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.

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Omnibus – “Oedipus, the King” (01/06/1957)

Well, this is a bit confusing.

On Sunday, January 6th 1957, the Tyrone Guthrie directed motion picture version of Oedipus Rex (starring Douglas Campbell and featuring William Shatner) debuted in Canada (one night before it would make it’s NYC debut.) On that very same night, the ABC anthology television show Omnibus aired a live version of the play, evidently billed as “Oedipus, the King” and also evidently starring Christopher Plummer as the titular character. The play also still (naturally) featured William Shatner.

As with many productions during this “hazy” period of Shatnerica, I was a bit confused by this for quite a long time.

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Oedipus Rex (01/06/1957)

Shatner’s second motion picture is…underwhelming.

In 1950, when Shatner was most likely a junior at McGill University in Montreal, he appeared in his very first motion picture The Butler’s Night Off. In that film, he played one of the “crooks,” a very small role with only a few lines. Seven years later he would appear in his second motion picture, this time a filmed version of the classic Sophocles play Oedipus Rex. Once again however, and actually even more so than The Butler’s Night Off, this was the very opposite of a starring or featured role.

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1956 – Shatner Year in Review

Welcome to the 1956 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.

1956 was a huge year for William Shatner, both personally and professionally. He appeared in his first Broadway production, spent his third and final summer as part of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s acting company, possibly had an affair that may have led to an illegitimate son (and certainly got me blocked on Twitter by Shatner), got married, moved to New York and got his first starring role on American television. Wow. Let’s review…

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The Kaiser Aluminum Hour – “Gwyneth” (12/18/1956)

For the second time in less than three months Shatner would appear on an episode of The Kaiser Aluminum Hour, the short-lived but quality anthology program that only ran for one year (the 1956-1957 season.) And once again I have very little information about the program as it doesn’t seem to exist for viewing anywhere. But let’s check out what I did learn about the production as well as the fun Shatner connections that spun out of it, shall we?

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Omnibus – “School for Wives” (11/11/1956)

As stated in several previous posts, much of Shatner’s early work in Canada would in for what he termed “juvenile” roles. When he was doing repertory theater, Shatner himself explained that he often would play “a young guy…with an innocent smile big enough to reach the back rows.” As the golden age of television proceeded there were more and more of these “young man” roles coming available to be truly played by young men…with radio it’s easier to hide your true age. With TV, next to impossible.

With the dearth of young professional actors in Canada, it’s easy to see just how desirable Shatner’s skillset and (most importantly) experience would be to executives and casting directors in the newly burgeoning television division of the CBC. In the mid-1950’s Shatner estimated that there were no more than two dozen full-time professional actors in Toronto. Of those, probably a significant portion were older and some were of course women. So there was a pretty small pool from which to cast those “young man” roles and Shatner must have been at the top of the list for just about all of them. His resume was excellent: he had been working for several years in repertory theater, the TV work he had gotten and his ability to memorize scripts were already earning him a good professional reputation and, of course, he was part of the troupe at the prestigious Stratford Shakespeare Festival. And so as Shatner acknowledges, his start in the business owes an enormous debt to these “juvenile” roles. Even the roles he played at Stratford were quite often these earnest young men usually trying to woo the girl.

Although performing in these types of roles was invaluable in getting Shatner a foothold in the industry, steady work and experience, he obviously wanted to advance beyond them and become a serious stage actor. Moving to New York was one of the first steps towards this goal, and starring roles like the one he received in “All Summer Long” show that directors and producers were beginning to see and cast him as different and more mature characters. But Shatner wasn’t quite done with the earnest young men just yet.

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Goodyear Television Playhouse – “All Summer Long” (10/28/1956)

And Introducing…William Shatner!

