Politicized TV In Wartime America

If in the earliest years of the Vietnam War television failed the public in its news functions, as a vehicle of mass diversion it compounded that shortcoming with programming conducive to militar­istic adventurism. Now, video lionized democratic champions of war; it lauded the "just" hero, even one willing to overlook legal processes and employ direct action to solve the problems of others.

In the early 1960s the composite adventurer in prime-time entertainment was a handsome white male—almost always an American—who responded with strength and bravery in his weekly selfless undertakings. His foe might be a Nazi, a Communist, or some other totalitarian type. Invariably, however, his enemy was never the autocrat of a nation supported by American foreign policy. The video hero of the early 1960s was loyal, unquestioning, stalwart—but under it all he was basically a commoner. While he remained dedicated to the cause for which he struggled, he was frequently shown helping a child in distress or pursuing a romantic conquest.

This composite character might be an historic figure whose self-sacrifice was recalled in a documentary series or moralistic drama. He could be a fictional soldier, cowboy, or secret agent. His purpose was revealed in war dramas, situation comedies, spy stories, and Westerns. Wherever encountered, this champion proffered a role model for a nation at war: an unswerving representative of the best of things American—the product of democracy—the protector and/or savior of the downtrodden—not so committed as to be a zealot, but sufficiently sketched in human terms as to be recognizable and taken as a social model.

More than entertaining, this composite hero was propagandistic. By his actions and attitudes, he communicated the honorableness of his activities. While he amused a nation of TV watchers, he politicized that audience, offering without rebuttal a rationalization for the Cold War becoming increasingly hot. Archibald MacLeish, poet, playwright, and Librarian of Congress understood this. He once suggested to a group of broadcasters that images disseminated in entertainment shows were more influential than information delivered in "serious" programs. Speaking in 1959, MacLeish concisely delineated the political importance inherent in televised popular culture.

What you [broadcasters] do matters more over the long run (if our civilization has a long run ahead of it) than what anybody else does. Because you are more persistently shaping the minds of more people than all the rest of us put together.... The programs lumped together as entertainment have as great an influence on the minds of the human beings who watch them as programs which claim a more serious purpose. Indeed, they have a greater influence.... Every program you put on is "doing" and will have a consequence, whatever you may call it.

There was in the 1960s, however, continuity with Cold War programming of the previous decade. Westerns continued to mix glamorized Americana with the crusade to establish democratic order in a hostile wilderness. There also continued to be entertaining documentaries reminding viewers of great military triumphs of the past. The first such series of the Kennedy and Johnson years was Winston Churchill—The Valiant Years, which ABC twice telecast in prime time: in 1960-61 and as a rerun in 1962-63. The 26 episodes of this Emmy-winning program showed the British leader as a determined national hero waging war on totalitarian dictatorship. In the context of the Cold War, historic Churchill became a contemporary model of tenacity in the search for justice. Playing down his strong imperialistic views and his distaste for anti-colonial leaders such as Mohandas Gandhi of India, the series stressed Churchill's patriotism, his love of Anglo-Saxon democracy, and his inspirational words for a nation at war. For instance, on the episode entitled "The Crisis Deepens," Churchill accepted the position of wartime prime minister with stirring words still appropriate for the United States locked in the Cold War:

Come, then, let us to the task, to the battle, to the toil, each to our part, each to our station. Fill the armies. Rule the air. Pour out the munitions. Strangle the U-boats. Sweep the mines. Plow the land. Build the ships. Guard the streets. Succor the wounded. Uplift the downcast. And honor the brave. Let us go forward together in all parts of the Empire, in all parts of the island. There is not a week, nor a day, nor an hour to lose.

Success with The Valiant Years led to other historical documentaries. Battle Line was a syndicated series in the 1962-63 season that investigated World War II through the eyes of Allied and Axis survivors of significant battles. In the fall of 1964, viewers relived World War I. In the CBS series World War I, and in a syndicated British production, The Great War, Americans encountered two 26-part dissections of the causes, events, and consequences of that great conflict to make the world safe for democracy.

At the same time, Decision: The Conflicts of Harry S. Truman premiered as a syndicated series—complete with newly-filmed statements by the former president and historic film footage—that flatteringly showed Truman facing and solving problems during his presidency. Also premiering in 1964 was the 32-part syndicated series Men in Crisis, in which historic struggles between moral forces—Chamberlain versus Hitler, Castro versus Batista, Truman versus Stalin, Kennedy versus Khrushchev—were recalled in documentary film. In January 1965, moreover, ABC returned with F.D.R., a 27-part history of Franklin D. Roosevelt from the producers of The Valiant Years.

