1 9 5 6 – 1 9 6 0 (USA)
133 x 90 minute episodes
Playhouse 90 was the first weekly ninety-minute dramatic television show. It premiered on the CBS network on 4 October 1956 with Rod Serling’s adaptation of Forbidden Area starring Charlton Heston and Tab Hunter.
Undoubtedly its most impressive offering was the second play it mounted: ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight’, a Rod Serling drama dealing with fragile relationships, pity and pride, and broken trust.
Jack Palance starred as the washed-up, punch-drunk boxer Mountain McClintock; Keenan Wynn played his cynical manager and Ed Wynn the sentimental clubhouse trainer (Ed Wynn’s extreme nervousness prior to his first live dramatic performance only heightened his marvellous portrayal, as recounted afterwards in a tribute by Serling to the legendary vaudevillian).
‘Requiem’ was later filmed for theatrical release with Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason and Mickey Rooney.
Although the film was a memorable production, it had only a fraction of the emotional impact of the Playhouse 90 presentation, which was truly one of television’s finest moments.
For the next four years, Playhouse 90 presented TV dramas written by some of television’s best playwrights, acted by some of the best performers in the business, and produced and directed by some of the best creative minds in television
There were many first-rate dramas and comedies offered on Playhouse 90, including: ‘Judgment at Nuremberg’ with Maximilian Schell (who reprised his role in the film version), Claude Rains, Melvyn Douglas and Paul Lukas); ‘The Miracle Worker’ with Patty McCormick, Teresa Wright and Burl Ives, before the production went to Broadway and then Hollywood with Patty Duke; ‘The Comedian’ with Mickey Rooney; `Charlie’s Aunt’ with Jeanette MacDonald and Art Carney; ‘Face of the Hero’ with Jack Lemmon; ‘The Last Clear Chance’ with Paul Muni; ‘The Helen Morgan Story’ with Polly Bergen singing and starring; ‘The Plot to Kill Stalin’ with Melvyn Douglas and Eli Wallach; ‘Eloise’ based on the humorous children’s book and featuring seven-year-old Evelyn Rudie and a cast of mixed stars and celebrities including Ethel Barrymore, Charlie Ruggles, Monty Wooley, Louis Jourdan, Inger Stevens, Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom and Conrad Hilton; ‘The Edge of Innocence’ with Joseph Cotten and Maureen O’Sullivan; and ‘Misalliance’ (with Robert Taylor and Siobhan McKenna.
Other memorable Playhouse 90 performances included ‘The Days of Wine and Roses’ with Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie; ‘The Velvet Alley’, Rod Serling’s autobiographical drama starring Art Carney; ‘Three Men on a Horse’ with Carol Channing and Johnny Carson in dramatic roles; ‘The Time of Your Life’ with Jackie Gleason and Betsy Palmer; ‘Seven Against The Wall’ with Paul Lambert as Al Capone in a recreation of the St Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1928, `Eighty-Yard Run’ with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward; and ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls,’ a two-part, three-hour presentation featuring Jason Robards, Jr, Maria Schell, Maureen Stapleton, Nehemiah Persoff and Eli Wallach.
Because some of the star actors weren’t available for the full three-week rehearsal period, Playhouse 90 had a group of small-part actors who would perform those roles during the early blocking rehearsals.
This sort-of-repertory company turned up in bit parts during the broadcasts of many episodes.
The series, which produced 133 episodes, ended on 18 May 1960. The pressures and the costs of this ambitious production eventually resulted in Playhouse 90 being cut back to alternate weeks, sharing its time slot with The Big Party between 1959 and 1960.
The last eight shows were aired irregularly between February and May 1960. with repeats broadcast during the summer weeks of 1961.