The Millionaire

TV classics: aka If You had a Million

USA 1955-60, six seasons, 206 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Produced by Don Fedderson, Fred Henry. Cast: Marvin Miller, Paul Frees. Guest stars: Phyllis Avery, Carl Betz, Whitney Blake, Angie Dickinson, Barbara Eden, Beverly Garland, Ray Gordon, Barbara Hale, DeForest Kelly, Del Moore, Mary Tyler Moore, Agnes Moorehead, Maudie Prickett, Gloria Talbott, Robert Vaughn, Betty White, Bill Williams, Dick York and many others.

Plot summary: Millionaires are happy people or are they?

millionaireReview: In 1955, anthology programs were as popular on TV as procedurals are today. While most of them featured a different genre on a weekly basis, The Millionaire had a steady concept. John Beresford Tipton, Jr., a man as wealthy as he was generous, made out a check to complete strangers and asked his secretary to deliver them. He gave away one million dollars without any strings attached. Surprised by their sudden fortune, the recipients signed a legal contract to guarantee the anonymity of their unknown sponsor and were then abandoned to their fate. A blessing for some, a curse for others, Tipton’s gift always deeply affected the lives of people who had never dreamed of ever owning so much money.

Popular enough to be parodied on The Jack Benny Program and by Mad Magazine, The Millionaire attracted many guest stars who contributed to the show’s appeal. Although based on a simple idea, the program turned a similar situation into a new story every week and thus kept the original concept interesting for six seasons. Blessed with good scripts and the talents of Marvin Miller as Tipton’s bearer of glad tidings, the show created dramatic, funny and generally entertaining moments with actors such as Dick York, Betty White, Barbara Hale and Bill Williams. Successful for five years on CBS, the show was frequently rerun from 1960 to 1980 and temporarily revived on TV Land in the late 1990s. It is a pity that, today, the program has not yet been made available on DVD. It is a real gem for anyone who loves the Golden Age of television and a cordial invitation to dream of opening the door to Marvin Miller as Michael Anthony.

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Crossroads

TV classics: Crossroads

USA 1955-57, two seasons, 78 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, ABC, black & white. Cast: Jeff Morrow, Douglass Dumbrille, Robert Carson, Frank J. Scannell, Robert Paquin, Pat O’Brien, Dorothy Green, Donald Woods, Philip Ahn, Jonathan Hale, Brian Donlevy, Richard Denning, Vincent Price, Dick Foran and many others

Plot summary: As a religious anthology series, Crossroads has a look at everyday challenges from a spiritual point of view.

Review: Focusing on the lives of clergymen from numerous denominations, predominantly Christian and Jewish, Crossroads presented a new story and cast each week to entertain and educate an audience from all backgrounds and age groups. Based on actual incidents, each episode offered answers to everyday challenges but also shed light on less common social environments and situations. In Lifeline, for example, broadcast on ABC on May 11, 1956, a young woman (Barbara Hale) seeks the help of Reverend Grumm (Regis Toomey) to salve her conscience and rescue her baby sister from the mob she herself has been working for for years. It’s stories like these that made this show so alluring and the actors who still make it worthwhile today. With selected episodes available on DVD, Crossroads is definitely not a show for agnostics, but it may fill a gap for those who are interested in spirituality and miss a certain sparkle of hope.

The Barbara Stanwyck Show

TV classics: The Barbara Stanwyck Show

USA 1960-61, 1 season,  36 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, NBC, black & white. Presented by Barbara Stanwyck, Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Guest stars: Dana Andrews, Joseph Cotton, Peter Falk, Dennis Hopper, Julie London, Jack Nicholson, Lloyd Nolan, Marion Ross, Stephen Talbot  and many others

Plot summary: As a classic anthology series, The Barbara Stanwyck Show featured different genres and actors each week, often including the hostess herself.

Review: As one of Golden Hollywood’s female stars, Barbara Stanwyck followed a popular trend of starring in her own TV show when movie offers became scarce due to her advancing age in the early 1960s. A typical anthology series, The Barbara Stanwyck Show presented different genres each week with a new cast, including the popular actress herself. Usually wrapping the first act in sixty seconds, the storylines ranged from funny to dramatic, allowing Ms. Stanwyck to show variety and depth. Although rewarded with an Emmy for Outstanding Performance by a Lead Actress in a Series in 1961, the show, unfortunately, did not last longer than one season due to its moderate ratings. It wasn’t until The Big Valley four years later that led to a more lasting success for her on the small screen. With another Emmy win and two more nominations in the 60s, as well as her renewed success with The Torn Birds two decades later, Barbara Stanwyck remains one of Hollywood’s most successful stars whose work is now available on DVD.

Although only selected episodes have been released so far, The Barbara Stanwyck Show Volumes 1 and 2 are a worthy investment for anyone who appreciates the actress and her genuine style. Always classy, poised and beautiful, Ms. Stanwyck breathes life into a series that didn’t live enough to reach its full potential. It is the perfect treat for fans of classic Hollywood, no matter how how young or old, and a show you may find yourself coming back to over and over again.

The Barbara Stanwyck Show sample episode

Science Fiction Theatre

TV classics: Science Fiction Theatre

USA 1955-57, 2 seasons,  78 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, Syndication, black & white, and color (season 1). Hosted by Truman Bradley. Cast examples: John Archer, Gene Barry, Dick Foran, Beverly Garland, Barbara Hale, DeForest Kelley, Otto Kruger, June Lockhart, William Talman, Bill Williams et al.