Perhaps the most widely viewed documentaries in this style were the 91 half-hour histories in the Biography series. Narrated by Mike Wallace, this syndicated program first appeared in 1962. Biography presented the lives of people as diverse as Pius XII, Grace Kelly, David Ben-Gurion, and Babe Ruth. It featured many American war heroes—among them Admiral Chester Nimitz, and Generals Eisenhower, Patton, and MacArthur. Much less approvingly presented were the life stories of Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Fidel Castro, and Ho Chi Minh.

Even more dedicated to Cold War tensions was The 20th Century. This CBS series, which began in 1956 and ran until 1966, consistently focused on military matters: recalling great military achievements of the past, reporting on technical and operational conditions in the modern American armed forces, and spotlighting the East-West struggle. In 1963, for example, the series treated World War I in "Verdun: End of a Nightmare" (December 8), and World War II in several installments, among them "Beachhead an Anzio" (February 10), "Attack on Singapore" (February 24), "Typhoon at Okinawa" (June 2), and "Get the Graf Spee" (October 6). Woven into this retelling of military victories were productions that praised the contemporary U.S. military such as "From Jet to Dyna-Soar" (January 13), "Frogmen of the Future" (April 28), and a two-part program, "SAC: Aloft and Below" (December 15 and 22).

The Cold War, another familiar theme of The 20th Century, frequently was broached directly during the year 1963. "Zero Hour in Greece" (January 6) traced the history of the Greek struggle against Nazi invaders in World War II and Communist revolutionaries in the postwar era. "Finland: Tug of War" (February 3) concerned the politics of modern Finland, trapped between a Soviet neighbor and Western inclinations. Fear of Soviet espionage against the United States was explored on "Red Ships off Our Shores" (March 24). "End of an Empire" (September 1) stressed the role of Communist China in assisting the Viet­namese nationalist movement to oust the French from Southeast Asia. And "The Road to Berlin" (November 10) traced the history of that divided city during the Cold War.

Less frightening were those pastoral reflections on American life and culture treated on the Project XX series during the 1960s. Under the control of producer Donald B. Hyatt, NBC here presented documentaries in praise of America and its uniqueness. "Laughter, U.S.A." concerned native humor, and "The Story of Will Rogers" treated an eminent American humorist. "The Red, White and Blue" was a Flag Day program filled with marching bands, county courthouses, veterans' organizations on parade, and old-time flag-waving. Interestingly, this patriotic documentary wondered wistfully what had happened to diminish popular participation in such demonstrations of Americanism. From George Washington to the Plains Indians, from immigrants arriving at Ellis Island to Christian religious themes in great art, Project XX lovingly offered America and its proud dreamers, testifying to the overriding goodness of the nation.

Only once in the 1960s did Project XX return outspokenly to the Cold War themes that marked its productions in the 1950s. That War in Korea was a 90-minute retrospective on the Korean War. It relied on wartime film shot by NBC cameramen and added contemporary footage of American soldiers patrolling near the thirty-eighth parallel, for ten years the demilitarized border between North and South Korea. The program was a lesson in preparedness, a story of national sacrifice that leaders might have to ask of Americans again. Aired less than two days before President Kennedy was assassinated, whatever national discussion the program may have generated was lost in the dislocation precipitated by events in Dallas.

Whether as nostalgia for a perceived simplicity in the past, or as historic sketches of wars we had won, famous democrats, or infamous Communists, entertainment TV supplemented the evening news and its images of moral conflicts in the world. Further, as the values of anti-Communism found increasing acceptance by those on the right wing of American politics, TV became a favorite medium for the dissemination of intolerant interpretations of world Communism. By January 1962, Broadcasting could alert its readers to "look for [a] rash of anti-Communist TV documentary series to break out during 1962 on both network and syndication levels."

The first program reflecting this new stridency was a live special, Hollywood's Answer to Communism. This three-hour extravaganza —consisting of a seminar held by the California School of Anti-Communism, plus a live rally of 12,000 people at the Hollywood Bowl—was televised on October 16, 1961, on 35 stations in 6 Western states. It was produced by the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, and was financed by the politically conservative Schick Safety Razor Company and Technicolor, Inc. Among the prominent people appearing on the program were C. D. Jackson, the publisher of Life magazine, and Dr. Fred C. Schwarz, the fiery crusader whose controversial book You Can Trust the Communists (to Be Communists) vilified the Soviet Union and placed him at the forefront of the growing right wing.

Clearly the treat of the program, however, was the many Hollywood celebrities who appeared to assert their patriotism and to assail the Red Menace. Mixing conservative politics with the allure of Jane Russell, Roy Rogers, Pat O'Brien, Robert Stack, James Stewart, and Jack Warner—plus host (and eventually U.S. Senator) George Murphy—the right wing was learning in a video age how best to communicate its message. Films of Hollywood's Answer to Communism were televised two weeks later in New York City and other major markets.

