Friday, August 26, 2011

Science Fiction Theatre: The Pilot

William Lundigan needs rest in the episode "Beyond."
From 1954 to 1957, ZIV-TV and Ivan Tors produced a series of science fiction dramas titled Science Fiction Theatre. Hosted by Truman Bradley, this anthology with a strong emphasis towards science than fiction, is considered by many as one of the five best science-fiction television programs ever broadcast on American television.

To get the series launched off the ground, Ivan Tors and his crew devoted more energy towards not one but two pilots, “Beyond” and “Y**O**R**D**,” than any other episodes of the series. 

The first of the two pilots, “Beyond,”concerned a test pilot flying with twice the speed of sound and meets a torpedo-shaped flying object 30,000 feet high in the sky. Afraid of collision, the pilot bails out. Medical experts suspect that his sighting was nothing but a visual hallucination and he is subjected to a lie detector test, hypnosis and various mental and physical examinations. In the meantime, retracing the curve of the test flight, some prominent scientists arrive at the conclusion that the angle and the speed of the ascent equalized the Earth’s gravitational pull with the result that the pilot’s brain was floating inside his skull. They conclude that the effect of this unusual condition was the misinterpretation of a floating fountain pen inside the cockpit. The pilot insists he was not hallucinating, but his insistence is met with opposition. When pieces of the wrecked airplane are recovered in the desert, the metal is highly magnetized, indicating that the plane brushed against something traveling through the atmosphere powered with magnetic force. Was it a spaceship, a flying saucer or a monitoring instrument from outer space? Only science and tomorrow will tell.

The pilot episode was produced in July of 1954, with William Lundigan in the lead as Fred Gunderman and Ellen Drew as his wife. It comes as no surprise that Lundigan, having played the lead in Tors’ Riders to the Stars less than a year previous, would star in the pilot. Tors had struck up a friendship with the actor and his agency, Famous Artists, who secured the arrangements for casting. Tors then assembled a staff composed of many who worked on his three motion pictures. Scientific advisor Maxwell Smith agreed to assist with the pilot and the entire series. George Van Marter, who was the art director for The Magnetic Monster, was hired on a free-lance basis to temporarily serve as a writer for the first two episodes. “Beyond” concerned a test pilot who may or may not have encountered an unidentified flying object with baffled scientists unable to find definite proof that his story was merely a hallucination. “Y**O**R**D**” (that's how it's spelled on the screen) concerned a group of scientists stationed in the Arctic who receive telepathic communication from visitors from outer space, seeking a means of escape from the planet’s gravitational pull.

Ellen Drew and William Lundigan
“Beyond” and “Y**O**R**D**” were both produced at American National Studios. While Tors had the Hal Roach Studios at his disposal (the same studio responsible for producing You Are There and My Little Margie), it was Ziv who insisted that production be kept at American National to limit the expenses.

Made at the same time as producer Art Arthur’s Battle Taxi, Ivan Tors borrowed some of Arthur’s production staff to assist with the pilot for Science Fiction Theatre. A clause in the contract protected ZIV-TV with an option to reject the proposal should he deem the pilot insufficient.

Art Arthur was responsible for Battle Taxi, released theatrically in January of 1955, which had a working title of “Operation Air Rescue” during production in the summer of 1954. The movie (assigned Prod. No. 9941) took place during the Korean war, and told the story of the commander of an Air Rescue helicopter team who must show a hot-shot former jet pilot how important helicopter rescue work is and turn him into a team player. The pilot, “Beyond,” had Prod. No. 9072, revealing that production numbers were not assigned in sequence.

Herbert L. Strock, who directed Battle Taxi, also directed the pilot. “I felt that Ivan had a fetish for doing scientific things that an audience didn’t understand,” Strock recalled in the March/April 1996 issue of Filmfax. “He would lose the human element—emotions that were going on—and get into technicalities. I had to constantly bandy him to try to change something that had meaning. He wasn’t very good at dialogue; his physical dialogue had that European convolution of expressing oneself.”

Strock was served as an associate producer for a number of television programs and movies before script clerk Mary Whitlock Gibson recommended him for the job of both editor and director, filling in for director Curt Siodmak, who was disappointing Tors. As a film editor, Strock knew how to best incorporate stock footage into newly filmed footage. For Tors’ second film, Riders to the Stars, also scripted by Curt Siodmak, Strock became an associate producer and soon found himself taking over as director when Richard Carlson overextended himself by directing, acting and rewriting the film. It started when Carlson asked Strock to direct the scenes he acted in, and Strock quickly took over the task for the remainder of the film. Strock remains un-credited for both movies as director.

Herbert L. Strock would continue to go silent as a ghost director for Science Fiction Theatre, directing a large handful of the first season opening and closing segments featuring Truman Bradley, which were filmed separately from the dramatic stories.

“Curt and Ivan disagreed constantly, there’s no question about that,” recalled actor Michael Fox. “And Curt’s knowledge of directing was, in my opinion, not particularly great. Curt’s brother Robert was an extremely successful director, and I think Curt—who certainly ranks very highly among screen-writers—always was somewhat envious of Robert.”

Beverly Garland on Science Fiction Theatre
 Also joining the Theatre troupe was Harry Redmond Jr. as a special effects technician. Redmond’s father had worked during the years of silent cinema and quickly rose in the ranks to special effects supervisor for RKO Studios. He taught his son the craft while working together for The Princess and the Pirate (1944) and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), the latter of which was the senior’s final contribution to Hollywood, passing on the torch to his son.

Redmond quickly jumped into television with Dangerous Assignment before moving on to Ziv Television at the request of Ivan Tors. It was Redmond who succeeded in bringing Donovan’s brain to life in 1953, and the skilled elements that made up Ivan Tors’ three former science fiction motion-pictures. Many of Redmond’s personal props that appear in Donovan’s Brain (1953), such as test tubes, water tanks, lab equipment, Oscillograph and scientific charts hanging on the wall, make reappearances in numerous Theatre productions. After production of Science Fiction Theatre concluded, Redmond would stay with the studio to help assist with Sea Hunt, The Man and the Challenge, The Aquanauts and then concluded at the peak of his career with the first season of The Outer Limits from 1963 to 1964.

It was Redmond’s balanced magnetic field that holds the ball bearing in mid-air as demonstrated by Truman Bradley in “Beyond.” The same prop can be seen on Bradley’s desk at the close of “Beyond” and “Y**O**R**D**” and the lab demonstration for the U.S. military in one key scene of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956).

“Beyond” was conceived by Ivan Tors and scripted by Robert Smith and Van Marter. On April 13, 1954, Maurice Unger at ZIV consulted Tors regarding the story premise, temporarily titled “Saucer,” offering insight into story structure since television production required careful plotting and pace. The exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and concluding with d√©nouement, catastrophe or resolution.

“Generally speaking, the first thirteen pages seems to be about right, but we have decided that in some manner we must get the story started from Fred’s point-of-view,” Unger wrote. “One suggestion in this connection is to have a short scene in or around the control room where Fred is receiving a last-minute briefing and also is getting into his latest model, highly technical gear. We establish who he is and the purpose of his flight. If we handle it in this matter, it would be well to give Fred the bulk of the dialogue because at this point it is Fred in whom we are interested.”

Another suggestion was to do a complete switch in point-of-view and play the second half of the story to an ending completely from the point-of-view of the General and the scientist. Also suggested was the questioning. “When the matter is being discussed we must knock out the possibility of everything that is suggested such as another one of our planes, an enemy plane, a guided missile, atmospheric reflections, etc. We also have to set up some reason why, if the General knew that Fred saw something in the sky, he felt it necessary to convince Fred that he didn’t.” Another suggestion was to retain the computers but remove all company logos that might be misinterpreted as product placement, including IBM.

