Did you happen to record Monty Python’s Flying Circus
when it was shown on PBS back in the 1970s?
Do you still have the tapes?
Is there a TIME LIFE logo at the end?
If so, please write to me. Thank you!


Gore Vidal’s Television Plays

(and some radio commercials and one radio play)


Image from Cecil Smith, “Novelist Writes 25 TV Dramas in 18 Months:
Gore Vidal Starts Cold, but Gets Hot,”
The New York Times, Sunday, 17 July 1955, p D3.

Gore Vidal is one of my long-time great heroes, and I have spent the past seven years writing and rewriting and re-rewriting a book on one of his movies, which he justifiably disowned, Gore Vidal’s Caligula, one of the most distasteful episodes in his personal and professional life. Whilst delving into all matters Caligulan, I decided it was high time I finally looked into the beginnings of Vidal’s career as a scenarist. Back in 10th grade we were all required to read the script for the teleplay of Visit to a Small Planet, which does not read well, especially not in a text book, especially not with a repulsive teacher, especially not with the uninterested students unenthusiastically reading out their lines and stumbling over the words, and especially not with those brain-dead essay questions at the end. When I suffered through that experience, I could scarcely believe that Gore Vidal had written the piece. But he did, and what I didn’t realize at the time was just how startlingly good it was. A viewing of the actual teleplay convinced me of that. Already a steadfast admirer of Vidal the essayist and Vidal the novelist, a viewing of the rare videotape of Visit made me an enthusiast about Vidal the TV writer.

What follows is merely a bare-bones list, which I compiled for my own research, but which I shortly thereafter decided to share with the world. When I get some time, I’ll expand this greatly. In the meanwhile, I hope that you use this list to hunt down these elusive programs.

“Elusive” is indeed the operative word. Few of these shows can be seen anymore, and until I gathered the information on this web page, most had been presumed lost. Here, on this site, you’ll learn where half of them are hiding. Now we need to find the other half. In an interview conducted on Monday, 18 December 2006, Gore Vidal claimed that, contrary to reports of the disappearance of these programs, he had kinescopes of most or all of them, which he had recently donated to the Houghton Library at Harvard University. He was certain that his donation included even such programs as “The Death of Billy the Kid” and “The Indestructible Mr. Gore,” both of which have been among the most sought-after “lost” programs in television history. Indeed, the online catalogue announces the probable existence, albeit only on VHS, of “The Death of Billy the Kid,” but most of the other teleplays are most definitely not among the holdings.

My contention is that all these programs need to be made available again, and not just in one or two museums for on-site supervised viewing. They should be broadcast again and released on home video.

If you know the whereabouts of copies of any of these teleplays, please write to me! Many thanks!


NORMAN ROSS AT WORK

I’m not sure what this was. Click here to learn a little bit about Norman Ross. The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following:

Container 301 Norman Ross at work : Tss with AMs annotations, 1950. 1 folder. Commercials. Three variant scripts for commercial spots that all aired in 1950.

I assume this would have been for radio. This is a bit surprising, at least for me, as I had never seen any indication, anywhere, that Vidal ever wrote a commercial, much less several commercials, and, what’s more, before he had begun work in any form of theatrical media! If you happen to be doing Vidalian research at Houghton, please take a look at this file and let me know what you find. I’d be most interested indeed!


DARK POSSESSION

• Aired live on Monday, 15 February 1954, 10:00–11:00pm EST, on CBS, on the “Westinghouse Studio One” anthology series, season 6 episode 22 (whole number 240)

This was Vidal’s first teleplay. In an interview he explained why he took this job. His novels, though bestsellers, were not especially remunerative, and The City and the Pillar, a beautifully affecting, wisely perceptive novel, earned him visceral hostility from nearly every quarter. Reviewers began to ignore him. The New York Times would no longer review his books in the daily editions, but only in the Sunday “Book Review” supplement, which was a perfect way to bury him. And even the favorable reviews in the supplement were riddled with backhanded compliments. Finally, when a reviewer categorized him as a novelist from the 1940s rather than as a contemporary writer, Vidal gave up in a fit of exasperation. He called his agent and asked for another line of work, any other line of work. The agent suggested teleplays. Vidal had never seen a teleplay. He didn’t even own a TV set. He bought a set, he watched a play, he took the job, and he wrote quickly. He felt at home in television, for there was an overriding respect for the writer, who would be on hand from the initial negotiations all the way through the casting and rehearsals and the live telecast. The writer had total control and top billing. Television in the 1950s was not at all what it would become in the 1960s and later, and certainly bore no resemblance to the rot that assaults us today. It was an exciting time, and the new medium was taken seriously. Since television sets were quite expensive, it was generally only the more literate classes that purchased them and watched the programming. And much of the programming they got was as good as Broadway offerings. Many actors and writers and directors got their start in these teleplays and quickly rose to prominence. As Vidal explained, after a particularly good teleplay, people could be heard chatting in the offices and on the streets the next morning, saying such things as “Did you see that Reginald Rose last night?” or “Did you see that Paddy Chayefsky last night?” or “Did you see that Gore Vidal last night?” The writer had suddenly become the superstar. After a year and a half of writing for television, Vidal found that he had earned more money than he had in a decade of writing novels and short stories! He was thrilled by the medium, and was convinced that it would be the principal method of representing narratives over the next thousand years. But then things changed almost overnight. Producers discovered that they could get higher ratings, and higher revenues, by broadcasting quiz shows, which cost next to no money to produce, and which required next to no rehearsal time. And that ended the era of the teleplay. As Vidal remarked, “That is when I became an enemy of capitalism.”

Dark Possession was Vidal’s first teleplay, and it was nearly banned. It took a good deal of arguing to convince the commercial sponsors and the producers that it dealt not with a suicide per se, but with a murder, as a woman who has a dual personality succeeds in murdering her alternative personality. The argument finally won the day and assuaged fears.

What is especially interesting, at least for me, is the manner of the storytelling. In his novels, Vidal is strikingly subtle and intricate. But when confined to a 60-minute time slot on a single sound stage, he had to simplify, simplify, simplify. His new stories often dealt with contradictory characters, characters who were simultaneously good and evil. In Dark Possession, his first outing, he began with an even more extreme version of that idea: a dual personality. Once you see this idea explored, repeatedly, explicitly, a re-reading of his novels becomes a new experience!

You can view this play at the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television & Radio) in Manhattan (media number 005740) and in Beverly Hills (media number 100286). It is also available for viewing, by appointment only, at the Powell Library’s Research Study Center at the University of California at Los Angeles. Even better, this was just released on DVD! Click the image below:

This was when Gore Vidal met Franklin Schaffner, the director. The two got along and respected each other. Though Vidal considered Schaffner second-rate and mediocre, that’s exactly what he wanted and needed: a professional craftsman who would work alongside the writer and bring the script to life, without interfering. That he did, and that he would do again.

