Playhouse 90

Playhouse 90 was an American television anthology drama series that aired on CBS from 1956 to 1960 for a total of 133 episodes. The show was produced at CBS Television City in Los Angeles, California. Since live anthology drama series of the mid-1950s usually were hour-long shows, the title highlighted the network's intention to present something unusual: a weekly series of hour-and-a-half-long dramas rather than 60-minute plays.

Playhouse 90
Written byRobert Alan Aurthur
James P. Cavanagh
Horton Foote
John Gay
William Gibson
Frank D. Gilroy
Arthur Hailey
A.E. Hotchner
Ernest Kinoy
Loring Mandel
Don M. Mankiewicz
Abby Mann
J. P. Miller
Paul Monash
Tad Mosel
Reginald Rose
Rod Serling
David Shaw
Aaron Spelling
Leslie Stevens
Malvin Wald
Directed byJohn Brahm
James B. Clark
Fielder Cook
Vincent J. Donehue
John Frankenheimer
David Greene
George Roy Hill
Arthur Hiller
Herbert Hirschman
Buzz Kulik
Delbert Mann
Burgess Meredith
Robert Mulligan
James Neilson
Ralph Nelson
Arthur Penn
David Lowell Rich
Oscar Rudolph
Boris Sagal
Franklin J. Schaffner
Alex Segal
Stewart Stern
Robert Stevens
David Swift
Charles Marquis Warren
Paul Wendkos
Theme music composerAlex North
Composer(s)Jerry Goldsmith
Robert Allen
John Williams
Robert Drasnin
Fred Steiner
Bernard Herrmann
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons4
No. of episodes134
Executive producer(s)Peter Kortner
Producer(s)Julian Claman
Martin Manulis
Herbert Brodkin
CinematographyGert Andersen
Albert Kurland
Editor(s)Henry Batista
Robert L. Swanson
Sam Gold
Richard K. Brockway
Running time90 minutes
Production company(s)CBS Productions
Filmaster Productions
Screen Gems
DistributorCBS Television Distribution (2007-present)
Columbia TriStar Television (1996-2002)
Sony Pictures Television (2002-present)
Original networkCBS
Picture formatBlack-and-white
Audio formatMonaural
Original releaseOctober 4, 1956 –
May 18, 1960


The producers of the show were Martin Manulis, John Houseman, Russell Stoneman, Fred Coe, Arthur Penn, and Hubbell Robinson. The leading director was John Frankenheimer (27 episodes), followed by Franklin Schaffner (19 episodes). Other directors included Sidney Lumet, George Roy Hill, Delbert Mann, and Robert Mulligan.

With Alex North's opening theme music, the series debuted October 4, 1956 with Rod Serling's adaptation of Pat Frank's novel Forbidden Area starring Charlton Heston. The following week, Requiem for a Heavyweight, also scripted by Serling, received critical accolades and later dominated the 1956 Emmys by winning awards in six categories, including best direction, best teleplay and best actor. Serling was given the first Peabody Award for television writing. For many viewers, live television drama had moved to a loftier plateau. Playhouse 90 established a reputation as television's most distinguished anthology drama series and maintained a high standard for four seasons (with repeats in 1961).

From the start, productions were planned to be both live and filmed, with a filmed show every fourth Thursday to relieve the pressure of mounting the live telecasts. The first filmed Playhouse 90 was The Country Husband (November 1, 1956) with Barbara Hale and Frank Lovejoy portraying a couple in a collapsing marriage. The filmed episodes were produced variously, by Screen Gems and CBS.

The ambitious series frequently featured critically acclaimed dramas, including the original television versions of The Miracle Worker (with Teresa Wright as Annie Sullivan), and The Helen Morgan Story (with an Emmy to Polly Bergen for her performance in the title role), In the Presence of Mine Enemies (Rod Serling's Warsaw ghetto drama starring Charles Laughton, with Robert Redford in an early role), and the original television version of Judgment at Nuremberg, featuring Maximilian Schell, Werner Klemperer, Torben Meyer and Otto Waldis in the roles they would repeat in the 1961 film, but with an otherwise different cast, including Claude Rains in the Spencer Tracy role and Paul Lukas in the Burt Lancaster role.