John Archer on Science Fiction Theatre
On May 28, 1954, after reviewing the revised script, Unger offered a number of other suggestions for improvement. Among these was suggesting the television audience catch more glimpses of Fred Gunderman before take-off, particularly seeing his face before he put on his flying helmet, “otherwise we’ll never recognize his face when we see it in the hospital.” Another suggestion was to not mix dialogue and narration. Fading out the dialogue as the narrator overtakes the soundtrack was considered a no-no. “Once the narration stops, leave it out of the scene until all the dialogue has been completed.” This explains why Truman Bradley’s off-screen narrations overlaps only visual scenes but not verbal throughout the series.

On June 19, 1954, just a couple weeks before the pilot went before the cameras, Maurice Unger of Ziv Television Programs, Inc. submitted Ivan Tors with a list of nine names for the lead role in “Beyond.” Gary Merrill, Frank Lovejoy, Robert Preston, Steve McNally, John Lund, Howard Duff, Lloyd Bridges (who was not yet starring in Sea Hunt), William Lundigan and John Ireland. Dane Clark and Scott Brady were also up for consideration but were quickly ruled out. Tors replied back to Unger with three names, Frank Lovejoy, John Lund and William Lundigan with Lovejoy being his top preference and John Lund second. “Of course, my suggestions might not be in line with what the sponsors want,” Tors explained. “My yardstick is acting ability in these selections.”

Truman Bradley relaxing at the desk in between takes.
Perhaps the most significant casting was actor and dialogue director Michael Fox. Known today as a character actor in more than 200 television and motion pictures and the reason why actor Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future) inserted a middle initial in his name. Having played the role of doctors in The Magnetic Monster (1953), The Lost Planet (1953), Beast With 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Riders to the Stars (1954) and Gog (1954), he built a friendship with Ivan Tors. “While I was doing Home of the Brave [an acting-directing stint in a Players Ring production], Ivan Tors also had come to see the play,” Fox recalled for author/interviewer Tom Weaver. “Ivan and I became very good friends. Ivan was then wooing Constance Dowling, later they married, and Constance and [her actress-sister] Doris and I all became extremely good friends.” As a result, Fox secured acting jobs for seven episodes of Science Fiction Theatre, six of which he played the role of a doctor. (His only non-doctor role was that of a radar man in the “Beyond” pilot.)

The first two episodes produced, “Beyond” and “Y**O**R**D**,” were learning experiences for both Bradley and the technical crew. Inter-office memos debated whether or not he was allowed to wear his ring on the pinky finger of his right hand, because a number of insert shots might require a stand-in to use his hand and therefore, the need of a ring to be worn as well to match. It appears the decision to remove the ring was discarded since he wears the ring throughout the first season.

Bradley’s wardrobe, however, became an issue that was quickly resolved when Maurice Unger viewed the rough cut for “Y**O**R**D**,” and discovered that Bradley’s tie was a solid red before the drama but the closing scene with Bradley at his desk, inviting the viewers to return again next week, was polka dotted. When Bradley had been filmed for “Beyond,” he wore a polka dot tie and his closing invite was purposely filmed with no commentary so the closing minute (which contained the cast and crew credits) would be reused for all of the episodes—a cost saving device that was used for the closing of “Y**O**R**D**” and Unger’s disappointment. 

Truman Bradley
On December 10, Unger sent both Ivan Tors a memo requesting the closing shot be re-filmed with a striped tie, and beginning with the third episode put before the cameras, Bradley would officially wear a striped tie. On the morning of February 28, 1955, Bradley reported to stage 6 at American National to film the lab demonstrations (known as pickups) for episodes 3, 4 and 5, and wore the striped tie as requested. But he wore a textured suit, tan in color, which went overlooked until after the rushes were viewed. Fearing the cost to re-film, these episodes feature Bradley wearing the tan colored suit. (Only the first five productions were filmed at American National.)

On the afternoon of March 14, Bradley reported to the set at Ziv Television Studios wearing a dark blue suit, for productions 6 and 7. By this time a script had been written: “I hope you enjoyed our story. We’ll be back with you a week from today with another exciting adventure from the world of fiction and science. Until then, this is your host, Truman Bradley, saying . . . see you next week.”

The closing scene was filmed on this date and again Unger viewed the rushes and requested Bradley wear the dark suit from now on. Observant television viewers will note that with the exceptions noted above, Bradley always wore a striped red and white tie and a dark blue suit.

Shortly after the initial telecast, Variety reviewed this episode in their April 13, 1955 column: “There’s too much science and too little fiction in the opener of ZIV’s new series. It was a smart move on ZIV’s part to start an offbeat series in a market glutted with imitations, but the show will have to be much better than the tee-off stanza to hold an audience. Semi-documentary approach is used, or mis-used, to put it more accurately. Narrator Truman Bradley gives little lectures on science both before and after the picture, thus leaving only about 20 minutes for the telling of the yarn. This leaves little time for proper building up of characterizations or situations... Viewer is told what is happening and while this might be fine for radio, on TV it is a dud. Scientists figure out pilot actually saw his fountain pen suspended in weightlessness, but later on there’s proof he probably did see an unidentified object which might have been a platter. Ivan Tors, the pix producer, is making this series for Ziv as his TV debut. His first shot is a disappointing one, particularly in view of the unlimited horizons for a different kind of series such as scientifiction.”

Episode #1 “BEYOND”
Production #1001 / 1B
Dates of Production: July of 1954
Directed by Herbert L. Strock

Script & Story
Teleplay by Robert Smith and George Van Marter, from a story by Ivan Tors.

1ST ASST. CAMERAMAN: Dick Rawlings (un-credited)
1ST CO. GRIP: Mel Bledsoe (un-credited)
2ND ASST. CAMERAMAN: Jack Kenny (un-credited)
2ND ASST. DIRECTOR: George Loper (un-credited)
2ND CAMERAMAN: Monk Askins (un-credited)
2ND CO. GRIP: Walter Culp (un-credited)
ART DIRECTOR: William Ferrari
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Joe Wonder (credited) and Donald Verk (un-credited)
ASST. FILM EDITOR: George Reid (un-credited)
ASST. PROP MAN: Sam Heiligman (un-credited)
BEST BOY: Lotus Davidson (un-credited)
BOOM MAN: Elmer Haglund (un-credited)
CABLEMAN: J.R. McDonald (un-credited)
CAMERA OPERATOR: Lee Davis (un-credited)
CASTING: Patricia Harris (un-credited)
CONSTRUCTION CHIEF: Archie Hall (un-credited)
FILM EDITOR: Charles Craft, a.c.e.
GAFFER: Joseph Wharton (un-credited)
MAKE-UP ARTISTS: George Gray (un-credited) and Harry Thomas (credited)
PROPERTY MASTER: Charles Henley (credited) and Lyle Reifsnider (un-credited)
PUBLICITY: Frank Perrett (un-credited)
RECORDER: Bob Post (un-credited)
SECRETARY: Constance Morris (un-credited)
SET DRESSER: Lou Hafley (un-credited)
SET LABOR: Felex Caelecia (un-credited)
SOUND MIXER: Jack Goodrich (credited) and Gary Harris (un-credited)
SPECIAL EFFECTS DIRECTOR: Harry Redmond Jr. (un-credited)
STILL MAN: Bill Thomas (un-credited)
WARDROBE: Paul McCardle

CAST: Bruce Bennett (General Troy, $750); Robert Carson (Captain Ferguson, the security officer, $70); Tom Drake (Dr. James Everett, $500); Ellen Drew (Helen Gunderman, $750); Michael Fox (the radar man, $70); Douglas Kennedy (Colonel R.J. Barton, $300); Mark Lowell (the switch board operator, $70); William Lundigan (Major Fred Gunderman, $1,500); and Basil Ruysdael (Prof. Samuel Carson, $300).
Talent fee salaries are listed next to the corresponding actors.

