Image: The Everett Collection
Westerns and sitcoms weren’t the only things that dominated the early TV airwaves. “Story of the week” programs, now more commonly called anthology shows, were all the rage. The earliest versions were essentially just televised plays, some performed live, and many bore the names of corporate sponsors like Alcoa and Kraft.
But soon a new, very specific kind of show was born: the former-movie-star-hosted anthology show. As famous faces aged out of lead film roles, they found a home on the small screen presenting new stories every week. Some were more successful than others, but all three networks tried their best to make the next Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Here are eight stars who all hosted their own anthology shows in the Fifties and Sixties.
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After making a name for herself in noir films and romantic dramas, Barbara Stanwyck brought her incredible talents to television in the late 1950s. She appeared in sponsored anthology shows like Alcoa Theatre before headlining The Barbara Stanwyck Show in 1960. She hosted and starred in almost every episode. Many stories were thrillers, some Westerns and a few even had comedic tones. Though it only lasted one season, Stanwyck won an Emmy Award for her work on the show in 1961. Four years later, she would find success as matriarch Victoria Barkley in The Big Valley.
Another film actor who became a TV Western star, Richard Boone got his own anthology show after finding success as Paladin in Have Gun – Will Travel. The Richard Boone Show premiered in 1963 but was canceled after one season. Though Boone hosted, he only acted in about half the episodes. Interestingly, the series featured a regular group of performers who played different roles depending on the story – unique for an anthology series. Jeannette Nolan, Harry Morgan and former Our Gang child star Robert Blake were all part of the main cast.
Though famous for films like Gaslight and The Third Man, Joseph Cotten didn’t lend his name to the anthology show he hosted in the mid-Fifties, at least not at first. The series started as On Trial and Cotten introduced and sometimes starred in each crime-related episode. Midway through the show’s first season, NBC used the name The Joseph Cotten Show – On Trial but canceled it at the season’s end. Two years later in 1959, CBS revived the series, now just The Joseph Cotten Show, but only aired one season as well. The show featured many notable guest stars including Tony Curtis, Ellen Corby and Chuck Connors.
Many people remember the sitcom The Danny Thomas Show but who can recall The Danny Thomas Hour? Thomas’ late-Sixties series was short-lived but unique. Part musical variety show, part sitcom and part dramatic anthology, it really offered something for everyone. Thomas hosted and invited everyone from Angela Cartwright to Sammy Davis Jr. to appear on his program. Sadly, it only lasted 22 episodes.
Dick Powell started his acting career in 1930s comedies before winning more dramatic roles in '40s noirs. With the rise of television, he partnered with Charles Boyer, David Niven and Joel McCrea (soon replaced by Ida Lupino) to create Four Star Productions, which made The Rifleman among many others. Powell began hosting his own anthology, The Dick Powell Show, in 1961. After his death in 1963, a series of guest hosts like David Niven and June Allyson finished out the second and final season under the title The Dick Powell Theatre.
Four Star produced another anthology, The Lloyd Bridges Show. Coming off his success as Mike Nelson in the scuba diving series Sea Hunt, the father of Jeff and Beau Bridges tried his hand at hosting an anthology show. Created by future mega-producer Aaron Spelling, it was a different take on the format. Bridges played reporter Adam Shepherd who would research a new story each week and imagine himself as the protagonist. It only aired one season but did feature 13-year-old Jeff and 21-year-old Beau in separate episodes.
The DuPont Show with June Allyson also known as The June Allyson Show featured the former movie star hosting and occasionally acting in 30-minute stories both dramatic and comedic. It featured many notable guests including Ginger Rogers, Don Rickles and Ron Howard a year before he became Opie Taylor in The Andy Griffith Show. It is also remembered for the suspenseful Christmas episode “Silent Panic” starring none other than Harpo Marx.
The most successful show on this list by far, The Loretta Young Show aired eight seasons from 1953-1961. Most episodes opened with Young entering an immaculately furnished living room wearing the finest fashions money could buy. Many actors came back for multiple episodes over the show’s long run including Mr. Cleaver Hugh Beaumont and Khan himself, Ricardo Montalbán. The series also featured recognizable names like Frances Bavier, Eddie Albert and Johnny Crawford. And when Young took a break from certain episodes the equally glamorous Rosalind Russell or Irene Dunne filled in.