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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Masterpiece On The Chopper's Block

Citizen Kane Comes To Television

Citizen Kane Makes L.A. Art House Landing in May, 1956 

First off, research for this piece was done primarily by writer/historian Russell Merritt, who generously shared with me his findings. We both were interested in movie afterlives on TV, especially notable ones like Citizen Kane. I waited on good visuals before going forward, and so came ads for Gotham's first televising of Kane during Thanksgiving week of 1958. This wasn't the film's TV premiere, however. Los Angeles seems to have had first home exposure to Citizen Kane on January 6, 1958, over Channel 9, KHJ (the station ran Kane each night for a week, save Saturday). Most of the RKO library had been playing television from 1956, but some titles were withheld, including Citizen Kane. The reason was a theatrical reissue, Kane enjoying success at art houses and even a few mainstream situations. I'm aware of no TV broadcasts of Kane prior to L.A.'s in January 1958, but would welcome data to the contrary. New York's WOR (Channel 9) had Citizen Kane some months later (November 1958) on its Million Dollar Movie, a showcase for their RKO library. There were two primetime playoffs each night of Thanksgiving week, the first at 7:30, and again at 10:30. The Welles classic occupied a two-hour time slot, with regular programming during the 9:30-10:30 break between the two Kane showings (among these, Science-Fiction Theatre, Harness Racing from Yonkers, Top Pro Golf, and Man Without A Gun, starring Rex Reason). Variety noted fact that ads for WOR's broadcast were carried in the Hearst-owned New York Journal-American, a newspaper that had banned mention of Orson Welles or Citizen Kane when the film was released in 1941.

Welcome as it may have been to free viewing, there were those who deplored surgery WOR performed on Citizen Kane. The New York Times' Jack Gould spoke for disaffected fans of Welles and his masterpiece. To Gould's mind, any viewing experience would be compromised by "the rules of TV advertising." While acknowledging the station's expansion from a customary ninety-minute slot to two hours for Kane, Gould condemned "a total of nine interruptions" during the film. Within these, the columnist estimated "roughly twenty advertisements for individual services, plus several more advertisements in behalf of WOR-TV's own schedule." Citizen Kane ran 119 minutes, so of course there would have to be cuts. What remained of Kane was free at least, thus a far larger NY audience seeing it on the "Million Dollar Movie" than had done so in paying situations. Citizen Kane would widen reach into other television markets. Chicago saw it on December 4, 1958 ... in a ninety-minute time slot, so imagine the vivisection when you factor in that plus commercials inserted. WTTG in Washington had a 1-4-59 broadcast along with an interesting blurb in TV listings: "The movie parallels the life of a great publishing figure who was the Nation's most successful failure." A slam on departed Hearst by a rival paper?

Russell Merritt's new book, co-written by J.B. Kaufman, Silly Symphonies: A Companion To The Classic Cartoon Series, is coming soon, and available for pre-order now at Amazon. It is a second and expanded edition of an original that has been out of print for some time and is highly collectible.


Blogger DBenson said...

Annoying slashfests in the pre-VHS era:

-- A network showing of "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" deleted the ballet episode in its entirety. It just jumped from opening scene to the arrival of the mystery lady.

-- A local showing of "No Time for Sergeants" deleted Don Knotts's entire part as an Army shrink ... but they used his bits in all the promo ads.

-- And of course, Laurel and Hardy features were subdivided into shorts. Bad enough that I rarely found L&H in my neck of the woods; the quasi-shorts were obviously cuts from bigger films I never saw at all until the 70s at least.

4:39 PM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

I was very lucky to have the CBC affiliate in Windsor Ontario to see a lot of films not readily available in US stations in Detroit....saw KANE in the early 70s in a late night slot and though it must have been edited in places, for the life of me,I can't recall any scenes missing or truncated. ....however that might be wishful thinking. What I am sure of is the lesser amount of advertising per hour compared to US TV of the time.. .

5:02 PM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

I first saw "Citizen Kane" one weekday morning on Channel 8 (High Point, NC) - it was their feature on "Dialing for Dollars".

It was like finding a Picasso hanging in a bingo parlor.

7:22 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

"finding a Picasso hanging in a bingo parlor" --- I love that, Cool Cat, and it is so apt to describe Channel 8's "Dialing For Dollars" movie, where I saw one sliced up feature after another during the late 60's-early 70's. And then there were the hosts --- Jo Nelson, Jerry Merritt, possibly others, who spent precious minutes trying to raise someone on the phone as more footage was shorn from already mutilated films. I do remember the afternoon, however, when they ran "Red Planet Mars," Jerry Merritt coming on at the end to say what a terrible movie it had been, and promising never to run it again.

8:09 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

First saw KANE while I was babysitting in the mid-sixties. It was News Years Eve and they ran the thing late, late with, as I remember, exactly one commercial interruption! Couldn't tell you if they cut it any. Anyway, it made a big impact on this 14 year old!

6:54 AM  
Blogger rnigma said...

Regal Television was the syndicator that carved up the Laurel & Hardy features. They took the first 20 minutes of "Saps at Sea" and retitled it "Where To Now?" which I saw when I was a kid. It stayed on that "Where To Now?" title for well over a minute, while the music for the original "Saps" opening titles played.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

A good friend told me of the Sunday a TV station in a major market ran SINGIN' IN THE RAIN in an afternoon time slot, and for time purposes, took out the "Singin' in the Rain" number. The station boss was called in from the golf course to make a live announcement that, due to several thousands angry telephone calls to their switchboard at the movie's conclusion, the movie would be rebroadcast in prime time that same night, totally complete and without commercial interruption.