-- The closing credits of every episode acknowledged Ivan Tors being “in charge of production.” This is the only episode of the series that acknowledges his middle initial, “Ivan L. Tors.”
-- Because this episode was constructed as a pilot and not produced with the remaining 38 episodes of the season, Truman Bradley’s laboratory set was different from the set seen in the remaining first-season episodes, including different props along the wall during the initial pan and scan. This was also the only episode to feature the ZIV Television logo in color.
-- The square glass wall surrounding the doorway in the professor’s room was the same one featured prominently in the 1954 movie Gog.
-- Truman Bradley’s introduction for this episode, as verified by the script, was originally intended to open with Bradley in a dark room. The cameraman was then instructed to change the lenses by placing a tube in front of the camera showing Bradley standing in the center of the screen, revealing an instrument developed by the Defense Department to find targets in the night. Instead, the opener features the camera pointed directly to Bradley’s chair and Bradley speaks offcamera before finally walking into the frame. The remaining scenes were filmed as instructed, revealing a number of demonstrations of how the human eye could not see what was clearly there.
-- Eddie Davis directed Truman Bradley for the opening and closing lab demonstrations on Sept. 11, 1954, as well as the introductory pan and scan of the lab that was intended for the opening and closing on-screen credits. This pan and scan, however, was discarded for a revised pan and scan filmed when Bradley’s lab was reconstructed (with revisions) six months later for the production of the remaining 38 episodes.
-- Props featured in this drama would be reused repeatedly throughout numerous episodes of Science Fiction Theatre including the speaker in the Operation Center and the textured painting of the solar system hanging on the wall in the professor’s office.
-- The Eastman Kodak company provided the stock footage of the slow motion effect of the bullet hitting the glass. Every episode of the first season was filmed on Eastman Kodak color film.
-- A poster mapping out the layers of Earth’s atmosphere hangs on the wall in two separate rooms in two separate scenes in this same episode! This is the same poster that would appear on the wall in numerous episodes such as “Project 44,” “Postcard From Barcelona” and “Hour of Nightmare” and the wall of Truman Bradley’s laboratory during the initial opener of every episode, located behind the oscillator cone.
-- After the initial filming for this pilot was completed, Bruce Bennett insisted on having the same identical billing that William Lundigan received — Equal size and position on the screen. ZIV-TV obliged to please both actors, but when Basil Ruysdael insisted on first feature billing, this posed a problem. Ruysdael only had a brief scene in the entire episode. ZIV’s solution was to give him top billing on the list of supporting cast (not the lead stars). Ruysdael was not satisfied when he learned about the arrangement, threatening in a letter never to endorse Science Fiction Theatre. This may explain why he never appears in any other episode of the series.  
-- The footage of the white mice in the weightlessness of space would be reused for the episode “Marked Danger.”
-- The scene of the missile launching into the Earth’s atmosphere in this episode utilizes the same stock footage that appears in “The Strange People at Pecos” and the same footage that closed the movie Gog (1954).

The information contained on this page originate from the new book, Science Fiction Theatre: A History of the Television Program, 1955-57, by Martin Grams Jr. This is one of the latest books to come from Bear Manor Media, published in late 2010.

The information contained on this page was reprinted with permission from both the author and the publisher. If you know of anyone interested in the book, or want to help spread the word, click on the photo for an enlarged copy and right click to save the image.

For more information about the book, visit

Monday, August 22, 2011

Star of “Wake Up and Live" was “Better than Winchell”

In honor of the 6th Annual Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention this September, I am offering a preview of Bob Stepno's article about Wake Up and Live, a 1937 musical-comedy, scheduled for screening at the convention. Enclosed is a preview of Stepno's article (among other articles written by knowledgeable figures) that will appear in this year's program guide.

Star of Wake Up and Live was “Better than Winchell”

by Bob Stepno 

More than a half-century before Howard Stern proclaimed himself “King of all media,” Walter Winchell could have claimed the same title, and the film Wake Up and Live would be one of the jewels in his crown -- his first role as a Hollywood leading man.

The musical comedy hit from 1937 features Winchell and bandleader Ben Bernie, playing themselves, in a plot that takes place during the heyday of network radio and the pre-war nightclub scene. Both were common motion-picture settings during the thirties and forties -- who could forget Bud Abbott and Lou Costello’s 1942 comedy, Who Done It?

The plot: Backstage, a would-be crooner paralyzed by the microphone equivalent of stage fright practices singing-along to Bernie’s band -- not knowing that he’s using a live microphone during a broadcast. No one can identify this “Phantom Troubadour,” but listeners love him and fan mail pours in. The search for the mystery voice pits Winchell against Bernie in a battle of wits and quips -- the two having had a long-time fake feud on their respective radio shows in the same manner as Fred Allen and Jack Benny.

Actress Patsy Kelly
The crooner is played by Jack Haley, two years before his tin-woodsman role in The Wizard of Oz (1939). This time, however, it is he, not the Cowardly Lion, looking for some courage. Leading lady Alice Faye (who sings the title song) plays the sweetheart who tries to boost his self-confidence with the kind of self-help psychology promoted in a popular book of the day by Dorothea Brande, from which the musical took its title. 

Wake Up and Live, is, after all, a musical, but with more plot than musicals of the time. Songwriters Mack Gordon and Harry Revel wrote nine new songs for the show. Patsy Kelly, Ned Sparks, Grace Bradley, Leah Ray, Walter Catlett, the Brewster Twins, the Condos Brothers and Joan Davis round out the singing and dancing cast.

The New York Times dipped into Winchell’s style for the lead on its April 24, 1937, review, written by Frank S. Nugent:
“In you-know-whose words, it’s a blessed event at the Roxy, a bundle from Darryl Zanuck’s West Coast heaven, a first dividend from that clearly eugenic (and thoroughly compatible) blending of Walter Winchell and the talkies. Mr. Winchell never sounded lovelier nor faced a microphone and lens more gracefully. He runs through Wake Up and Live with the assurance of an ex-vaudeville hoofer and the high tension we always have associated with Broadway’s Pepys.”
The “hoofer” part was true. After a brief vaudeville career of his own, Winchell started a backstage gossip newsletter that led to his career in newspapers. That began during the Roaring Twenties at the sensational daily tabloid the Evening Graphic. As his fame grew, he jumped ship to work for the competition, Hearst’s Daily Mirror -- advancing syndication to more than 2,000 newspapers.

Walter Winchell (left) before the microphone.

In print and on the radio, Winchell specialized in short scraps of information and staccato punchlines, separating items with stars and ellipses in print, and with the click of Morse code dots and dashes on the air. His Winchellisms were famous, coined euphemisms that helped him get naughty news items into the paper, or just sparked things up. One such example: When it was unacceptable to write about divorces, Winchell had couples going to Nevada to have their marriages “Reno-vated.”

Perhaps more than anyone, Walter Winchell helped establish the image of the American news reporter as a smirking, fedora-wearing, fast-talking insider, a regular at nightclubs and theaters, a friend of cops and gangsters, showgirls and moguls. And, in Winchell’s case, as a power-broker who could make and break careers with a mention in his column.

As time went on, his columns and broadcasts became more political, first for Roosevelt and against Hitler in World War II, then for Joe McCarthy and against Communism during the Red Scare years of the 1950s. His style didn’t translate well to TV, but had a late revival when he became the narrator for the television program, The Untouchables, sometimes describing gangsters he had known and written about back in Prohibition days. But in Wake Up and Live, the biggest menace is Ben Bernie, and it’s all in fun. 

Audiences knew Winchell well before they walked into the theater -- from his column and his radio broadcasts. By 1937, Winchell had been on the radio for a half-dozen years. His newspaper column was read nationwide, and his gossip-monger style had been lampooned on screen in films like Lee Tracy’s Blessed Event (1932). According to Neil Gabler’s biography, Winchell wrote Variety’s editor about the Wake Up and Live script, saying, “I am playing a semi-menace with the usual windup. ‘Why Walter, we didn’t know you were using it for that reason!’”

