prolific television, theater, and film producer and director, Fred
Coe is closely identified with the "golden age" of live television.
His television career started in 1945, when be became production
manager for NBC in New York and worked with Worthington Minor on
Studio One. In 1948, Coe began production of NBC's Philco
Television Playhouse, a live dramatic-anthology series broadcast
on Sunday evenings, from 9:00 to 10:00. From 1951 to 1955, Philco
Television Playhouse alternated with Goodyear Television
Playhouse and became one of the top-rated programs of the early
1950s. Live programming of this type was used by NBC's programming
chief Pat Weaver to differentiate television from motion pictures,
to strengthen ties with its affiliates, and to enlarge the audience
for TV sets (manufactured by NBC's parent company, RCA).
was noted for using unknown writers and directors who were able
to create works tailored for the new medium: the writers included
Paddy Chayefsky, Tad Mosel, Horton Foote, Gore Vidal, J.P. Miller,
and Robert Alan Arthur; and the directors, Delbert Mann, Arthur
Penn, and Vincent Donehue. Setting anthology drama on a course that
established it as the most prestigious format on live television,
Coe relied at first on TV adaptations of Broadway plays and musicals,
then on literary classics, biographies, and old Hollywood movies,
and finally on original television drama. The Philco series opened
on 3 October 1948 with a one-hour version of George S. Kaufman and
Edna Ferber's Dinner at Eight. In 1952, Coe produced the
first play of the first playwright to achieve fame in television.
The playwright was Paddy Chayefsky and the play, Holiday Song.
In 1953, Coe produced Chayefsky's Marty with Rod Steiger
in the title role. Directed by Delbert Mann, Marty became
the most popular anthology drama of the period, winning many awards
and even initiating a Hollywood production trend of films based
on TV drama. Marty the film, produced by Harold Hecht and
released through United Artists in 1955, won Academy Awards for
Best Picture, Best Actor (Ernest Borgnine), Direction (Delbert Mann),
and Original Screenplay (Paddy Chayefsky). Other notable Coe productions
included Chayefsky's The Bachelor Party, Horton Foote's The
Trip to the Bountiful, and Tad Mosel's Other People's Houses.
Productions such as these earned Fred Coe and the Philco Playhouse
the George Foster Peabody Award in 1954 and many other honors.
1954, Coe began producing Producer's Showcase, a 90-minute
anthology series that aired every fourth Monday for three seasons.
One aim of the series was to broadcast expensive color spectaculars
to promote RCA's new color television system. The best example of
this strategy was Peter Pan, a successful Broadway production
of Sir James M. Barrie's fantasy which Coe brought to television
almost intact. Starring Mary Martin, Peter Pan was broadcast
on 7 March 1955 and was viewed by an estimated 65-75 million people,
becoming the highest-rated show in TV's brief history. As a result
of this memorable production and adaptations of such plays as Sherwood
Anderson's The Petrified Forest (1955), which starred Humphrey
Bogart and Lauren Bacall in their TV dramatic debuts, and Thornton
Wilder's Our Town, which starred Paul Newman and Eva Marie
Saint, Coe was awarded an Emmy for Best Producer of a Live Series
programming strategies radically changed after 1956 to rely on the
routines of series programming produced by West Coast suppliers
on film. In 1957, Coe departed the network for CBS, where he produced
Playhouse 90 for three seasons. Among the best productions
of the series were Days of Wine and Roses (1958), The
Plot to Kill Stalin (1958), and For Whom the Bell Tolls
(1959). Thereafter, Coe worked sporadically in television, producing
specials for all three networks in the late 1960s and 1970s and
producing and directing several episodes of The Adams Chronicles
for PBS in 1976.
the decline of live anthology drama on television, Coe brought anthology
drama to Broadway by producing theatrical versions of TV plays by
TV writers, among them William Gibson's Two for the Seesaw (1958)
and The Miracle Worker (1959), Tad Mosel's All the Way
Home (1960), and Herb Gardner's A Thousand Clowns (1962).
Coe even converted two TV plays into films--The Miracle Worker
(1962) and A Thousand Clowns (1966). Coe's legacy is
a tradition of programming demonstrating television's unique aspects
as a medium of dramatic expression.
Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research
COE. Born in Alligator, Mississippi, U.S.A., 23 December 1914.
Attended Peabody Demonstration School, Nashville, Tennessee; attended
Peabody College for Teachers, Nashville; studied at Yale Drama School,
New Haven, Connecticut, 1938-40. Married: 1) Alice Griggs, 1940
(divorced), children: John and Laurence Anne; 2) Joyce Beeler, 1952;
children: Sue Anne and Samuel Hughes. Ran community theater in Nashville;
presented radio dramas on station WSM; production manager, NBC,
New York (producing more than 500 hour-long teleplays), 1945; producer,
Philco-Goodyear Theater NBC, 1948-53; executive producer
for, Mr. Peepers series, 1952-53; producer Producers' Showcase,
1954-55; producer, Playwrights '56, 1956; producer and director,
Playhouse 90, CBS, produced such Broadway shows as Two
for the Seesaw, A Trip to Bountiful, and The Miracle
Worker; co-producer and director, various Broadway shows. Recipient:
Writers Guild of America Evelyn Burkey Award; Peabody Award, 1954;
Emmy Award, 1955. Died in Los Angeles, California, 29 April 1979.
1952-53 Mr. Peepers (executive producer)
1954-55 Producers' Showcase
1956 Playwrights '56
1956-61 Playhouse 90 (also director)
1979 Miracle Worker (producer)
Philco Television Playhouse "What Makes Sammy Run?"
1949 Philco Television Playhouse "The Last Tycoon" 1953 Philco
Television Playhouse "Marty"
1955 Producers' Showcase "Peter Pan"
The Left-Handed Gun (producer), 1958; Miracle Worker
(producer), 1962; This Property Is Condemned (writer), 1966
for the Seesaw, A Trip to Bountiful, The Miracle Worker, All the
Way Home (co-producer), A Thousand Clowns (co-producer
Averson, Richard, editor. Electronic Drama: Television Plays
of the Sixties. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon, 1971.
"The Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame (Biographies of 17 Inductees)."
Broadcasting & Cable (Washington, D.C.), 7 November 1994.
William. The American Television Drama: The Experimental Years.
University: University of Alabama Press, 1986.
Gorham, editor. The Live Television Generation of Hollywood Film
Directors: Interviews with Seven Directors. Jefferson, North
Carolina: McFarland, 1994.
Frank. Live Television: The Golden Age of 1946-1958 in New York.
Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1990.
Max. The Golden Age of Television: Notes from the Survivors.
New York: Dell, 1977.
The Man in the Shadows: Fred Coe and the Golden Age of Television
New Brunswick, New Jersey : Rutgers University Press, 1997
Drama; Chayefsky, Paddy;
Golden Age of
Television Playhouse; Playhouse