Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here to say that for readers of a certain age, our reference to TV’s “Golden Age” needs little explanation.
Lasting just 10 years and beginning way back in the late Forties, viewers at home were treated to some of America’s finest dramas, directed by first-rate talent and starring America’s finest actors. For free. Just for tuning on the living room TV box.
These dramas were broadcast LIVE, production warts and all. If an actor blew a line or tripped over set furniture, so be it. The goof went out unfiltered over national TV.
For example, actor William Shatner recalled an awkward moment in a mid-Fifties, one-hour television production of Billy Budd, based on Herman Melville’s novel about an innocent sailor who is hanged. Veteran Hollywood star Basil Rathbone, then in his mid-Sixties, was also cast in the teleplay, which was broadcast in Canada.
I’d grown up watching (Rathbone) play Sherlock Holmes in the movies. He was a very well-respected stage and movie actor, but this was one of his first, if not his very first, live television appearances, Shatner recalled.
We went on the air and the first act was progressing very well, right until (Rathbone) walked onboard the ship and stepped into a bucket.
His foot got caught in the bucket and he couldn’t get it off. The camera shot only his upper body so none of the viewers could see him madly shaking his leg, trying to get his foot out of that bucket. He was working so hard to get his foot free that he forgot his lines. And when he forgot his lines he began to sweat.
The rest of us tried to feed him his lines … It was a disaster.
The big Hollywood studios back then were spooked by TV’s commercial introduction on a mass level, and decided to piggy back on the excellent material being developed during the “golden age” — represented by such venerable corporate sponsors as the Philco and Goodyear Playhouses, Studio One, the U.S. Steel Hour, Kraft Television Theater, Robert Montgomery Presents, Omnibus, General Electric Theater, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Desilu Playhouse, Lux Video Theater and Motorola TV.
The result: solid movie versions surfaced covering “golden age” titles that originated on the tube, including: JP Miller’s Days of Wine and Roses (aired in 1958 and made into a great film in 1962), Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men (1954), William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker (1957), Paddy Chayefsky’s The Bachelor Party (1955) and Middle of the Night (1954), Rod Serling’s Patterns (1955) and Requiem For A Heavyweight (1962) and Mac Hyman’s No Time For Sergeants (1955).
Some of the performers in these dramas: George C. Scott, James Dean, Kim Stanley, Julie Harris, Eva Marie Saint, Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Grace Kelly, Lee Remick, E.G. Marshall, Jack Palance, Jack Lemmon, John Cassavetes, Eli Wallach and Lee J. Cobb, among many others.
But, alas, by the end of the Fifties, TV changed. Most of the live drama shows went off their air giving away to filmed series and quiz shows. But the “golden age” left its mark in many ways, not least in Hollywood.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at one of our favorite “golden age” dramas, Chayefsky’s Marty (1953), which starred Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchant (above) on tv. It was made into the most famous of all the transitions from TV to the big screen. So, don’t touch that dial.