When the cameras started rolling, he was nervous, but supported by Zanuck and director Sidney Lanfield. According to Gabler, Lanfield shot Winchell’s first takes with an empty camera “until the actor calmed down,” and Bernie joked about the rattling of Winchell’s knees drowning out the dialogue. However, Variety called the result “sheer entertainment, fast stepping, sparkling, without a foot of waste material or a dull moment.”

The Lewiston Evening Journal tempered its praise: “Wake Up and Live cannot be classed among outstanding films -- but it’s diverting -- to those who like light comedy, torch-singers, crooners, jazz orchestras and vivacious romance.”

Ezra Goodman, writing the next October in The New York Times under the headline, “How to Act Like a Writer,” observed that a half-dozen newspaper columnists had appeared as themselves in recent films, including Ed Sullivan, Louella O. Parsons and less-remembered newspapermen Sidney Skolsky and Jimmie Fidler.  “... but somehow, it doesn’t quite come off,” Goodman wrote. “Fidler, for instance, never succeeds in his acting in being as good as the real Fidler, or Parsons as the real Parsons, or Skolsky as the McCoy Skolsky. Walter Winchell, however, is an exception. He is better than Winchell.”

Despite admitting to a Ph.D., Bob Stepno keeps an old fedora with a press card in the band hanging by his desk as a reminder of his days at The Hartford Courant and The Raleigh News & Observer. Today his desk is at Radford University in Radford, Va., where he teaches journalism and media studies, and is researching the portrayal of journalists in old-time radio dramas. The result so far includes a blog and podcast,  “Newspaper Heroes on the Air,” for short.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Big Show: The "Lost" 1951 Broadcasts

Tallulah Bankhead during rehearsals.
The Big Show was an NBC house-built package and an innovation in show business deriving its name from the fact that the talent roster each week included “the biggest names in show business” -- name guest stars chosen from ranks of music, drama, comedy in stage, motion-picture, concert, radio and television were all “top performers” in their own fields. The Big Show was the first program ever to be presented under NBC’s new sponsorship plan known as “Operation Tandem,” in which sponsors were offered participation in sponsorship of five top evening programs each week, no more than three sponsors to be included in each 30-minute program time. Prior to this, radio programs primarily featured only one sponsor throughout the time slot (although the same sponsor was able to promote more than one of their own products.) The “Operation Tandem” shows were described over-all as the “Five Show Festival” including programs whose formats were varied to offer drama, variety, music, comedy and mystery.

The format of The Big Show was a variety program with repartee, music, dramatic sketches, comedy routines, excerpts dramatized from recent motion pictures and current Broadway hits, novelty monologues and instrumental and vocal novelties, special “spots” paying tribute to outstanding members of show business and other salutes to the more serious side of living such as the meaning of living and playing in a country like America, etc. The Big Show ran a total of two seasons and by the time the second season premiered, excerpts of recent motion pictures had been dropped in favor of current Broadway hits. 

Program guide handed out every week.
A great array of name guest stars each week were featured, averaging eight stars each week. The program was directed by Dee Engelbach, with James Harvey as the NBC producer (first season). Script writers included Goodman Ace, Welbourn Kelley, Frank Wilson, Mort Green, Selma Diamond, George Foster, Joel Murcott, plus a number of collaborators depending on the guests’ needs. The musical background, bridges and specialties were arranged and in many cases composed especially for the program by the program’s musical director, Meredith Wilson. Special lyrics from time to time by Sammy Kahn. The chorus and choir consisted of 16 voices. Choral Master Max Teer oversaw the vocals for the first season, Ray Charles for the second, with over all musical direction under orchestra leader Meredith Wilson.

Sponsor Breakdown 
September 30, 1951 to April 20, 1952, 6:30 to 8:00 p.m., EST 
6:30 to 7 p.m.        Portion sponsored by Reynolds Metals Co. on straight contract
            (not part of Operation Tandem)
7 to 7:30 p.m.        Portion Tandem Available (sustaining under Tandem
            open to Tandem sponsors)
7:30 to 8 p.m.        Tandem Sponsors
            September 30, 1951 to April 20, 1952    Leggett & Myers
            September 30, 1951 to April 20, 1952    Whitehall
            October 28, 1951 to April 20, 1952        American Chicle
            December 23, 1951 only            Western Union (straight contract)
            January 13, 1952 only                Buick, division of General Motors
            February 10, 1952 only             Elgin, division of Illinois Watches
Commercial announcer for Reynolds Metals: Bert Cowlan
The Leggett & Myers commercials on “Operation Tandem” were recordings featuring the “Chesterfield Stars.”

Production Breakdown
Dee Engelbach
NBC Producer: James Haupt
Writers: Goodman Ace, Selma Diamond, George Foster, Mort Green and Frank Wilson. Others such as Joel Murcott and Dorothy Parker are indicated under their retrospective episodes.
Music: Arranged by Sid Fine. All music supervision by Meredith Wilson.

The first two broadcasts of the second season, September 30 and October 7, were transcribed from broadcasts done overseas. Since this is the first of many articles about The Big Show, and because the September 30 broadcast exists in recorded form, we’ll focus on the season premiere later on. Every episode from the first season exists and is presently circulating among collector hands, so for this article we’ll focus primarily on the second season episodes, the “lost” episodes of 1951. (We’ll explore the 1952 broadcasts later.) 

Broadcast of October 7, 1951. 
Ben Smith is the announcer for the Paris broadcast.
Guests: Josephine Baker, song-stylist
Gracie Fields, British comedienne and vocalist
Joan Fontaine, motion picture star
William Gargan, motion picture star
George Sanders, motion picture star
Georges Guitary, French singing star
Fernand Gravet, French actor and comedian
Francoise Rosay, the great French movie and stage actress
Fred Allen and Portland Hoffa
Paul Durand, associate conductor for the orchestra composed of Paris musicians
Meredith Wilson, conductor
On tonight’s program, Joan Fontaine does a scene from Letter From an Unknown Woman with George Sanders in the role of “the Man,” in the classic love story by Stephen Sweig (which was made into a 1948 movie starring Joan Fontaine). Fred Allen and Tallulah Bankhead then do a take-off on the story. Another special feature was the presentation of a scene from Dr. Knock, a comedy which starred the late Louis Jouvet, a distinguished actor who died a few weeks prior. In Jouvet’s memory, Fernand Gravet and French players play the scene in a special adaptation of Dr. Knock. Josephine Baker sang a medley that understandably drew an ovation from the Paris audience.

Trivia: In Paris, the audience, filling the 2,200-seat Empire to capacity, applauded lustily throughout. The French liked particularly the tasteful tribute paid to the late Louis Jouvet by Tallulah Bankhead and the rest of the cast. Some critics, however, felt that Josephine Baker stole the spotlight on this broadcast, not Bankhead. “As far as the audience was concerned,” the London Daily Mail continental edition said, “the star was Josephine Baker.” It added: “Tallulah herself received a good reputation. While all the other women walked modestly on stage in evening dresses of black lace and black velvet, Josephine made an entrance as though she was at the Folies Bergere in a billowing white gown of chiffon with sparkling silver sequins and an African type hair-do pyramiding up a foot above her head. Her signing of jungle songs brought down the house.”

The Paris newspaper France-Soir, surprisingly, termed Bankhead “truly irresistible,” and “an astonishing woman… something of a national institution,” and then mused: “Decisive, positive, she looks a lot like a Sunday school teacher. Yet she is celebrated for her extravagances and her audacity.” This was, however, the only French newspaper I have been able to find that spent more praise on Bankhead than Baker.

