Friday, October 7, 2011

Cuban Missile Crisis Recovered Memories: Programming the Apocalypse

Of course, very few moments in television history can rival President John F. Kennedy’s October 22, 1962 address to the nation on the Cuban missile crisis for suspense and drama. Indeed, so much has been written about the young president’s historic speech on the blockade of Castro’s island that we have chosen to focus instead on more trivial matters here (although, our next installment will concern an interesting and comical unintended consequence of Kennedy’s famous broadcast).

In preparing this series of posts on the recovered memories of the Cuban missile crisis, we got to wondering what was on television and radio during this panicky period. We decided to limit our review to the Los Angeles area since it is where CONELRAD is based and it is where the microfilm of L.A.’s wonderful newspaper past resides.

TV Coverage-Cuban

It should come as no surprise that this end times programming ran the gamut from the boring (KABC had U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson answering letters and telegrams on the crisis) to the frightening (a “what to do if” special entitled “Civil Defense and Common Sense” that was broadcast on radio station KLAC) to the wildly inappropriate: on October 26, 1962 KTTV, channel 11 broadcast the atom bomb / love story Above and Beyond. 

KTTV was not content to simply run this 1952 celebration of the Bomb starring Robert Taylor as the Enola Gay’s stalwart pilot Paul Tibbetts and Eleanor Parker as his long-suffering wife, Lucey (the producers of the film put such little thought into her character that they misspelled her first name). No, they advertised it in large print ads such as the one seen below.


Was Above and Beyond chosen for its potential appeal to the General Curtis LeMay audience (who wouldn’t have had much use for watching Adlai read telegrams from worried peaceniks)? Or was it broadcast because it had been scheduled for months and the TV sales department had already placed the ads?

Probably the latter.    



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