Plot summary: Introduced by host Truman Bradley, Science Fiction Theatre presented a case of factual science each week, taken one step further by the show’s writers to tickle the imagination of their audience.

Review: Shot in color in season one despite black and white only TV sets across America, Science Fiction Theatre was the forerunner of genre shows such as The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. Presented by actor Truman Bradley, the anthology series aired on a weekly basis and offered a creative outlook on present-day science and its possible future.

Always written to entertain and educate, Science Fiction Theatre stimulated the mind of its viewers, young and old, and picked up topics such as telepathy, outer space and evolution. Introduced by the show’s host, each story was linked to a concrete example of the topic it focused on and cast with a decent cast of actors to make the plot believable. Often suspenseful and sometimes funny, each episode offered a new scenario of science in motion. “Mind Machine” with Bill Williams, for example, examined the infinite possibilities of the human mind while “The Hastings Secret”, with Barbara Hale, contemplated the abilities of termites.

Today, fifty-five years after going off the air, Science Fiction Theatre is still a joy to watch for anyone who likes to dive into science fact and fiction before starships and aliens conquered the genre. The episodes were short and crisp, and the actors beautifully chosen. If you get your hands on one of the unofficial boxsets, allow yourself to lean back and enjoy the quiet pace of this classic show. It will do wonders to your imagination, a rare treat on TV these days.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents

TV classics: Alfred Hitchcock Presents

USA 1955-62, 268 episodes, 25 minutes each, CBS and NBC. Presented by Alfred Hitchcock, Cast examples: Julie Adams, Gene Barry, Barbara Bel Geddes, Charles Bronson, Tom Conway, Joseph Cotten, Anne Francis, Rosemary Harris, Patricia Hitchcock, Brian Keith, Werner Klemperer, Wesley Lau, Steve McQueen, Leslie Nielsen, John Qualen, William Shatner, Nita Talbot, Jessica Tandy, Dick York et al.

Plot summary: In this anthology series, Alfred Hitchcock presented new mysteries on a weekly basis, always introduced by a comment from the master of suspense himself.

Review: Alfred Hitchcock Presents was one of the many successful anthology series of the 1950s and 60s, hosted by Alfred Hitchcock who commented on the weekly stories in the beginning and at the end of each episode. Often welcoming his audience with a friendly “Good Evening”, the master of suspense was a pivotal part of the show for which he caricatured his own silhouette to appear in the title credits. Although praised as Hollywood’s best directors, Hitchcock did not direct more than seventeen episodes of the original show and only one of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour which was produced for another three years after the completion of his half-hour original in 1962.

Focusing on murder, mayhem and mysteries, Alfred Hitchcock Presents had a more constricted theme for its episodes than the majority of other anthology programs, something his famous name already suggested. Always relying on suspense, a decent cast and excellent scripts, the show lived up to be one of the 100 most popular shows on TV and was rewarded with several Emmy nominations including two for the renowned director himself. Successfully rerun for many years, a re-imagined show, The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents, brought more crime to American living rooms in 1985, a popular time for revivals of popular black & white franchises.

Today, Alfred Hitchcock Presents is available on DVD and online to be enjoyed by old fans and new ones alike. Still gripping and entertaining, the episodes are a treat for everyone who enjoys great storytelling and ironic or deadpan comments on sometimes gruesome yet never horrific cases. As the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock was celebrated for his skills to seduce his audience into witnessing upsetting circumstances without haunting them with gory images. His approach was reflected in this show and still offers many hours of first class diversion – a true gem to rediscover on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

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.

Insight

TV classics: Insight

USA 1960-84, 23 seasons,  250 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, Syndication, black & white and color. Presented by Ellwood Kieser. Guest performers: Beau Bridges, Jimmy Doohan, Patty Duke, Barbara Hale, Jack Klugman, Walter Matthau, Bob Newhart, John Ritter, Martin Sheen, Bill Williams et al.

Plot summary: An anthology series, Insight presented a different cast and topic each week, mainly focusing on the meaning and perception of everyday issues concerning love, life and death.

Insight sample episode “A Thousand Red Flowers”

Review: Insight was an award-winning show produced by Paulist Productions and created by the show’s early day presenter, Ellwood Kieser, a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Paulist Fathers. The weekly half-hour series was a religious program presented in an anthology format which introduced different settings, scenarios and characters each week. The show attracted a variety of actors, including Martin Sheen, Walter Matthau, Patty Duke and Beau Bridges and was rewarded with of a number Emmy nominations and awards in the 1970s and 80s.

In 1969, Barbara Hale appeared on the program along with working actor husband Bill Williams. The episode is an excellent example for the diversity of the show, presenting a tale about loss, hopelessness and death. Shot like a staged production, “A Thousand Red Flowers” (see link above) used theatrical elements as well as basic special effects while relying on the power of its excellent cast of actors and their gripping lines. The episode, like so many, picked up on what society was struggling with at the time. It presented two sides of the coin, that of a young man in his world and that of his grieving parents. The writing of the episode was top notch and the acting fabulous. I know I may be biased, but trust Barbara Hale to haunt you with her portrayal of a mother who’s overcome by her emotions at the unexpected loss of her son. A difficult topic most delicately done.

“A Thousand Red Flowers” is not the only outstanding episode Insight had to offer back in its days. Unfortunately, the program has not been released as complete collection so far and is currently unavailable on DVD, selected episodes are available online however. So go check them out if you’re the slightest bit interested in spirituality and religious programs that used television as more than just an entertainment medium. You never know, you may even come across an episode that leaves a mark on you like “A Thousand Red Flowers” has left on me.