Playhouse 90 received many Emmy Award nominations, and it later ranked #33 on the TV Guide 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. In 1997, the acclaimed "Requiem for a Heavyweight" was ranked #30 on the TV Guide 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.[1]

Early on, in 1956, Playhouse 90 faced some controversy due to scheduling. It was thought by independent producers that, in Playhouse 90's procurement, scheduling, and promotion decisions, major networks favored programs that they produced or, in which they had ownership interest. Worried about this issue, CBS suspended its plans for the series in fear that they had violated anti-trust laws. Soon afterward, however, CBS received an oral opinion from its legal counsel that no laws had been violated, and the show continued.[2]


Writers for the series included Robert Alan Aurthur, Rod Serling, Whitfield Cook, David E. Durston, Sumner Locke Elliott, Horton Foote, Frank D. Gilroy, Roger O. Hirson, A. E. Hotchner, Loring Mandel, Abby Mann, JP Miller, Paul Monash, and Leslie Stevens. Playwright Tad Mosel, who wrote four teleplays for Playhouse 90, recalled, "My first Playhouse 90 was glamour... Glamour had come to television because CBS had built this magnificent Television City in Los Angeles... Television had come to deserve buildings for itself. This was a whole new idea, that you'd have a building for television. Playhouse 90 was one of the first shows to go into that mammoth building."

John Frankenheimer

Between 1954 and 1960, John Frankenheimer directed 152 live television dramas, an average of one every two weeks. During the 1950s he was regarded as television's top directorial talent and much of his significant work was for Playhouse 90, for which he directed 27 teleplays between 1956 and 1960. He began with Forbidden Area (October 4, 1956), adapted by Serling from the Pat Frank novel about Soviet sabotage, following with Rendezvous in Black (October 25, 1956), adapted from Cornell Woolrich's novel of twisted revenge; Eloise (November 22, 1956), adapted from the book by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight; and The Family Nobody Wanted (December 20, 1956), from the Helen Doss book about a childless couple who adopt a dozen children of mixed ancestry, a book brought to television again in 1975.

As Playhouse 90 moved into 1957, Frankenheimer directed a science fiction drama, The Ninth Day (January 10, 1957), by Howard and Dorothy Baker, about a small group of World War III survivors and a Serling adaptation, The Comedian (February 14, 1957), based on the short story by Ernest Lehman & starring Mickey Rooney as an abrasive, manipulative television comedian. In later interviews, Frankenheimer expressed his admiration for Rooney's acting in this memorable drama. A kinescope of The Comedian survives and remains available for viewing at the Paley Center for Media in New York City and Los Angeles.

After The Last Tycoon (March 14, 1957), adapted from the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel about a film studio head, Frankenheimer followed with Tad Mosel's If You Knew Elizabeth (April 11, 1957) about an ambitious college professor; another Fitzgerald adaptation, Winter Dreams (May 23, 1957), dramatizing a romantic triangle; Clash by Night (June 13, 1957), with Kim Stanley in an adaptation of the Clifford Odets play; and The Fabulous Irishman (June 27, 1957), a biographical drama tracing events in the life of Robert Briscoe. Frankenheimer used a fake bull's head jutting into the frame when he staged The Death of Manolete (September 12, 1957), Barnaby Conrad's drama about the death of the legendary bullfighter, a production later ranked by Frankenheimer as one of his worst.

Robert Alan Aurthur's script for A Sound of Different Drummers (October 3, 1957) borrowed so heavily from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 that Bradbury sued.[3] The Troublemakers (November 21, 1957) was George Bellak's adaptation of his own 1956 play about a campus newspaper editor killed by other students. Frankenheimer ended the year with The Thundering Wave (December 12, 1957), starring James and Pamela Mason in an Aurthur drama about an acting couple who agree to do a play together despite their separation.

