1 9 5 3 – 1 9 6 2 (USA)
303 x 30 minute episodes
This long-running dramatic anthology series first aired on CBS on 1 February 1953. Occupying the Sunday evening spot following The Toast of the Town/The Ed Sullivan Show from 1 February 1953 to 27 May 1962, The General Electric Theater was an alternating series with the musical-variety Fred Waring Show.
Half-hour television plays were presented on alternate weeks. The plays had a wide variety of themes and featured everything from westerns to biblical dramas to contemporary comedies.
Many notable stars of the movies and theatre guest-starred on the show over the eight years it was on the air, including well-known names such as Tony Curtis, Broderick Crawford, James Stewart, Michael Landon, Burgess Meredith, Alan Ladd, Jack Benny, Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Gene Tierney, Joan Crawford, Harry Belafonte, Ernie Kovacs, Fred Astaire, Sammy Davis Jr, and the Marx Brothers.
During the series’ 1954 – 1962 seasons, the show’s host was future US president Ronald Reagan, and he occasionally appeared in one of the plays.
Among the program’s prominent dramatic offerings were ‘The Windmill’ with James Stewart; ‘Lady of the House’ with Myrna Loy; ‘The Incredible Jewel Robbery’ with Harpo and Chico Marx (pictured below); ‘Flying Wife’ with Janet Gaynor; ‘The Last Lesson’ with Charles Laughton; ‘Clown’ with Henry Fonda and Dorothy Malone; ‘The Stone’ with Tony Curtis; `Mr Kensington’s Finest Hour’ with Charles Laughton; ‘A Turkey for the President’ with Ward Bond; ‘The Girl with the Flaxen Hair’ with Ray Bolger; ‘Man on a Bicycle’ with Fred Astaire; and ‘The Half-Promised Land’ with Ezio Pinza and Mike Wallace, years before his performances in news programs.
The General Electric Theater left the air in 1962 in a welter of controversy surrounding the US Justice Department’s antitrust investigation of MCA and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) talent waivers granted to MCA Revue.
The hint of scandal touched Reagan too since, as SAG president in the 1950s, Reagan had signed the waivers and he later benefited from the arrangement as a General Electric Theater producer himself. The suggestion of impropriety fueled Reagan’s increasingly anti-government demeanour and his insistence upon producing and starring in episodes combatting Communist subversion in the final season of General Electric Theater.
In 1962, another series called General Electric True was launched and ran for one season. This series was a weekly dramatic anthology that presented dramatisations of true stories that had appeared in True magazine.