Lucille Ball, TV’s First Sitcom Star…
Even in its early days, movie stars were no strangers to television. Many made guest appearances on various shows in the Fifties and Sixties. Bette Davis guest starred on Wagon Train (three episodes, nonetheless), The Virginian, and Perry Mason. Joan Crawford guest starred on G.E. Theatre and Route 66. It should come as no surprise then, that many movie stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood even received their own shows. The Loretta Young Show debuted in 1953 as Letter to Loretta. Ronald Reagan was the host of G.E. Theatre from 1954 to 1962. Judy Garland received her own ill-fated variety show in 1963. Henry Fonda had a recurring role as Marshal Simon Fry in the Western The Deputy and also narrated the show.
Of course, given the popularity of the genre on radio, it was inevitable that classic movie stars would star in their own situation comedies. Indeed, the first truly successful television sitcom starred a movie star — I Love Lucy with Lucille Ball. Given the success of I Love Lucy, many other sitcoms starring former movie idols would follow in the Fifties. Most lasted only briefly. Hey, Mulligan (also known as The Mickey Rooney Show), The Halls of Ivy (starring Ronald Colman), Honestly Celeste (starring Celeste Holm), and The Betty Hutton Show all lasted a season or less. That having been said however, others would prove to be hits and some are still seen today. Private Secretary (starring Ann Sothern), The Bob Cummings Show (also known as Love That Bob), The Gale Storm Show, The Donna Reed Show, and My Three Sons (starring Fred MacMurray) all proved rather successful.
Despite the success of such shows as The Bob Cummings Show, The Donna Reed Show, and My Three Sons, shows starring movie idols from the Golden Age of Hollywood began to peter out with the beginning of the Sixties. The early Sixties would only see a few such shows, none of which were successful. My Living Doll (starring Bob Cummings and Julie Newmar), The Bing Crosby Show, and Mickey (starring Mickey Rooney) all only lasted a season. The mid-Sixties would prove no better for movie star sitcoms on television. The Jean Arthur Show only lasted half as season. Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats might have proven more successful had its star, Ann Sheridan, not died during its single season on the air. Exceptions to these failures were the shows starring Lucille Ball. Both The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy proved to be hits.
Given the failure rate of situation comedies starring former, big name movie stars in the Sixties, it is perhaps surprising that there emerged an entire cycle of such shows in the late Sixties. Not counting The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy, from 1961 to 67 only five sitcoms featuring classic movie stars debuted on the broadcast networks, and none of them lasted more than a season. In stark contrast, from 1968 to 1971 no less than eight sitcoms starring classic movie stars debuted on the broadcast networks, some of which would run for literally years. As to the show that suddenly made sitcoms starring movie stars fashionable again, it starred one of the biggest movie stars of the Fifties and Sixties: Doris Day.
And that will be the subject of my next blog post… so please stay tuned…
–Terence Towles Canote for Classic Movie Hub
Terence Towles Canote runs the pop culture blog A Shroud of Thoughts and tweets ‘classic’ information daily via @Mercurie80. Terry’s interests and expertise span a wide spectrum, from classic movies and classic television to classic rock, pulp magazines, comic books and more. He is the author of Television: Rare & Well Done – a collection of essays about the 70-year history of broadcast TV from America’s Golden Age of Television through the reality shows of today.