Frankenheimer kicked off 1958 with The Last Man (January 9, 1958), an Aaron Spelling revenge drama, followed by The Violent Heart (February 6, 1958) from the Daphne du Maurier story of romance on the French Riviera, Rumors of Evening (May 1, 1958) about a World War II pilot obsessed with a USO entertainer and Serling's Bomber's Moon (May 22, 1958) about a World War II pilot accused of cowardice. A Town Has Turned to Dust (June 19, 1958), a Serling drama about an 1870 lynching of an innocent Mexican in a southwestern town, was based on the Emmett Till case.

Note that the ad for this repeat, a production adapted from William Faulkner's story, makes no mention of Faulkner

In The New York Times for October 3, 1958, the day after J. P. Miller's Days of Wine and Roses was telecast, Jack Gould wrote a rave review with much praise for the writer, director and cast:

It was a brilliant and compelling work... Mr. Miller's dialogue was especially fine, natural, vivid and understated. Miss Laurie's performance was enough to make the flesh crawl, yet it also always elicited deep sympathy. Her interpretation of the young wife just a shade this side of delirium tremens—the flighty dancing around the room, her weakness of character and moments of anxiety and her charm when she was sober—was a superlative accomplishment. Miss Laurie is moving into the forefront of our most gifted young actresses. Mr. Robertson achieved first-rate contrast between the sober man fighting to hold on and the hopeless drunk whose only courage came from the bottle. His scene in the greenhouse, where he tried to find the bottle that he had hidden in the flower pot, was particularly good... John Frankenheimer's direction was magnificent. His every touch implemented the emotional suspense but he never let the proceedings get out of hand or merely become sensational.[4]

"Old Man" (November 20, 1958) was adapted by Horton Foote from William Faulkner's story set during the 1927 Mississippi River flood. Face of a Hero (January 1, 1959), based on the Pierre Boulle novel, starred Jack Lemmon, who took this play to Broadway for a run of 36 performances during October to November 1960. The following year, Frankenheimer began with The Blue Men (January 15, 1959), an Alvin Boretz drama about the trial of a police detective who refused to make an arrest. A.E. Hotchner adapted Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls into a two-part format (March 12 and March 19, 1959). Journey to the Day (April 22, 1960) was a Roger Hirson drama about group therapy.

Live to tape

Playhouse 90 began as a live series, making a transition to tape in 1957. Kevin Dowler, writing for the Museum of Broadcast Communications, noted:

Its status as a "live" drama was short lived in any case, since the difficulties in mounting a 90-minute production on a weekly basis required the adoption of the recently-developed videotape technology, which was used to record entire shows beforehand from 1957 onward. Both 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 final eight shows were aired irregularly between February and May 1960, with repeats broadcast during the summer weeks of 1961...
The success of Playhouse 90 continued into the 1957-58 season with productions of The Miracle Worker, The Comedian, and The Helen Morgan Story. Although these shows, along with Requiem and Judgment at Nuremberg were enough to ensure the historical importance of Playhouse 90, the program also stood out because of its emergence in the "film era" of television broadcasting evolution.
By 1956, much of television production had moved from the east to the west coast, and from live performances to filmed series. Most of the drama anthologies, a staple of the evening schedule to this point, fell victim to the newer types of programs being developed. Playhouse 90 stands in contrast to the prevailing trend, and its reputation benefited from both the growing nostalgia for the waning live period, and a universal distaste for Hollywood on the part of New York television critics. It also is probable that since the use of videotape (not widespread at the time) preserved a "live" feel, so that discussion of the programs could be easily adapted to the standards introduced by the New York television critics.[5]

Normally, the program was telecast in black-and-white, but on Christmas night, 1958, it offered a color production of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, starring the New York City Ballet and choreographed by George Balanchine. The program was presented live, rather than on videotape, however, and it has survived only on a black-and-white kinescope version.[6][7]

Television listings

Season Time Slot
1 (1956–1957) Thursday at 9:30 pm ET
2 (1957–1958)
3 (1958–1959)
4 (1959–1960) Thursday at 9:30 pm (October 1, 1959 - January 21, 1960)
Tuesday at 9:30 pm (February 9, 1960; March 22, 1960)
Wednesday at 8:00 pm (February 24, 1960; May 18, 1960)
Monday at 9:30 pm (March 7, 1960; May 2, 1960)
Sunday at 9:30 pm (April 3, 1960)
Friday at 9:30 pm (April 22, 1960)