“Television Chatter,” Variety (weekly), Wednesday, 13 January 1954, p 14:

Sidney Lohman, “News and Notes Gathered from the Studios,” The New York Times, 1954-02-07-Thu, p X11:

“On Television,” The New York Times, 1954-02-15, p 30:

Fred Coe’s Musical Studio 1 ‘Side Street’ on Upcoming Agenda,” Variety (weekly), Wednesday, 10 February 1954, p 46:

Harvey Breit, “In and Out of Books,” The New York Times, Sunday, 24 February 1954 p BR8 (see below).

And if you want some clickable references:
• TV.com
• IMDb
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 4428 Dark possession (Television script): video recording, undated. 1 videocassette. VHS videotape. Possibly includes the television program written by GV that aired on the Studio One (CBS), 1954 February 15. Possibly includes recordings of other programs that GV wrote for television including A Man and Two Gods and Summer Pavilion.

Dark Possession would be performed several more times, with a different cast and crew each time.

CREDITS ACCORDING TO TV.COM
Producer Felix Jackson
Director Franklin J. Schaffner
Spokesperson Betty Furness
Announcer John Cannon
CAST ACCORDING TO TV.COM
Charlotte Bell Wheeler Geraldine Fitzgerald
Dr. Waring Leslie Nielsen
Emily Bell Barbara O’Neil
Governor Bell Bramwell Fletcher
? Milton Selzer
? Leora Thatcher
? Helen Auerbach

MESSIAH

Surely this was based on Vidal’s novel of the same name, which I confess I’ve not yet read. But that’s about all I know. The main source I have is Fred Kaplan’s book, Gore Vidal: A Biography (New York: Anchor Books, October 2000), which Vidal never even finished reading as he found it so careless. But it has its value. On page 377 we read: “From Key West, in December 1953, while he worked on Dark Possession, he corresponded with [agent Harold] Franklin about a number of television treatments he had proposed, one of them based on Messiah. Franklin found the central character unacceptably static.” As far as I can tell, this was never produced. I’d love to know more. If you know more, please write to me. Thanks!

Harvey Breit, in his “In and Out of Books” column in The New York Times Review of Books, Sunday, 28 February 1954, p 8, added a little bit:

There is so little I know. Incidentally, I hear from a fellow researcher that the Discovery magazine piece on John Horne Burns never happened. And that’s the extent of my knowledge. Please write to me if you know more than I do. Thanks so much!


SMOKE

• Aired live on Tuesday, 4 May 1954, 9:30–10:00pm Eastern Time, on CBS, on the “Suspense” anthology series, season 6 episode 31 (whole number 245)

This is a most curious little half-hour story about justice in a rural town, based on a story by William Faulkner. Rather hard to describe. Interesting in that the only unsuspicious character turns out to be the villain.

You can view this at the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television & Radio) in Manhattan (media number 02252) and in Beverly Hills (media number 112956).

Here are the few references I have found:
• “On Television,” The New York Times, Tuesday, 4 May 1954, p 41:

There are also these few clickable references:
• TV.com
• IMDb
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 308 Smoke : Ts with AMs corrections, [ca. 1954] 1 folder. Treatment. Adapted by GV from William Faulkner's story. Aired on Suspense (CBS), 1954 May 4. Container 309 Smoke : Ts (mimeograph), 1954. 1 folder. Draft dated 1954 Apr. 29.


A MAN AND TWO GODS

• Aired live on Monday, 24 May 1954, 10:00–11:00pm, Eastern Time, on CBS, as part of the “Studio One” anthology series, season 6, episode 36 (whole number 254)

This was based on the book by Jean Morris, which I haven’t read. All episodes of “Studio One” appear to be archived in some company’s vault. There’s also a good possibility that a VHS is among the Gore Vidal Papers at Houghton Library at Harvard University. That’s about all I know. Presumably this is the “adaption for possible Studio One production in April” mentioned by Harvey Breit in his column “In and Out of Books,” in The New York Times Review of Books, Sunday, 28 February 1954, p BR8, which we saw above. Here it is again:

There are also these references:
• “Television Programs This Week,” The New York Times, Sunday, 23 May 1954, p X12.


Doesn’t say too much, does it?

• “On Television,” The New York Times, Monday, 24 May 1954, p 34:

And then, of course, the clickables:
• TV.com
• IMDb
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 297 A man and two gods : Ts, 1954. 1 folder. First draft. Based on the book by Jean Morris. Possibly aired on Studio one (CBS), 1954 May 24. Container 298 A man and two gods : Ts, 1954. 1 folder. Second draft.
Container 4428 Dark possession (Television script): video recording, undated. 1 videocassette. VHS videotape. Possibly includes the television program written by GV that aired on the Studio One (CBS), 1954 February 15. Possibly includes recordings of other programs that GV wrote for television including A Man and Two Gods and Summer Pavilion.


THE JINX NURSE CASE

• Aired on Tuesday, 20 July 1954, 8:00–8:30pm EDT, on NBC, as part of the “Janet Dean, Registered Nurse” series.

Janet Dean, Registered Nurse was a short-lived, now-forgotten TV series. It was filmed rather than kinescoped. The lead actress was Gore Vidal’s cousin, Ella Raines. Since Vidal wrote the script under the name of Cameron Kay, the pseudonym he reserved for pieces he regarded as junk-for-hire, I presume he was not too proud of the result. Nonetheless, I’d give my right arm to see it and study it. And apparently it still exists!!!!! Take a look at Television Obscurities. It includes the opening credit sequence, which, amazingly, is from precisely this episode! And there’s a clip as well!

And here’s the conclusion to a different episode, “The Putnam Case”:

• “Television Programs This Week,” The New York Times, Sunday, 18 July 1954, p X11.

• “On Television,” The New York Times, Tuesday, 20 July 1954, p 25.

The clickables:
• IMDb doesn’t say anything much.
• CTVA — The Classic TV Archive — has a complete episode list. If the link no longer works, I filed a back-up copy here.
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists Container 274 The case of the jinx nurse : Tss with AMs corrections, [ca. 1953] 1 folder. Two scripts written by GV under the pseudonym Cameron Kay, for the television series, Janet Dean, Registered Nurse. A few variant corrections on each Tss. AMs annotation on first page of first Ts, “Gore Vidal / 1st TV script. Air date of program is not known.”


BARN BURNING

• Aired (live?) on Tuesday, 17 August 1954, 9:30–10:00pm EDT, on CBS, as part of the “Suspense” anthology series, season 6 episode 46 (whole number 260)

This is another piece adapted from a work by William Faulkner. I haven’t had a chance to see this yet. If you want to see it, I guess you have to fly to New York City and visit the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television & Radio) in Manhattan (media number 023713).

