Thursday, July 18, 2013

Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon: The Barbara Stanwyck Show (1960-61)

Tonight, from Hollywood, The Barbara Stanwyck Show.  After the announcement, Earle Hagen's dramatic and slightly melancholy theme begins and there she is, Miss Barbara Stanwyck, dressed to the nines in a gown from Werle.  She smiles and welcomes us to the program, briefly outlining the episode's plot, the writers and director and, sometimes, her co-star.

From an interview with Kay Gardella:  "I hated playing the role of hostess every week.  I know Loretta Young loved it when she had her show on, but I couldn't stand it.  I was lousy at it.  I find I have to hide behind something.  I can't just play myself."

If Barbara Stanwyck felt outside her comfort zone in the pre- and post-episode hostess role, it really didn't show.  The taglines were often rather cute with a rueful smile or joke or praise for her co-stars.  As a viewer, I looked forward to sharing a couple of moments with the star.  In a couple of instances when she thanked the audience for their letters and asked if they would please let them know which episodes they enjoyed the most you can almost imagine her saying to herself "let them like the westerns best, please".  The unaired pilot for the program was a western story.

Barbara Stanwyck had been a movie star for over 30 years, but the movie executives have always had trouble seeing past a birth certificate.  Executives in all eras seem to think that what the public wants are new faces.  While it is true that audiences are more than happy to give those new faces a chance, we still want our old friends.  However, the number of film roles and, in some instances, their quality had declined for our Missy as she entered her 50s.  Television was the way to go and Barbara Stanwyck was no elitist.  She lived to work and she would follow the work.

Barbara Stanwyck's first major foray into television was guesting four times on Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater.  The actor turned successful producer had an amazing array of names appearing on programs under the Four Star banner.  During this time, westerns were the big thing on television and Barbara Stanwyck, little Ruby Stevens from Brooklyn, had become an adept horsewoman and stunt player in the role of many strong-minded western females.  Surely Stanwyck on TV in a western was a perfect fit.  The "brain boys", as she referred to the network executives, considered westerns the exclusive domain of men.  Dale Evans and Annie Oakley (Gail Davis) were for kids.

Also popular at the time were anthology series, such as the previously mentioned Zane Grey Theater (1956-1961), The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1962) and the crown jewel of them all, The Loretta Young Show (1953-1961).  Other big name film stars took their turn with Jane Wyman Present The Fireside Theater (1955-1958) and The DuPont Show with June Allyson (1959-1961).  In 1960 it was time for The Barbara Stanwyck Show.


Executive Producer Louis Edelman and Barbara Stanwyck began their long friendship in the 1930s where Mr. Edelman began working as a producer for Warner Brothers.  Some of the familiar titles he worked on include G-Men, The Fighting 69th, I'll See You in My Dreams and White Heat.  In the 1950s he moved into television producing such successful shows as The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp and Make Room for Daddy.  Producer William H. Wright had been in production at MGM working on such films as Stars in My Crown, Black Hand, Act of Violence and The Naked Spur.  There is also a credit for Barwyck productions which would indicate a deeply personal stake for the star.  With a trusted friend at the helm, Barbara Stanwyck was in good hands and only the best would do for each half hour episode.  Writers included A.E. Bezzerides (Thieves' Highway, On Dangerous Ground), Blanche Hanalis (Little House on the Prairie) and Leonard Praskins (Maverick, Wagon Train).  Directors for the series would include the Dean of 50s TV David Lowell Rich, Jacques Tourneur (Out of the Past) and Richard Whorf (Champagne for Caesar).  And if a lady wants to look her best she can do no better than be photographed by Hal Mohr, the only write-in Oscar nominee (A Midsummer Night's Dream) or Nicholas Musuraca (Blood on the Moon, Deadline at Dawn, I Remember Mama).

There was one recurring character in the series, that of Far East importer and adventuress Jo Little.  Jo was featured in The Miraculous Journey of Tadpole Chan, Dragon by the Tail and Adventure on Happiness Street.  It seems as if there may have been hopes for a continuing series with that character should the anthology format fail to click.  There are some wonderful guest stars in the set including Ralph Bellamy and Lew Ayres.  It is fun to see Sen Yung and Layne Tom from the Charlie Chan movies, and Ann May Wong from way back.

