Tuesday, January 19, 2010

JDM on Television, Part 1

Trying to put together a definitive listing of all of the John D MacDonald-based television episodes and made-for TV movies is something I began back in 1980 when I first started corresponding with Walter Shine. In those pre-Internet days, I had only my proximity to the Library of Congress and a youthful willingness to spend long hours looking through endless lists of television episodes. I eventually gave up. I suppose a trip to the JDM Collection in Gainesville would be the most authoritative way to finalize this, and I hope to get there one day. Until then, here's what I have. The IMDb contains the most complete listing to date, but is has several errors and omissions that I am attempting to correct.

1. "A Child is Crying"

Broadcast on June 19, 1950 as an episode of the anthology series Lights Out. Based on the short story of the same name, published in the December 1948 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories. Adapted by Ernest Kinoy.

Starring Leslie Nielsen as John Folmer and David Cole as Billy Massner

Lights Out was, of course, the television version of the iconic dramatic radio show created by Willis Cooper and made famous by Arch Obler. The television series started as a four-episode experiment in 1946, then began a regular run in the summer of 1949, continuing for three full seasons until 1952. Although Lights Out was a horror show -- a field MacDonald rarely, if ever, experimented with -- they did run occasional science fiction episodes, and "A Child is Crying" was one of those. It appeared as the series' 41st episode of its first full season. The show was shot in New York and broadcast live there, but shown via kinescope to the rest of the country. Only a few episodes of this series seem to have survived, and "A Child is Crying," unfortunately, does not appear to be one of them.

2. "A Child is Crying"

Broadcast on August 17, 1951 as an episode of the anthology series Tales of Tomorrow. Based in the short story of the same name, published in the December 1948 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories. Adapted by Alvin Sapinsley.

Starring Bert Lytell as Dr. Hardensteen and Robin Morgan as Lily Massner

A different adaptation -- the gender of the child was changed -- and one that can still be seen today. Tales of Tomorrow was another early science fiction anthology series that lasted a couple of seasons, from 1951 to 1953. "A Child is Crying" was the show's fourth episode. I wrote about this adaptation in an earlier posting here. It contains a link to a site where the episode can be viewed.

3. "Susceptibility"

Broadcast on November 25, 1951 as an episode of the anthology series Out There. Based on the short story of the same name, published in the January 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. Adapted by David Shaw.

Starring Leslie Nielsen as Sean Malloy and Bethel Leslie as Deen Thomason

Out There was a science fiction anthology series that had a brief half-season run before being cancelled. The series began in October 1951 and broadcast its last episode in January of the next year. A list of the episode titles reveal some iconic s-f stories and writers of the era, including Robert Heinlein's "The Green Hills of Earth" and "Misfit," Ray Bradbury's "The Man," and Theodore Sturgeon's "Mewhu's Jet." It was a live/kinescope production that apparently suffered from its timeslot on Sunday afternoon, and no episodes of the show seem to have survived.

I wonder if actor Leslie Nielsen realized he was starring in his second JDM adaptation...

4. "Betrayed"

Broadcast on March 2, 1953 as an episode of Robert Montgomery Presents. Based on the short story of the same name, published in the March 1952 issue of The American Magazine. Adapted by ?

Starring Joanne Dru as Francie Aintrell and Jane Wyatt as Betty Jackson.

MacDonald's first mystery to be adapted for television, it was also the first hour-long JDM episode. Robert Montgomery Presents was an eclectic dramatic anthology series that ran from 1950 to 1957. They did everything from straight dramatic productions of famous novels ("Arrowsmith," "The Citadel") to popular mysteries ("The Big Sleep" and "Ride the Pink Horse") to musical comedy ("Rio Rita"). The dramatization of "Betrayed" was done as part of the show's fourth season, and I've written a blog posting about the story that can be read here. It does not appear that a copy of this show has survived, and I'm only guessing about the casting above, surmising that the older actress (Wyatt) played the older character.

5. "Who's the Blonde?"

Broadcast on April 26, 1955 as an episode of Schlitz Playhouse of Stars. Based on the short story of the same name, published in the August 9, 1952 issue of Collier's. Adapted by ?

Starring Don Taylor as Tom Weldon, Maxine Cooper as Helen Weldon, and Joi Lansing as "The Blonde"

Sponsored by the famous beer company, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars lasted eight seasons on television, from 1952 to 1959. Beginning as an hour-long live broadcast, it was cut to 30-minute episodes and done on film by the time "Who's the Blonde?" was broadcast. The show went through a series of different hosts, with James Mason serving in that role in 1955. About 60 episodes of this show have survived, but "Who's the Blonde?" is not one of them.

"Who's the Blonde?" is a neat little story that would have fit perfectly on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

To be continued...

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