The references I have found, predictably, are few and minimal:
• “On Television,” The New York Times, Tuesday, 17 August 1954, p 28:

Clickables:
• TV.com
• IMDb
• Draft scripts available at Harvard, according to Gore Vidal Finding Aid: Container 270 Barn burning : Ts with AMs corrections, [ca. 1954] 1 folder. Draft. Aired on Suspense (CBS), 1954 Aug. 17. Container 271 Barn burning : Ts with Ms corrections by Robert Mulligan, 1954. 1 folder. Final draft. Annotation on second page, “Bob Mulligan,” director of the program.


SOVEREIGN STATE

As far as I know this was never produced. Once again we have as our source Fred Kaplan’s biography, Gore Vidal: A Biography (New York: Anchor Books, October 2000), p 377: “In summer 1954, while working at Edgewater on another Edgar Box, he outlined in detail ideas for two resonant television stories, the first called Sovereign State, the second Billy the Kid.” So I presume there must be some sort of paper trail about this, and I presume that paper trail would be somewhere at Harvard. If you can find it, please give me a holler. Thanks!


CASE OF THE DYING ACCUSATION

• Aired (live?) on Thursday, 29 July 1954, on CBS,
as part of Philip Morris’s “The Telltale Clue” series

In “The Art of Fiction, No. 50,” (The Paris Review, 1974-07) Gore Vidal gave us his assessment of this work: “Absence of money is a bad thing because you end up writing ‘The Telltale Clue’ on television — which I did.” Vidal wrote this episode under a pseudonym that he can no longer recall (probably Cameron Kay, I would guess). Some sources say that Gore Vidal wrote not one but two episodes for The Telltale Clue. Do the CBS records or the Philip Morris records or Charles E Martin Productions records still survive somewhere? If you know, please let me know. Thanks! This program may still exist. It’s definitive that two episodes still exist; we know that because they’re on YouTube: “The Case of the Talking Garden,” 15 July 1954, written by Haskel Frankel; and “The Case of the Hit & Run,” 5 August 1954, written by James P Cavanaugh.

Variety (weekly), Wednesday, 14 July 1954, p 31:

Clickables:
• CTVA — The Classic TV Archive
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 2997 Case of the dying accusation (television script) : contract, 1954. 1 folder. I took a brief glance at this folder, and the contract caught my interest. It was dated 30 June 1954 and was with producer/copyright owner Charles E. Martin Productions Inc: “You agree that in the event we use the said script, which we are not required to do, we have the option of making use of your name, if we so desire.”
• TV.com


THE CONTRAST

• Aired live on Sunday, 12 December 1954, 5:00–6:30pm, EST, on CBS,
as part of the “Omnibus” anthology series

Now, I know something about American, or at least US, theatrical history, and I know that Royall Tyler’s The Contrast, which opened on Monday, 16 April 1787, was a turning point in the history of American theatre. But I’ve never seen it. I should read it, though. And I shall. When I get the time. Soon. You can read it for free by clicking here. The Contrast was the first comedy written by an American that was performed professionally. It introduced an archetypal character that would be expanded upon in the mid-nineteenth century, the “Yankee” character, made most famous perhaps when George “Yankee” Hill, then Dan Marble, and then Josh “Yankee” Silsbee elaborated upon the Jonathan Ploughboy character in Samuel Woodworth’s The Forest Rose. The Yankee character evolved into a brash, comical fellow, who dressed horribly in what he was convinced was the height of fashion, and he was an embarrassment to his English cousins. (The popular image of Uncle Sam, with his overly flashy, wrongly proportioned clothes, is a patriotic reinterpretation/misinterpetation of the Yankee character.) I should read this soon. I’m astonished that two of my great interests, early American theatre and Gore Vidal, converged so neatly and so intensely. The Ford Foundation apparently owns the rights, and allegedly has kinescopes of all the episodes in storage. But that’s all locked away. It seems that no other archive in the world has this. If you can locate a copy, please contact me.

Here are the references:
• Variety (weekly):

• “Television Programs This Week,” The New York Times, Sunday, 12 December 1954, p X16:

Clickables:
• TV.com
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists Container 275 The contrast : Ts, 1954. 1 folder. First draft, revised, dated 1954 Dec. 1. Adapted by GV from Royall Tyler's play, The contrast: a comedy in five acts. Aired on Omnibus (CBS), 1954 Dec. 12.


A SENSE OF JUSTICE

• Aired live on Sunday, 6 February 1955, 9:00–10:00pm, on NBC, as part of the Philco “Television Playhouse” anthology series, season  7 episode 234

This is sheer brilliance. The title, “A Sense of Justice,” sums up the essence of Gore Vidal’s sense of his place in this world. The story is preposterous, and if anyone else had written it, or if anyone else had been in charge of the day-to-day production and rehearsals, it would have been hopelessly unconvincing. But in Vidal’s hands it worked magnificently. E G Marshall gave a bravura performance in a most difficult rôle. And, to my near-disbelief, I saw, in a lengthy scene, both E G Marshall and Paul Tripp on screen at the same time, on the same set, in the same shot, exchanging lines! That was just too good to be true. Mr I-Magination, Mr Birthday House himself! Oh heavens be praised! And, in a dramatic part, he was so believable and convincing! And his lines were NOT easy to deliver! But he delivered them perfectly, absolutely perfectly. That was a scene to die for! No matter where you live, visit the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television & Radio) in Manhattan (media number 030938) or in Beverly Hills (media number 121847) and watch it! By the way, this was one of those rare instances in which a director, namely Robert Mulligan, actually enhanced the script immeasurably — with a single stage direction, much to Vidal’s delight!

Here are the references:
• “Television Programs This Week,” The New York Times, Sunday, 6 February 1955, p X14:

• Review: Jack Gould, “Television: Anxiety — The Heroes Never Quite Pull Out of It in Two Stark ‘Playhouse’ Dramas,” The New York Times, Wednesday, 16 February 1955, p 40.

Clickables:
• TV.com
• IMDb
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 4522 A sense of justice (Television program) : 16 mm film, 2000. 2 reels. Written by GV. Film of the Philco Television Playhouse program that aired on the National Broadcasting Company, inc. on 1955 Feb. 6.

PAY ATTENTION! There is a kinescope of this at Harvard!!! It may well be the only surviving kinescope. It needs to be restored and duplicated — IMMEDIATELY!!!


THE TURN OF THE SCREW

• Aired live on Monday, 13 February 1955, 5:00–6:30pm EST, on CBS, as part of the “Omnibus” anthology series, season 3 episode 39

All I know is that this was based on the Henry James novel of the same name. And, because it’s part of the “Omnibus” series, it’s owned by the Ford Foundation, which surely has a kinescope in its vaults. Here are the references:

• “Psychological Drama and Satiric Comedy on Video This Week,” The New York Times, Monday, 13 February 1955, p 121:

Clickables:
• According to TV.com, the actual title of this play was “The Last Turn of the Screw.”
• IMDb
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 314 The turn of the screw : Ts with AMs corrections, [ca. 1955] 1 folder. Draft of treatment. Includes draft of letter about the treatment. Aired on Omnibus (CBS), 1955 Feb. 13.