The episodes play like sharply written short stories, sometimes dramatic, sometimes light-hearted.  Barbara Stanwyck played a variety of women from all walks of life and different eras.  Some were women in desperate situations, some were desperate women who created their situations.  Best of all were the character pieces with one or two guest stars where the actors were free to really dig in and show their stuff.  Among those would be Vic Morrow in The Key to the Killer.  Julie London had violence in her heart and dragged Michael Ansara into her plan in Night Visitors.  Lee Marvin in Confession, based on a true life murder case.  In her introduction Miss Stanwyck said the episode had a passing similarity to Double Indemnity, a film she made a few years ago that she hopes we remember.  The Golden Acres owed a bit of a debt to The Little Foxes.

Two character actress greats had the chance to strut their stuff in atypical roles.  Doris Packer (Leave It to Beaver) as a domineering mother-in-law/oil magnate in Mrs. Randall's Secret.  She came up the hard way and is as tough as her daughter-in-law.  Elizabeth Patterson (Remember the Night) in Big Career is allowed to forego the ditherings of the latter part of her career as another sort of mother-in-law.

Earle Hagen's (the theme's composer) famous 1930s tune Harlem Nocturne is featured prominently in the episode Out of the Shadows where Barbara plays a psychiatrist helping a troubled young musician played by William Stephens.  In the western episode Ironbank's Bride, she is the mail order bride to a wealthy rancher played by Charles Bickford.  Her character has a son named "Jarrod".  The episode Little Big Mouth stars Barbara as crusading real-life reporter Nellie Bly and the role fits like a glove, although the show is stolen by 11-year-old Judy Strangis (Room 222).

Three of my favourite episodes are a nice sample of the entertainment available on the series which ran on NBC on Monday at 10:00 pm, following Dante starring Howard Duff and opposite Jackie Cooper in Hennesy and the last half hour of Adventures in Paradise starring Gardner McKay.  A Man's Game is a droll spoof of western cliches.  Barbara is a saloon keeper turned sheriff, engaged to a former gunslinger played by Charles Drake.  Edgar Buchanan is a philosophy spouting judge and Clinton Sundberg is the meanest gunfighter in the west.  Well, I told you it was a spoof!  Assassin features Barbara as a kooky secretary with a criminal secret and a criminal boss, played by Leon Ames, who hires a hit man played by Peter Falk to dispose of the problematic gal.  It's a battle of wits and wills among the trio and you're never certain who holds all the ammunition.  Sign of the Zodiac is a story of revenge, double crosses and madness with guest stars Joan Blondell (Night Nurse) and Dan Duryea.  It's a dandy!

There would be no second season for The Barbara Stanwyck Show.  It was replaced in the NBC lineup by another anthology program, Thriller hosted by Boris Karloff.  Barbara Stanwyck was nominated four times for a competitive Oscar, but never took home the prize.  She was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Series (Lead) opposite two other ladies with self-titled programs, Donna Reed and Loretta Young.  On her first shot at the TV prize, Barbara Stanwyck had her first acting trophy.  She looked lovely in a knee length dress first worn to introduce one of the episodes of her series (The Choice guesting Robert Horton and James Best).  There was a charming mix-up when Lou Edelman's congratulatory kiss ended up with his cuff link becoming attached to her clothing.  Luckily, Jackie Cooper in the next row helped save the day.  Barbara accepted the Emmy from host Dick Powell, thanking her beloved producer and all the people behind the scenes who truly made this possible and happily returned to her seat.
 

The Emmy win must have felt like a mixed triumph after so much work, but Barbara Stanwyck was not one to dwell on the past.  Her talent was once again affirmed and her career would continue, but in what direction?  She couldn't know that night that there would be three more movies and a lot more television or that Emmy nominations would become as prolific as Oscar nominations.  Her beloved Lou and A.I. Bezzerides would create The Big Valley and Barbara Stanwyck would have her western.  Generations of fans would discover and fall in love with "and starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck as Victoria Barkley".  All that was in the future, beyond that door that was opening as one door was closing on The Barbara Stanwyck Show.