The October 7 broadcast originated from the stage of the Empire Theatre in Paris, France. The program was recorded on September 24. The tape was then shipped to the United States where the network edited it for airing. Part of the 90-minute program was aired on the Light Program portion of Radiodiffusion Francaise, but the entire broadcast was not heard over European networks. The French system could broadcast only part of the show, since it had previous commitments for airtime. Pre-broadcast interest in the program was heightened by the opening of the Medical Congress, which would see the first demonstrations in France of the CBS color television system. Equipment was brought from Germany, where it was used by the Economic Cooperation Administration for the recent Berlin youth rally, for demonstration in surgical operations during the Congress. Two events occurring at the same time were making the French more conscious of American show biz than they had been for some time.

The chorus which backed the show last week in London was imported to France, but it was found that a local group, headed by Edith Constantine, who played opposite Edith Piaf at the ABC, was okay. Several changes were made in the tape recording of the program before the October 7 broadcast. Gracie Fields sang some tunes from The King and I but since they could not be cleared for the U.S., she taped other tunes for the U.S. version. In addition, Georges Guetary, originally scheduled for the show, could not get a release from manager Maurice Lehmann, for whom he was currently starring in Don Carlos at the Chatelet. As a result, he taped some material for insertion in the program when it aired in the U.S.

“From a comedy standpoint, it rated with the best of the crop, thanks to sharp, brittle scripting that found Tallulah Bankhead, Fred Allen, George Sanders and Gracie Fields in fine fettle,” reviewed Variety (obviously commenting about the U.S. broadcast version). “In contrast to the previous week’s ‘playback’ of the London-originating Palladium show, which made too determined an effort to ‘go British’ and in the process got into an uncomfortable groove, last Friday’s frolic, obviously pattered to the taste of Americans in Paris, was spirited, bouncy and laugh provoking.” 

The iconic Tallulah Bankhead.
Broadcast of October 14, 1951 
Shirley Booth, star of Broadway
Jimmy Durante, comedian
Ethel Merman, musical comedy star
George Sanders, British movie star
Fred Allen and Portland Hoffa

The theme of this episode (and what could be described as the title of the broadcast) is the “Southern Show Train” which originated in New Orleans and brought passengers to The Big Show from New Orleans, Natchez, Birmingham, Memphis, Atlanta, Columbus (Ga.) and Montgomery (Ala.) to attend the broadcast at Centre Theatre in New York, where The Big Show broadcasts originated. The train arrived the night before, October 13, and the passengers were entertained by Tallulah Bankhead, broadcast officials and sponsors. For the audience, the climax of the festivities was attending the broadcast of October 14. The running of “Show Trains” for the broadcasts from time to time originated last season and continued for this season, only once, with a “Southern Show Train” originating in New Orleans. Another purpose of the Show Train was to help publicize the new season of The Big Show, through newspaper articles in numerous cities. The broadcast included the old South theme applied throughout comedy and music.

This is the only episode of the series to feature no dramatic sketches. Music and comedy routines with the “insults” of Tallulah Bankhead and Ethel Merman heaved mutually for the feature spots. Bankhead did a dramatic reading by reciting names from the telephone directory in a highly melodramatic manner to prove to Ethel Merman that the telephone directory could be dramatic material for a fine dramatic actress. (If that seems repetitive, it’s because that was how the lines were delivered on the program, emphasizing silly humor.) Fred Allen did a monologue, a take-off on An American in Paris (1951), which just had its New York opening ten days prior. Allen apologies to MGM for what they were about to do to the story. Shirley Booth sang songs from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Jimmy Durante sang “I’m a Fugitive from Esquire,” with jovial references to his costumes. A medley of Southern songs was presented by the orchestra and chorus, including “Laura Lee.” Meredith Wilson featured his revised version of “Aura Lee,” the old Southern song which the West Point cadets now use under the title of “Army Blue.”

Trivia: During the pre-broadcast warm-up and also the entertainment following the actual broadcast, the various Southern guests were introduced to the audience and various gifts were exchanged between Tallulah and guests. Near the close of the broadcast, Bankhead thanked the Southern Show Train guests, mentioning that she had just been invited by the Natchez delegation to attend the Natchez Pilgrimage next Spring. The King and Queen of the Pilgrimage presented her with a special ante-Bellum costume which Bankhead wore when she attended the Pilgrimage.

Broadcast of November 4, 1951 
Joan Davis, singing comedienne
Herb Jeffries, vocalist
Evelyn Knight, vocal star of concert stage
Groucho Marx, comedian
George Sanders, British movie star

This broadcast originated from Hollywood instead of New York. The Reynolds commercial was provided by transcription, so announcer Bert Cowlan is still heard hocking Reynolds wrap. The “Tandem” commercials and the continuity announcements were done by a Hollywood announcer, Wendell Niles, marking his only appearance on the program. The regular announcer, Ed Herlihy, did not make the trip to Hollywood and remained in New York.

During this broadcast, George Sanders starred in a radio version of the classic Honore de Balzac short story, The Mysterious Mansion (1830). Sanders played the role of Monsieur de Merrett, a French nobleman whose wife deceives him by entertaining a Spanish officer. When her husband returns unexpectedly, she hides her lover in a closet and tells the husband there is nobody around. The husband says he trusts her so well that he will never open the door to the closet where he had dared to think someone was hiding. Instead, he calls in a stone mason and has the closet sealed shut immediately. The role of the wife was played by Lurene Tuttle. Barney Phillips was cast in the role of the man. Tallulah Bankhead does a satiric monologue about the men who sit at the “left” at dinner parties. The monologue is provided by Dorothy Parker. Since this episode originated from Hollywood, this marked the only broadcast of the series Lurene Tuttle and Barney Phillips, character actors, would make on the program.

Broadcast of November 11, 1951 
Morton Downey, vocal star
Jerry Lester, comedian
Jackie Miles, satirist
Ken Murray, emcee and comedian
Sophie Tucker, comedienne and singing entertainer
Ann Sheridan, motion picture star
June Valli, vocalist and youthful RCA recording artist

Back in New York after last week’s one-time performance from Hollywood, the remainder of the series would be broadcast from the Big Apple. Jackie Miles does a monologue about Miami, followed by a story about golf. Ted Shapiro, pianist, accompanied Sophie Tucker in a medley of some of the songs she made unforgettable. Ann Sheridan than presented a radio version of the Fay Grissom Stanley story, The Last Day of All, recently published in Twenty Great Tales of Murder (1951, Random House), in which a wife and her husband poison each other and will at last be free of each other. Martin Blaine, radio and stage actor, played the supporting role of her husband. Sheridan played Sari, the wife who would rather see her husband dead than give him up to another woman. June Valli no doubt appeared as a result of the sponsor’s involvement. Following the guest spots, Tallulah Bankhead paid tribute to the observance of Armistice Day and read the letter written by Pfc. John J. McCormick, Marine, to two small daughters on the eve of his death in Korea. He felt a premonition that he might not live to write another letter, so he explained the meeting of living -- and dying -- for Freedom.

Trivia: Ted Shapiro, who accompanied Sophie Tucker, was the co-author of “A Handful of Stars,” the opening theme song for The Big Show.

Broadcast of November 25, 1951 
Actors Dane Clark and Martha Scott co-starred in presenting a scene from the new 1951-1952 stage play, The Number, by Arthur P. Carter. Act One, Scene Three was done with Dane Clark as Dominic, small-time bookmarker, and Martha Scott as Sylvia, telephone bet-taker for one of the larger bookmakers. The story concerns the way these two people fall in love over the telephone, but realize that their lives will be in danger from the “Syndicate” if they ever meet. You see, in this “profession,” bookmakers and bet-takers are to be only “voices” over the telephone.