Source for films

Several teleplays in the series were filmed later as theatrical motion pictures, including Requiem for a Heavyweight, The Helen Morgan Story, Days of Wine and Roses, and Judgment at Nuremberg. Seven Against the Wall was scripted by Howard Browne, who later reworked his teleplay into the screenplay for Roger Corman's 1967 movie, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Three of the actors in the Playhouse 90 production reprised their roles for the Corman film: Celia Lovsky, Milton Frome, and Frank Silvera.

In at least two cases, the reverse was true, an earlier movie was the source for the productions. William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life starring Jackie Gleason had been a James Cagney film of the same title ten years earlier and one of the original cast members from the original movie was used in the same supporting role. Also, Charlie's Aunt, starring Art Carney and Orson Bean in the Playhouse 90 version, had been earlier filmed as Charley's Aunt in 1941, starring Jack Benny.

An indifferently received television movie production of In the Presence of Mine Enemies, starring Armin Mueller-Stahl in the Charles Laughton role, was shown on cable television in 1997 by Showtime.


When CBS ran this ad, illustrated by Hilary Knight, in newspapers on November 22, 1956, the network intentionally removed the name of lead actress Evelyn Rudie, who received an Emmy nomination for her performance as Eloise
Peabody Awards
Golden Globe Awards
  • 1957 Best TV Show – Playhouse 90
  • 1958 Best Dramatic Anthology Series – Playhouse 90
Emmy Awards


  1. ^ "Special Collector's Issue: 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time". TV Guide (June 28–July 4). 1997.
  2. ^ Boddy, William. Fifties Television: The Industry and Its Critics. University of Illinois Press, 1992. ISBN 978-0-252-06299-5
  3. ^ "Gerald Peary - interviews - Sterling Hayden". Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  4. ^ Gould, Jack. "TV: Study in Alcoholism," The New York Times, October 3, 1958.
  5. ^ Dowler, Kevin. Museum of Broadcast Communications: Playhouse 90
  6. ^ "CINEMA: Time Listings, Dec. 29, 1958". Time. December 29, 1958.
  7. ^ "NYCB's Nutcracker on TV - Dale Brauner". Retrieved 23 March 2018.

External links

Media related to Playhouse 90 at Wikimedia Commons

10th Primetime Emmy Awards

The 10th Emmy Awards, later referred to as the 10th Primetime Emmy Awards, were held on April 15, 1958, to honor the best in television of the year. The ceremony was held at the Coconut Grove in Hollywood, California. It was hosted by Danny Thomas. All nominations are listed, with winners in bold and series' networks are in parentheses.

The anthology drama Playhouse 90, was the top show for the second consecutive year, earning the most major nominations (11) and wins (4).

11th Primetime Emmy Awards

The 11th Emmy Awards, later referred to as the 11th Primetime Emmy Awards, were held on May 6, 1959, to honor the best in television of the year. The ceremony was held at the Moulin Rouge Nightclub in Hollywood, California. It was hosted by Raymond Burr. All nominations are listed, with winners in bold and series' networks are in parentheses.

For the first time in Emmy history, all major categories were split into genre-specific fields, this would become standard for later ceremonies. The top show of the night was the NBC special, An Evening with Fred Astaire, it tied the record of five major wins. Playhouse 90 only took home one award, but it did set the record (since broken) for most major nominations, with 14. Father Knows Best also set a milestone, becoming the first show to be nominated in every major category (series, writing, directing, and the four major acting categories).

12th Primetime Emmy Awards

The 12th Emmy Awards, later referred to as the 12th Primetime Emmy Awards, were held on June 20, 1960, to honor the best in television of the year. The ceremony was held at the NBC Studios, in Burbank, California. It was hosted by Fred Astaire. All nominations are listed, with winners in bold and series' networks are in parentheses.

