Five original television dramas, vintage productions almost 40 years old, have been released this month on home video. These classics, springboards for young actors and writers, are major contributors to what has become known as the Golden Age of Television.
"Marty," by a young writer named Paddy Chayefsky, stars Rod Steiger in his first major acting role and Nancy Marchand. There is also a very young actor named Paul Newman in the U.S. Steel Hour's "Bang The Drum Slowly"; a kid named Andy Griffith in "No Time For Sergeants"; Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie in the original Playhouse 90 production of "Wine and Roses," and Jack Palance, Keenan Wynn, Ed Wynn and Kim Hunter in the Emmy-winning "Requiem for a Heavyweight," the first original production ever performed live on television.
The rest followed, all fresh material with daring young actors who, after a few rehearsals and a final run-through a couple of hours before air time, scooted from set to set to deliver their lines with no tape and no retakes. Writer Arnold Schulman recalls having to re-tool lines to give actors time to get from scene to scene in "Bang the Drum Slowly."
It is interesting to see how good these people were, considering the limitations of time, space and, most of all, technology.
These vintage black-and-white productions, which helped elevate youngsters to stardom, are a rare treat. All are being distributed by Wood Knapp Video. To order, call 1-800/331-6839 (in Tennessee, 1-800/654-9269).
Also in July's Golden Age of Television release are three volumes of "Milton Berle, The Second Time Around" ($19.95 each): "The Funny Fifties," "Legends" and "Carnival of Comedy." There are also 13 titles in the "Shirley Temple Storybook Theater" series ($14.95 each) in which many famous stars appeared.
Nancy Marchand, who a dozen years ago popped up on TV's "Lou Grant" as the owner the fictional Los Angeles Tribune, played the shy girl in "Marty." Marchand recalls: "It was like going to California in a covered wagon. We were all pioneers and you were aware of it."
Chayefsky had only a day to write the second and third acts when the producer decided to use his play in place of one he had tossed away a few days before air time. Steiger was given a shot at the lead because the desired star was blacklisted.
He recalls, "When they started the countdown, 10-9-8-7, I turned around and looked for a door. I wanted out." But Steiger stayed, and on that Sunday night in 1953, he gave an unforgettable performance on "The Philco-Goodyear Playhouse" as a lonely man desperately searching for love.
The next day a critic wrote: "The biggest favor NBC can do for its public is to repeat 'Marty' at the earliest possible opportunity."
Albert Salmi, who plays the dying catcher in "Bang the Drum Slowly," recalls telling a young Newman: "You're not going to go very far in this business. Who's going to give you work? You look too much like Marlon (Brando)."
George Peppard also appears in the Sept. 26, 1956, production, which Schulman adapted from Mark Harris's novel.
In the three volumes of Berle, Uncle Milty defines and demonstrates different forms of comedy, using skits and segments from his top-rated show of the late '40s and early '50s. There are many very funny clips and some that may have been funny then but fall short some 40 years later. Perhaps the most interesting segments involve flubbed lines which highlight the improvisatorial skills of these comics, who also had no second takes.
Special guests in the "Funnies Fifties" (75 minutes) include: Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Phil Silvers, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Ronald Reagan, Nat King Cole, Martha Raye and the Harmonica Rascals. On "Legends" (61 minutes): Jackie Gleason, Harpo Marx, Peter Lorre, Ed Sullivan, Louis Armstrong, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington. On "Carnival of Comedy" (62 minutes): Steve Allen, Ben Blue, Basil Rathbone, Arnold Stang, Florence Desmond, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Martha Raye.
The "Shirley Temple Storybook Theater" was televised from 1959 until 1961. The most celebrated child star of all time hosts the shows with not only an introduction but also with continuity segments and song.
Many famous stars appeared in these productions of children's most beloved literary classics, including Charlton Heston, Agnes Moorehead, Jonathan Winters and Claire Bloom. Each had its own set of stars. The cast for "The Emperor's New Clothes" included Eli Wallach, Sebastian Cabot, Richard Haydn, Pernell Roberts and Barbara Lord.
Titles now available:
SHIRLEY TEMPLE STORYBOOK THEATER
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
The Land of Green Ginger
The Magic Fishbone
The Wild Swan
Dick Whittington and His Cat
The Emperor's New Clothes
The Little Lame Prince
Rip Van Winkle
The Sleeping Beauty