10:24 AM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Legend has it that a '60s local Cleveland broadcast of Kane, hosted by Ernie Anderson and Tim Conway, ran long because of their skits and general mishigoss, they didn't bother to show the ending.

10:34 AM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

I believe that the first two or three time I watched The Wolfman on TV (NYC), the entire opening was skipped so it started with Chaney picking up Evelyn Ankers for their trip to the gypsy camp.

I tried to watch El Dorado on what was apparently Craftmatic Adjustable Bed Theater in Syracuse in the 70s. It had a three-hour block, mainly because every ten minutes there'd be a 5-minute commercial.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Brother Herbert said...

@ Stinky

Conway talks about that here (about 4:22 in, but the entire interview is Conway at his deadpan best):

3:08 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

On Ben Hunter's noontime movie on KTTV in Los Angeles (the show upon which Art Fern's "Tea Time Movie" was based), they ran either the Carroll Baker or Carol Lynley "Harlow," cut to commercial near the end, and came back for, literally, the last 30 seconds.

2:32 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

A TV station's program director once told me that he hated Leonard Maltin's "TV Movies" books because they listed the exact running time of feature films, in an era when that information was not otherwise easily accessible. Before then, he said, people might suspect that a movie was edited, but they couldn't usually prove it. With Maltin's book in hand, they could call the station, complaining about last night's movie being edited for broadcast. "I timed that movie last night and it only ran 65 minutes, but according to Leonard Maltin, the running time is 76 minutes. Why did you edit it? What did you cut out?"

TV was, for many years, quite merciless to feature films, slicing and dicing them to fit abbreviated timeslots. Where I grew up, one station ran a movie each weekday afternoon. The movies ran only 90 minutes, and even without benefit of Leonard Maltin, it was obvious that many of them had suffered major surgery. I first saw A NIGHT AT THE OPERA there, and so much was missing that I remember being genuinely confused about who was doing what, where they were doing it and why. I remember being in college before I ever saw BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN with the prologue intact. The print I grew up seeing on TV always chopped that part out, with the opening credits' fadeout leading to an abrupt jump cut to the burning windmill.

Movies scheduled for after 10 p.m. were better, since they were much more likely to be run unedited, though even that was no guarantee. It was frustrating to look at the TV schedule, see THE MALTESE FALCON scheduled, and know that it was going to be whacked down to something like 70 minutes for its 10:30 showing because it was apparently vital that the station's midnight rerun of OUR MISS BROOKS not be pre-empted.

I think that frustration is what drove some of us to become film collectors. That desire to see these things uncut and unedited, with nothing removed to accommodate tight scheduling or the extra three minutes of commercial time that has to be worked in for those new laxative spots the station just sold. Even collecting 16mm, though, you couldn't altogether escape television's evil, with old TV prints turning up in which, every ten minutes or so, the picture was violated by crude cue marks and an abrupt splice that removed a dissolve and left one scene blundering right into the next. Which, to keep this on topic, was true of the first print of CITIZEN KANE I ever owned.

4:21 AM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

I remember in the 60's and 70's, when WNBC and WABC in NY ran a 4:30 movie on weekdays (before talk shows and expanded local newscasts took over that time slot). WABC was especially creative: they had a "Go Ape" week, showing all 5 PLANET OF THE APES movies Monday-Friday. Something like THE GREAT ESCAPE or BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI would be run over two afternoons, with the first 15 minutes of so of day two being a recap of day one. On WNBC's 4:30 movie SINGIN' IN THE RAIN ran, with the Broadway Melody ballet cut - so you saw Cyd Charisse's name in the credits, but she never appeared in the film at all!

7:28 AM  
Blogger MikeD said...

"Harness Racing from Yonkers" sure brings back memories! I never watched it but just seeing it in 'print' brings me back to the days when we'd scan the TV listings to see which Sherlock Holmes was on this week or if "Racket Squad" was running after the Yankee game. Thanks for evoking those carefree times. And back then I had no idea movies were cut for TV.

8:13 AM  
Blogger John Rice said...

Back in the 1960's KCRA in Sacramento once ran the 129 minute "The Quiet Man" in a 90 minute time slot, Saturday or Sunday evening 5:30 to 7:00 PM as I recall. They just chopped the first hour off, no editing whatsoever. As that film was at the time one of my absolute favorites, nearly impossible to see in theaters by then and it of course being the pre-video era I was not a happy camper. I wrote them a letter telling them in no uncertain terms that their management and film editors were idiots. I got back a form letter thanking me for my compliments on their programming.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

I was a typical '50s cowboys and monsters kid; no kissing movies and nothing too talky. Since CK was on TV a lot then, especially WOR which somehow we got in central PA, I gauged my growing maturity by how far I got into the film before turning it off. I may have been as old as 14, but I finally made it all the way to the end--and walked through a doorway into more adult films and better taste.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Itslefty said...

I used to cut movies down for broadcast at KCOP TV in Los Angeles back in the eighties. I was told that someone who worked there years before me cut down Citizen Kane and got a phone call from Orson Welles commending them on their work. I don't believe it either.

11:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh dear, ltslefty, don't tell me YOU'RE the guy who brandished the scissors at Channel 13! I moved to LA in 1982, and until then - except for the blackface gag that closes FRESH HARE - I had NEVER seen Warner Bros cartoons edited down until I caught 'em on KCOP. And what you guys did to ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN... horrific! Ah, well, I suppose time heals all wounds.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

WNAC-TV in Boston, during its last week as an RKO General station, ran five C & C prints one last time: GUNGA DIN, BRINGING UP BABY, CAREFREE,, KING KONG, and ROOM SERVICE... each edited to 52 MINUTES for a one-hour weekday-matinee slot.

6:26 AM  

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