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Series title card
Series title card

Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse is an American television anthology series produced by Desilu Productions. The show ran on the Columbia Broadcasting System between 1958 and 1960. Two of its 48 episodes served as pilots for the 1950s television series The Twilight Zone and The Untouchables.[1][2]

History


Between 1951 and 1957, Desi Arnaz (1917-1986) and Lucille Ball (1911-1989) starred in and produced (via their Desilu production company) the immensely popular I Love Lucy show. In early 1958, Desi Arnaz convinced CBS to purchase Desilu Playhouse with the promise that a bi-monthly Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show (later rebroadcast as The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour) would be among the dramas, comedies and musicals planned for the show. Westinghouse Electric Company paid a then-record $12 million to sponsor the show, which resulted in the cancellation of the prestigious anthology series Studio One, also sponsored by Westinghouse.

The show debuted on Monday nights in the 10:00–11:00 pm [Eastern Standard Time] evening time slot on October 6, 1958, hosted by Desi Arnaz, with Betty Furness continuing as the Westinghouse spokesperson (as she had been on Studio One). The first show was "Lucy Goes to Mexico," a Lucy-Desi Hour with guest star Maurice Chevalier. The dramatic "Bernadette" (a biography of the Roman Catholic Church's Saint Bernadette), starring Pier Angeli, premiered in week two.[1] Later shows included comedies, dramas and musicals, and various one-off comedies and dramas starring Lucille Ball in non-"Lucy" character performances.[2]

In October 1959, the show moved to Friday nights from 9:00–10:00 pm [Eastern Standard Time]. The show lasted only one more year, due to an inability to attract big guest stars, the growing popularity then of westerns and police shows being shown on prime time. It ran opposite the competing ABC television network's highly rated 77 Sunset Strip that season, and the Arnaz-Ball divorce in 1960. Just prior to their marital breakup, Ball and Arnaz, along with Vivian Vance, William Frawley, and Little Ricky, filmed the last Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show, entitled "Lucy Meets The Moustache" and featuring guest stars Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams. This last hour-long installment of the I Love Lucy format and characters was broadcast on April 1, 1960. The final telecast of The Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, "Murder is a Private Affair", aired on June 10, 1960.[1]

Notable episodes


In the fall of 1958, "The Time Element". starring William Bendix, aired to positive reviews. Written by Rod Serling, the show's popularity gave Serling the leverage to convince CBS to give the go-ahead to Serling's concept for a science fiction/fantasy anthology series (which was what Serling had in mind when writing "The Time Element") that he called The Twilight Zone which debuted in the fall of 1959.[2]

In April 1959, Desilu Playhouse aired a two-part drama called "The Untouchables". Paul Monash adapted the 1947 memoirs of treasury agent Eliot Ness, played by Robert Stack. After CBS passed on the idea to produce a weekly version, The Untouchables became a hit series on ABC and ran for four seasons (1959–1963).[2] Stack was selected only after Arnaz personal choice, actor Van Johnson, agent demanded he be paid for 2 episodes at $10,000 each (the normal rate). Arnaz, according to Stack, blew his top at Johnson, fired him and called Stack and offered him the role. Stack accepted at once and began filming the next day [3]

Production notes


Music for the show was composed by John Waldo "Johnny" Green. The show opened with "Westinghouse Logo" and closed with "Desilu Playhouse Closing Theme" during the end credits.[4]

Several notable people contributed to one or more episodes of the show, including (in alphabetical order):[5]

Aftermath


Westinghouse bought CBS in 1995, and renamed itself after its prime asset in 1997.

Further reading


  • Anderson, Christopher. Hollywood TV: The Studio System in the Fifties. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1994. ISBN 0-292-70457-7
  • Andrew, Bart. The "I Love Lucy" Book. New York: Doubleday, 1985. ISBN 0-385-19033-6
  • Sanders, Coyness Steven, and Tom Gilbert. Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. New York: William Morrow, 1993. ISBN 0-688-13514-5
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