Mary McCarthy, comedienne and musical comedy star, is accompanied by Graham Forbes, her regular accompanist. George Sanders joined Tallulah Bankhead in presenting the diminutive drama, Catherine Parr (1927), by Maurice Baring, with Sanders as King Henry VIII and Bankhead as Catherine Parr, the sixth and final wife. Drama concerned a breakfast discussion between the King and Catherine, with an argument starting about the way eggs are prepared for His Majesty. Martha Wright, night-club and Broadway star, currently doing her first big Broadway role as the Nurse in South Pacific, was also a guest. Phil Foster, comedian, did his own version of the “Egg Story” satirizing the Catherine Parr play. Foster pretended to be serving breakfast to the drug store counter clientele. Most of the guests took “bit parts” as they entered Phil’s drug store. Foster also did a monologue on naming babies. Foster’s “Naming Babies” monologue was written by Danny and Doc Simon. Martin Blaine, who played more supporting roles on The Big Show than any other actor, did supporting roles in the scene from The Number and other sketches. 

Tallulah Bankhead, Jack Carson, Ed Wynn and Fred Allen

Broadcast of December 2, 1951 
Dolores Gray, singing star of Two on the Aisle, sang “Shrimp Boat.” Ginger Rogers and Paul McGrath presented Act Two, Scene One of the Louis Verneuil comedy, Love and Let Love (1951), in which Rogers played Valerie King, toast of Broadway, and McGrath did the part of Charles Warren, her long-time friend and adviser. The Broadway play ran a total of 51 performances from October 19 to December 1, and just concluded a healthy run on the New York stage the day before this broadcast. George Sanders, dramatic star, did a take-off on Love and Let Love which Rogers and McGrath presented moments prior. Tallulah Bankhead took the role of Valerie King in the Sanders version. Lauritz Melchior, operatic star and concert singer, sang Leoncavallo’s Mattinata. Later, Tallulah, Sanders, Melchior and the choir sang “I Wish I Wuz” (I wish I wuz a singer at the Met…”) Near the end of the numerous verses, the other guests joined in.

After the drama, the following comedy was presented: Wally Cox, comedian, did his original monologues “Dufo” (Dufo was a friend of mine, a crazy guy…) and “The Hinker” (about the man who wanted to invest in a night club). Fred Allen and Portland Hoffa did a take-off on his “Allen’s Alley” by knocking on the doors of all the guests to take a poll. The question is: “How many people like Tallulah Bankhead on Sunday night’s Big Show?” Allen and Portland also did a sketch, “The Allens at Home,” to show Ginger Rogers how the Fred Allen family normally live.

Broadcast of December 9, 1951 
Ann Southern and Robert Cummings, reprised their starring roles in the Broadway comedy, Faithfully Yours, by Bush-Fekete and Mary Helen Fay, presented an excerpt from the play with Southern as Vivian Harding and Robert Cummings as Thomas O’Harding. The Broadway play ran for a total of 68 performances from October 18 to December 15, 1951. The story concerned a wife who was interested in psychoanalysis and who interpreted her husband’s every action in the light of “complexes.” The husband was a man of routine -- had a day and a time for everything -- except love making. The love making, however, was what saved the marriage. Ed “Archie” Gardner, star of Duffy’s Tavern, told his story about Two-Top Gruskin, the famous baseball player on Duffy’s team, Duffy’s All-American Irish Yankees usually referred to as the D.A.A.I.Y. (This is the same monologue that Gardner recited on numerous other radio programs many times over.) Gardner also joined Tallulah Bankhead in a take-off on the Faithfully Yours excerpt presented a short time earlier by Southern and Cummings.

Eddy Arnold, the “Tennessee Playboy,” RCA Recording star, and specialist in American Western music, was a guest and sang a couple songs. Considering RCA was one of the sponsors, his appearance on the program came as no surprise. Hildegarde sang “All Will Come Right” and later joined Bankhead in an "insult contest." Jean Carroll, comedienne and night-club entertainer, did a monologue about her husband -- how she met him, how other men affect her, how her husband always sends her on vacations via bus so she won’t have the trouble of going to the airport, having her luggage weighed and maybe getting air-sick. Carroll was wearing a mink coat for which she paid $5,000 -- as Tallulah asks, “Is that with the tax or did you get it in Washington?”

The program concluded with a night club act in which Tallulah Bankhead was the main entertainer, supported by all the guests. She played the piano in this scene (she really does play the piano) with a few bars of “Rustle of Spring,” interspersed with her vocalizing of a medley including a few bars of “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “You Go To My Head.”

Trivia: Even though Thanksgiving came and went, the Reynolds Metals sponsored segment (7 to 7:30 p.m.) offered a free copy of “Roasting Turkey in Metals Wrap.” Radio listeners were to write in to Turkey Department, Reynolds Metals Co., Louisville, Kentucky. This was the sponsor’s apparent attempt to gauge the size of the listening audience. A free book was offered almost every week beginning with this broadcast.

Broadcast of December 16, 1951 
Jack Carson, comedian and TV star
Merv Griffin, vocalist, new RCA recording star
Sarah Vaughn, vocalist and recording star
Henny Youngman, comedian
Phil Silvers, comedian and current star of the Broadway hit, Top Banana

Actress Rosalind Russell did a presentation of the A.E. Coppard story, Fifty Pounds (1948), the story about a young couple who have only love -- but no money. The man is a writer who is too proud to allow his wife to work. Finally, she decides to leave him because she can no longer bare the pain and frustration that comes to him every time he gets another rejection slip. Just as she is packing, she learns that her former employer has left her 80 Pounds! Because she knows her husband’s pride, she realizes he will not accept money from her so she mails him 50 Pounds “from an admirer who has read his works in the past.” She sees him open the envelope and put his 50 pounds into his pocket. He never tells her about the gift and bids her a fond, but heartbroken, farewell when she insists on leaving and working. His response reveals to her the true worth of his “pride and ideals.” Russell played Lally, the girl. Martin Blaine played Phil, the husband. Carl Frank was cast as the solicitor who informs Lally Repton of her bequest.

Tallulah Bankhead presented a tribute to CARE and senders of CARE packages. She told the story of CARE at Christmas and read a letter from a recipient of a CARE package, Mrs. Bertha Kekkonen, Helsinki, Finland, who wanted to know who sent her a CARE packet. “If the sender is listening, please contact Paul Conly French, Executive Director of CARE,” Bankhead explained. “Mrs. Kekkonen wants to thank the sender personally.”

Broadcast of December 23, 1951
 Comedian Milton Berle did a serious dramatic role in the radio adaptation of the modern story, “Christmas Present.” Berle played Stardust Jackson, with Tallulah Bankhead in the role of Lorna. Martin Blaine was in the supporting cast as Dan. Once big names in show business, Lorna and Stardust quarrel; now they meet both “on the road” with a little show playing a snow-isolated North Dakota town on Christmas Eve. Joel Murcott wrote the original script. (Note: Not to be confused with the Christmas sketch written by Murcott for the December 23, 1948 broadcast of the Sealtest Variety Theatre.)

Robert Merrill, operatic star, sang “Credo” from the opera, Othello. Margaret Truman, soprano, included among her songs the lovely holiday offering, “Oh, Leave Your Sheep.” Ozzie and Harriet Nelson were also guests. Alec Templeton, pianist-composer, did several of his original “impressions” including one of Tallulah singing “Ain’t She Sweet.” Tallulah read “Touch Hands” written by William Harrison Murray, especially for the Christmas season. The entire cast and guest roster joined in singing Christmas carols as part of the closing numbers on the program.

Broadcast of December 30, 1951
The New Year’s Eve program. Joan Davis, comedienne, performed a couple of skits. Jackie Miles did a monologue about his success in the horse-racing world where he placed his wagers regularly. Gertrude Berg, in her familiar role as Molly Goldberg, joined Tallulah in a review of the favorite Big Show programs of the past (excerpts of recordings of past shows) which took up the majority of the entire broadcast. Tallulah then read the Dorothy Parker monologue, “The Waltz.” Johnny Johnston and Georgia Gibbs, vocalist and night-club entertainers, performed together. Fred Allen and Portland Hoffa joined Johnny Johnston in doing a take-off on Tallulah’s reading of  “The Waltz.”

