A Radio Treat

Two days ago, I listened to a radio broadcast from 1950, a live recording from March 23 to be exact, the day of the 22nd Academy Awards. Presented by Paul Douglas at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood with radio comments by Ken Carpenter, Eve Arden and Ronald Reagan, the show was a good two hours in length and filled with lots of joyful moments.

The show – although already exciting for any classic movie buff without great names such as James Cagney, Jane Wyman, Jimmy Stewart, Dick Powell and June Allyson, Anne Baxter and John Hodiac, Cole Porter, Ruth Roman and Barbara Hale – was entertaining from the start and blessed with a beautiful score presented by Gene Autry, Dean Martin and other wonderful performers. Despite the many differences in presentation compared to the lengthy ceremony I’ve long stopped watching each year, it amused me to find one announcement already existed back in 1950: the request for the winners to cut their thank you’s short. And trust me, the few people who said more than a heartfelt thank you, didn’t take center stage to present a short story about their lives. How refreshing to hear there once was a way to go about this differently, when recipients were in tears about their accomplishment without dwelling on it. How surprising to hear a young boy thank his parents and God – at least by today’s standards.

I know not everyone will share my sentiment, but I loved the mix of glamor and simplicity, such a charming combination. Stars and winners aside, the radio hosts also won my heart for their lively presentation and supportive attitude. Without making a fuss, they added to the style of a show that still showed signs of gratefulness and modesty towards their peers and audience. A different world, Hollywood in 1950, both good and bad, and so much fun revisiting with your eyes closed.

Advertisements

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.

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)