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"General Electric Theater" was one of the many excellent anthology
series during the Golden Age of American television. It's easy to see
why corporate sponsors often inserted their names into the titles of
these series: the episodes were often of a high standard, catering for
an intelligent audience.
"G.E. Theater" was hosted by Ronald Reagan, at a time when his acting career had hit a slump and he was mulling a career change. More than any other acting role, Reagan's stint as host of "G.E. Theater" (and corporate spokesman for General Electric) was instrumental in his political career. While this series was in production, General Electric sent Reagan to make personal appearances at G.E. factories all over the United States. Reagan met the factory employees and listened to their concerns, getting to meet the public (and taking an interest in their problems) as he never was able to do during his years as a second-string leading man at Warner Brothers. These experiences inspired him to run for public office.
This posting relates specifically to "Blaze of Glory", an above-average episode of "General Electric Theater" which aired in 1958, starring Lou Costello in a rare dramatic role, following his break-up with Bud Abbott. The split-up of Abbott & Costello had been one of the most vicious and acrimonious split-ups in show-biz history (which is saying a great deal), and Costello was now making a creditable effort to continue his career in a different direction. Unfortunately, he was a difficult type to cast in dramatic roles ... but he gives an excellent performance here.
"Blaze of Glory" stars Lou Costello as a bumbling plumber (slightly more intelligent than his usual comedy roles) who is sent to a hotel suite to repair a leaky pipe. But the suite is now occupied by a gang of crooks planning their latest robbery. The leader of the crooks (with a poncy foreign name) is played by Jonathan Harris: this was a few years before Harris played Dr Zachary Smith on "Lost in Space", yet Harris's performance here is almost exactly the same as his Dr Smith. Harris is meant to be playing a Moriarty-style criminal genius, but he's not very believable. Even less believable are the no-talent actors who play his deeze-dem-doze henchmen.
Harris and his henchmen are planning their next caper. When plumber Costello accidentally overhears their plans, he tries to slip out ... but clumsily makes his presence known. Harris and the other crooks capture Costello, planning to kill him. In a fairly implausible climax, Costello manages to outwit Harris and turn the tables on him, capturing all the crooks single-handed.
The script is pretty bad, far below the usual high standard for "General Electric Theater". But Lou Costello turns in an excellent performance with this poor material, and almost single-handedly elevates it to excellence. It's a shame that he got so few chances to play dramatic roles. On the strength of Costello's performance, I highly recommend "Blaze of Glory" ... not just to Abbott & Costello fans, but to everyone interested in drama from the Golden Age of television.
I have been trying to find a tape of the show aired on General Electric
Theater December 12, 1954 called "The Dark, Dark Hours" starring Ronald
Reagan and James Dean. I saw that show years ago when I was only eleven
years old, so I do remember some of it. Dean played the part of a "Hep cat
killer" in that show, and he terrorized a doctor (Reagan) and his
My parents purchased our first television set a few months before this episode was aired. In those days, I had a tendency to believe everything that I saw. That was the first time I ever saw James Dean in any sort of drama--and I was terrified. We lived in an old house that creaked in the wind. After watching that show, I believed this killer was walking through our house with a gun (and of course, he was out to get me!)
Hopefully, someone will find a tape of this show in some vault somewhere. I really would like to obtain a copy for my ever-growing Dean "museum" I have here at home.
James Dean is the only reason to view this film, a dark, grainy kinescope
a 1954 General Electric Theater adaptation of Sherwood Anderson's classic
short story, "I'm a Fool." You can't help but notice his remarkable
of his voice, his facial expressions, and especially his body. And he was
only 23 years old! It is tempting sometimes to think of Dean's posthumous
fame as a product of his tragic death, but he was the real thing, a
brilliant, instinctive artist who would have rivaled Brando and Newman as
the leading actor of his generation if he had survived.
Unfortunately, this adaptation departs significantly from Anderson's story, perhaps due to budgetary. Live TV drama was a low budget affair, and that probably didn't matter much if the material was appropriate to the form. But Anderson's story was so good that it seems a shame to change it, and especially to leave out key scenes.
If you're interested in seeing a very good version of "I'm a Fool," check out the one that Ron Howard starred in for PBS's 1970s "American Short Story" series. Howard is no James Dean, but he is a more than proficient actor, well suited to the part, and everything else about this second version of "I'm a Fool" is far superior to the one in which Dean starred -- including the color photography and video transfer. So far as I know it isn't available in DVD, but the VHS version remains in circulation.
And read Sherwood Anderson's short story, too. It is a small masterpiece by a great American writer whose work hasn't often been adapted to film.
I have many fond memories of watching G S Theater on Sunday nights as a
child, such fine dramas. I particularly remember episodes about Caesar
and Cleopatra and David and Goliath. Also a murder mystery called A
Little White Lie.
What made the show more interesting was that my father worked at the Louisville, Kentucy General Electric plant.
Where IV dramas really so much better then. I think part of it is that things seen when a child just seem so much better to a child. Anyway I see very little of such quality on TV today, at least on a regular basis.
Why doesn't a cable channel run some of these fine drama series instead of all of the comedies and westerns.
THIS ONE FOUND its way deep in our memories and remains there as a
conscious example of what was best about 1950s television. In its 200 +
episodes, just about everyone who was anyone in Hollywood and on TV
made at least one appearance. The stories varied greatly from week to
week and from pure fiction to biographical material.
AS AN EXAMPLE, we submit two episodes that really stick out in our memory.
THE FIRST IS a biographical snippet of a most important happening in the life of famed circus star, clown Emmett Kelly. Portrayed in a very understated, yet intense style by none other than Henry Fonda, the half hour really outs up a great and memorable bit of high drama in its modest half-hour running time. Irony would seem to be the operative word here; as the highly dramatic teleplay was all about the tragedy in the life of a man whose life is all about laughter.
SECONDLY WE OFFER as states evidence a very different half an hour. THE INCREDIBLE JEWEL ROBBERY gave us a very unusual bit of the unusual from yet another facet of the series' varieties. Done as a virtual carbon copy of the silent comedy format, it has only one brief bit of dialogue spoken. Its story and action is propelled forward with the addition of some appropriate background, incidental and queues in the musical sound tack.
AS PERRHAPS THE most historically important episode, we are given what would prove to be the screen swansong for Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx.
AND SPEAKING OF that which is historical, we now draw your attention to the overview of the series and its weekly Host. It was "Dutch" himself, our future President, Ronald Reagan.
HEY SCHULTZ, HOW about we close with a hearty,
"Where Progress is our Most Important Product!"
I've racked my mind and searched the Internet to find the name of this much loved and remembered program. I wish I could still find this show on tape. As a kid, it was something to look forward to, entertaining and educational, in those days a rarity. I have fond memories of many episodes, but a favorite was "Hemo, the Magnificent." As a young teacher I ordered that film to show to my students. What fun! Wish we could see it again!!!! There was one episode about a little boy who couldn't speak, but had a remarkable link with animals. In the end, they taught him to speak and he lost his connection to the animals. It made me sad. I never forgot that episode. Thanks for the show and the fond memories!
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