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street

The year was 1951. Rod Serling wrote a radio script titled “The Button Pushers,” a futuristic science fiction drama set in a future Earth, 1970. Huge television screens substituted for advertising billboards in Times Square, air-way rocket trains carried commuters overhead, and the fear of rival nations separated by a large ocean covered the front page headlines. A bloodthirsty general urges a brilliant scientist to complete the development of a new weapon, best described as a “doomsday bomb.” The enemy overseas, reportedly, has already developed a similar weapon. The general asks the scientist to complete the weapon so that it could be fired with the push of a single button – no secondary protocols required. The scientist, fearing his weapon could start a war that would erase the existence of mankind on the entire planet, contemplated the centuries of progress – ancient civilizations that built the pyramids, the deserted Mayan temples and the skyscrapers of today. After 15 minutes contemplating the beauty and wonder Earth had to offer, he completes the weapon and the Army takes over. Against his warnings, the button is pushed. The enemy does the same, and the countdown for contact begins.

The ending featured a series of explosions on the surface of planet Earth, and two aliens on another planet across the universe start the following discussion:

VOICE 1: Ah, Verus . . . Have you see the little planet – Earth?
VOICE 2: Why no . . . come to think of it, Felovius I haven’t seen it . . . In a few hundred light years. Seems to have just disappeared all of a sudden.
VOICE 1: Ah . . . Then I win my bet.
VOICE 2: Bet?
VOICE 1: Yes, I bet the keeper of the North Star that the little Earth would destroy itself before the next billion years had gone by . . . and she has. She seems to have just blown herself up . . . disintegrated . . . she no longer exists. Tch, tch . . . Pity . . . she was a lovely little planet. Wonder what caused it?
VOICE 2: That is a question . . .
VOICE 1: Oh, what am I thinking of . . . I know what destroyed it. It had human beings on it. I’d forgotten.
VOICE 2: Well then, that explains it . . . Those pesky little things can’t live side by side very long. Shall we go back and tell the others?
VOICE 1: Why take the trouble? As if anyone cared about tiny Earth . . . So unimportant a speck . . . so insignificant a dot in the universe. Who cares?
VOICE 2: I guess you’re right. (sighs) Nice night . . . So quiet . . . So uneventful.

It appears that while The Twilight Zone was clearly ahead of its time, Rod Serling recycled the  closing scenes from his 1951 radio play for "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," considered today by fans as one of the top ten episodes of the series. 

The Twilight Zone I have, with varying degrees of success or failure, attempted to touch upon moral themes utilizing the device of the parable,” Serling concluded. “In other words, I have tried to insert subtly what I hope to be a message, but couched it in such a manner that it becomes almost an unconscious effect. Hence, I will tell a story about an invasion from outer space, but tell it with an implicit suggestion that human beings are prone to inordinate suspicions and prejudices about things that are ‘different.’”

Shortly before the premiere of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling assured columnist John P. Shanley of The New York Times that, “I’m not writing any material that lies in the danger zone. There won’t be anything controversial in the new series.” This episode, however, left a commentary that could have been considered “controversial” by a percentage of the viewers. Serling indicated that he was no longer inclined to battle the forces that had drawn his fire in the past. “Now we’re petulant aging men. It no longer behooves us to bite the hand that feeds us. Not a meek conformist but a tired nonconformist. The facts of life are these: the creative person is not in control in a creative medium nor shall he ever be, except possibly in the legitimate theatre.”

“You can spend half your life fighting points instead of writing points,” he continued. “I think you can get adult drama without controversy. In the past when I was doing something even remotely controversial, I’ve been knocked for it. They said I vitiated it, diluted it. My attitude now is – rather something than nothing.”

About the time this episode aired, when asked early in the series what kind of program The Twilight Zone was, Serling replied, “they’re not vehicles of social criticism. One story, ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,’ is a strange oblique commentary on prejudice. The minorities always need a scapegoat to explain their own weaknesses.”

The entire episode was filmed on the New England Street on Lot 2 at M-G-M. Two outside prop rentals were required for this episode – a vending bike and a power mower, which cost Cayuga $50. Set designs including the “Maple Street” sign for the sign post, landscapes, automobiles and other props cost a total of $750. The exterior of the spaceship was filmed on the evening of the third day. Electronic instruments, garden tools and the illusion of the scenic view of Maple Street and the inhabitants in a panic, cost $1,000.

Serling intended to use the following for the trailer, but it was considered too lengthy, and needed to be trimmed down. Here's the complete rundown:

“Next week on ‘The Twilight Zone’ we put you in a glider on a warm summer evening, front porch, tree lined street, typical small town. We let you look at ice cream salesman, listen to kids laugh and play, listen to housewives gossip over porch railings. And then . . . then we pull the rug out from under your feet and we throw a nightmare at you that we venture to say will not be easily set aside. Next week Claude Akens, Jack Weston and Barry Atwater are your neighbors just at the moment when ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.’ Don’t chicken out. See you next week.” 

According to a letter dated November 28, 1959, “Along with schedule changes, ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street’ has been delayed until a February or March date because of production problems.” This may explain why revised pages are dated November 12, weeks after filming was completed. It is possible that insert shots and revised scenes were re-filmed before the final film was put together.

On March 5, 1960, Earl Kemp of the Chicago Science Fiction League wrote to Serling as an “unashamed fan letter.” In the letter, Kemp regarded The Twilight Zone as “a piece of rare magnificence, combining integrity and taste in the right proportions for relaxing enjoyment. . . . You have always dealt completely honestly with the field of science fiction and fantasy, adding to the prestige of the genre rather than detracting from it. Of course, I do have complaints, too. I’m pretty damn tired of seeing M-G-M’s overworked Forbidden Planet saucer, and the same astronomicals. I am extremely tired of the odd-angle and screw-ball shots that add not one single thing to the photography but a desire that it should cease.”

Serling defended, “While I don’t think the camera on it was exceptionally good, I cannot defend the M-G-M saucer. Unfortunately, with budget problems, you have to fall back on standard overworked devices too often.”

The Waterloo Daily Courier described the episode being an “excellent production.” Other television critics raved about the telecast, but viewers of education took note, and began writing in their praises. Joseph Janovsky, principal of a school in Brooklyn, New York, felt that the program contained the essence of a “Human Relations” course and requested in writing to Serling and Oscar Katz (vice president in charge of programming in New York) that he acquire a 16mm print of the episode for future courses and classes. Janovsky was not the only person to request a copy of the episode. John Bauer, Ph.D., a professor at City College of New York, felt that his classes would benefit greatly with an opportunity to review the production. 

“One of the outstanding frustrations in my attempt to further the education of my students is the solidly encased ‘It can’t happen here’ attitude which prevails among today’s college youth,” Bauer wrote. “Your play might help to break through the unrealistic complacency which marks their thoughts regarding most psycho-social disruptive forces.” Serling referred Bauer to Guy Della Cioppa of CBS at Television City in Hollywood, suggesting this might help Bauer avoid any red tape and acquire a print.

By April 14, 1960, Serling was getting tired of the numerous requests from viewers asking for a copy of the script or a 16mm print of the film. In a letter addressed to Miss Pat Thomas of the WAC Department at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, in response to a request from the chaplain at the U.S. Army, dated that same day, Serling explained to his sorrow: “CBS is no longer allowing films from the series to be shown to public or private groups for whatever reason. We’ve had so many requests for ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street’ and found out along the way that there were more requests than there were films. So they’ve just taken a blanket position of no films to anyone. If he wants to pursue this further, have him write to Guy Della Cioppa, CBS Television City, Hollywood, and explain the situation.”