THE BLUE HOTEL

• Aired live on Tuesday, 22 February 19 10:00–11:30pm EST, on CBS, as part of the “Danger” anthology series, series 5 episode 25 (whole number 226)

We know that this was based on Stephen Crane’s novel of the same name. And we know that Vidal’s script was not used. Halsted Welles was brought in as script doctor, and he rewrote it.

References:
• “On Television,” The New York Times, 1955-02-22-Tue, p 26:

Clickables:
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 272 Blue hotel : Ts, [ca. 1955 ] 1 folder. Treatment describing GV’s adaption of Stephen Crane’s story. Aired on Danger (CBS), 1955 Feb.22. Container 273 Blue hotel : Ts (mimeograph), 1955. 1 folder. Script dated 1955 Feb. 10.
• TV.com.
• IMDb
• A remake must have been proposed in 1968, as we can see from University of Virginia Library.


STAGE DOOR

• Aired live on Wednesday, 6 April 1955, 10:00–11:00pm EST, on CBS,
as part of “The Best of Broadway,” season 1 episode 8

Gore Vidal adapted a play by George S Kaufman and Edna Ferber?!?!?!?!?! How did this disappear? How could it disappear? This is cruel!

Or maybe it didn’t disappear? If you look at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0046580/reviews you will see that a color (lenticular?) kinescope of another program in this series, Arsenic and Old Lace, still existed in private hands as late as the 1970s. That would indicate that the series was indeed kinescoped. And that means that those kinescopes might still be around somewhere. Where?

References:
• “Romance, Warfare and Show Business in Three Television Plays This Week,” The New York Times, Sunday, 3 April 1955, p X15:

• “On Television,” The New York Times, Wednesday, 6 April 1955, p 41:

• Review: John P Shanley, “Television: ‘Stage Door’ — Gore Vidal Adapts ’36 Comedy for C.B.S.,” The New York Times, Friday, 8 April 1955, p 29.

Clickables:
• TV.com
• The Classic TV Archive
• IMDb
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 310 Stage door : Ts, [ca. 1955] 1 folder. Possibly final draft. Adapted from the Broadway comedy by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. Aired on The best of Broadway (CBS), 1955 April 6.


THE FIRST AND THE LAST

• Aired live on Thursday, 28 April 1955, 8:30–9:30pm ET, on CBS, as part of the “Climax!” anthology series, season 1 episode 23

This was based on John Galsworthy’s short story of the same name. Here I must simply confess that I was careless with my note-taking. Somewhere — and no, I cannot remember where — I read that Gore Vidal wrote the script of this program. If he did, his script was rejected, as the credited writer is William Kozlenko. As far as I know, this program has vanished off the face of the earth.

References:
• “Television Highlights of the Week,” The New York Times, Sunday, 24 April 1955, p X13:

Clickables:
• See TV.com.
• IMDb


SUMMER PAVILION

• Aired live on Monday, 2 May 1955, 10:00–11:00pm EDT, on CBS, as part of the “Studio One” anthology series, season 7 episode 33 (whole number 303)

This is available for viewing at the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television & Radio) in Manhattan (media number 000302) and in Beverly Hills (media number 107778). Better yet, it’s included in the new “Studio One” box set! Click on the image below:

References:
• Val Adams, “Benny Will Lose Sponsor on Radio,” The New York Times, Monday, 25 April 1955, p 30:

• “On Television,” The New York Times, 1955-05-02-Mon, p 27:

Clickables:
• IMDb
• TV.com


VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET

• Aired live on Sunday, 8 May 1955, 9:00–10:00pm EDT, on NBC, as part of the Goodyear “Television Playhouse” anthology series, season 4 episode 16 (whole number 90)

More than anything else, this is what put Gore Vidal on the map. If you had to read the published script for school, put that miserable experience out of your mind. Performed live, this comes to life, and it’s pure magic! And the happier and goofier it gets, the darker it gets. In this play, we are rooting for the delightful, sparkling, eccentric, amusing, charming, magnetic, irresistable, adorable character who attempts for his amusement to bring about world annihilation. This show was a sensation, and led to a long-running Broadway adaption that is still occasionally performed in repertory. The lead character is played by Cyril Ritchard, who pronounced his surname simply as Richard, though all his colleagues mysteriously pronounced it rit-chaahhhhrd, with the second syllable dragged out far too long. Moral: Never get too obsessed with English spelling. Pay more attention to the pronunciation. I had seen Cyril Ritchard only in Piccadilly (1929) in which he played a rather unlikeable nightclub dancer. (Piccadilly should be an impossibility but isn’t: The script is wretched but the direction is ethereal.) What a contrast with this rôle! This wonderful, wonderful, wonderful show was instantly lost and was never seen again after the initial broadcast. Then, around 2002 or thereabouts, two separate people made two separate donations to the UCLA Film and Video Archive. One donation was of a 1" videotape off of a kinescope of this program, and the other was of a 2" quad videotape off of a kinescope of this program! Since both were playable, they were probably not all that old, and that indicates that the kinescope must have been around rather recently. The whereabouts of that kinescope, though, seem to be unknown. But there’s another kinescope copy of this program on file. It’s 16mm and it’s owned by American Television Classics, though it’s not listed in their on-line catalogue. If you know the whereabouts of other original material, please contact me without delay!!! (The listing at Powell Library’s Research Study Center at the University of California at Los Angeles makes no mention of the 2" quad. So either I was misinformed about its existence, or, more likely, it has turned to goo.)

In the meantime, if you wish to watch this delightfully ominous little comedy, you will not regret circumnavigating the globe to spend a day at the Powell Library’s Research Study Center at the University of California at Los Angeles. Of course, if you just walk in unannounced and ask to see the video, you’ll be promptly thrown out of the building. You need to call first and set up an appointment. UCLA has made a VHS reference copy, and that’s what you’ll see. The experience of watching this little satire is magical. And if you don’t like it, you’re a grouch.

References:
• “Television Highlights of the Week,” The New York Times, Sunday, 8 May 1955, p X13:

• Review: Jack Gould, “Television: Saucer Satire — Mixed-Up Spaceman Lands in Vidal Play,” The New York Times, Wednesday, 11 May 1955, p 42.