The success of this TV special opened the way for other such anti-Communist programs in the early years of the Kennedy administration. In many local productions, syndicated series, and network products, hostility toward Communism gained popular expression. In October 1961, on the King Broadcasting stations (KING-TV in Seattle, KREM-TV in Spokane, and KGW-TV in Portland, Oregon), The Threat was a 90-minute program filled with anti-Communist speakers and a question-and-answer session with a studio audience. WTVJ in Miami offered a drama special, The Day Miami Died, a fictionalized version of how Reds took over the city. Although primarily exploiting radio for their fundamentalist Protestant anti-Communism, media evangelists like Billy James Hargis and Carl J. McIntyre gained increasing TV exposure for their warnings about the Reds.

And there were important syndicated productions. Communism: R.M.E. ("a Riddle wrapped in a Mystery, inside an Enigma") was a 13-part series narrated in 1962 by Art Linkletter and promising "authentic revelations of life behind the Iron Curtain" as well as clarification of "the fundamental differences between Communism and the Free World." Less ambitious was The Rise and Fall of American Communism. Released in 1964 by David L. Wolper Productions—the company responsible for the Biography and Men in Conflict series— this was an hour-long documentary telling the story of Moscow-directed Red radicalism in the United States.

Network TV was not immune to the national fervor being gener­ated by the energetic political right. While the CBS Reports documentary "Thunder on the Right" (February 22, 1962) presented a neutral examination of the phenomenon—from the paramilitary Minutemen preparing a guerrilla force to protect America from invasion in the next war, to the middle-class members of the John Birch Society and the "conscience" of American conservatism, Senator Barry Goldwater—in the early 1960s the networks generally exploited the mounting paranoia over the Communist challenge.

"Communism has suddenly emerged as the hottest new program sub­ject idea in television," proclaimed Broadcasting in January 1962. "No fewer than 100 programs, including five series for syndication to stations, are currently in the planning and production stage," the trade magazine continued, "not counting a mounting volume sched­uled or planned by individual stations."

Both in the reiteration of democratic mythology and in the strident reproach of Communism, network television offered political lessons. There were docudramas and stylized historical accounts of great patriots. The Great Adventure on CBS in 1963-64 presented stories of nationalistic celebrities such as Nathan Hale, Harriet Tubman, Sam Houston, and Wild Bill Hickok. During the following season NBC presented Profiles in Courage, dramatizations of the lives of those heroic men and women who were treated (or might have been treated) in John F. Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same title. In Saga of Western Man, ABC documentarian John H. Secondari, Jr., between 1963 and 1966 created 13 lavish productions that traced the development of American society by emphasizing pivotal years—"1492," "1776," "1898," and "1963"—as well as crucial events and influences: "The Puritan Experience" and "Custer: To the Little Big Horn."

Also significant was the NBC News presentation Profile on Communism. Aired in the first months of 1963, this series of four, hour­-long films probed Communism from various historical perspectives. "The Death of Stalin" (January 27) and "The Rise of Khrushchev" (February 3) offered considerations of modern Russian history. With Chet Huntley as narrator of both films, the former treated Stalin in terms of policestate terrorism and the Russian despot's belief that "war with the imperialists is inevitable." The latter program traced the five-year rise of "a country bumpkin" from Communist bureaucrat to leader of the Communist world in the post-Stalin era.

On "Who Goes There?" (March 1), the third program in this NBC production, correspondent Robert Abernathy took viewers on a historical tour of Marxism-Leninism, focusing upon Soviet ideology, revolution, totalitarianism, and imperialism as "the four faces of Communism." In closing, Abernathy described the meaning of the ideology in familiar Cold War rhetoric: "Can our power and our will check their imperialism? Can our self-discipline match their totalitarianism? Can we wipe out the conditions that invite revolution? Above all, can our freedom and our faith deny their ideology? We think we can.

The final installment of Profile on Communism was a survey of the broader Communist world, "An Encyclopedia of the Divided World of Communism" (April 10). Narrated by Chet Huntley, this installment dealt at length with the split between China and the Soviet Union. But it suggested, in the words of President Kennedy, that "Hope must be tempered with caution, for the Soviet-Chinese disagreement is over means, not ends. A dispute over how to bury the West is no ground for Western rejoicing."

As sophisticated as NBC made this series, it still suffered from a strong anti-Communist bias. In his preface to a bound edition of the scripts of these four programs—distributed to the public free of charge —William R. McAndrew, then executive vice-president of NBC News, gave clear evidence that while the series expanded its perspectives on Communism, it did so with familiar prejudices. "Most people know it as a menace to their way of life, to their institutions, to themselves," wrote McAndrew of Communism. "They know that it tramples freedom, tries to level ambition, preaches atheism. And oversimplify, as is our custom, to 'it's the bad boy' and 'we are the good boy.'" Clearly, too, NBC felt the United States could defeat Communism. As McAndrew phrased it, the purpose of Profile on Communism was to help Americans triumph over Communism, for "you must know your enemy before you can defeat him."

