Kraft Television Theatre – “The Discoverers” (02/06/1957)

Shatner plays a doctor for the very first (but not the very last) time!

From 1947-1958, the anthology program Kraft Television Theatre aired more than 650 original or adapted comedies and dramas. According to Wikipedia, the show “was broadcast live from Studio 8-H at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, currently the home of Saturday Night Live.” The actors, directors and writers whose work was featured reads like a veritable who’s who of Golden Age television, and included folks like Paul Newman, Rod Steiger, George C. Scott, James Dean, Joanne Woodward, Sidney Lumet and Rod Serling. In fact, Serling’s “Patterns” was first broadcast on Kraft Television Theatre and remains not only the script that brought Serling stardom but also one of the best-remembered episodes of the show’s illustrious 11-year run.

One month after appearing in yet another version of Oedipus Rex, this time for the show Omnibus, Shatner returned to television for “The Discoverers.” According to the minuscule description of this program at IMDB.com, it was about “The story of the discovery of life-saving insulin.” Unfortunately, this program is one of the many lost shows of that era and so cannot be viewed. But there is a bit of information about which character Shatner played and that, coupled with info gleaned from Wikipedia, can at least give us a sense as to what this show may have been like.

The story of the discovery of insulin is actually kind of interesting, with a few twists and turns that certainly might have made for good dramatic television. In 1921, the Canadian surgeon Frederick Banting (played in this production by distinguished stage and screen actor Richard Kiley) traveled to the University of Toronto in the hopes of isolating pancreatic extracts from dogs. Professor of physiology J.J.R. Macleod agreed to give him the use of his laboratory in addition to letting him have two medical students as assistants, Clark Noble and Charles Best. Because Banting only had need of one assistant though, the two students flipped a coin to determine who would get the job. Best won the toss, and eventually would come to be recognized as one of the discoverers of insulin. Unfortunately for Noble, one coin toss decided his place in history.

Richard Kiley played Dr. Frederick Banting in “The Discoverers.”

In this production, that coin toss winning young medical student Charles Best was played by William Shatner. I believe that this marks the very first time that Shatner would play a doctor or medical student…but it certainly would not be the last time. Over the years, Shatner would play a doctor at least a dozen times, and it is possible that his appearance here opened some eyes as to his potential to play the serious and earnest professional roles like doctor and lawyer. Both of those types of roles would grow to be a pretty prominent part of his repertoire both before and after Star Trek.

Anyway, after Banting and Best discovered how to isolate insulin they ran into the problem of how to properly refine it. After discussing the issue with Banting, Macleod brought biochemist James Collip on board. Collip was eventually successful in refining insulin into a usable form and he, Best and Banting jointly sold the resulting patent to the University of Toronto for one dollar. Where are those altruistic doctors these days? Oh yeah, they all work for greedy fucking corporations that charge 500 dollars for an Epi-pen.

In 1923, Banting and Macleod were awarded the Noble Prize in Medicine (making Banting the the still-youngest recipient of the award in the field of Medicine.) Banting shared half the prize money with Charles Best, and Macleod did the same with James Collip to make up for the fact that they were not officially recognized by the Noble Institute.

It’s too bad that this (and many other) programs have been lost, as I’m sure it would have been an interesting one to watch. I mean, of course it would have been because Shatner was in it playing a doctor for the first time, but also because the subject material itself is somewhat interesting. Ah well, damn you, Father Time! Someday we’ll build a time machine and destroy you forever!

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Shatner’s Web

It’s time to detail all of the connections between Kraft Television Theatre’s  “The Discoverers” and other Shatner appearances! 

Despite a prolific and distinguished stage and screen career, Richard Kiley and William Shatner would never again appear together.

Veteran character actor Joe Maross also appeared in this production, although I have no idea what role he played. Despite his also-prolific career on the small screen he only managed to work with Shatner one more time, in a 1962 episode of The Defenders, “The Invisible Badge.”

Joe Maross, looking like Joe Maross always looks

Finally, Bea Arthur of all people also appears to be in this episode, again in an unspecified role. 30 years later, she and Shatner would both make brief appearances in the special Happy Birthday, Hollywood.

The director of this episode, Frank Telford, would end up directing Shatner just one more time…27 years later for an episode of T.J. Hooker, “Night Vigil.”

George Salverson is credited as a writer on this episode. If true, he also penned the 1954 teleplay for “I Like It Here,” an episode of Canada’s General Motors Theatre.

Further Studies

You can see the television production of “Patterns” on the Criterion Collections DVD, The Golden Age of Television.

Here’s the Wikipedia article on Kraft Television Theatre.

Here’s where I got most of the info on Charles Best and the discovery of insulin.

Shatner

Author: Shatner

I give myself to him, William Shatner.

5 thoughts on “Kraft Television Theatre – “The Discoverers” (02/06/1957)”

  1. As I read this I couldn’t help but think of Wilford Brimley and his diabeetus. Does Wilford make an appearance in the Web?

    Another question is if Shatner has played other actual historical figures, like presidents or whatnot? Didn’t he play Abraham Lincoln in something?

    As always, top notch work! I always learn something new.

    1. This wouldn’t have been the first time he played a historical figure…probably. He did appear in the “The Verdict Was Treason” which was a teleplay about an actual historical Canadian event.

      After this would be Alexander the Great, where he played the title character (in a pilot that also featured Adam West…filmed before Star Trek but not aired until after.)

      Then it would have been The Andersonville Trial. Then he played doctor Benjamin Rush in a PBS 1974 production about Benjamin Franklin. In 1978’s The Bastard he played Paul Revere.

      Most recently, in 2015, he played Mark Twain in an episode of Murdoch Mysteries. He was…well…terrible.

    2. He played Marc Antony in Julius Caesar and John Adams in some TV show from 1970
      Also, he played Johnny Moon/Notah in White Comanche, which may have been based on real twin brothers who both resembled Shatner, no one really knows.

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