Musicals on Television: 1944-1955

Compiled by John Kenrick

(Copyright 1996 & 2003)

(Special thanks to Roy Perkins, Robert Barto and Michael Porter for providing information on several forgotten broadcasts for these pages)

The Boys From Boise

(DuMont) Sept. 28, 1944
Songs by Sam Medoff
Cast included Audrey Sperling, Jack O'Brien, Judy and Cecile Turner

A troupe of wartime showgirls get stranded on a ranch, battling rustlers and herding cattle to earn their way home. Neither the songs nor the cast made any lasting impression. This two hour special suffered from technical limitations, and did not inspire any similar projects for several years.

The Medium

(CBS) Dec. 12, 1948
Words & Music by Gian-Carlo Menotti
Produced by Worthington Miner
Directed by Paul Nickell
The Columbia Concert Orchestra conducted by Alfredo Antonini
Cast: Marie Powers (Madame Baba/Flora), Lois Hunt (Monica), Leo Coleman (Toby), Beverly Da (Mrs. Bogineau), Joseph Bell (Mr. Gobineau), Catherine Mastice (Mrs. Nolan)

Most of the original Broadway cast of the acclaimed 1947 opera reunited for this episode in the long-running CBS series. Powers gives a powerful performance as Madame Flora, a fraudulent medium who is terrified when a supernatural presence appears during one of her phony s'ances. Menotti's sometimes dissonant but achingly beautiful score is performed with exceptional sensitivity. Long thought lost, this broadcast can be seen in a Studio One DVD release -- despite the limits of early TV technology, it is still highly viewable.

The Box Supper

(CBS) Oct. 19, 1950
Cast included William Gaxton, Marguerite Piazza and David Brooks

In a twist on Oklahoma, two men compete to win a girl's box supper at a church social. As far as I can determine, no information on the score for this thirty minute show survives.

Musical Comedy Time

(NBC) October 1950 to March 1951

This was not a special, but a musical comedy series -- which sounds like something I would have dreamed up! Abbreviated classic Broadway musicals alternated on Monday evenings with Robert Montgomery Presents. The casts included some top rank Broadway stars, including Martha Raye in Anything Goes (Oct. 2), Dennis King in Babes in Toyland (Dec. 25), Jackie Gleason in No, No Nannette (March 5), and Bert Lahr in his old hit Flying High (March 19).

Knickerbocker Holiday

(ABC-TV) November 17, 1950
Music by Kurt Weill
Books & Lyrics by Maxwell Anderson
Cast: Dennis King, John Raitt, Doretta Morrow

This stellar one hour version of the Broadway hit was broadcast on a series called Pulitzer Playhouse.

Richard Rodgers' Jubilee Show

(NBC) Jan. 28, 1951
Cast included Mary Martin, Celeste Holm and Patrice Munsel

An all-star tribute that set the tone for many such monster TV revues. (Rodgers' 50th birthday was still a year away, so I wonder how this rated as his "jubilee.")

Once Upon a Tune

(DuMont) March thru May 1951
Songs by Reginald Deane and Coleman Dowell
Casts included Phil Hanna, Holly Harris and Charlotte Rae

A short-lived weekly series of original hour-long musicals, based on fairy tales and popular stage plays.

Amahl and the Night Visitors

(NBC) Dec. 24, 1951
Score and Libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti
Conducted by Thomas Schippers
Cast: Chet Allen (Amahl), Rosemary Kuhlmann (Mother)

Commissioned by NBC, this enchanting opera became one of the landmark events in early television. The intimate work was given a first-class production. A crippled shepherd boy joins the Three Magi and is cured when he gives his only possession (his crutch) to the new born Christ. Critics raved, and the soundtrack recording sold well. There have been several successful remakes and live stagings over the years.

The Marriage

(NBC) Feb. 7, 1953
Score by Bohuslav Martinu
Cast included Donald Gramm, Sonia Stollin, Ruth Kobart, Anne Pitoniak and Lloyd Harris

The success of Amahl led NBC to commission and broadcast a series of operas over the next few seasons, including this comic opera about a happy bachelor who eludes being manipulated into a marriage by well-meaning friends. The Marriage got good reviews but could not quite match the acclaim heaped on Amahl months before.

The Ford Fiftieth Anniversary Show

(CBS/NBC) June 15, 1953
Cast included Mary Martin & Ethel Merman

Martin & Merman presented several solos and medleys in a simple format directed by Jerome Robbins – two stars, two stools, and full orchestra. Both sang several signature showstoppers before they joined forces for two medleys of vintage pop standards. None of the material was original, but the concept was revolutionary. The results delighted millions of viewers and the soundtrack recording set nationwide sales records in the weeks that followed.

