Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Year Joan Crawford Won the Oscar - 1963

“The Year Joan Crawford Won the Oscar” is the teasing title of an episode of Saints and Sinners, in which Ann Blyth guest starred as the anxious wife of a naïve hotel waiter.  He is wounded by a guest in the hotel, a big-shot entertainer, who tries to cover it up.  Reporter Nick Adams, series star, ferrets out the story.
The title of the episode is from a trivia question put to the star-struck waiter, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of Oscar-winning films.  One is inclined to guess that it is no coincidence that “the year Joan Crawford won the Oscar” was also the year guest star Ann Blyth was nominated for the same movie, Mildred Pierce, which we discussed here.  Other than that, the title has no great significance to the story.
Nick Adams stars as a roving reporter, the justice-seeking kind, and John Larkin is his scowling editor.  Set in New York City, the series ran only one season from 1962-63, and was cancelled due to poor ratings after only eighteen episodes.  Well written, the series was spun off from The Dick Powell Theater series the year before, an episode called “Savage Sunday,” which starred Adams in the same role as the crusading reporter, and Ann Blyth as a fellow reporter.  We’ll talk about that episode down the road.  Originally, Ann was slated to join the series when the pilot was picked up.
A UPI syndicated article in June 1962 reported:  “Ann Blyth will strike a blow for femininity next television season by starring in a weekly series playing a chic career girl…Her lines will be as smart and chic as her wardrobe.”

Her role was to be a Washington correspondent for this New York paper, a character called Lizzie Hogan.  It seemed like a new departure, a strong character and interesting woman for her to play, and something new for TV.

“Television actresses are limited to family situation comedies or western heroines,” she said, “and both have become clichés.”

For that reason it must have been an appealing role, but faced with the demands of a series versus having little time with her family, Ann Blyth turned down the part, preferring to make only guest appearances on television.  Lizzie Hogan, girl reporter, was gone, and in stepped Edith Berlitz, the simple wife of a gullible waiter.  (Before this episode was broadcast, she had another turn on WagonTrain in December 1962.)

She employs a soft Brooklyn accent here, easy and natural, and many may have forgotten she is a native New Yorker, after all.  Gentle Edith faces trauma and heartache when her husband Sidney gets involved with a fast crowd.

Sidney is played by Robert Elston, who had a handful of TV guest roles, more experience on stage and as an acting teacher.  He brings breakfast to a roughneck crowd of showbiz types: Robert Lansing commandingly plays a Sinatra-esque nightclub entertainer.  His flunkies include Leon Askin and Harvey Korman before his Carol Burnett sidekick days. 

They are yes-men to the big nightclub star, hangers on with their hands out for favors, a floozy among them for color.  Sidney is enchanted with them.

Kidding around with handguns, Sidney is accidently shot.  Horrified, the showbiz types hustle him out of the hotel, and into a sort of safe house “nursing home” where he can be treated by a less-than-reputable doctor and be paid to keep quiet. 

Ellen Corby, who gets a nice slow close-up, is a hotel maid who leaks the story to the press for a price.  Everybody’s out for a buck.

The story, with its payoffs, its misbehaving celebrities, its press who chase them, is as timely as if it were written today.  Of course, the script is a lot cleaner than if it were written today, and the language and the plot points are more direct, and the journalist is the crusading kind who wants truth and justice, but this was an era on television when progressive attitudes beamed out of cathode ray tubes and anything was possible when done with a noble heart. 

Ann is sweet, a bewildered housewife out of her element, but nowhere near as innocent as her husband is. She tries to talk sense to him, but Sidney is pleased with the attention the big shots are giving him, fawns over Robert Lansing, and wants to join them in their glamorous, swinging lifestyle. 

Ann, though the timid “little woman” when she braves the lions’ den of showbiz insincerity to visit her recovering husband, has more savvy about evil when she sees it than Sidney.
He thinks he can parlay his wound into some kind of assistant’s job, but the egotistical Mr. Lansing, whose charm is fleeing under the pressures of stardom, tells him to get lost. 
There are a couple of showdowns, one physical where a dressing room is wrecked, and one verbal, addressing the moral implications of what has been done and what is to be done.  It’s good dialogue.  Ann’s suspicion about the floozy, “that lady, if you’ll pardon the expression,” her shock at being kissed on the mouth by the creepy Mr. Lansing, and her devotion to her goofy husband—which does not prohibit her from calling him on the carpet—all make for an endearing character.  It's a kind of role she had not played before, a kind of slow-talking Edith Bunker with brains, and it's charming. 

The role of the press is called into question as well in how celebrities are courted, and persecuted. 
Look for syndicated entertainment columnist Army Archerd, who gets a cameo playing himself at work on the paper.
"The Year Joan Crawford Won the Oscar" was broadcast January 21, 1963.  It’s currently up on YouTube in four parts, starting here.  The video quality isn’t very good, but enjoy.

Come back this Sunday the 13th for a detour away from the Ann Blyth series for a special post participating in the "Diamonds and Gold" blogathon salute to truly "golden age" actors - that is actors in their senior years still performing in memorable roles.  It's being sponsored by Caftan Woman, handling the ladies, and Rich over at Wide Screen World is showcasing the gents.  My post is on Rosalind Russell in A Majority of One (1961), in which she plays an elderly Jewish woman whose narrow world grows and transcends her Brooklyn apartment, her family traditions, and her faith to include an adventure in Japan, and a Japanese suitor. 

Come back next Thursday when we return to the Year of Ann Blyth series and consider Ann's participation in religious programming on radio and TV, a special post for the upcoming Easter holiday.

Toledo Blade, Jun 4, 1962, p. 8.
Vancouver Sun June 23, 1962, UPI syndicated article, p. 6.
Youngstown Vindicator April 15, 1962, p.23.


THANK the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

UPDATE:  This series on Ann Blyth is now a book - ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR. -

The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.

 "Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings''

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood

Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.

The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer.  You can also order it from my Etsy shop. 

If you wish a signed copy, then email me at and I'll get back to you with the details.


Caftan Woman said...

There's something endearing about the myriad of TV dramas that didn't make the cut. Rather like the B movies with time and budget constraints where a lot of creativity is brought together in a rush to put something decent out there. I always applaud the effort and sometimes the finished product.

Rich said...

Interesting that AB thought that way about women on TV, especially during a time when TV was still in its infancy. Yeah, there were a lot of housewives and such, but you also had actresses like Loretta Young and Barbara Stanwyck and June Allyson headlining their own programs.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

CW, there's always a wonder about what might have been, isn't there? It's amazing about what shows, good ones, didn't make the cut.

Rich, for the most part the era of the anthology shows which Young, Stanwyck and Allyson launched were coming to a close. By the early 1960s TV had settled comfortably into a lot of sitcoms. I think Stanwyck's next big break wasn't until the mid-60s with BIG VALLEY, a western. That was unique, to have a woman head the cast of a western -- but I think that was in deference to her status in Hollywood. Linda Evans, who played her daughter, pretty much spent all those four or five seasons being the damsel in distress and looking pretty. I suppose she couldn't help looking pretty, but I wonder if she wanted to do more than just be saved by the boys. Ann would.

It's interesting to muse if Ann Blyth would have been more tempted by an anthology show, even if the commitment required to do an hour-long show still would have taken a big chunk of her life. In any case, four months after this episode aired, she gave birth to her last child, so she clearly had another commitments.

Unknown said...

I'm so happy to have found your blog. It's absolutely fabulous! As a classic movie lover, I'm thrilled to find something dedicated to this particular topic that is so insightful and well-written. Thank you!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you, Beth. Welcome aboard.

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