Ford Television Theatre

TV classics: Ford Television Theatre

USA 1952-57, 5 seasons, 195 episodes, 30 minutes each, NBC and ABC. Sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. Cast examples: Gene Barry, Joan Bennett, Barbara Britton, Raymond Burr, Bette Davis, Richard Denning, Irene Dunne, Barbara Hale, Brian Keith, Angela Lansbury, Maureen O’Sullivan, Larry Parks, Ronald Reagan, Barbara Stanwyck et al.

Plot summary: Like many anthology series of the time, the Ford Television Theatre presented a new story with a new cast of actors in different genres each week.

Review: Like many of its sister anthology series, the Ford Television Theatre presented a new story with a new cast of actors in different genres each week. Originally a radio program, the show was first broadcast like on TV in 1948 and picked up for a full run of 195 half-hour episodes in 1952. The show got its name from its sponsor, the Ford Motor Company and was often introduced by a commercial that presented the latest Ford models. Ford Television Theatre managed to attract a great variety of movie and working actors, including Barbara Stanwyck, Irene Dunne or Claudette Colbert.

Unfortunately rather hard to come by these days, the episodes differed in quality and are definitely still a matter of preference and taste. Barbara Hale’s appearance on Behind the Mask, for instance, increased the resonance of the episode for me which offers a storyline about a medical impostor that’s too complex for the format. Man without Fear on the other hand made perfect use of its thirty minutes and lived of its concise story and brilliant cast including Raymond Burr as a haunted fugitive who confronts the man who got him into prison. The Ming Llama presented Angela Lansbury with her captivating talents but failed to live up to the story’s apparent inspirational source, The Maltese Falcon.

All in all, it’s safe to say that Ford Television Theatre offered a decent collection of episodes with a great mix of stories from all kinds of genres. Some were based on true stories, others were plain entertainment, ranging from suspenseful to corny. Footnote on a Doll with Bette Davis as Dolly Madison was one of the latter and due to Ms. Davis’ reliably gripping performance, it’s one of my favorites. Remember to Live is another episode I greatly enjoy, especially because it made use of Barbara Hale’s background as an artist. Fugitives with Raymond Burr in a small role completes my current list of favorites, surprising enough not for his convincing as always delivery but for the main plot he’s only a side note in.

But no matter if you share my preference in actors, their talents and style, Ford Television Theatre created entertainment for everyone. So if you get a chance, check out some episodes and see how they affect you. Favorite actors or not, I’m sure you’ll discover more than just a single gem.

All About Eve

Talkie of the Week: All About Eve

USA 1950, 138 minutes, black & white, 20th Century Fox, Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Based on The Wisdom of Eve by Mary Orr. Cast: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter, George Sanders, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merrill, Gregory Ratoff, Barbara Bates, Marilyn Monroe

Plot summary: Aging Broadway star Margo Channing takes her young adoring fan Eve under her wings and ends up being ousted by the aspiring actress the not so innocent girl turns out to be.

Review: If you are into Hollywood classics, All About Eve will probably have crossed your path early on. It is one of those gems critics raved about upon release. A film that received fourteen Academy Awards nominations, including four for the star-studded female ensemble and six wins: Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Supporting Actor (George Sanders), Costume Design and Sound Recording. It earned a variety of other nominations and awards, including a bow to Bette Davis’ leading performance at the Cannes Film Festival. Popular culture has frequently paid homage to All About Eve and the originally fictitious Sarah Siddons Award introduced in the movie was turned into an actual honor by theater enthusiasts in Chicago in 1952. The Sarah Siddons Society first awarded Helen Hayes for outstanding actress of the year and is still announcing their annual winners today.

With so much cultural impact on its resumé, the film is almost bound to disappoint when you first watch it. Expectations are high, and rightly so, but All About Eve was a well-written movie back in 1950 and still is today. Joseph L. Mankiewicz created a story that’s gripping and timeless even though certain dynamics have changed in the entertainment business these days. All in all however, the sensitive bond between performing artists and their adoring fans, between experienced actresses and aspiring ones, between producers, writers and their entourage, has remained the same. It is a world of its own, so foreign to outsiders and yet so familiar to anyone who’s tied up in a business that strives on competition, rejuvenation and success.

