic monsters of Universal Studios films from the 1930s and 1940s. Universal produced The Munsters as well, and was thus able to use these copyrighted designs, including their version of Frankenstein’s monster for Herman.

• The show was produced by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, already known for creating the “Leave It to Beaver” series. Prior to that, they wrote over 1,500 episodes of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” for network radio.

• George Barris built two automobiles for the show: “Munster Koach”, a hot rod built on a lengthened 1926 Ford Model T chassis with a custom hearse body. It was 18 feet long and cost almost $20,000 to build. Barris also built the DRAG-U-LA, a dragster built from a coffin.

• In 1964–1965, the show was ranked #18. It tied for its place in the ratings with “Gilligan’s Island”.

A New Era

• For the first time in U.S. history, a debate between presidential hopefuls was shown on television when John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon met for a debate in Chicago on September 26, 1960, the first of four.

• At the time of this election, the country was engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Union, which had just taken the lead in the space race by launching the Sputnik satellite. The rise of Fidel Castro’s revolutionary regime in Cuba had heightened fears about the spread of communism. On the domestic front, the struggle for civil rights and desegregation had deeply divided the nation, raising crucial questions about the state of democracy in the United States.

• Most people agreed that Senator Kennedy fared much better than Vice President Nixon in the first of four debates, at least on TV. Substance-wise, the two were fairly evenly matched.

• In addition to a case of the flu, prior to the first debate, Nixon had injured his knee and spent a while at Walter Reed Hospital for treatment. At the debate, having lost weight, Nixon wore an ill-fitting suit and, although pale from his hospital stay and hours from his latest shave, refused makeup. Immediately after the debate, Nixon’s mother called to see if he was sick.

• Kennedy, fresh from campaigning on the west coast, appeared rested, relaxed, tanned and confident during the debate.

• The debate afforded voters the first real opportunity to see the candidates in competition.The viewing audience was estimated at 70 million. There were about 50 million TV sets in American homes at the time.

• At election time, more than half of all voters reported that the Great Debates had influenced their opinion.

• In better health and with a bit of coaching, Nixon did much better in the second and third debates and the fourth and final was considered the best for both candidates.

• On the first Tuesday in November 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected president of the United States. Kennedy took 49.72 percent of the popular vote to Richard M. Nixon’s 49.55 percent. JFK carried 303 electoral votes to Nixon’s 219.

• Two years after the Kennedy-Nixon debates, the man on the losing end acknowledged the importance of the debates–and his fatal misstep–in his memoir “Six Crises: “I should have remembered that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’”