The ceremony's format was a sharp contrast to the previous year's. Several Acting categories were either combined or simply removed, and nearly every category had only three nominees, as opposed to the traditional five or six. Due to the relatively small crop of categories, no show received more than two major awards. The NBC anthology Startime received the most major nominations with five.

9th Primetime Emmy Awards

The 9th Emmy Awards, later referred to as the 9th Primetime Emmy Awards, were held on March 16, 1957, to honor the best in television of the year. The ceremony was held at the NBC Studios in Burbank, California. Desi Arnaz hosted the event. All nominations are listed, with winners in bold and series' networks are in parentheses. Categories were sorted based on running time, instead of by genre.

The top shows of the night were Caesar's Hour and Playhouse 90. Each show won a then-record five major awards, (however, two of Playhouse 90's wins came in now defunct categories).

Caesar's Hour became the first show to be nominated in all four major acting categories. Caesar's Hour also made history when it swept the four acting categories. After over fifty years, it remains the only comedy or drama series to win every major acting award. In 2004, the miniseries Angels in America became the second show, and first miniseries/television movie, to sweep the acting field.

Buzz Kulik

Seymour "Buzz" Kulik (July 23, 1922 – January 13, 1999) was an American film director and producer. He directed 72 films and television shows, including the landmark CBS television network anthology series Playhouse 90 and several episodes of The Twilight Zone.

Days of Wine and Roses (Playhouse 90)

Days of Wine and Roses was a 1958 American teleplay by JP Miller which dramatized the problems of alcoholism. John Frankenheimer directed the cast headed by Cliff Robertson, Piper Laurie and Charles Bickford.

Days of Wine and Roses (film)

Days of Wine and Roses is a 1962 drama film directed by Blake Edwards with a screenplay by JP Miller adapted from his own 1958 Playhouse 90 teleplay of the same name.

The movie was produced by Martin Manulis, with music by Henry Mancini, and features Jack Lemmon, Lee Remick, Charles Bickford and Jack Klugman. The film depicts the downward spiral of two average Americans who succumb to alcoholism and attempt to deal with their problems.

An Academy Award went to the film's theme music, composed by Mancini with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. The film received four other Oscar nominations, including Best Actor and Best Actress. In 2018, Days of Wine and Roses was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Fred Coe

Fred Coe (December 13, 1914 – April 29, 1979), nicknamed Pappy, was an American television producer and director most famous for The Goodyear Television Playhouse/The Philco Television Playhouse in 1948-1955 and Playhouse 90 from 1957 to 1959. Among the live TV dramas he produced were Marty and The Trip to Bountiful for Goodyear/Philco, Peter Pan for Producers' Showcase, and Days of Wine and Roses for Playhouse 90.

Born in Alligator, Mississippi, United States, Coe attended high school in Nashville, Tennessee, and college in Nashville at Peabody College, now part of Vanderbilt University, before studying at the Yale Drama School.

Golden Age of Television

The first Golden Age of Television is the era of live television production in the United States, roughly from the late 1940s through the late 1950s. According to The Television Industry: A Historical Dictionary, "the Golden Age opened with Kraft Television Theatre on May 7, 1947, and ended with the last live show in the Playhouse 90 series in 1957;" the Golden Age is universally recognized to have ended by 1960, as the television audience and programming had shifted to less critically acclaimed fare, almost all of it taped or filmed.

Heart of Darkness (1993 film)

Heart of Darkness is a 1993 television adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s famous novella written by Benedict Fitzgerald, directed by Nicolas Roeg, and starring Tim Roth, John Malkovich, Isaach De Bankolé and James Fox. The show is the third screen adaptation of the novella, following a 1958 television adaptation for the anthology series Playhouse 90 starring Boris Karloff, and 1979's Apocalypse Now with Marlon Brando, which loosely adapted it and updated it to the Vietnam War.

The film was filmed as a co-production with Ted Turner's Turner Pictures, and then aired by his TNT network.

Martin Manulis

Martin Ellyot Manulis (May 30, 1915 – September 28, 2007) was an American television, film, and theatre producer. Manulis was best known for his work in the 1950s producing the CBS Television programs Suspense, Studio One Summer Theatre, Climax!, The Best of Broadway and Playhouse 90. He was the sole producer of the award-winning drama series, Playhouse 90, during its first two seasons from 1956 to 1958.