Bette Davis was a genius pick for Margo Channing although Claudette Colbert was the original inspiration for the part. With her powerhouse performance, Miss Davis did not only win over juries and critics, but also built the ground for her fellow cast members to shine on. Anne Baxter absorbed Margo Channing’s fierce energy and created an almost eerie Eve Harrington whose admiration and lies push the story forward. Celeste Holm added a note of genuine heartiness to that group of strong-willed women while Thelma Ritter brought some much needed earthiness to the quixotic world of Broadway theater. Supported by a potent group of male actors and Marilyn Monroe in one of her early roles, the richly praised cast still leaves a lasting impression on its audience today.

For me, All About Eve is a must-see movie, one of those gems that grows on you over the years, with performances and lines that hit a nerve and stay with you. It’s a film you can watch over and over again, like many of the true classics, and they will always give you something else.

Available on DVD and VHS.

What’s My Line?

TV classics: What’s My Line?

USA 1950-67, 17 seasons,  876 episodes, 25 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Presented by John Charles Daly. Panelists: Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen, Bennett Cerf, Louis Untermeyer, Hal Block, Steve Allen, Fred Allen, Mystery celebrity guests: Julie Andrews, Eve Arden, Desi Arnaz, Fred Astaire, Lauren Bacall, Lucille Ball, Candice Bergen, Polly Bergen, Carol Burnett, James Cagney, Claudette Colbert, Sean Connery, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Doris Day, Kirk Douglas, Errol Flynn, Joan Fontaine, Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, James Garner, Bob Hope, Grace Kelley, Gene Kelly, Deborah Kerr, Hedy Lamarr, Angela Lansbury, Jack Lemmon, Sophia Loren, Myrna Loy, Allen Ludden, Paul Newman, Debbie Reynolds, Ginger Rogers, Mickey Rooney, Jane Russell, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, Ann Sothern, Jimmy Stewart, Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Gene Tierney, Lana Turner, Robert Wagner, Betty White, Joanne Woodward, Jane Wyman, Robert Young et al.

Game summary: Four panelists are trying to guess the occupation of their guests and the identity of the mystery celebrity of the week.

Review: What’s My Line? was one of the longest running and most popular game shows on American TV. Launched as early as in 1950, the show was broadcast weekly on CBS for seventeen successful seasons until it was continued on a daily basis in syndication. Transferred to radio as well as to audiences worldwide, the format was a big success and didn’t go off the air until 1975. In its history, What’s My Line? featured a lot of famous mystery celebrity guests such as Lucille Ball, Bette Davis, Myrna Loy, Elizabeth Taylor or Robert Young, some of whom appeared more than once.

With its easy format, the game show was an entertaining half hour of guessing what the weekly guests were doing for a living, for the panelists as much as for the TV audience. Broadcast live in the beginning, What’s My Line? lived of the chemistry between its regular panelists and their host John Charles Daly. Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen and Bennett Cerf stayed with the show the longest while the fourth spot on the panel was usually given to a famous incoming guest. The thrill of the show lay in the variety of professions the panelists had to guess by asking funny as well as witty “yes-and-no only” questions. The mystery celebrity guest was always the cherry on top of each episode when the blindfolded panel of four queried its way to revealing who was sitting next to their host.

Like so many of the classic game shows, What’s My Line? is a lot of fun to watch these days. The panelists, guests and celebrities are entertaining and hilarious at times. The program is innocent for today’s standards, classy and polite. The game is harmless and relaxing, a perfect show to watch at the end of a hectic day.

Selected clips available on youtube (see links above).

The Approaching New Year

With the new year fast approaching, I’ve decided to have a look at 2012 because I may love vintage but I rather look ahead than back. So what’s cooking?!

On January 17th, America’s sweetheart Betty White is going to complete another decade. She’ll be turning  ninety. I know she just recently said that’s not an accomplishment but that it just happened, bless her for  counting her blessings like that. But still. Ninety is quite a milestone. And with her popularity, filmography  and attitude she definitely outshines an entire studio full of performers less than half her age.

