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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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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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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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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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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