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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The Donna Reed Show

TV classics: The Donna Reed Show

USA 1958-66, 8 seasons,  275 episodes, 20-25 minutes each, ABC, black & white. Produced by: Tony Owen, Bill Robert, Developed by: Donna Reed and Tony Owen. Regular cast: Donna Reed, Carl Betz, Paul Petersen, Shelley Fabares, Patty Petersen

Plot summary: Housewife and mother Donna Stone masters her everyday life with utmost love and a charming sense of humor as she takes care of her teenage-troubled children and pediatrician husband Alex.

Review: The Donna Reed Show is often referred to as a typical example of a 1950s family show. Built around housewife and mother Donna however, this show is hardly a typical example at all. Although many shows featured a loving stay-at-home mom at the time, this show finally focused on a female lead and her everyday challenges. A sitcom through and through, The Donna Reed Show tackles Donna’s household issues, marriage troubles and teenage quarrels with a kind twinkle in the eye. Although graver topics are being addressed in individual episodes, the show was basically designed to entertain and paint a wholesome picture of a warmhearted Stone family.

Developed by the show’s star Donna Reed and her producer husband Tony Owen, the show offers fully fleshed characters and a talented cast of actors. Donna Reed, best known for her endearing portrayal of Mary Hatch in It’s a Wonderful Life, is supported by Carl Betz as father-of-the-year Alex Stone (no pun intended) and their two perky children Mary and Jeff played by Shelley Fabares and Paul Petersen. Although, by today’s cynical standards, it may sound as if this family is too good to be true and thus unbearable to watch, The Donna Reed Show is a darling show that deserves a chance. It’s not by accident that she show lasted eight full seasons and was successfully rerun in the 1980s and early 1990s.

What makes this show stand out is not the often scrutinized image of the perfect housewife, beautifully played by Donna Reed. In actuality it’s the lighthearted, easygoing sense of humor that carries the show, as well as the then uncommon respect it shows for Donna Stone’s daily routine and all the obstacles that begged to confuse it. Uncommon then, to show a housewife and mother as more than just an adored yet needed piece of jewelry, and uncommon now, in times when a lot of TV housewives are either depicted as shrews, addicts or adulteresses.

The Donna Reed Show did mirror life in the 1950s as much as current shows do today. In essence, it is the ideal image of an era so different from ours now, a lovely show to watch with your kids (or alone) to remind ourselves how life could be without the snarky and that perpetual promise for women that we supposedly can have it all.

Available on DVD.