Tamburlaine the Great (01/19/1956)

Shatner on Broadway!

On January 19th, 1956, William Shatner performed on Broadway for the very first time in Tamburlaine the Great. Less than four years out of college (where he took not one acting class,) this must have felt like an enormous achievement if not a dream come true for the young Canadian. Directed by the British director Tyrone Guthrie, Tamburlaine the Great looks like an elaborate spectacle of a play and was intentionally designed as a limited engagement of 12 weeks at New York’s Winter Garden Theatre.

Instead, it ran for less than 3 weeks and only 20 total performances.

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1955 – Shatner Year in Review

Another big year for Le Shat!

Welcome to the 1955 edition of the “Shatner Year In Review.” At the end of each year covered in the review posts I will provide a summary as it relates to Shatner and his career, as well as display some key entertainment statistics.

1955 was another busy year for The Shat, including at least a dozen TV appearances as well as another full season as part of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Along the way he worked on a Rod Serling production, appeared in a television show that can still be viewed today (the first one since 1950 that is extant!), lost his life savings, got invited to Broadway and possibly met one of his future baby mamas. Big doings!

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General Motors Theatre – “Forever Galatea” (12/06/1955)

Let’s unpack the mystery of Peter Sloan, shall we?

In March of 2016, a man named Peter Sloan filed a $170 million lawsuit in Florida federal court against one Mr. William Shatner. Sloan, given up for adoption in New York City just five days after his birth in December of 1956, began searching for his birth parents in the early 1980’s at the urging of his first adoptive father. He eventually tracked his birth mother down in Toronto and discovered that she had been (in the mid-1950’s) a minor Canadian actress named Kathy McNeil (at the time Kathy Burt, her maiden name.) McNeil later told Sloan in a letter that his birth father was either a law student from Montreal whose name she could not recall, or William F. Shatner.

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On Camera – “On a Streetcar” (12/03/1955)

Shatner is back to TV after three months away. Why the delay?

According to my records which may be (admittedly) incomplete, William Shatner did not appear in any TV productions for three months near the end of 1955. This is a bit odd for a guy that had just lost his life savings and who had, just one year earlier, already been in at least four television shows by the time December started. However, I think the reason for this absence is actually quite explainable and provides a somewhat happy addendum to the story of Shatner losing his Broadway seed money.

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The Big Dig (09/02/1955) – Updated!

Oh shit! Shatner’s dreams hit a big snag…

As I stated in my last post, after the Stratford Shakespeare Festival wrapped up its 1955 season, Shatner headed back to Toronto to work another TV season at the CBC. But that wasn’t Shatner’s original idea at all. In fact, his plan was to finish out the Stratford season and then leave Canada altogether for the bright lights of Broadway. So what happened? Well, fucking Lorne Greene happened.

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The Merchant of Venice (06/29/1955)

The third and final major play performed at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival of Canada in 1955 was the Bard’s own, The Merchant of Venice. Probably most famous (or infamous to today’s modern audience) for the character of Shylock, a horribly stereotypical Jew, this somewhat dark comedy also has a fair bit of nuance that is often overlooked plus an intelligent, beautiful and resourceful woman as the leading character. Don’t get too excited though, this role would have still gone to a man in Shakespeare’s time.

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King Oedipus (06/29/1955)

Same as it ever was.

In 1954, Stratford’s Artistic Director, Tyrone Guthrie, decided to put on two plays by Shakespeare and then branch out and do a third play not by the Bard. That third play, Oedipus Rex, must have been quite a success because the following year Guthrie decided to again stage a third non-Shakespeare play. This time around, he opted to do King Oedipus.

King Oedipus is simply the English title of Oedipus Rex. They are the same damn play.

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Julius Caesar (06/27/1955)

Shatner returns to the stage!

After a very productive (but not very lucrative) season of television working for the CBC in Toronto, and directly following his appearance in “Billy Budd,” William Shatner packed his bags and headed back out to Stratford for the 1955 season. It was the festival’s third year, and Shatner’s second there, and it meant about four months of steady work and experience. Television was just a day job, a way to make ends meet for actors. The real goal, for Shatner at least, was to become a stage actor on Broadway. To get there though, he would need to continue to save up enough money for the move as well as to firmly establish his bona fides as a theater actor. Progress could made on both of these fronts at Stratford.

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General Motors Theatre – “Billy Budd” (04/26/1955)

The only extant television appearance for Shatner during his formative era at the CBC.

Shatner (from everything I know) made at least 19 appearances in CBC television programs from 1954-1956. Of these, only one is viewable. That one is an episode of General Motors Theatre, “Billy Budd.” This is a review of that episode.

That’s right, folks! It’s time for a gen-u-ine review, complete with pictures and videos! Break out the champagne (or the harder stuff) and settle in for this (unintentionally?) homoerotic production of “Billy Budd.” I promise to be gentle.

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Scope – “The Verdict Was Treason” (04/03/1955)

One of the most famous names in Canadian history is Louis Riel. I know this because I just read the entire Wikipedia entry about the man. Prior to beginning my research for this Shatner appearance, I honestly had no idea. So, Canadians, please forgive me my ignorance.

Because I’m obviously not an expert on him or on Canadian history in general, I’m going to try and hit on the highlights of Riel’s life and times as briefly as I can before discussing the production of “The Verdict Was Treason” itself. Oh…and spoiler alert. The verdict was treason.

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Playbill – “The Swamp” (03/30/1955)

About two months after first appearing on the CBC’s anthology television program Playbill, in an episode penned by the great Rod Serling, Shatner would come back for a second (and apparently final time) for an episode called “The Swamp.”

It’s actually slightly surprising that I don’t see more of Shatner on Playbill, because it appears that it was an interesting proving ground for new and innovative Canadian directors, producers and actors. It’s certainly possible (and even probable) that I’m missing one or more entries for this particular series, so let’s briefly discuss what made Playbill stand out from some of its peers.

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General Motors Theatre – “The Coming Out of Ellie Swan” (03/22/1955)

But coming out of where?

On William Shatner’s 24th birthday, March 22nd, 1955, he appeared in yet another episode of General Motors Theatre, “The Coming Out of Ellie Swan.” It had been almost a month since his last television appearance, so the (small) paycheck provided by this program would probably have made his birthday  a better one than he otherwise would have enjoyed. In other words, I’m sure that Shatner had no compunctions about working on his birthday.

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Scope – “One Soul in Two Bodies” (02/27/1955)

One day…just one day (!) after Shatner appeared in On Camera’s “Man in 308” he appeared in an episode of Scope, “One Soul in Two Bodies.” Truly, Shatner is a golden god!

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