After leaving Playhouse 90, Manulis was the "head of television" for 20th Century Fox Television where he was responsible for creating and producing the series, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Adventures in Paradise, and Five Fingers. In 1962, he produced the film Days of Wine and Roses starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick.

Primetime Emmy Award for Program of the Year

The Primetime Emmy Award for Program of the Year was an annual award presented as part of the Primetime Emmy Awards. It recognized the best single television program of the year. In early Emmy ceremonies, anthology series were more common than traditional sitcoms or dramas; this made Program of the Year the highest honor.Though traditional comedy and drama series were nominated, the majority of nominees and winners were: telefilms, variety specials, and documentaries. The award was last presented in 1973.

Requiem for a Heavyweight

Requiem for a Heavyweight was a teleplay written by Rod Serling and produced for the live television show Playhouse 90 on 11 October 1956. Six years later, it was adapted as a 1962 feature film starring Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason and Mickey Rooney.

The teleplay won a Peabody Award, the first given to an individual script, and helped establish Serling's reputation. The broadcast was directed by Ralph Nelson and is generally considered one of the finest examples of live television drama in the United States, as well as being Serling's personal favorite of his own work. Nelson and Serling won Emmy Awards for their work.

The Comedian (Playhouse 90)

The Comedian is a 1957 live television drama written by Rod Serling from a novella by Ernest Lehman, directed by John Frankenheimer, and starring Mickey Rooney, Edmond O'Brien, Mel Tormé and Kim Hunter.Rooney's portrayal of a lecherous, vicious comedian who tears down everyone around him was widely praised.The 90-minute drama was part of the anthology series Playhouse 90 on February 14, 1957. The show was captured on kinescope and is available on DVD.

The Grey Nurse Said Nothing

The Grey Nurse Said Nothing is a TV play written by Sumner Locke Elliott. It was based on the Shark Arm case.

The Helen Morgan Story

The Helen Morgan Story, released in the UK as Both Ends of the Candle, is a 1957 American biographical film directed by Michael Curtiz starring Ann Blyth and Paul Newman.

The screenplay by Oscar Saul, Dean Riesner, Stephen Longstreet, and Nelson Gidding is based on the life and career of torch singer/actress Helen Morgan, with fictional touches liberally added for dramatic purposes. Months before being released into a feature-length film, The Helen Morgan Story was produced as a live television drama on Playhouse 90, with Polly Bergen as Morgan. This turned out to be Blyth's final film role.

The Miracle Worker

The Miracle Worker is a cycle of 20th-century dramatic works derived from Helen Keller's

autobiography The Story of My Life. Each of the various dramas describes the relationship between Helen, a deafblind and initially almost feral child, and Anne Sullivan, the teacher who introduced her to education, activism, and international stardom. Its first realization was a 1957 Playhouse 90 broadcast written by William Gibson and starring Teresa Wright as Sullivan and Patricia McCormack as Keller. Gibson adapted his teleplay for a 1959 Broadway production with Anne Bancroft as Sullivan and Patty Duke as Keller. The first movie, also starring Bancroft and Duke, was released in 1962. Subsequent made-for-television movies were released in 1979 and 2000.

The Miracle Worker (play)

The Miracle Worker is a three-act play by William Gibson adapted from his 1957 Playhouse 90 teleplay of the same name. It was based on Helen Keller's autobiography The Story of My Life.

The Story of My Life (biography)

The Story of My Life, first published in 1903, is Helen Keller's autobiography detailing her early life, especially her experiences with Anne Sullivan. Portions of it were adapted by William Gibson for a 1957 Playhouse 90 production, a 1959 Broadway play, a 1962 Hollywood feature film, and the Indian film Black. The book is dedicated to inventor Alexander Graham Bell. The dedication reads, "To ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL Who has taught the deaf to speak and enabled the listening ear to hear speech from the Atlantic to the Rockies, I dedicate this Story of My Life."

Works directed by Delbert Mann

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