In the two years and three months between the outbreak of World War II in Europe and American entry into that conflict following Pearl Harbor, network broadcasters carefully avoided programs that ap­peared militaristic or biased toward U.S. involvement in the war. Twenty years later, as the United States drifted into undeclared war in Vietnam, TV was anything but neutral toward the issue of war. Soldiers were plentiful on television in the 1960s. In many cases they were fictional combatants, the entertaining central characters in war adventure series.

Never in the history of American broadcasting had there been so many war programs. Even during World War II, radio discouraged excessive amounts of fictional drama recreating battles and other forms of military violence. In the 1950s there were military dramas on television, but only one series, Combat Sergeant, was set permanently in a war zone. During the Vietnam War, however, TV presented a proces­sion of soldier heroes fighting for freedom in weekly dramatic series.

The time frame of most such shows was World War II. While one program was set in the Civil War (The Americans) another in peacetime (The Lieutenant) and still another was in a militaristic future (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea), none, ironically, took place in Southeast Asia. The pacesetter in this trend was ABC, which in 1962 premiered Combat and The Gallant Men. In fact, of the series listed in Table 10, only Convoy (NBC), The Lieutenant (NBC), The Americans (NBC), and Jericho (CBS) were not ABC offerings.

Table 10: War Drama Series on TV
ProgramYears of
No. of
The Americans196117
The Gallant Men1962-6326
The Lieutenant1963-6429
Twelve O' Clock High1964-6678
Voyage to the
Bottom of the Sea
Court Martial1966-6726
The Rat Patrol1966-6858
Garrison's Gorillas1967-6826

The most significant programs of this genre were Combat, Twelve o' Clock High, and The Rat Patrol. They lasted longer, enjoyed higher ratings (Combat was the tenth most popular program in the 1964-65 season, and The Rat Patrol was ranked twenty-fourth in its first season.), and generally provided more action than the other series.

If TV news never consistently went into battle with the troops, and if GIs in Vietnam were nameless or appeared once and then were reabsorbed into the conflict, fictional war dramas gave flesh and blood to the otherwise-anonymous American fighting man. Characters became familiar, and viewers got to know the military hero. He was wise and understanding, like Lieutenant Gil Hanley (Rick Jason) and Sergeant Chip Saunders (Vic Morrow) on Combat. He was also brave like Brigadier General Frank Savage (Robert Lansing), who lost his fic­tional life after one season on Twelve O' Clock High. That same series also illustrated the character development possible with wartime responsibility as Joe Gallagher (Paul Burke) took two seasons to evolve from a cocky young captain to a wise and courageous colonel.

Here were role models for a nation unquestioningly sliding into a war in Asia. Here also were "insights" into the way men acted in war. At least that was the argument in mid-1962 of Selig Seligman, pro­ducer of Combat. According to him, the program was "a searching in our history for the ideals and heroism that can sustain the Amer­ican people in a troubled time."

While Twelve O' Clock High and Combat were Hollywood creations, they frequently integrated actual war film into their backlot theatrics. The former employed authentic aerial combat footage, since the series concerned a bom­bardment group fighting in the European theater of operations. At the end of each Combat episode, special thanks were given to the Department of the Army for its production assistance. But for glamour and adventure, the most compelling war series was The Rat Patrol. For outside help, this show was indebted only to Warner Brothers and United Artists for sharing props and other war material left after completion of the feature films The Battle of the Bulge and The Great Escape.

The Rat Patrol was set in the barren North African desert. Al­hough filmed in Spain and on the MGM studio lot in southern California, the series focused on the war against General Erwin Rommel and the German Afrika Korps. Four young soldiers—one Briton and three Yanks—skimmed across the desert on Jeeps with mounted machine guns blazing. They fought Nazi evil, Arab treachery, and the cruelty of the desert—and they did so with conviction that their cause was just. Furthermore, none of the Rat Patrollers ever died. No matter that on the evening news American deaths were rising in the reality of Vietnam; in TV fiction the brave young warriors seemed immortal.

Interestingly, only one military drama series was openly anti-Communist. Although inspired by the nineteenth-century French writer Jules Verne, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was conceived as a Cold War program. In an advertisement for the premiere of the series, ABC showed footage from coming episodes—including one scene where the heroic Admiral Harriman Nelson interrogated four enemies, one resembling Lenin, another looking like Ho Chi Minh, and the others having generally malevolent Asiatic features—while the announcer heralded the coming of a new series.