Clickables:
• TV.com
• IMDb.com
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 315 Visit to a small planet : Ts with AMs corrections, [ca. 1955] 1 folder. Draft of treatment. Aired on Goodyear television playhouse (NBC), 1955 May 8. Container 316 Visit to a small planet : Ts, 1955. 1 folder. Final version of treatment submitted to Goodyear television playhouse. Container 317 Visit to a small planet : Ts (photocopy) with AMs corrections, undated. 1 folder. Draft. Container 4480 Visit to a small planet (Play) : video recording, undated. 2 videocassettes. VHS videotapes. Directed by Dean Rusu. Possibly a version of GV’s play [as opposed to the original teleplay].

Dean Rusu? Who is Dean Rusu? Someone may have videotaped the stage-play version of Visit to a Small Planet??? All right, please, somebody, anybody, please go to Harvard and check on those videotapes. Find out what they are! And let me know!!!!!! Thanks!

Now, I’m going to go out on a limb and make an assumption. In the The Gore Vidal Finding Aid we find the following:

Container 320 [Untitled science fiction satire] : Ts with AMs corrections, undated. 1 folder. First draft. Apparently not produced.

Should we assume that this was an earlier draft of Visit to a Small Planet? We probably should. There is another listing as well:

Container 321 [Untitled science fiction satire] : Ts with AMs corrections, undated. 1 folder. Second draft.

If you plan to spend a few hours at the Houghton Library at Harvard University, why not take a little time out to check on this? And when you find out, please let me know. Thanks!


A FAREWELL TO ARMS

• Aired live on Thursday, 26 May 1955, 8:30–9:30pm EDT, on CBS, as part of the “Climax!” anthology series, season 1 episode 26

When I was in high school I was required to read this Hemingway novel. I was so offended by its machismo that I refused to finish it and got very low marks. Only recently have I come to see that there was a decent and tender and positive side to Ernest Hemingway. That happened when I read one of his last novels, the much-ridiculed Across the River and into the Trees. Yes, I understand why so many people find it an insignificant story poorly written. But there’s more to it than that, for the badness and inept writing and bland, shallow characters are all deliberate, making the novel far more subtle and subversive than most people would care to recognize. But if you’re in a bit of a soulful mood you’ll catch on easily enough. So I shall soon dip into his work some more. Now, I have long known that Gore Vidal was not in the least an admirer of Hemingway, whom he regarded as a bad writer as well as a bad human being. But he must have had a more nuanced attitude back in 1955, because he did this adaption, which I have not yet seen. I must get back out to UCLA someday....

A kinescope (perhaps the only surviving one???) is held by the Powell Library’s Research Study Center at the University of California at Los Angeles. I doubt it’s available for viewing, but I don’t know for sure.

References:
• “Television Highlights of the Week,” The New York Times, Sunday, 22 May 1955, p 139:

• John P Shanley, “Devitalized ‘Farewell to Arms’ on ‘Climax,’ The New York Times, Friday, 27 May 1955, p 45:

Clickables:
• TV.com
• IMDb


THE DEATH OF BILLY THE KID

• Aired live on Sunday, 24 July 1955, 9:00–10:pm EDT, on NBC, as part of the Philco “Television Playhouse” anthology series, season 7 episode 23 (whole number 246)

Gore Vidal first became enchanted with this subject matter when he saw the ballet inspired by Billy the Kid’s life. (Vidal is a life-long ballet enthusiast.) Further, he spent some school time at Los Alamos, on a campus that was later demolished to make way for the Los Alamos National Laboratories (ugh!). And New Mexico, as anyone who has spent quality time there will know, is appropriately named the “Land of Enchantment.” New Mexico was Billy the Kid’s stomping grounds, and that background produced this little play, which featured Paul Newman in the title rôle. And that is when Newman’s career took off.

I have read the published script, and to save my life I cannot picture it. But I’m sure it worked somehow. The TV play was so well-received that Warner Bros purchased the movie rights. Vidal and Newman were happy about this, they chose a television director they liked, and then Vidal walked away, completely trusting in everyone’s good faith. That was a mistake, and it was a mistake he would repeat numerous times in the future. He should not have walked away, and he should not have trusted. The director was fired and replaced by Arthur Penn, who then hired someone else to rewrite Vidal’s script from first page to last. The result was the mediocre Left Handed Gun (compound modifier unhyphenated — studio folks are not the most literate people), which did not even open in major cinemas, but was belatedly opened as the second B feature at some neighborhood houses before disappearing only a few days later. For some reason that I cannot fathom, this movie has developed a small following. It’s not bad, but it sure isn’t good. It’s simply forgettable. In later years Vidal remade it once again, and he made sure he would be in charge. The result was called Gore Vidal’s Billy the Kid, which was quite amazing. Not only was it affecting, but the actors — 1980s actors! — knew how to act! They had a feeling for the time and played it as though they were living in the late 1800s in New Mexico. I could hardly believe that modern actors would have that much connection with the past. But they did, and the result is certainly worth getting on video, even though the sequence in which Billy catches frogs was deleted. Oh how much I want to see that sequence!

References:
• “Video Will Swing a Bat for Youth,” The New York Times, Monday, 18 July 1955, p 41:

• “Television Highlights of the Week,” The New York Times, Sunday, 24 July 1955, p X10:

• “Tele Follow-Up Comment,” Variety (weekly), Wednesday, 27 July 1955, p 25:

Clickables:
• TV.com
• IMDb
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 282 The death of Billy the kid : Ts with AMs corrections, [ca. 1955] 1 folder. Treatment. Aired on Philco television playhouse (NBC), 1955 July 24. Container 4429 The death of Billy the kid (Television script) : video recording, undated. 1 videocassette. VHS videotape. Possibly includes the television program written by GV that aired on the Philco Television Playhouse (NBC), 1955 July 24.

WHAT?!?!?! The VHS included in this container might contain The Death of Billy the Kid?!?!?!?!?! And nobody is rushing to Harvard to check on this? Why isn’t anyone checking on this? Why? Why? Why? Come on! If you’re in the Boston/Cambridge area, rush in — NOW!!! — and check on this. Please! And let me know what you find! If this really is the program, then we MUST get it preserved, and we MUST find the kinescope it derived from!

Here’s a possible lead: American Television Classics owns or co-owns the rights to many of the Philco “Television Playhouse” programs. Take a look at their online catalogue, and you’ll see that they claim ownership or co-ownership of 22 January 1950 through 9 May 1954, as well as 4 September 1955 through 12 February 1956, which they have on kinescope. But their online catalogue is not complete. Might they also own the 24 July 1955 program as well?


DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE

• Aired on Thursday, 28 July 1955, 8:30–9:30pm EDT, on CBS, as part of the “Climax!” anthology series, season 1 episode 34

This is a strange little play, based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s strange little novelette. This program, though, is not too remarkable. If this is your introduction to Gore Vidal’s screenwriting career, please don’t judge him on this. Alas, that might not be too easy, as this is the most easily available of any of his teleplays, which is unfortunate. Again, it’s not bad, not at all, but it doesn’t have the punch and the excitement that his other plays have. The theme fits in perfectly with Vidal’s usual television theme, that of the dual nature of the personality, with good and evil inhabiting the same person at the same time. Vidal seems convinced that this is an expression of a basic truth about human nature. This is one of the few points on which I don’t quite agree with him. But no matter.

