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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Life with Elizabeth

TV classics: Life with Elizabeth

USA 1953-55, 2 seasons,  65 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, Syndication, black & white. Produced by: Betty White, Don Fedderson, Cal Reed, George Tibbles. Cast: Betty White, Del Moore, Announcer: Jack Narz

Plot summary: Elizabeth is married to Alvin. Together they master their suburban life with all its everyday ups and downs.

Review: Originally filmed at and produced live by local Los Angeles TV station KLAC-TV in 1952, this low-budget program was syndicated nationally one year later and earned Betty White her first Emmy award for her funny portrayal of Elizabeth. And the award was well-deserved. Life with Elizabeth is an entertaining show which presents three sectioned storylines per episode called incidents. Each incident is introduced by announcer Jack Narz and contains little insights into Elizabeth’s life with Alvin, their quirks and problems. Each episode ends at the height of marital turmoil in the third comedy scene, but always with a smooth outro by the show’s announcer and his question to Elizabeth if she’s not ashamed. Elizabeth usually isn’t which adds to the charm of her character’s silliness.

All in all, the show is a real piece of time travel back to a 1950s sense of humor, wardrobe and acting talent. Although Alvin may come across as quite a condescending husband and Elizabeth has a tendency to act like a child, it’s that combination that turns this program into such a treat these days. It is, after all, a comedy show and not a manual on good housekeeping and a perfect marriage. At the same time however, it also reflects on certain cliches that may not have changed all that much over the decades although the roles are often reversed in present-day comedy shows.

Personally I prefer Date with the Angels from 1957 with its classic 25 minute format, singular storyline and wonderful cast, but Life with Elizabeth is a great show for everyone who enjoys Betty White’s entertainment qualities from back in the days when she was still a brunette and played less equivocal yet darling characters.

Selected episodes available on DVD. sample episode of Life with Elizabeth