Now! To the television screen! The most incredible adventure series ever filmed! Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea! This is the sea. Uncon­trolled, a devastating force, as mighty as any on earth. But below that destruction lies another power. The Seaview! You'll live in the year 1973 with the most extraordinary submarine in all the world. Its public image: an instrument of marine research. In actuality: the mightiest weapon afloat, secretly assigned to fight an evil power dedicated to the destruction of freedom. Richard Basehart as Admiral Nelson, David Hedison as Captain Crane, lead their men to incredible, exciting adventure. From the terror that lies on the ocean floor, to the super-modern weapons of their enemy in a war at the top of the world. In Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Every week on ABC.

During the first season, Admiral Nelson and his crew fought Communist saboteurs and secret agents seeking to thwart the mission of the Seaview. The heroes foiled Red revolutionaries in Latin America. They safely delivered a young monarch to his Far Eastern kingdom following the assassination of his father by Communist revolutionaries. In "Hail to the Chief," aired December 29, 1964, Nelson and his men successfully fought off enemy agents seeking to murder the president of the United States after an accident in South America forced the touring chief executive to seek emergency treatment aboard the Seaview.

In later seasons, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea abandoned the Cold War in favor of the Hollywood gimmick war. Evil now came in the form of strange alien monsters with amazing powers and das­tardly purposes. Still, as in "Deadly Cloud," broadcast on March 12, 1967, the admiral employed recognizable Cold War weaponry—in this case a nuclear bomb—to destroy evil invaders intent upon destroying the earth.

War as entertainment allowed TV viewers to empathize with the agony of conflict, and rejoice in victory with clean-cut video heroes. Television also gave the public much to laugh about. The military situation comedy flowered in TV during the Vietnam War. Where in the late 1950s Phil Silvers' rascally Sergeant Ernest E. Bilko had been the first successful comedic soldier in broadcasting history, in the next decade TV abounded with comedies set in most branches of the armed services. As Table 11 suggests, even more than war drama series, Americans approved of military comedies.

These situation comedies suggested that there was something basically light and recognizably human about the military. On F Troop audiences laughed at zany soldiers and daffy Indians on a cavalry post in the days of the Wild West. Incredibly, Hogan's Heroes brought high jinks to a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp where Hitler's henchmen were bumblers and the internees produced more guffaws than resistance to Fascism.

Table 11 Military Situation Comedies on Wartime Network Televisions
Title Years of
No. of
McKeever & The Colonel1962-6326
Don't Call Me Charlie1962-6313
Ensign O'Toole1962-6426
McHale's Navy1962-66 138
No Time for Sergeants1964-6534
Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.1964-69 150
Mr. Roberts 1965-6630
The Wackiest Ship in the Army1965-6629
Mona McClusky1965-6626
F Troop1965-6765
I Dream of Jeannie1965-70 139
Hogan's Heroes1965-71168
It's About Time1966-6726

TV found much laughter in the South Pacific during World War II. The clowns of McHale's Navy began amusing audiences in 1962. On Broadside predictable jokes emerged from a situation where a group of U.S. Navy WAVES was stationed on an island filled with male sailors. The hero of Mr. Roberts wanted to see real battle action, but had to content himself with generating humor on a cargo ship far from the fighting. The most convoluted premise, however, occurred with The Wackiest Ship in the Army. In this series the U.S.S. Kiwi was a schooner commanded by a Navy lieutenant when at sea, and an Army major when in port. Ironically, this premise was derived from an actual wartime development.

There were also military situation comedies set in peacetime. No Time for Sergeants concerned a Southern "hick" in the Air Force. Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. featured another Southern stereotype, a simple but likable Marine from the mountains of North Carolina. The heroine of Mona McClusky was an actress, but her husband and comedic foil was an Air Force sergeant. McKeever and the Colonel was about life at a military school. Hennesey dealt with the humorous adventures of a Navy medical officer stationed in San Diego. The short-lived Don't Call Me Charlie concerned an Army veterinarian stationed in Paris. The focus of I Dream of Jeannie was an attrac­tive female genie owned by—and later married to—an Air Force astronaut living on an air base. And misdirected astronauts were the central characters in the farcical It's About Time, a comedy set in the Stone Age and later updated to contemporary Los Angeles.

In one sense military comedies and dramas on TV were simple adventures in escapism and business. Their engaging tales and formu­laic humor were meant to amuse an audience of enough millions to garner good Nielsen ratings. This enabled the networks to increase profits by selling commercial time at higher rates. In turn, the net­works ordered new militaristic series and more episodes of already successful productions.

There was in this escapism, however, a sociological dimension. These war stories and comedic encounters prolonged the inability of the American citizenry to confront the reality of war. TV showed stylized armed conflict in which virile Yank soldiers triumphed in the end and comedic farce stripped war of its brutal, violent, murderous nature. No one on McHale's Navy was killed in its make-believe world war. Colonel Bob Hogan's heroic charges constantly joked with their Nazi guards. Gomer Pyle innocently made rube humor during a Marine Corps bayonet drill. Sergeant Saunders spent five years on Combat walking around the eucalyptus trees and potted plants of a Hollywood film lot, acting out a popular fantasy that war was some­how part moral crusade, part athletic event.

