Philco Television Playhouse was one of the most distinguished
of the many "live" anthology dramas which aired during the so-called
"golden age" of television. The first episode of the Philco program
was broadcast over NBC on Sunday evening 3 October 1948 between
9:00 and 10:00 P.M. It remained on the air for just over seven seasons
until 1955. At the beginning of its fourth season in 1951, The
Philco Television Playhouse acquired an alternating sponsor,
the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. From 1951 until it
went off the air, the program shared its Sunday night slot with
The Goodyear Theatre.
a short period between 28 August 1955 and 12 February 1956, the
Philco Television Playhouse alternated with The Alcoa
Hour in addition to The Goodyear Theatre. Following the
end of The Philco Television Playhouse in 1955, The Alcoa
Hour and The Goodyear Theatre continued in alternation
with broadcasts of one hour live dramas until 29 September 1957.
Under the guidance of producer Fred Coe (who also served as one
of the program's several directors), The Philco Television Playhouse
became known for its high-quality adaptations of plays, short stories,
and novels. It was also the first anthology drama to encourage the
writing of original plays exclusively for television.
its first season, The Philco Television Playhouse emphasized
adaptations. The first broadcast was a television version of "Dinner
at Eight," a play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. Directed
by Coe, the production starred Peggy Wood, Dennis King, Judson Laire,
Mary Boland, and Vicki Cummings.
Other adaptations from plays that first season included "Counselor-at-Law"
with Paul Muni, "The Old Lady Shows Her Medals" and a version of
the Edmund Rostand play "Cyrano de Bergerac" starring Jose Ferrer.
Among the novels adapted were Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca,
Dumas' Camille, and Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice.
On 19 December 1948, The Philco Television Playhouse broadcast
an adaptation of the Charles Dickens' story A Christmas Carol.
The program included a filmed rendering of "Silent Night" by Bing
it continued to utilize adaptations of plays and novels, The Philco
Television Playhouse began to air original scripts toward the end
of the first season. These became more important in subsequent seasons.
A number of young writers, including Paddy Chayefsky, Horton Foote,
Tad Mosel, Alan Arthur, Arnold Schulman, and Gore Vidal began their
careers writing teleplays for the program.
wrote several scripts for Philco/Goodyear. Among them were
"Holiday Song" (Goodyear 14 September 1952), "The Bachelor Party"
( Philco 11 October 1953), "The Mother" (Philco 4 April 1954), "Middle
of the Night" (Philco 19 September 1954) and "The Catered Affair"
( Goodyear 22 May 1955). "The Bachelor Party," "Middle of the Night,"
and "The Catered Affair" were later made into feature films.
most famous Philco script was "Marty," aired on 24 May 1953. Directed
by Delbert Mann, the production starred Rod Steiger as in the title
role. It became the most renowned production from the "golden age"
of television anthologies and marked a turning point for television
drama because of the considerable amount of critical attention paid
by the press.
to Delbert Mann, "Marty" was inspired by the ballroom of the Abbey
Hotel on the corner of 53rd Street and 7th Avenue in New York. A
meeting place for single people during the evening hours, the ballroom
was the site of Philco Television Playhouse rehearsals during
the day. Chayefsky had originally planned to have the main character
be a woman but then changed the role into that of the lonely butcher,
Marty. The story is a simple one, focused on character and emotion
rather than excessive dramatic action. After many unsuccessful attempts
to find a girl, Marty visits the ballroom one evening and meets
a homely young teacher. Against the objections of his mother and
his bachelor friends, Marty finally stands up for himself and calls
the young lady back for a date.
believed that Rod Steiger gave the best performance of his life
in the role of Marty and Steiger became so moved by the story that
he wept openly on the set. Mann's last direction to Steiger before
air was to "hold back the tears." Mann also directed the 1956 film
version of "Marty" which won four Academy Awards for Best Picture,
Best Screenplay, and Best Director. Ernest Borgnine won Best Actor
for his portrayal of Marty.
important productions broadcast on The Philco Television Playhouse
were Gore Vidal's "Visit to a Small Planet," (Goodyear, 8 May
1955) which later became a Broadway play and a feature film, Vidal's
"The Death of Billy the Kid" (Philco 24 July 1955) which became
the 1958 film The Left-Handed Gun. and Horton Foote's "A
Trip to Bountiful" later staged on Broadway in the 1950s and reshot
as a film in the 1980s. Actress Geraldine Paige won an Oscar for
Best Actress for her performance in the film.
Philco Television Playhouse: The Joker
Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research
Coe, a graduate of the Yale Drama School, was active as a director
and producer for The Philco Television Playhouse for six
years. Coe and other staff directors including Gordon Duff, Delbert
Mann, Vincent Donehue, and Arthur Penn shared directing responsibilities
on a rotating basis. Usually, they worked three weeks ahead with
one show in preparation, one in rehearsal, and one on the studio
floor ready for telecasting.
its long tenure, The Philco Television Playhouse became a
breeding ground for an entire generation of young directors, actors,
and writers who later became famous in motion pictures and on Broadway.
The program won a Peabody Award in 1954 for its "superior standards
and achievements." Some of the best known actors who appeared on
the series were Joanne Woodward, Steve McQueen, Rod Steiger, Eva
Marie Saint, Grace Kelly, Kim Stanley, Jack Klugman, and Walter
Fred Coe, Gordon Duff, Garry Simpson
October 1948-October 1955 Sunday
Hawes, William. The American Television Drama: The Experimental
Years. University, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1986.
Gorham, editor. The Live Television Generation of Hollywood Film
Directors: Interviews with Seven Directors. Jefferson, North
Carolina: McFarland, 1994.
J. Fred. One Nation Under Television: The Rise and Decline of
Network TV. New York: Pantheon, 1990.
Louis Carl. Jack Gould: Social Critic of the Television Medium.
(Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Michigan, 1980.)
Ira. Ira Skutch: I Remember Television: A Memoir. Metuchen,
New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1989.
Tom. Storytellers to the Nation: A History of American Television
Writing. New York: Continuum, 1992.
Frank. Live Television: The Golden Age of 1946-1958 in New York.
Jefferson, North Carolina : McFarland & Co., 1990.
Christopher, and Tise Vahimagi. The American Vein: Directors
and Directions in Television. New York: Dutton, 1979.
Max. The Golden Age of Television: Notes From the Survivors.
New York: Dell, 1977.
Company Voice; Anthology
Age of Television; Goodyear