If you’re in the area, you might wish to view this program at the Powell Library’s Research Study Center at the University of California at Los Angeles, where it is available for viewing by appointment only. It was also once available on VHS, complete with commercials, but is now available on DVD from Rhino Home Video, catalogue number R2 2453, unfortunately in an altered form. The commercials, introduction, afterword, and series titles were all deleted, and the title music was replaced with something more modern. Terrible shame.


Out-of-print VHS which is complete, with original music, all the credits, and all the original commercials!


The new DVD, which is a rather nice transfer, considering the poor kinescope source,
but infuriatingly the title music was changed and the main credits were deleted, as were the commercials.

There’s a rival DVD available from Alpha Home Entertainment. No. Don’t even think about it.

Also available on Internet Archive:

References:
• “On Television,” The New York Times, 1955-07-28-Thu, p 47:

Clickables:
• TV.com
• IMDb
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 283 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde : Ts, 1955. 1 folder. Final draft. Aired on Climax! (CBS), 1955 July 28.


THE DEVIL’S THEATRE

This one sounds like it had potential. But it was never made. Here are the stories. Fascinating, yes?

• Val Adams, “Churchill Agrees to Story on Radio: Escape as War Correspondent Will Be Given on C.B.S. &145;Hall of Fame’ Jan. 30,” The New York Times, Friday, 21 January 1955, p 29:

• Val Adams, “News Gathered from the Studios,” The New York Times, 1955-02-13, p 121:


STATE OF CONFUSION

• Aired (live?) on Tuesday, 18 October 1955, 8:00–9:00pm EST, on NBC, As part of the “Texaco Star Theatre: The Milton Berle Show”

I would love so much to see this. It probably still exists, since Milton Berle’s estate seems to have kept his shows somewhere, though heaven knows where. There are a few sites on the Internet that supposedly offer this, but they insist that first you install malware. Uh uh. I won’t do that. Here are the references:

• “On Television,” The New York Times, Tuesday, 18 October 1955, p 75:

• Review: Richard F Shephard, “Berle Is Seen in Farce by Gore Vidal,” The New York Times, Wednesday, 19 October 1955, p 67.

• Richard F Shephard, “What Makes a Television Play?” The New York Times, Sunday, 17 June 1956, p 107:

Clickables:
• TV.com.
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 311 State of confusion : Ts, [ca. 1955] 1 folder. Written by GV especially for Milton Berle. Production information incomplete. The show possibly aired on an unknown program on 1955 Oct. 18.


Now, don’t be fooled by the mistake. The color episode (kinescoped only in b&w) of The Milton Berle Show from Tuesday, 8 November 1955, 8:00–9:00pm, had a mistake in the credits. That’s probably why the credits are missing from all of the Paley Center’s copies. “Helm.” of Variety made note of those credits, which is the only reason we know what they once said. Daily Variety, Wednesday, 9 November 1955, p 13;

Not too complimentary, what? Well, the mistake was soon corrected. Jack Hellman, “Light and Airy,” Daily Variety, Thursday, 10 November 1955, p 14:


RADIO FREE EUROPE

I know of only one tantalizing reference:
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 3057 Radio Free Europe (television script) : contract, 1955. 1 folder.

So what was this? A play? Or was this, more likely, a gig on Radio Free Europe, possibly an interview? If you can dig through the Harvard files, please write to me and let me know. Thanks!


PORTRAIT OF A BALLERINA

• Aired live on Sunday, 1 January 1956, on CBS, as part of the “General Electric Theatre” anthology series, season 4 episode 14 (whole number 79)

A Gore Vidal play hosted by Ronald Reagan? Vidal adapted Portrait of a Ballerina from his pseudonymous novel, Death in the Fifth Position, which he had written under the name of Edgar Box. A distributor called Buyout Footage has this available for purchase or rental as a public-domain item. I would be genuinely surprised if this were truly in the public domain, as the underlying copyright is still active. If you wish to spend lots and lots of money to purchase a copy of this episode, click here. A video copy, transferred from a 16mm kinescope, is also on file at the ‘Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, National Archives and Records Administration.’ Of course, all this leaves unanswered the primary question of where the kinescope is located.












“Portrait of a Ballerina” was an outgrowth of a contract signed with the General Electric Theatre on Tuesday, 27 July 1954:

1. We hereby employ you to prepare and furnish to us an original script... entitled ‘DEGAS BALLET STORY’ and to be written by you.
2. You agree to write said script as required and directed by us, in complete form ready for telecasting, and you further agree to promptly make all changes and additions required by us. You also agree to attend all rehearsals, previews, script and story conferences as and when requested or directed by us.
3. As an inducement to our employing you hereunder and making the payments hereinafter provided for, and with the knowledge that we are relying thereon, you hereby represent and warrant to us that said script or any part thereof, is completely original with you and that you are the sole and exclusive owner and author thereof, and that our use of the said Script including the production, performance and telecast thereof shall not constitute an infringement of the legal, equitable or any other rights of any person, firm or corporation.

The contract goes on to stipulate that the episode must be broadcast no later than Sunday, 19 June 1955. See The Gore Vidal Finding Aid, which lists the following:

• Container 3010 Degas ballet story [television script] : contract, 1954. 1 folder.

Here are the other references:
• “TV Programs This Week,” The New York Times, 1956-01-01-Sun, p X10:

Clickables:
• TV.com
• IMDb
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 303 Portrait of a ballerina : Ts, 1955. 1 folder. Revised draft of television script. Dated 1955 Sept. 21. Based on the novel Death in the Fifth Position by Edgar Box, pseudonym of GV. Aired on CBS, 1956 Jan. 1.


DARK POSSESSION

• Aired live in color on Thursday, 2 February 1956, 3:00–4:00pm EST, on NBC, as part of the “NBC Matinee Theatre,” season 1 episode 67

This was NOT a repeat. It was a new performance, with a new cast and a new crew, of Vidal’s first teleplay. Where did it go? Who has it? Where can we see it? Does it still exist?

References:
• “Television Programs: Wednesday through Saturday,” The New York Times, Sunday, 29 January 1956, p 109:

Clickables:
• TV.com
• IMDb

CREDITS ACCORDING TO TV.COM
Director Lamont Johnson
Host John Conte
CAST ACCORDING TO TV.COM
? Kathleen Crowley
? Maury Hill
? Katharine Bard
? Adrienne Marden

DARK POSSESSION

• Monday, 27 August 1956, on NBC, as part of the “NBC Matinee Theatre”

Third performance. The New York Times (Monday, 27 August 1956, p 41) said it was a repeat (not in color). And the IMDb’s listing for “NBC Matinee Theatre” indicates that the only performance of Dark Possession was on 2 February 1956, and that there was no original broadcast on 27 August 1956. Despite all that, look below at what Variety had to say. Furthermore, compare the cast listings. That’s why I’m pretty sure this was a third performance.

