Hour was a 60 minute live anthology drama which replaced The
Philco Television Playhouse and began alternating broadcasts
with The Goodyear Theatre in the fall of 1955. (For a few
months Philco, Alcoa, and Goodyear shared a
three-way alternation of the Sunday evening 9:00 to 10:00 P.M. slot
on NBC. Philco withdrew sponsorship in early 1956.) The program
was sponsored by the Aluminum Corporation of America and was produced
by Herbert Brodkin formerly of ABC-TV. Among the program's directors,
many of whom went on to distinguished careers in television and
film, were Dan Petrie, Robert Mulligan, Sidney Lumet, and Ralph
Nelson. Coming near the end of the "golden age" of live television
anthology drama, The Alcoa Hour had a relatively short run
of just under two years, but this was despite generally high quality
programs and mostly favorable reviews.
The first broadcast
of The Alcoa Hour was on 16 October 1955. An original teleplay
by Joseph Schull entitled "The Black Wings," the production starred
Wendell Corey and Ann Todd and was directed by Norman Felton. Both
Variety and The New York Times praised the high quality
of acting and the attractive sets but criticized the script. Times
reviewer J.P. Shanley went so far as to say that the story was "melodramatic
hogwash." Schull's narrative dealt with a German physician (Corey)
who had been a Luftwaffe pilot during WWII. He secretly endows a
clinic for the treatment of victims of a bombing raid he led over
England, then falls in love with an English girl (Todd) who was
crippled by the bombing. In spite of the script's weaknesses, the
program was deemed a success because of the excellent performances
and fine directing and critics felt that The Alcoa Hour would
become a worthy successor to the famous Philco Television Playhouse.
During its two
years, The Alcoa Hour broadcast a wide variety of dramas
including the sixth consecutive Christmas season airing of Gian
Carlo Menotti's television opera Amahl and the Night Visitors
on 25 December 1955. During the Christmas season of 1956, The Alcoa
Hour broadcast a musical version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas
Carol entitled "The Stingiest Man in Town." The adaptation featured
Basil Rathbone in a singing role, crooner Vic Damone, songwriter
Johnny Desmond, opera singer Patrice Munsel, and The Four Lads,
a popular singing group.
were "Thunder in Washington" (27 November 1955), and "Mrs. Gilling
and the Skyscraper" (9 June 1957). "Thunder in Washington" was an
original script by David Davidson, directed by Robert Mulligan.
The broadcast featured Melvyn Douglas and Ed Begley in a story about
a highly competent business executive, Charles Turner, who answers
a call from the President of the United States to come to Washington
to introduce efficiency into numerous sprawling governmental agencies.
Soon Turner's efforts at reform offend almost everyone and he finds
himself defending his actions before a House Appropriations Committee.
The program ends with Turner vowing to continue his crusade to clean
up Washington and the Committee Chair promising to stop him.
New York Times reviewer Jack Gould praised the broadcast by
saying that it was "a play of uncommon timeliness, power, and controversy.
With one more scene, it could have been a genuine tour de force
of contemporary political drama." An interesting footnote to the
production is that actor Luis van Rooten, hired to play the part
of the President of the United States, spent hours studying the
voice and mannerisms of then President Dwight D. Eisenhower to make
sure his performance was authentic, even though the President was
to be seen only in a head and shoulders shot from behind.
Gilling and the Skyscraper" was a very different sort of play. An
original script by Sumner Locke Elliot, it was a vehicle for distinguished
actress Helen Hayes who played the part of an elderly lady who tries
to save her apartment from the owners of her building who intend
to demolish it to make way for a skyscraper. Both the superb acting
and sensitive script were praised. The script in particular was
noted for how it dealt with the generational clashes between the
old lady and new tenants in her building. Confrontations between
the old and new were becoming increasingly common during the 1950s
as large stretches of turn-of-the-century dwellings were leveled
to make way for modern buildings. The plight of Mrs. Gillings was
a familiar one for many older Americans and their families.
host of Alcoa Presents
Photo courtesy of Worldvision Enterprise, Inc.
the most noteworthy Alcoa Hour was the broadcast of 19 February
1956 entitled "Tragedy in a Temporary Town." The script by Reginald
Rose told the story of a vigilante group formed after a girl is
assaulted at a construction camp. According to Jack Gould, "Mr.
Rose's final scene--the mob descending on an innocent Puerto Rican
victim--did make the viewer's flesh creep. And the raw vigor of
the hero's denunciation of the mob--the man's language had uncommon
pungency--was extraordinarily vivid video drama." Directed by Sidney
Lumet and staring Lloyd Bridges as the man who opposed the mob,
"Tragedy in a Temporary Town" won a Robert E. Sherwood Television
Award and a citation from the Anti Defamation League of B'nai B'rith
as the best dramatic program of the year dealing with intergroup
1956-57 season saw the networks shifting away from live broadcasts
and turning more to the use of film. Faced with this change and
competition from a new crop of popular programs, The Alcoa Hour
went off the air after its 22 September 1957 broadcast of "Night"
starring Franchot Tone, Jason Robards, Jr., and E. G. Marshall.
As of 30 September 1957, both The Alcoa Hour and its companion
program The Goodyear Theatre became thirty minute filmed
programs and were moved to Monday nights at 9:30 P.M. Other Alcoa
shows followed in the late 1950s and early 1960s: Alcoa Premiere,
Alcoa Presents, and Alcoa Theatre.
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