Aubyn, The Girl with the White Parasol, is graciously hosting the Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon from July 16 - 22.  Please enjoy the tributes.



34 comments:

  1. Hi there! I have nominated you for the One Lovely Blog Award. If you already have it or are just not into the blog award thing, please just consider it a friendly nod to how much I enjoy your work!

    http://moviessilently.com/2013/07/18/i-reveal-seven-secrets-to-earn-the-one-lovely-blog-award/

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  2. Thanks, Fritzi. While I truly appreciate the acknowledgement (and right back at ya, by the way), I will have to forego the sharing elements of the award at this time.

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  3. I didn't even know Barbara Stanwyck had a TV show!! And it sounds really interesting!

    Thanks for expanding my horizons. :)

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  4. The series became available on DVD four years ago and it was a treasured birthday gift from one of my sisters. We've all enjoyed it. I think some episodes are available on Amazon if you want to check it out. Well worth the time.

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  5. How lovely that she won an award for this - I've never seen the show but it sounds well worth seeing.

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  6. Beautiful post. I have seen only a few of these shows, but the DVDs are on my want list.

    Stanwyck=must have

    She's been my hero since I was 8, and I don't want to get into how long that's been.

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  7. Judy, it's a treat to find out there are still cool older television shows waiting out there for us.

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  8. Thank you, Lisa.

    It's wonderful to share the love for Barbara Stanwyck with so many fans. We're certainly a large and devoted group.

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  9. I'm curious: why do you suppose this format - the one-person anthology series - fell out of favor, especially when it seemed so popular in the early days of TV? Was it simply changing tastes?

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  10. Well, Rich, it may have been part of a cycle like westerns or medical dramas. It may have been production dictated. With no standing set, familiar costumes, regular players, I imagine the costs on anthology programs would keep increasing. I'm certain cost would be behind the fact that we don't see anything like it nowadays. I think it's a shame because it certainly seemed a great environment for creativity.

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  11. Outstanding post! Barbara was such a pro and so not a snob to enter TV with such gusto. Boy, doesn't she look beautiful with her Emmy?

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  12. To reply as to why anthology series fell out of flavor, I have to think that the fact that television's quick and painless continuity is now its major selling point against feature films. You tune into shows for the same experience every time nowadays; unfortunately, I don't know about going back.

    Regardless, lovely post. I'm rationing myself on the episodes because I want them to last. The more Stanwyck the better!

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  13. I've wanted to see this series for years, and have still yet to get my hands on the DVD set. It's a shame the anthology series is a thing of the past, as it was so innovative and allowed for a range of guests. Thanks for a swell look at this neato show.

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  14. FlickChick, I think a part of Barbara's appeal to a lot of us is that she was such a "non-snob".

    I agree. She looks lovely with her Emmy, and that dress is a wow.

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  15. I think you may be onto something, Danny. Audiences are being conditioned by the programming to want what they expect. I think that is what makes watching classic television, especially anthology programs or something like "Studio One" so exciting. It's vibrant and anything can happen, even if it's 60 years old.

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  16. You are in for a treat, JTL. And, like Danny who posted above, once you start the show it would be wise to ration. I felt strangely sad when the series came to an end for me.

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  17. I'm adding this show to my wish list right now! Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention. It sounds like just the thing to watch after a long day!

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  18. Hamlette, you are so right. The program is just the sort of thing to help you unwind. Looking forward to your blogathon contribution.

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  19. Enjoyed your post about the television show. On tv before my time, but I'll have to ask my parents their memories of the show, as I do recall they watched the Loretta Young show, they've mentioned it before.

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  20. I'm pleased you enjoyed the article. The great thing about our time is that, with streaming and DVDs nothing is before our time any more. It's all ours! Bwahahahaha!

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  21. CW, I truly enjoyed learning about THE BARBARA STANWYCK SHOW from your post (and, wow, she looks amazing on the DVD cover). I hate to generalize, but the late 1950s and 1960s aren't called the Golden Age of Television for nothing. The quality of acting, writing, and directing was amazing. Can you imagine an actress of Ms. Stanwyck's stature hosting and occasionally starring in her own network show these days?