In September of 1960, Gregory Guroff of Decision Magazine at Princeton University wrote to Serling, asking for a complimentary copy of the script, for use as the basis of either a story or parable. Serling obliged, explaining that, “since this is a fi le copy and one of only two in my possession, I would greatly appreciate its return to me after your perusal.” 

When this script was adapted into a short story for Stories from the Twilight Zone by Bantam Books, Serling made one noticeable change at the conclusion. He described how the sunrise revealed the remains of dead bodies draped about the streets and porches, and how, hours later, new residents had arrived to move in – with two heads for each new resident. The script itself has become a textbook standard, having been reprinted in a number of scholastic books over the years, so children of various ages could be exposed to the moral Serling emphasized. The pattern of conflict in a street when contact with the rest of the world is cut off closely resembled that of a teenage science fiction book titled The Year When Stardust Fell (1958), written by Raymond F. Jones and published by the John C. Winston Company. When a viewer brought this to Serling’s attention, he confessed that he was unaware of the book and sought out a copy to check its contents and settle his curiosity. 

The book concerned a mysterious comet that appears in the sky and is apparently the cause of all car engines, worldwide, to mysteriously overheat. By the next day, airplanes, trains, generators and other machinery does not function. Nearly in a state of panic, hysteria and superstition, the people of the Earth resort to mob rule in a fight for survival. In 1962, a book reviewer for Show magazine reviewed the book, and claimed it mirrored too much like Serling’s teleplay, unaware that the initial publication year pre-dated the Twilight Zone production.

The premise of power shutting off all machinery to make a point was also explored in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), which may have been a brief inspiration for this episode. In the episode “Boom Boom Out Goes the Ed” of the animated television series Ed, Edd n’ Eddy, initially telecast November 11, 2005, the lead characters start to panic when the power goes out, and Ed claims the blackout is a result of evil mole people. As the neighbors start to panic, √° la spoof of this Twilight Zone, the children soon discover that the only way to stop the escalating panic is to take matters into their own hands.

Cold War hysteria at its best was paid a second visit on the evening of February 19, 2003, when a remake of this same teleplay was telecast on a newer rendition of The Twilight Zone. One notable difference between the remake and the original was the driving force behind the hysteria. Instead of visitors from outer space, employees from a special branch of the U.S. government were responsible for the power blackouts. The government was conducting tests to see how small town America would react in the face of foreign terrorism.

Recurring Product Placement
Three automobiles are featured in this episode: a 1959 Ford Sedan and a 1959 Ford Station Wagon. The station wagon was the same one the mechanic was working on in “Walking Distance” (verified by registration numbers).

(Initial telecast: March 4, 1960)
© Cayuga Productions, Inc., March 3, 1960, LP16337 (in notice: 1959)
Date of Rehearsal: September 28, 1959
Dates of Filming: September 29, 30, October 1 and 2, 1959 
Script #20 dated: September 8, 1959, with revised pages dated September 24 and November 12, 1959.

Producer and Secretary: $660.00 
Story and Secretary: $2,395.00
Director: $840.00 
Cast: $8,459.50
Unit Manager and Secretary: $520.00 
Production Fee: $750.00
Agents Commission: $5,185.55 
Legal and Accounting: $250.00
Below the line charges (M-G-M): $32,135.73 
Below the line charges (other): $5,692.99
Total Production Costs: $56,888.77

Cast: Claude Akins (Steve Brand); Sheldon Allman (Space Alien #1); Barry Atwater (Mr. Goodman); Anne Barton (Mrs. Brand); Joan Boston (silent bit part); Paul Denton (silent bit part); Ben Erway (Pete Van Horn); Mary Gregory (Tommy’s Mother); Lyn Guild (Charlie’s Wife); Jan Handzlik (young Tommy); Jim Jacobs (silent bit part); Jason Johnson (man one); Diane Livesey (silent bit part); Bob McCord (the ice cream vendor); Beryl McCutcheon (silent bit part); Burt Metcalfe (Don); William Moran (silent bit part); Vinita Murdock (silent bit part); Amzie Strickland (first woman); Joan Sudlow (woman next door); Lea Waggner (Mrs. Goodman); William Walsh (Space Alien #2); George Washburn (silent bit part); and Jack Weston (Charlie).

Original Music Score Composed by Rene Garriguenc and Conducted by Lud Gluskin (Score No. CPN5882): Main Title (by Bernard Herrmann, :40); Maple Street (:30); What Was It? (:21); The Power’s Off (1:01); Tommy’s Outer Space Story (2:02); Uneasyness on Maple Street (1:15); Reaction (:08); A Kind of Madness (:07); Ruminating Suspicion (1:44); The Needling (1:01); Footsteps (:07); Lights and Suspicion (:57); Lights and Hysteria (1:30); One to the Other (:47); and End Title (by Herrmann, :39).

Director of Photography: George T. Clemens, a.s.c. 
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Film Editor: Bill Mosher
Art Directors: George W. Davis and William Ferrari
Assistant Director: Edward Denault
Casting Director: Mildred Gusse
Set Decorations: Henry Grace and Rudy Butler 
Sound: Franklin Milton and Jean Valentino
Directed by Ronald Winston 
Teleplay by Rod Serling.

“Maple Street, U.S.A., late summer. A tree-lined little world of front porch gliders, barbeques, the laughter of children, and the bell of an ice-cream vendor. At the sound of the roar and the flash of light, it will be precisely six-forty-three PM on Maple Street . . . This is Maple Street on a late Saturday afternoon. Maple Street – in the last calm and reflective moment . . . before the monsters came!”

Plot: Shortly after a mysterious flash of light hovers over Maple Street, late one afternoon, the power goes out – appliances, power tools, radios, even automobiles. Before Charlie and Steve can walk into the next town to learn the source of the power failure, young Tommy warns the citizens of Maple Street that aliens from outer space are responsible. The young boy suggests that a few of them might already be living among their community. As the hours pass, suspicion grows as Les Goodman’s automobile starts up automatically, the lights in Charlie’s house come on, and everyone starts pointing accusatory fingers at each other. Charlie is quick to point a finger and ends up shooting Pete Van Horn in the streets, mistaking him for an alien. Charlie blames young Tommy for the comic book scare and the inhabitants become a mob. Stones are thrown and gun shots ring through the streets while the entire neighborhood turns into a murderous frenzy. High above on top of a grassy hillside, two aliens observe the massacre. One being explains to the other that if they turn off the power and throw the humans into darkness for a short while, they will find their own worst enemy – themselves. Having seen the results first-hand, the alien race plans to go from one Maple Street to the other until all of mankind has killed itself off.

“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fall-out. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices – to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own for the children . . . and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is . . . that these things cannot be confined to . . . The Twilight Zone.”

Talent Fees For This Episode:
Minimum film residuals and minimum theatrical reruns applied.
Claude Akins ($500) as Steve 
Jack Weston ($850) as Charlie
Anne Barton ($500) as Mrs. Brand 
Amzie Strickland ($500) as Woman One
Jason Johnson ($500) as Man One 
Burt Metcalfe ($500) as Don
Jan Handzlik ($500) as Tommy 
Remaining members of the cast varied from $75 to $100 per day.

Orchestra Music Featured
 1 Piccolo, 1 Flute, 1 Alto Flute, 1 Oboe, 1 English Horn, 2 Clarinets, 2 Bass Clarinets, 1 Bassoon, 1 Euphonium, 3 Horns, 1 Harp, 1 Tympani, 1 Vibraphone and Bass.

All of the above are excerpts from The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic, by Martin Grams. This 800 page book was a recent winner of the Rondo Awards for "Best Book of the Year." Martin also provided audio commentary for the BluRay release of The Twilight Zone. Excerpts reprinted with permission from both the author and the publisher.

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