1 9 4 7 – 1 9 5 8 (USA)
The Kraft Foods Co. was the sole sponsor of this dramatic anthology series that was the first hour-long series of this kind on American television when it premiered on NBC on 7 May 1947.
During the 11 years it was on the air, Kraft Television Theatre presented 650 plays, which were, for the most part, presented live and employed 3,955 actors in over 6,750 roles. It was also the first dramatic series to experiment (in 1953) with colour broadcasts, and it presented two hour-long productions each week (on separate networks).
The first production was ‘Double Door’ which starred John Baragrey.
The series – produced by the J Walter Thompson advertising agency – originated from a small converted radio studio at NBC, and for many years the various dramas were introduced by announcer Ed Herlihy, the Kraft Company’s longtime spokesman.
During the show’s early years, each hour-long play cost $3,000 to produce, but by 1958 (when the series departed the airwaves) each show cost $165,000.
Scripts produced on the show ranged from Shakespearean plays to productions written by contemporary playwrights, and practically every major dramatist was represented on the series at one stage or another.
Kraft’s most famous productions, of the 650 mounted during its run, were ‘Patterns’ and ‘A Night to Remember.’ ‘Patterns,’ written by Rod Serling and starring Ed Begley, Richard Kiley and Everett Sloan, was a tense drama about the corporate world; widely acclaimed, it was repeated four weeks after its first broadcast – a new production mounted from scratch, one of the vagaries of live television – and made into a movie.
‘A Night to Remember’ was an ambitious account of the Titanic disaster, featuring 107 actors (72 with speaking parts), 31 sets, 3,000 gallons of water, special effects, seven cameras and a budget of $95,000. The drama was also repeated a few weeks after its initial presentation and made a mark for its director, George Roy Hill, who later directed the theatrical movies Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting.
Other memorable performances over the years included James Dean in ‘A Long Time Till Dawn’ (1953); Eugene O’Neill’s ‘The Emperor Jones’ (1955) with Ossie Davis; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Diamond as Big as The Ritz’ (1955) with Lee Remick and Elizabeth Montgomery; John F Kennedy’s ‘A Profile In Courage’ (1956, when Kennedy was a US Senator); ‘The Singing Idol’ (1957) with Tommy Sands and Fred Clark in a tale inspired by the Elvis Presley phenomenon; and ‘Drummer Man’ (1957) with Sal Mineo.
Prominent actors seen on Kraft Television Theatre included Jack Lemmon, Art Carney, Anthony Perkins, Rod Steiger, Grace Kelly, and Paul Newman.
The series closed on 1 October 1958.