There were grenades, machine guns, mortars, and the like, but there was no real blood, no authentic death in entertainment warfare. Furthermore, set as so many were in World War II, there was certainty among viewers that the Americans would win—because in actuality the United States was on the winning side in that great conflict. Somehow, the uncritical early television coverage from Southeast Asia made the Vietnam conflict seem an extension of American popular culture.

This cultural propensity to commercialize and be entertained by streamlined re-creations of reality was most glamorously achieved in the many spy series that flourished in TV in the mid-1960s. As Table 12 indicates, the counterespionage operative was a popular part of American viewing during the Vietnam War.

Table 12: Spy Series on Televison in the 1960s
Program Years of
first run
No. of
Danger Man196139
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.1964-6899
The Prisoner196517
Secret Agent1965-6645
Amos Burke, Secret Agent1965-6617
Secret Squirrel1965-6626
Double Life of Henry Fyfe1965-6617
I Spy1965-6882
Get Smart1965-70138
The Baron196616
Blue Light196617
The Man Who Never Was1966-6718
The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.1966-6729
The Avengers1966-6983
Mission: Impossible1966-71 171
It Takes a Thief1967-7065

The video spy as suave, handsome man-on-the-go was realized first in John Drake (Patrick McGoohan), the dashing investigator for NATO governments in Danger Man, and exclusively for the British government in Secret Agent. Like his more lavish counterpart in the James Bond feature films, Drake ate well, fought well, and loved well as he roamed the globe on dangerous assignments. The most attractive American entry in this style was Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Working for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, Solo and his partner, Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum), fought the international crimes of their archenemy, THRUSH, a sinister organization plotting to control the world. While The Man From U.N.C.L.E. had elements of satire and even ridicule, it contained the essential ingredients of the spy genre and struck a responsive chord among viewers in the mid-1960s.

There were funny spies in Get Smart and The Double Life of Henry Phyfe, and romantic spies in It Takes a Thief and Amos Burke, Secret Agent. The first African-American spy appeared in I Spy. The first series about a female agent was The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. In The Avengers the formula to save the world consisted of technical gadgets and stereotypic British certainty. In Mission: Impossible masterful disguises and technology helped American agents penetrate the Iron Curtain, thwart Latin American revolutionaries, and exert Amer­ican will around the globe.

The anthology series Espionage was inspired by historic spies. The Man Who Never Was, The Baron, and Blue Light relied more on foreign locations than compelling scripts. In The Prisoner Patrick McGoohan played a British agent—called only Number 6—who was mysteriously imprisoned and spent every program resisting the brainwashing schemes of his anonymous but evil captors.

Even children had an espionage hero in Secret Squirrel, a Saturday morning cartoon secret agent who with his pals in intelligence activities, Morocco Mole, Winnie the Witch, and Squiddly Diddly, pursued the archvillain Yellow Pinky, an obvious twist on James Bond's foe Goldfinger.

TV spy programs were at once elaborate detective stories preaching that crime does not pay, patriotic war dramas in which intelligence agents risked their lives as much as any soldier, and romantic escapades highlighting beautiful people in exotic locations. Whether serious or satirical, video secret agents worked for modern, efficient-sounding agencies that were often identified by acronyms. Alexander Mundy of It Takes a Thief, the reformed jewel robber turned American agent, defeated enemies and kissed beautiful women for the SIA. Zany Maxwell Smart of Get Smart worked for C.O.N.T.R.O.L., and against K.A.O.S. Scholarly Henry Phyfe was an agent for the CIS—the Counter Intelligence Service. And the masters of espionage on Mission:Impossible undertook assignments for the Impossible Mission Force, the IMF.

The permeation of American society with fictional TV soldiers and spies did not end with the hundreds of episodes listed in Tables 10 to 12. While these programs might have popularized such characterization, servicemen and secret agents were found in other types of shows. Dramatic anthologies like Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater used war stories. Military themes appeared occasionally on programs such as Run for Your Life, Star Trek, The Name of the Game, and The Invaders. Even tongue-in-cheek Batman dealt with would-be conquerors defeated by unassuming heroes.

Professional sports, especially football, which in the 1960s supplanted baseball as the national pastime, also reflected militaristic values. Half-time pageantry often saluted American troops in Southeast Asia. The most celebrated football leader of the decade was coach Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers, a successful molder of players with his em­phasis upon Spartan dedication and the supremacy of will. Even the terminology of football—the bomb, the blitz, and the shotgun forma­tion—assumed the quality of warfare.

