March 04, 1991 12:00 PM

by Penny Stallings

What Hollywood Babylon did for films—exposing depravity or perversion among the I stars—this book purports to do for TV. This “photo-filled phantasmagoria blows the lid off the rumors, the scandals, and the deepest darkest secrets of our favorite small-screen stars,” crows a press release.

Well, the book fulfills one promise: It is full of enjoyable photos, many from the live drama era of the ’50s. There are also childhood snapshots of such stars as Johnny Carson, Candice Bergen and Jack Benny.

If, however, you’re looking for lurid tales, look elsewhere. Stallings, a MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour writer, mainly trots out anecdotes, many of them such familiar tube lore as the tale of Jackie Mason’s career-crippling gesture on a 1964 Ed Sullivan Show.

If not all that shocking, the stories are often amusing. Consider Fred MacMurray’s minimal commitment to his ’60s series My Three Sons. He could shoot his entire season’s worth of scenes one after the other, merely changing sweaters. His hefty annual salary required only two months’ work.

There is a section devoted to actors who turned down what became hit series. What if, for instance, William Shatner had become Dr. Kildare instead of Richard Chamberlain? Picture Mickey Rooney instead of: Carroll O’Connor in, All in the Family.

There’s also a chapter on toupees, nose jobs and other cosmetic aids. Ego and vanity, indeed, may be the worst transgressions Stallings details. Ah, well, it’s a living-room medium; even the vices are tamer. (Harper Perennial, paper, $14.95)

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