The New York Times, Monday, 27 August 1956, p 41:


“TV-Radio Production Centers,” Variety (weekly), Wednesday, 29 August 1956, p 34:


HONOR

• Aired (live?) on Tuesday, 19 June 1956, 9:30–10:30pm, EDT, on NBC, as part of the “Playwrights 56” anthology series, season 1 episode 20

This is a Civil War drama that Gore Vidal would recycle several times.

References:
• “On Television,” The New York Times, 1956-06-19-Tue, p 59:

• Review: Richard F Shepard, “TV: Drama of Civil War — Gore Vidal’s ‘Honor’ Presented as Final Offering of ‘Playwrights ’56’ Series,” The New York Times, Wednesday, 20 June 1956, p 63.

Clickables:
• TV.com
• IMDb
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following:
     Container 284 Honor : Ts (photocopy), [ca. 1956] 1 folder. First draft. Aired on Playwrights 56 (NBC), 1956 July 19.
     Container 285 Honor : Ts (carbon), 1956. 1 folder. Second draft.
     Container 4521 Honor (Television program) : 16 mm film, 1956. 2 reels. Written by GV. Kinescope recording that aired on the Playwrights 56 program on the National Broadcasting Company, 1956 July 19.

BINGO! A kinescope film! As far as I know, this was considered a lost program, but here it is! Why isn’t anyone doing anything about it? What’s more, another 16mm kinescope is owned by American Television Classics.


LOUISA PALLANT

Vidal’s script was never produced. This was based on the Henry James story, but the studio bosses rejected the script and hired Zoë Akins to rewrite it. The result was filmed in 35mm under a different title, The Bitter Waters, which was aired on Wednesday, 1 August 1956, 9:00–9:30pm, on ABC, as part of the “Screen Directors Playhouse” series, season 1 episode 33. The produced version is quite good and affecting. It’s the age-old story of an emotional vampire deriving a sense of power and fulfillment by spreading misery. So true. So true.

The Bitter Waters is available for viewing at the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television & Radio).

References:
• Val Adams, “‘Quiz Kids’ Show Returning to TV,” The New York Times, Thursday, 5 January 1956, p 95:

• “TV Survey of Love Offered to N.B.C. for a Spectacular,” The New York Times, Friday, 3 February 1956, p 47:

• Oscar Godbout, ”M’Garry Stories Bought for Video,” The New York Times, Friday, 15 June 1956, p 50 (now credited to Zoë Akins):

• “On Television,” The New York Times, Sunday, 1 August 1956, p 51:

Clickables:
• TV.com
• IMDb
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 294 Louisa Pallant : Ts, undated. 1 folder. Treatment. Adapted from the story by Henry James. Apparently not produced. Container 295 Louisa Pallant : Ts with AMs corrections, undated. 1 folder. Final draft. Annotated on first page: “Done somewhere on TV (G.E.?) much rewritten by Zoë Atkins.”


SINCERELY, WILLIS WAYDE

This is another unproduced script, this time based on the novel of the same name by John P Marquand. After lots of delays, it was finally handed over to Frank Gilroy for a rewrite, and Gilroy’s version was broadcast on Thursday, 13 December 1956, 9:30–11:00pm EST, on CBS, as part of the “Playhouse 90” anthology series.

References:
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 307 Sincerely, Willis Wayde : Ts, 1955. 1 folder. Draft. Adapted by GV from the novel by John P. Marquand. Aired on Climax (CBS), 1955 May 5.

Of course, that’s not quite right, as the date is too early and the series was not “Climax!”

• Oscar Godbout, “Video Rights to ‘Sincerely, Willis Wayde,’ Novel by Marquand, Acquired by C.B.S.,” The New York Times, Monday, 4 June 1956, p 53 (Frank Gilroy announced as writer):

• Richard F Shepard, “TV ‘Playhouse 90’ to Start Oct. 11,” The New York Times, Friday, 6 July 1956, p 45:

• “N.B.C. Will Offer Collier Fantasy,” The New York Times, Friday, 16 November 1956, p 38 (credited writer is Frank D Gilroy):

• “On Television,” The New York Times, Thursday, 13 December 1956, p 75 (credited to Frank D Gilroy):

• Review: John P Shanley, “TV Review: Peter Lawford Stars as Willis Wayde,” The New York Times, Thursday, 14 December 1956, p 42 (credited to Frank D Gilroy).

Clickables:
• TV.com
• IMDb


Before the days of home video, and even before the days when preserving most TV shows was economically possible, the best way to share the wealth was by the printed page. Of course, scripts are not too communicative. It takes a powerful imagination to read a script and get an idea of how it would play on stage. For most scripts, I have that sort of imagination. For Gore Vidal’s scripts, I do not. Unless I see the scripts performed, the printed versions mean next to nothing to me. But I’m immensely grateful, nonetheless, that these were published. If only they had all been published. Alas.... Vidal’s foreword to this volume is, to my mind, one of the more amusing of his essays. Here are some choice quotes:

...the mountebankery, the plain showmanship, which is necessary to playwriting inevitably strikes the novelist as disagreeably broad: you must show every collision on the stage, while in the novel it is often a virtue to avoid the obvious scene, to come at your great moments obliquely.
...for my kind of second-story work, television is less confining. And of course the dramatic art is particularly satisfying for any writer with a polemical bent and I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise. This sort of intensity, no matter how idiotic, works well in the drama, if only because there is nothing more effective than having something — anything — to say.
...it is not impossible to find an actor who has missed the entire point to his characterization and, abetted by a director, has blithely wrecked your play.
I have collected these plays in the parental hope that eventually some sort of repertory system will be evolved in television and certain plays will be done again from time to time, saving one’s efforts from total oblivion. At the moment it is somewhat discouraging to see so many fine performances, so many good plays written, as it were, on air, nothing to show for all the work done but a kinescope (a filmed record of the play) which, because of unions and technical considerations, is seldom shown again on television.
...the voracity of television has, for all its limitations, created what is, I suspect, a golden age for the dramatist. There is so much air to be illustrated, so many eyes watching, so many fine technicians and interpreters at one’s command that the playwright cannot help but thrive, and, who knows, from this great activity there may yet emerge a popular art whose beneficiary will be the age itself, casting a certain light over this dark century, revealing us not only as we are but as we might be.

