Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Ethel Merman makes a (thankfully) rare appearance on Colorado Public Television

While hired guns fight over the future of the iconic National Western Stock Show, at 8 p.m. tonight Colorado Public Television takes a trip to a quieter time -- back to 1951, when a newfangled media form known as "television" was sweeping the country, kids were learning to "duck and cover," and Denver got a glamorous new resident: Ethel Merman, fresh from her Broadway smashes Annie Get Your Gun and Call Me Madam.

But Merman's toughest role may have been as Denver housewife. Until her move West, her major experience with this part of the country was playing Annie Oakley, star of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. But in 1951, Merman met Robert Six, president of Continental Airlines, and packed up her life and two children for a move out to Colorado, where Continental was based. She and Six settled into a 27-room mansion in Cherry Hills, and Merman -- star of stage and screen -- played stay-at-home mom, offering tours to visiting celebrities and joining the Denver Symphony Orchestra for a rare concert at Red Rocks in 1953.

Denver didn't even have its own local TV station in 1951, but that didn't stop Colorado Public Television from concocting one for tonight's trip-back-in-time installment of Colorado inside Out, the weekly public affairs roundtable on which I'm a regular. For the past ten years, CIO has offered a very irregular annual segment in which the panelists travel back in time, serving up a different look at Denver. Tonight at 8 p.m., it's Denver in 1951 -- and I'm playing Ethel Merman. (My other option: Mamie Eisenhower.)

Previous CIO history shows have won regional Emmys; if this one does, it won't be because of my performance. Sorry, Ms. Merman.

Here's the rest of the scoop from the station:

The latest trip in the time machine takes host Raj Chohan and panel guests back to the year 1951; Harry S. Truman was President, a first-class stamp cost three cents, unemployment was 3.3 percent and ...Bobby Thompson of the New York Giants hit a walk off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the National League pennant in the so called, "shot heard 'round the world."

1951 was also the time of the Korean War, duck and cover drills and big time construction and expansion in the city of Denver. CPT12 goes back in time to understand exactly what was happening in Colorado. With each Time Machine episode, the CIO panel takes on identities from the chosen time period to foray into the past. The 1951 panel is as follows:

* Raj Chohan - host, as famed radio personality Perry Allen * Patricia Calhoun - Ethel Merman, star of stage and screen and 1951 resident of Denver * David Kopel - Cecil Koplowitz, City Editor of the Walsenburg World Independent * Kevin Flynn - Al Nakkula, reporter with the Rocky Mountain News * Dani Newsum - Lois Waddell, a Sociology Professor at the University of Denver

Co-Producer and Sound Designer Larry Patchett went the extra mile to make this trip into the past authentic, using actual time period microphones and using a newsroom setting for the production.

More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "National Western complex goes to pot: Welcome to the Mile (really) High City."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun