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

Does Shatner have an illegitimate son? Let’s take a closer look…

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)

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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