Classic TV and the Golden Age of Hollywood (Part One): I Love Lucy and the Birth of Sitcoms (1950s)

 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.

lucille ballLucille Ball

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.

I Love LucyLucille Ball starred as Lucy Ricardo on “I Love Lucy” which aired from 1951 through 1957

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.

The Lucy ShowLucille Ball starred as Lucy Carmichael on “The Lucy Show,” 1962-1968
Here's LucyLucille Ball starred as Lucy Carter on Here’s Lucy, 1968-1974

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.

You can buy Terry’s book at amazon by clicking on the below image:



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3 Responses to Classic TV and the Golden Age of Hollywood (Part One): I Love Lucy and the Birth of Sitcoms (1950s)

  1. lynn says:

    great post. i love the old animated “i love lucy” pic. as i recall, there was a time that celebrities _didn’t_ want to be on television…. glad to see so many of them make the jump!

  2. Tam May says:

    Nice article :-). It’s so interesting that Lucille Ball was sort of lost in the shuffle of Hollywood icons in her early days in Hollywood (or rather, the studio didn’t seem to know what to do with her so they cast her in a variety of genres) but formed her iconic presence in television. I remember how much my sister and I loved the I Love Lucy show when we were kids watching reruns int he 1980’s. A future blog post on my own blog is definitely going to be about Lucille Ball and her career in film, as I’m fascinated by that. Her movie roles also continued through to the 1980’s, though mostly in TV movies.

    Tam May
    Mother Time Musings blog:

  3. Dorothy Winnett says:

    Absolutely wonderful post, Lucille Ball was one of the best ♥

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