There were spies galore in non-spy programs in the 1960s. Erik Barnouw pointed out how The FBI became increasingly concerned with Communist agents in the United States. Espionage came also to 77 Sunset Strip. Barnouw even detected this theme infiltrating situation comedies such as Mr. Ed and The Lucy Show, as well as Tarzan, Mr. Terrific, and Super 6.

Glamorized, flashy, and stressing heroes with panache, the spy genre supplemented military images on prime time television. Again, however, international rivalry was trivialized, reduced to a morality play between positive and negative stereotypes. In many cases such shows were burlesques, gaudy exaggerations of the real world of international intelligence operations. At a time when Americans needed solid, unbiased information with which to understand and influence national policies, television—the only truly national medium of communication—once more offered diversion from the real and frivolity in place of substance.

Militarized American society was even reflected in television com­mercials. An ad in the mid-1960s for a new flavor of Jell-O featured a trench-coated spy calling from a phone booth. A commercial for Aero­wax showed machine-gun bullets bouncing off the top of a jet plane cockpit. There were public service announcements that exploited the Vietnam War specifically. One production for the USO showed a group of weary soldiers re­laxing in the jungle while a female voice sang wistfully that "The cruel war is raging, Johnny has to fight. I want to be with him from morning to night." As the woman continued, an announcer declared, "Wherever he goes, your thanks go with USO. USO is there only if you care." Actual footage of an American helicopter crew in Vietnam was used in an advertisement for U.S. Savings Bonds. With film of the helicopter emphasizing its polished machine gun, the announcer said:

This is Vietnam. And these are Americans on the job. The hours aren't nine to five, but they don't complain. They work for freedom, and sup­port it with their dollars, too. Seven out of ten of our men overseas buy United States Savings Bonds through the Payroll Allotment Plan. Buy Bonds where you work. They do.

Even more plentiful were militaristic commercials pitched at American children. In his study of juvenile programming, Saturday Morning TV, Gary H. Grossman contended that television for young­sters in the 1960s essentially avoided politicized Cold War topics. However, he failed to describe the heavily politicized advertisements on Saturday morning video. These ads were especially bombastic when describing the guns, tanks, and assorted war toys available to kids. One commercial invited children to share the wartime experience with a plastic gun:

Your patrol is in position. You're in a tough spot. But you have the amazing new Multi-Pistol 09. Fire grenade that bursts. Aim through telescopic sight. Fire bomb that blasts. And if you're trapped, surprise! Out comes your secret derringer. You have done it with Multi-Pistol 09. The only pistol that gives you all this: exploding grenades, cap-loaded bomb, fires short-range bullets, fires long-range bullets, fires message missile, anti-armor rocket, and the secret derringer cap pistol. There's never been anything like it before for action, excitement, firepower. Get it all in this rugged carrying case. Get Multi-Pistol 09! Multi-Pistol 09! Multi-Pistol 09! By Topper.

War toys were plentifully displayed throughout the decade. TV told children they could play with G.I. Joe war dolls; or breech-load, command, and fire Tiger Joe—a "gigantic" battery-powered plastic tank complete "with walkie-talkie operator, machine gunner, Tiger Joe. Rugged. Powerful. Ready for battle." Lionel electric trains in the 1960s militarized their classic toy with a helicopter car and an another flatcar from which to launch IRBMs, Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles

Battlewagon was a large plastic ship filled with rockets, torpedoes, and the other paraphernalia of naval warfare. The ad for this toy featured a young boy screaming orders: "Fire missiles!" "Battle stations!" "All stations fire!" As a background chorus sang "Battlewagon! Battlewagon!" A sonorous male announcer interjected: "It's the mightiest warship you'll ever see," "A blinker light signals 'Enemy Approaching,' " and "Now, you can be Captain of [chorus sings] 'Battlewagon!' "

Such hard-sell commercials were not limited to war weaponry. TV also kept children abreast of the latest spy toys. Secret Sam was a multipurpose attaché case equipped with a gun that could be con­verted to a long-barrel rifle. It also had a periscope and a hidden camera so youngsters could "find the master spy." Even more prepossessing was Zero-M Sonic Blaster, a plastic air gun that, as announcer William Conrad explained it, was a must:

You must not fail, Zero-M. This mission's critical. This is the most un­usual weapon. It is specially designed for counterespionage. For agent Zero-M. It's called a Zero-M Sonic Blaster. This is why! It fires a massive blast of compressed air. And this tremendous roar is the actual sound. For training purposes, this special action-delayed target comes with it. Get Mattel's powerful Zero-M Sonic Blaster wherever toys are sold. Remember the password: Zero-M.