Miss Chicken Little

(CBS) Dec. 27, 1953
Songs by Alec Wilder
Cast included Jo Sullivan and Charlotte Rae

Produced as part of the popular Omnibus performing arts series, this 30 minute light opera retold the traditional nursery tale.

The Thirteen Clocks

(ABC) Dec. 29, 1953
Music by Mark Bucci
Lyrics by Mark Bucci and James Thurber
Cast: Basil Rathbone, John Raitt, Roberta Peters, Russell Nype, Cedric Harwicke

Thurber's tale of a prince who rescues a beautiful princess from the clutches of her evil uncle – who has tried to freeze time. The first-rank cast won rave reviews. If a kinescope of this one ever surfaces, this is one I would love to see.

St. George and the Dragon

(NBC) June 7, 1953
Score by John Fascinato and Burr Tillstrom
Cast included Fran Allison, Kukla and Ollie

Broadcast in color in the Washington DC area (who the heck had color sets in 1953?), this was a live performance from Boston Symphony Hall, with Arthur Fiedler and the Pops backing up the popular puppet-human team of Kukla, Fran and Ollie. Aimed at the kiddies, this was shown on a Sunday afternoon.

The Mercer Girls

(NBC) June 28, 1953
Music by Albert Hague
Book & Lyrics by Poor Pray
Cast included Sarah Churchill, Bibi Osterwald, Robert Wright and the Fred Waring Glee Club

Future Tony winner Al Hague (Redhead) composed this 30 minute musical comedy about girls arriving in 1860s Seattle in search of husbands.

Anything Goes

(NBC) 1954
Music & Lyrics: Cole Porter
Cast: Ethel Merman (Reno), Frank Sinatra (Billy), Bert Lahr (Moonface)

An under-rehearsed but energetic one-hour version of the 1930s musical comedy. For some reason the action was moved to the 1920s – if you can figure out why, more power to you. Lahr had some hilarious moments and Merman was in fine form, but overall a less than satisfying effort. If a copy of this ever comes your way, it's a hoot to see the crooning Sinatra and the belting Merman sing their dueling versions of "I Get A Kick Out Of You."

Once Upon an Eastertime

(DuMont) April 18, 1954
Score by Victor Young
Cast includes Gwen Verdon, Bobby Clark, Doretta Morrow and Pat Harrington.

A boy eats an Easter egg and wakens in a magic kingdom. The plot was lame and the score is forgotten, but what a cast!

Satins and Spurs

(NBC) Sept. 12, 1954
Songs by Jay Livingston & Jay Evans
Cast: Betty Hutton, Kevin McCarthy

The first TV "spectacular" broadcast nationwide in color was about a magazine photographer falling in love with a female rodeo star. The lively score was by the Oscar-winning creators of "Que Sera, Sera" and "Mona Lisa" – but not quite as memorable.

Lady In The Dark

(NBC) Sept. 25, 1954
Music: Kurt Weill
Lyrics: Ira Gershwin
Cast: Ann Sothern

Panama Hattie

(CBS) Nov. 10, 1954
Music & Lyrics by Cole Porter
Cast: Ethel Merman, Art Carney, Jack E. Leonard


(NBC) Dec. 5, 1954
Cast: Sonja Henie, Jack Buchanan, Jimmy Durante, Jeannie Carson, Pat Carroll

An all-star musical revue on ice, led by the popular Olympic champion and film star Henie. She had produced a series of live ice reviews in the 1940s.

Babes in Toyland

(NBC) Dec. 18, 1954
Cast: Wally Cox, Jack E. Leonard, Dave Garroway

A Christmas Carol

(CBS) December 23, 1954
Music by Bernard Herrmann, Lyrics by Maxwell Anderson
Cast: Fredric March (Scrooge), Basil Rathbone (Marley), Ray Middleton (Christmas Present), The Roger Wagner Chorale, Mary Costa, Bonnie Franklin

This one was such a hit that it was re-run twice and the soundtrack made into a popular album. Many other live action and animated TV versions of this Dickens classic would follow in decades to come.

One Touch of Venus

Music by Kurt Weill
Cast: Janet Blair, Russell Nype, Iggie Wolfington

More information pending on this production.

Naughty Marietta

(NBC) Jan. 15, 1955
Music by Victor Herbert
Cast: Patrice Munsel & Alfred Drake

Two powerhouse singers in Herbert's vintage operetta.

The Mighty Casey

(NBC) March 6, 1955
Music by William Schulman
Libretto by Jeremy Gury
Cast: E.G. Marshall and Nathaniel Frey

An opera inspired by the classic poem "Casey at the Bat."

A Connecticut Yankee

(NBC) March 12, 1955
Cast: Eddie Albert, Janet Blair, Boris Karloff, Gale Sherwood


(CBS) Mar. 17, 1955
Songs by David Rose
Cast included Jack Oakie, Joan Blondell, Dan Dailey, James Gleason and Jack Benny

This version of the often-reworked 1927 play was apparently memorable only because of its stellar cast.