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  22. The sad thing is, I can't imagine a top-flight star/actress doing a similar show today. It would certainly be unique among network programming.

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  23. I know Stanwyck's role in The Big Valley very well, but I've never even thought of looking for this. The idea of an anthology show built around a single actress is kind of alien to me, but I'm genuinely curious now.

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  24. I imagine actresses used to the grind of the studio years such as Loretta Young, Jane Wyman and Barbara Stanwyck relished to dig into a different character each week. You'll find many entertaining episodes on the program, so I hope you have the chance to check it out soon.

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  25. This show must have been great to watch. Like Barbara, I wouldn't be comfortable as a TV hostess.
    And how humble to wear in the Emmys the same dress she had worn on the show. So different from today...
    I love your nice comments on my blog, thank you so much.
    Kisses!

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  26. The Emmy presentation of 53 years ago certainly seems like a scaled down affair compared to the circus of today. Barbara looked classy and composed in her dress.

    I hope you can find some episodes on line to enjoy, Le.

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  27. I love how much background detail you give about the show, including some very impressive credits. It's incredibly fascinating to me to look back at classic television and see all the big names that pop up. And I wish we could have a revival of anthology shows.

    Stanwyck's comments on her discomfort with TV hosting make a lot of sense since she was never really an improvisational actress or one that delighted in self-promotion. Her comments in interviews so often have this air of "Huh, guess they want me to talk about myself." But you make a good case for her ability to sell this show, even using her own shyness to her advantage.

    Thank you for a wonderful entry! I'm so glad you decided to join the blogathon.

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  28. Aubyn, I was absolutely delighted to participate in your blogathon and truly appreciate the time and work it took to make the event such a success.

    There are so many aspects of Barbara Stanwyck's career to explore, and I still have a few articles left to read.

    Again, thank you and congratulations.

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  29. Holy cats, Caftan Woman, I thought I knew all there was to know about the glorious Barbara Stanwyck, but I honestly didn't realized she had an anthology in her name! Now that I know, I'm all the more wowed by your post about her show and the talents who starred in this show; I wish she'd been able to get another season or two out of it! Thanks for expanding my Stanwyck knowledge, my friend!

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  30. Ha, Dorian. You make me feel like Sam Jaffe in "Lost Horizon" only our Shangri-la is 60s TV. Maybe the coolest thing about our passion for classic entertainment is how much of it is still waiting for us.

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  31. Caftan Woman, I think your reference to LOST HORIZON is an excellent comparison! :-D Luckily, it seems like you and I and other classic movie lovers really are unearthing more vintage films and TV shows as time goes on, kinda like movie anthropologists. Works for me!

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  32. "Movie anthropologists." I LIKE IT!

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  33. Sorry I am so late visiting your blogathon entry. I was out of town (and off-line) when this wonderful event was taking place. I felt badly having to bail out, but as I told Aubyn when I cancelled, there would be so many other wonderful entries that my missing entry wouldn't matter at all. And I was right!! There were so many fantastic entries, including this one of yours! What a terrific write-up you have provided!

    Much as I adore Barbara Stanwyck, I have to admit that I have never seen a single episode of "The Barbara Stanwyck Show," so I really appreciate you shining the spotlight on it. It sounds like a must-see for me. I am going to check my library to see if they have it. Sad, though, that it lasted only 1 season; however, since, she went on to The Big Valley a few years later, I guess things worked out for the best. Had "The Barbara Stanwyck Show" lasted longer, she may not have had the time for "The Big Valley."

    I always find it interesting to discover what my favorite stars were working on at the time of my birth, and since I am January, 1961, that means "The Barbara Stanwyck Show" was what the lovely Babs was up to. That knowledge alone makes this a must-see for me.

    Thanks for adding something new to my "must watch" list!

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  34. Patti, thanks so much for reading the article. I'm pleased to share information about our "Missy" that you hadn't known before. Doubly pleased with your comments.

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