Television in the 1960s was highly politicized theater. Seldom tolerant of programs criticizing national government activities or American foreign policy, network TV turned escapism into politicization, diversion into indoctrination. From news actualities and heroic war dramas to militaristic situation comedies, romanticized tales of secret agents, and even commercials, Americans saw the world divided into two incompatible camps. There were few gray areas in this dichotomy. On the other hand, areas of compromise were not required for those video shows told audiences continually that Americans were always right, Americans never lost, and that as selfless rescuers of the world, Americans wanted little except a pat on the back, a kiss from a pretty girl, or a child's smile.

Fed such propagandistic fare for more than a decade, viewers seldom protested—or recognized—the partisan political quality of this programming. In fact, protest was reserved almost exclusively for productions containing views not in accord with TV's traditional political outlook. Television had a history of censorship and political intolerance dating from the earliest years of the Cold War. Now, in the early years of the Vietnam War, there was no reason to expect a change of attitude by the networks or the public.

On one level the blacklists were almost gone by the 1960s. TV shows on occasion even dealt with the adverse effects of blacklisting upon indi­viduals and the society that tolerated the practice. Typical was "A Claim to Immortality," an episode of the ABC series Channing, aired February 26, 1964. Channing presented dramas about college life, and this episode starred Telly Savalas as a brilliant professor who rejected a major academic appointment. The professor feared that a routine background check for the new job would reveal that his wife was involved with campus Communists while a college student in the 1930s.

Even more impressive was writer Ernest Kinoy's "Blacklist," an episode of the civil liberties series The Defenders. Telecast January 18, 1964, this drama starred Jack Klugman as a blacklisted actor who, after ten years, received a dramatic part, only to be protested by a group of local anti-Communists. This poignant drama won Emmy awards for both Kinoy and Klugman.

And there were other signs, such as the appearance of a script by Millard Lampell, "No Hiding Place," a drama about racial bigotry and the shallowness of much white liberalism. It was televised December 2, 1963, on East Side/West Side, a powerful if unpopular CBS dramatic series about social workers in New York City. Two years later Lampell wrote an Emmy­-winning drama, "Eagle in a Cage," for Hallmark Hall of Fame. It was televised October 20, 1965, and concerned the exile of Napoleon to St. Helena.

The significance of these achievements was that Lampell himself had been blacklisted for a decade. He had been a creative writer and musical performer in the 1940s—a member of the left­ist Almanac Singers folk group and author of provocative radio dramas. But because of his progressive politics he, like Napoleon, was socially ostracized and spent the 1950s scripting, among other things, travel films such as Voici la France, and The Wonderful Jet World of Pan American. As he accepted his Emmy, Lampell received an ovation when he whimsically informed the audience of his peers, "I think I ought to mention that I was blacklisted for ten years."

Nevertheless, such achievements did not signal the end of political censorship in network television. In January 1962, the leftist folksingers, The Weavers featuring Pete Seeger, were banned from a scheduled appearance on The Jack Paar Show. NBC explained that members of the group would not sign a loyalty oath before appearing. Two days later ABC informed sponsor Sara Lee that it had no prime time openings for Folksong Festival, a musical special being assembled and spotlighting The Weavers. An­other ABC program, Hootenanny, banned The Weavers even before it premiered in April 1963. This prompted folk singers such as Joan Baez to refuse to perform on that show. In the fall of 1963 ABC agreed to invite Pete Seeger, lead singer of The Weavers, to appear on Hootenanny, provided he signed a sworn affidavit regarding past or present affiliations with the Communist Party or its front organiza­tions. Seeger never appeared on Hootenanny.

There also continued to be trouble with TV drama. In January 1968, writer Rod Serling announced that he was quitting television. According to the originator of The Twilight Zone and many distinguished dramatic productions, TV restricted too much what a writer could say. Serling was particularly discouraged by the refusal of CBS to accept for its CBS Playhouse what he called "a slightly pacifist" drama set in World War II

Network documentaries were also not without difficulties. To its credit, ABC aired Cuba and Castro Today on April 19, 1964. It was a relatively objective look at the Cuban revolution, highlighted by lengthy interview segments with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara plus the comments of Cuban citizens for and against the revolution. Together with a Canadian filmmaker and a Hungarian-refugee photographer, network newswoman Lisa Howard, in the words of Murray Horowitz of Variety, "returned TV news coverage of Cuba to where it belonged: her base was Cuba itself, not Miami."

The eminent historian of broadcasting, Erik Barnouw, praised Cuba and Castro Today for its frank questions and answers, its unique look at the Cuban leadership, and its overriding theme—as stated toward the end of the program by Senator J. William Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—that it might be time for a reevaluation of American policy toward Cuba, even though that might "lead to distasteful conclusions." Barnouw also pointed out that no advertiser would underwrite the program, that it was aired inconspicuously on a Sunday afternoon, and that it was preceded by an appeal by the International Rescue Committee for money to assist refugees from "Castro's tyranny." The commercial breaks in the program were filled with Public Service Announcements for safe driving, mental health, forest fire prevention, and the like.

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