The Merry Widow

(NBC) April 9, 1955
Cast: Anne Jeffreys, John Conte, Brian Sullivan, Edward Everett Horton

High Pitch

(CBS) May 12, 1955
Cast: Margeurite Piazza, Tony Martin, William Frawley, Vivan Vance

An opera diva buys a baseball team (The Hooligans). The team wins the pennant and the soprano wins the star player. Most of the score consisted of old standards. Note that I Love Lucy's Fred and Ethel were on hand to insure good ratings.

The Chocolate Soldier

(NBC) June 4, 1955
Music by Oscar Strauss
Cast: Rise Stevens, Eddie Albert

Metropolitan Opera diva Stevens starred with future Green Acres star Albert in this abbreviated musical version of George Bernard Shaw's satirical play.

Peter Pan

(NBC) March 7, 1955
Music: Moose Charlap, Jule Styne
Lyrics: Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden & Adolph Green
Directed & Choreographed by Jerome Robbins
Cast: Mary Martin (Peter), Cyril Ritchard (Mr. Darling/Captain Hook), Margalo Gilmore (Mrs. Darling)

Peter PanThis production opened at Broadway's Winter Garden – the run was cut short for the sake of this live broadcast. A kinescope (film pre-cursor of videotape) bears witness that this was a delightful performance, rougher but a bit more spontaneous than the later taped version. The broadcast was a phenomenon, winning millions of fans for Martin and the show. Demand was such that NBC reunited the cast for a second broadcast less than a year later. Letters poured in calling for yet another encore, so in 1960 NBC videotaped the show "in living color." This version was rebroadcast it in 1963, 1966 and 1973. Legal technicalities kept it off the air for years, but public demand eventually led to the tape being restored and rebroadcast in 1989. It was then released on home video. An enjoyable (if slightly revised) remake starring Cathy Rigby aired on cable TV in 2000.

The archival kinescopes verify that Martin and Ritchard were glorious in all three versions this timeless treat. The depiction of the Indians is not politically correct, but perhaps critics can give some latitude to an Edwardian children's fantasy. A classic 1950s Broadway musical in all it's glory, this is still a joy to watch today.

Svengali and the Blonde

(NBC) August 22, 1955
Score by Charles Gaynor and Alan Handley
Cast: Basil Rathbone, Carol Channing, Ethel Barrymore, Franklin Pangborn and Nancy Culp

Reviews suggest that a weak script got in the way as this stellar cast spoofed DuMaurier's classic tale of the bizarre musician Svengali and his hypnotized prot'g' Trilby.

The King and Mrs. Candle

(NBC) August 22, 1955
Music by Moose Charlap, Lyrics by Chuck Sweeney
Book by Sumner Locke Eliot
Cast: Cyril Ritchard, Irene Manning, Joan Greenwood, Richard Haydn, Theodore Bikel

Just months after his triumph in Peter Pan, Ritchard got mixed reviews in this tale of a deposed monarch who must learn to make a living while courting a charming dance instructor.

One Touch of Venus

(NBC) August 27, 1955
Music by Kurt Weill
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
Cast: Janet Blair, Russell Nype

I have few details on this , beyond the fact that it was a live telecast from Dallas, Texas.

Our Town

(NBC) September 19, 1955
Songs by Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen
Based on Thornton Wilder's play
Cast: Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint

With a solid score by two top Hollywood songwriters, this was well-received by critics and the public. One of the numbers – "Love and Marriage" – became the biggest hit song ever written for a TV musical, and the first song to receive an Emmy Award. Sinatra's pop recording of this number reappeared years later as the theme song for the long-running Fox sitcom Married With Children.

Together With Music

(CBS) Oct. 22, 1955
Special Music & Lyrics: Noel Coward
Cast: Mary Martin and Noel Coward

This was one of the classiest things that network television has ever given the world – and I'm not exaggerating. Coward and Martin dazzled in an intimate ninety minutes of solos, duets and sketches based on a cabaret act they presented in London the previous year. Backstage, the stars bicker over the wisdom of performing a particular number – which turns out to be Martin's intentionally disastrous rendition of Puccini's "Un Bel Di." Together and separately, they performed several of their signature songs, plus a charming closing medley of favorites tunes by assorted composers. Nothing like this was ever seen again – a treasure.

Dearest Enemy

(NBC) Nov. 25, 1955
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Lorenz Hart
Cast: Anne Jeffreys, Robert Sterling, Cyril Ritchard, amd Cornelia Otis Skinner

This 1926 Broadway hit was adapted for television with an assist by the then little-known Neil Simon. The soundtrack has been released on album and CD by AEI.

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