1 9 5 1 – 1 9 5 9 (USA)
364 x 60/30 minute episodes
Debuting on 5 October 1951, this Friday night dramatic anthology series from CBS was sponsored by the Schlitz Brewing Company for eight years.
The series premiered under the title Schlitz Playhouse of Stars with an hour-long live drama from New York called “Not a Chance”, starring Helen Hayes and David Niven.
The hour-long version produced some substantial dramas, including an adaptation of Herman Melville’s “Billy Budd” (with Walter Hampden and Chester Morris), Dane Clark in Ernest Hemingway’s “Fifty Grand,” and Margaret Sullavan and Wendell Corey in a version of “Still Life” – the first Noel Coward play adapted for television.
In April 1952, plays were cut from an hour to 30 minutes, and the literary merit of the material started to slip.
There were still occasional plays like W. Somerset Maugham’s “A String of Beads” starring Joan Caulfield and Tom Drake, and experiments like the musical love story “Autumn in New York,” with Polly Bergen and Skip Homeier, but potboilers like “The Ordeal of Dr Sutton” with Raymond Burr and Marilyn Erskine became progressively more common.
For roughly six months, in the second half of 1952, Irene Dunne was on hand as a regular hostess, but that function was dropped to let one of the week’s stars introduce the play. That, too, was eventually phased out.
Although essentially a live series, filmed episodes started showing up in the summer of 1953 and accounted for more than half of the telecasts during the 1954-1955 season. By 1956 there were no live episodes at all, and in November of that year, the title was shortened to Schlitz Playhouse.
The series aired on alternate Fridays with Lux Playhouse between October 1958 and July 1959.
Many big stars appeared on the series, including a young James Dean in one of his rare television appearances (as the star of “The Unlighted Road” in 1955) and Gene Kelly in his television dramatic debut in “The Life You Save” (1957) with Agnes Moorehead and Janice Rule.
Other notable performers included James Mason, Charlton Heston, Bette Davis, Mickey Rooney, Tallulah Bankhead, Lee Marvin, Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Anthony Quinn, Rod Steiger, Burt Reynolds, Ronald Reagan, Charles Bronson, Ricardo Montalban and Mary Tyler Moore.