Pantomime Quiz

TV classics: Pantomime Quiz

USA 1947-59, aka Stump the Stars 1962-63, irregular seasons, episodes approximately 25 minutes each, KTLA, CBS, DuMont, NBC and ABC, black & white. Hosted by Mike Stokey. Celebrity guests: Lucie Arnaz, Carol Burnett, Raymond Burr, Beverly Garland, Barbara Hale, William Hopper, Eartha Kitt, Michael Landon, Nancy Sinatra, William Talman, Dick Van Dyke et al.

Game summary: Based on the popular game Charades, two groups of celebrity contestants compete against each other to find out who’s faster at miming the titles and sentences contributed by the audience.

Review: Pantomime Quiz is one of those shows I miss a lot these days: pure entertainment for the entire family. These game shows are great fun to watch at any age and apparently brought a lot of joy to the contestants as well back in the days. Beverly Garland was one of the regular contestants on Pantomime Quiz, Sebastian Cabot and Ross Martin. Always supported by an incoming celebrity guest, the ever-changing teams of contestants did their best to explain as many terms, names or phrases as possible. The faster a contestant managed to show his or her given term without using a single word, the more points their team got. If they didn’t stay under two minutes, no points were added to their account and thus lowered their chances to prevail in the end.

Originally airing on KTLA as early as in 1947, Pantomime Quiz survived a successful twelve non-consecutive season run on four different networks. Presented by Mike Stokey, the show won an Emmy for “Most Popular Television Program” at the first Emmy Awards ceremony. Discontinued on ABC in 1959, the show was revived on CBS in 1962 under a new title, Stump the Stars. Pat Harrington Jr. hosted the re-imagined show until veteran emcee Stokey returned to the format and welcomed celebrity guests such as the cast of the Dick Van Dyke Show and Perry Mason.

Today, selected clips are available online and on DVD to enjoy with your (grand)parents and kids. Complete episodes are a real treat, my personal favorite being an episode from 1963 featuring Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, William Hopper and William Talman (displayed on the 5oth Anniversary of Perry Mason box set). I always root for each one of them to find the right clues and gestures, no matter how often I watch them play. You can have a look a full sample episode here on youtube and see for yourselves or click the links above to share my joy about the Perry Mason gang and their familiar quips and quirks. But be prepared, if you’re into game shows, Pantomime Quiz or Stump the Stars may awaken your inner Charades Queen (or King) who feels the urge to convert everyone around you to play along.

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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)