Retro Dee writes about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s on this site. Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every Wednesday.
Hi folks, it’s Retro Dee and Welcome to “Life in the 50’s”!
This is the third post that I’ll be doing on TV in the 50’s. As I’ve said in Part One and Part Two, TV was a very important part of the lives 1950’s folks. It was a new and exciting concept for every home in America to own a television set. New programs were rapidly coming into existence as viewers embraced the idea making television entertainment a fun, leisurely part of their daily lives.
For Part Three, we’re going to be looking at seven more TV programs from the 1950’s decade:
“Leave it to Beaver” (1957 – 1963)
Few sitcoms have become as classic as “Leave It To Beaver”, the show about a boy named Theodore who went by the nickname “Beaver”. For six years, audiences followed the adventures of Beaver (Jerry Mathers) and his older brother Wally (Tony Dow) who were guided by the do-good morals of their parents: Ward (Hugh Beaumont) and June (Barbara Billingsley). Although four years of its run technically happened in the 1960’s, “Leave It To Beaver” is still synonymous with the 1950’s and is often cited as an example of such.
Trivia: From 1983 – 1989, the TV Show “Still The Beaver” was produced by Universal Television and starred much of the original cast as they followed the life of a grown up Beaver Cleaver!
“Father Knows Best” (1954 – 1960)
This show originally began as a radio program that eventually came to television. It starred Robert Young as Jim Anderson, the model father of three who worked as a General Manager of an insurance company. Jim was married to his perfect housewife, Margaret (Jane Wyatt). As the title suggests, Jim always had the best advice for his family. There was Betty, the oldest daughter, also known as “Princess” (played by Elinor Donahue), Bud (aka James Anderson Jr., played by Billy Gray) and little Kathy Anderson (aka “Kitten”, played by Lauren Chapin) The Andersons were the idyllic family that could do no wrong. In the 203 episodes that aired, Americans were not only entertained by The Andersons, but given a set of role models to emulate as well.
“Make Room For Daddy” aka “The Danny Thomas Show” (1953 – 1964)
This popular and now classic show introduced America to the beloved personality of Danny Thomas. It followed the life of Danny Williams (Thomas) who worked as a comedian at the Copacabana. Danny was married to Margaret (Jean Hagan) and they had two children, Terry and Rusty. By season three, Jean Hagan left the show after issues with Danny Thomas and by season four, the show was re-named “The Danny Thomas Show”. The absence of the character of Margaret was explained by her sudden death, since the topic of divorce was unacceptable in those days.
As the series continued, Danny met and married the character, Kathy (Marjorie Lord), who had a daughter of her own. And so, this TV family became happily blended by way of death, and not divorce.
“Date With The Angels” (May, 1957 – January, 1958)
Here’s a show that starred American Icon Betty White, that is lesser known than Betty’s other work. “Date With The Angels” was a short-lived sit com that followed the lives of the Angels, a newly wed couple: Vicki (Betty White) and Gus (Bill Williams). A unique twist for the show was Vicki’s daydreaming sequences. However, this idea was scrapped by the show’s sponsor (Chrysler Plymouth) because they felt that this format would confuse the audience. Betty White stated that the show was just a run-of-the-mill sit com without the dream sequence aspect, and she was happy when the show was canceled so she could move on to something else.
“Playhouse 90” (1956 – 1960)
Many shows were live in the 1950’s, much like watching a play. It was almost like having a theater in your own house! “Playhouse 90” was a drama, acted out live, on national TV. This program had a different 30-minute story each week. Some of the stories were taken from books.
By 1957, however, the show changed from live to a taped format. Stars who worked on the production of “Playhouse 90” include: Rod Sterling, Jack Palance, Aaron Spelling, Polly Bergen, and Robert Allen Aurthur.
Trivia: In the TV Show “Happy Days”, Fonzie claims that his dog Spunky enjoys watching “Playhouse 90”.
“Your Show of Shows” (1950 – 1954)
This early 1950’s variety show was one of the first of its kind! Starring Sid Caesar, Imogene Cocoa, Howard Morris, Carl Reiner, and produced by Max Leibman, this was the beginnings for some great TV legends. Well-known writers of the show included: Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, and Selma Diamond to name a few. “Your Show of Shows” was broadcast on NBC and each episode was 90 minutes long. It featured musical and comedy sketches, some of which inspired future projects such as “The Dick Van Dyke Show”.
Trivia: After “Your Show of Shows” ended, Sid Caesar went on to have his own show called “Caesar’s Hour” featuring Carl Reiner, Howard Morris and Bea Arthur.
“The Dick Clark Show” (aka “Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Beechnut Show” 1958 – 1960)
I’ve saved the best for last for my fellow music lovers. This show truly deserves its own post, but I’ll save that for another date. Dick Clark hosted this program which aired on Saturday Nights from 7:30-8pm. The sponsor was Beech-Nut Gum, which was unabashedly advertised throughout the program. Pretty much all of the hottest artists of the day showed up on the Saturday Night Beechnut show including: Buddy Holly and The Crickets, Bill Haley and His Comets, The Everly Brothers, Eddie Cochran, Ritchie Valens, Fats Domino, Johnny Cash, Sam Cooke, and The Big Bopper. A lot of the precious footage that we have from that era came from the Saturday Night Beechnut Show. The show’s audience consisted of a well-behaved, but excited gum-chewing group of teens. Each show was recorded at the Little Theater in downtown Manhattan. At the end of each show, Dick Clark would count down the Top Ten most popular songs of the week.
Here, from You Tube of course, is Eddie Cochran’s performance of “C’Mon Everybody” on November 29, 1958. (Note Dick Clark’s Beechnut plug at the beginning and the gum-chewing teens!)
Well! Wasn’t that fun? Thanks for reading, everyone. If you haven’t already, check out Part One and Part Two, of this series. And please stay tuned for the next installment of “Life in The 50’s” here on Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever.
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