“And Introducing William Shatner”

For many years, while the idea for and structure of this blog percolated in my head, I assumed that this would be the very first post that I would ever write and those words above would be the very first to appear. That was because “All Summer Long” was the oldest extant William Shatner appearance in my library for a long time. But two things came along to change that plan. The first was that I found two other earlier Shatner appearances to review (The Butler’s Night Off and “Billy Budd.”) The other was that I decided to post not only on viewable appearances but on all other Shatner work that I could reasonably verify because I’m OCD and/or fucking obsessed. And so you loyal reader(s) have been subjected to over 3 dozen (!) posts up to now about the great Shatner’s many appearances in movies, TV shows and in the theater.

But “Introducing William Shatner” is still a very apt description of the importance and impact “All Summer Long” was to have on Bill and his career. Before this program Shatner was almost a complete unknown in the United States, having only moved to New York City a month or so prior and before that doing all of his work in Canada which then, as now, had a much smaller viewership than almost anything shown in the USA. As Basil Rathbone once told Shatner on the set of “Billy Budd,” “…in the United States there’s thirty to fifty million people watching a television program, but in Canada it’s only five to ten million.” With this one episode of Goodyear Television Playhouse, William Shatner was about to perform for an audience 3 to 6 times larger and potentially more influential than ever before…

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The Kaiser Aluminum Hour – “Mr. Finchley Versus the Bomb” (09/25/1956)

Is this the Twilight Zone, or just déjà vu all over again?

In my last post I talked about the religious television program Lamp Unto My Feet and how that was quite possibly the first show that Shatner appeared in upon arriving in New York City. Unfortunately, there are no episode or cast listings for most of that program’s history, so it’s just guesswork based on a few scattered comments and incomplete information. The first television show that I can see an official record of Shatner appearing in was The Kaiser Aluminum Hour, in an episode titled “Mr. Finchley Versus the Bomb.”

But wait…I know what you’re thinking. You’ve read every single post that I’ve ever written, you’ve hung on every word that I’ve ever typed and you are a dedicated student of William Shatner’s genius and strange otherworldly power and magnetism. Didn’t he already appear in “Mr. Finchley Versus the Bomb” back in Canada? Wasn’t this a teleplay written by famed Golden Age of Television writer and Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling? What is happening? Why are we talking about this again?!?

Relax, gentle reader. Everything will be explained.

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Lamp Unto My Feet (Late 1956?)

Shatner gets to New York and finds religion (or at least religious work.)

William Shatner married Gloria Rand on August 12th, 1956. By about August 19th, the fourth season of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (Shatner’s third) in Ontario, Canada was wrapping up. And by no later than mid-September of that same year, William and Gloria moved out of Canada and into their first apartment in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, New York. It must have been an absolute whirlwind of a time for young Bill and his new bride, and according to Shatner he wasted no time in finding work.

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The Merry Wives of Windsor (06/19/1956)

Shatner’s last Stratford production.

Stratford’s 1956 season kicked off with the already discussed Henry V. On the following night, another Shakespeare play debuted: The Merry Wives of Windsor. In this production, Shatner played yet another of his “romantic young man” roles, a character type that he had basically been playing for the last 3+ years on the regional Canadian theater circuit and at Stratford.

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Henry V (06/18/1956)

Shatner’s Big Night

For the third consecutive summer, Shatner headed back to Stratford, Ontario for what would turn out to his last season performing in the Shakespeare Festival. For this fourth season of the festival (Shatner’s third) there would be one major change, though.

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On Camera – “Dreams” (04/28/1956)

A seismic life change for Shatner begins here.

I imagine that just about every human being can look back and think of events or decisions made that profoundly changed the course of their life, inflection points that in retrospect mark a clear delineation between “Before” and “After.” What if I had gone to this school rather than that one?  What if I had/had not taken this job or followed this career path? What if I had/had not moved to this city?

What if I had never met him/her? What if I had/had not married this person? What if I had not had three children?

For William Shatner, I would argue that the most impactful inflection point of his personal life, and quite possibly of his career as well, came as a direct result of his involvement with this episode of On Camera, “Dreams.”

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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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