'Stanley' was a sitcom that ran briefly on NBC's network from 24 September 1956 to 11 March 1957. This series was transmitted live ... not an unusual event in those days, but a circumstance which dictated that all must go to plan. Surprises were not encouraged.
'Stanley' had some impressive credits. This series was created and produced by Max Liebman, the genius who teamed Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca for 'Your Show of Shows'. Several of the 'Your Show' scriptwriters also wrote material for 'Stanley' ... including Neil Simon (who co-wrote the pilot episode) and Woody Allen. The theme song was written by the same team who wrote Bob Hope's hit song 'Silver Bells'.
The most notable feature of 'Stanley' was its cast. The lead role was played by Buddy Hackett, at the time a rising comic. He was cast as Stanley Peck, who operated a newsstand/ticket bureau (what a combination!) in the lobby of the (fictional) Sussex-Fenton Hotel in Manhattan. The choice of job was no coincidence: Buddy Hackett had a penchant for ad-libs and unpredictable behaviour. By giving Stanley Peck a job that required him to spend most of his time behind a counter, Liebman hoped to keep Hackett from wandering out of range of the cameras while this show went out live. The constantly changing flow of guests in the hotel provided springboards for each episode's premise.
Stanley's awkward girlfriend Celia was played by Carol Burnett, then just beginning to attract attention. Burnett was a guest star on a CBS-TV special during the run of this NBC series, and it proved to help her career more than 'Stanley' did.
Also on hand were Tom Pedi as Stanley's very Runyonesque prole friend, and Jane Connell as Celia's partner in various hare-brained schemes. Mr Phillips, the manager of the hotel, was played by Frederic Tozere. Heard but not seen was Paul Lynde as Horace Fenton, the owner of the hotel chain, who was never shown on-camera but was frequently heard giving sarcastic instructions to the staff on the hotel's Tannoy system.
'Stanley' was not a success, and much of the blame must go to Buddy Hackett... who was always more interested in getting laughs from an audience than in giving a sustained character study. A few years after 'Stanley' was cancelled, Hackett starred in the short-lived Broadway musical 'I Had a Ball', in which he repeatedly stepped out of character to deliver comedy monologues to the audience, after which he would complain 'Now I gotta go act!' before resuming the script of the show.
Carol Burnett had no fond memories of 'Stanley', and it's notable that - during the long run of her own CBS variety series - she never once invited Buddy Hackett to guest on her show, even though he was a Vegas headliner for much of that period.
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