 

On April 18th then, my personal Tinseltown darling, RKO’s 1940s starlet and Perry Mason‘s renowned girl Friday, Barbara Hale, will join Ms. White, my N Hollywood grandma and their club of Fabulous at Ninety. Although long retired, well-deserved and (apparently) happily so, Ms. Hale is still fondly remembered by Della Street fans and classic cinéastes from around the globe. More and more of her work has been published on DVD or online in recent years and I sincerely hope that 2012 will reveal more of her bubbly warmth for us all to enjoy.

Then several films and TV shows will celebrate their anniversaries. Here are some examples:

  • Ironside (1967-75, NBC)
  • The Lucy Show (1962-68, CBS)
  • My Little Margie (1952-55, CBS & NBC)
  • Perry Mason TV show (1957-66, CBS)
  • A Likely Story (1947, RKO, directed by H.C. Potter, starring Barbara Hale and Bill Williams)
  • The First Time (1952, Columbia, directed by Frank Tashlin, starring Robert Cummings and Barbara Hale)
  • Ivanhoe (1952, MGM, directed by Richard Thorpe, starring Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor)
  • The Miracle Worker (1962, United Artists, directed by Arthur Penn, starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke)
  • Pat & Mike (1952, MGM, directed by George Cukor, starring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey)
  • Singin’ in the Rain (1952, MGM, directed by Stanley Donen, starring Gene Kelley and Debbie Reynolds)
  • That Touch of Mink (1962, Universal, directed by Delbert Mann, starring Cary Grant and Doris Day)
  • What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962, Warner Bros., directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis & Joan Crawford)

Of course there are many many more, e.g. Bambi (1942), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Mrs. Miniver (1942) or To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Also other TV shows like The Carol Burnett Show (1967-78) or The Flying Nun (1967-70).

The legendary Barbara Stanwyck had her screen debut as a fan dancer in Broadway Nights eighty-five years ago. She would’ve turned one-hundred and five on July 16th, Raymond Burr ninety-five on May 21st.

I could continue this list ad infinitum. But I rather wish you a smooth start into the new year and hope you’re looking forward to all the vintage treats that will be revisited and adored on this blog in the up-coming leap year.

Bless y’all!

General Electric Theater

TV classics: General Electric Theater aka G.E. True Theater

USA 1953-62, 10 seasons,  approximately 300 episodes, ca. 25 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Presented by: Ronald Reagan. Cast selection: Ann Baxter, Charles Bronson, Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, Tony Curtis, Bette Davis, Sammy Davis Jr., James Dean, Joan Fontaine, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Greer Garson, Barbara Hale, Kim Hunter, Michael Landon, Joi Lansing, Charles Laughton, Piper Laurie, Myrna Loy, Walter Matthau, Suzanne Pleshette, George Sanders, James Stewart, Dean Stockwell, Natalie Wood – and many others

Plot summary: Host Ronald Reagan presents an always prestigious cast of actors in an anthology of teleplays of multiple genres, including crime, drama and westerns.

Review: G.E. Theater was a television program that presented an adaptation of novels, short stories, plays, film or general fiction on each episode, featuring working actors as well as Hollywood starlets and stars in different roles every week. The program featured live as well as filmed segments before it turned into a fully filmed show in 1957. Presenter Ronald Reagan served as host with his already familiar Hollywood face to give the show a touch of continuity.

Each episode differed from another and it’s safe to say that for everybody who enjoys watching an ever changing cast of decent actors in a different set of roles, this program is a real gem, a fabulous opportunity to discover great talents like Bette Davis, James Stewart, Myrna Loy or my personal favorite Barbara Hale in individual episodes, often supported by a beautiful stage setting and quality.

In essence, G.E. Theater is a beautiful example of 1950s television and its connection with the golden Hollywood era of the days. It also shows a genre coming into its own, little by little, step by step, with its own aesthetics and perception of storytelling.

For those of you who are not familiar with teleplays and their magic, I’m asking you to give them a chance. I’m sure you will soon find it’s worth getting used to a different viewing pattern, a different understanding of having your imagination teased and tickled. I, for the most part, am a big fan of teleplays and recorded theater, and highly recommend some of these rare episodes that you will find scattered on the internet and on a couple of DVD collections. Go get them!

Sample episode with James Dean (1954)

Sample episode Judy Garland musical special (1956)