PRIVATE RELATIONS

This was to have been a pilot for a proposed series adapted from the three “Edgar Box” novels. But even this proposed proposal was unproduced.

Reference:
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 304 Private relations : Ts, undated. 1 folder. Treatment for proposed series based on the novels of Edgar Box, pseudonym of GV. Apparently not produced. Container 305 Private relations : Ts, undated. 1 folder. Pilot script.

We should not give up there, though. For thanks to IMDb we discover that something did come of this after all! Gore Vidal did not write the following script, but one of his novels (surely an Edgar Box novel) served as the basis for a teleplay by Sarett Rudley.


PLEASE MURDER ME

• Aired (live?) on 16 November 1958, on British television, part of the “Armchair Theatre” anthology series, season 3 episode 10

All I know is what’s on IMDb.

CREDITS ACCORDING TO IMDB.COM
Production Company ABC Weekend Television
Production Designer Assheton Gorton
Director Wilfred Eades
Writer Sarett Rudley
CAST ACCORDING TO IMDB.COM
? Beryl Measor
? Eric Pohlmann
Mr. Cobb Michael Ward

A SENSE OF JUSTICE

I never knew about this until it popped up on IMDb. This was a second performance of this play, for British ITV, broadcast on 5 December 1958.

CREDITS ACCORDING TO IMDB.COM
Director Desmond Davis
Production Design Darrell Lass
CAST ACCORDING TO IMDB.COM
Bodyguard Bruce Boa
Peter Chase Lyndon Brook
Attorney-General Victor Chenet
Ticket Seller Alexander Doré
Dora Rhodes Margo Johns
Sally Rhodes Delena Kidd
Ted Murray Budd Knapp
Dennis Leighton Duncan Lamont
Harris Rhodes Gordon Tanner

THE MAGICAL MONARCH OF MO

I’m pretty sure this was never made.

Variety (weekly), Wednesday, 10 December 1958, p 20:


Daily Variety, Thursday, 22 January 1959, p 8:


Daily Variety, Friday, 26 August 1960, p 10:


Variety (weekly), Wednesday, 31 August 1960, p 27:

Clickables:
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 296 Magical monarch of Mo : Ts, undated. 1 folder. Draft of Act I and Act II. Based on the book by L. Frank (Lyman Frank) Baum. Apparently not produced.


DARK POSSESSION

• Thursday, 14 May 1959, on BBC-TV in England

Fourth performance. The only reference I have to this is IMDb.

CREDITS ACCORDING TO IMDb
producer Barbara Burnham
Production Design Roy Oxley
CAST ACCORDING TO IMDb
Charlotte Bell Wheeler Pamela Brown
Emily Bell Anne Blake
Ann Bell Greta Watson
General Bell William Sherwood
Mrs. Wicks Marda Vanne
Mr. Weston Anthony Baird
Dr. Roger Waring Dr Ronald Hines

THE INDESTRUCTIBLE MR. GORE
(working title: THE LIGHT IN THE DARK)

• Aired live in color on Sunday, 13 December 1959, 8:00–9:00pm EST, on NBC, as part of the “Sunday Showcase” umbrella series, season 1 episode 8


I scanned this image from Gore Vidal’s book, Screening History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), p 77, and I hope I don’t get in trouble for doing that. The book is out of print but it’s still easy to get. It’s an intriguing little — very little — book that was criticized as an unscholarly and unrepresentative history of American movies. Of course, it was not meant to be a scholarly and representative history of American movies. It is a personal digression on the influences movies had on the young Vidal’s life, and a partial analysis of the power of movies as a force that deliberately shapes politics and social structures. Thought-provoking, amusing, maddening, touching. Incidentally, you will notice that Vidal’s caption that “As usual, no kinescope has survived” contradicts the statement he made some years later that he owned kinescopes of most or all of his teleplays, including The Indestructible Mr Gore! Neither statement is dishonest. As I have so often said, memory is the illusion that we can recall the past. We remember the same things differently at different times. I hope a kinescope is discovered somewhere — and soon!

“December... a Holiday Month of ‘Special Viewing’ ” [2-page advertisement], Variety (weekly), Wednesday, 2 December 1959, pp 28–29:

This is one of the most sought-after of all lost television programs. There MUST be copies around somewhere, and whoever has them probably doesn’t realize that they’re anything special. This was a drama about Vidal’s grandfather, the blind senator, Thomas Pryor Gore, detailing how he was hit with false charges of sexual impropriety in an effort to derail his political ambitions. Vidal hosted the show, and though he wrote the script, he found he couldn’t remember his lines. So cue cards were set up for him. Then just as they were about to go live, the teleprompter broke. Vidal was left to struggle through, but judging from the items below, he did a perfectly fine job.

Just after the broadcast, a relative who had watched the play informed Vidal that the charges against his grandfather were true after all. Well, so much for family history....

Here is a memo quoted at The Classic TV History Blog: TV Controversies:

TO: Joseph Hewes
FROM: Robert J. Dunne
DATE: June 7, 1973
RE: Tape Retention

This Department has no objection to erasing the 17 reels of Ford Startime and the 29 reels of Sunday Showcase currently being stored at NBC.

That is what happened to the 2" color quad. There is the possibility, of course, that other 2" color quad copies, recorded by stations that wished to delay the broadcast, might still exist. The chances, though, are vanishingly small. It is more likely that a kinescope, probably b&w, would still survive somewhere. At least two other programs in the “Sunday Showcase” series still survive in b&w kinescope: What Makes Sammy Run? Parts I and II (27 September 1959 and 4 October 1959), written by Budd Schulberg, and Give My Regards to Broadway (6 December 1959). If two survive, more probably survive. Gore Vidal as writer was often or always given kinescopes of his programs, and twice he claimed that he had such a kinescope of The Indestructible Mr Gore, which he was certain he had donated to Houghton Library at Harvard University. The librarians at Houghton were surprised and saddened to see that the countless crates of donations did not, after all, include most of the programs, and certainly did not include The Indestructible Mr Gore.

If you have any leads, any leads at all, on where this program might be located, please contact me IMMEDIATELY. It is of utmost importance that this program be found, rescued, restored, and released.

CREDITS
Director William A Graham
Casting Edith Hamlin
Production Designer Ted Cooper
Unit Manager Claude Traverse
Sound Norman Ogg
Lighting Phil Hyms
Stage Manager Richard Auerbach
Video Arnold Dick
Associate Director Robert Hopkins
CAST
Thomas Gore William Shatner
Mr Clegg Henderson Forsythe
Mrs Clegg Nancy Marchand
Judge Wingate E G Marshall
Nina Kay Inger Stevens
Cam Kay William Traylor
Narrator Gore Vidal

Did you skip over the credit/cast list above, or did you read it? Read it. Okay, now that you’ve read it, what did you learn? A little thing you should have learned is that I copied the above list from IMDb — mostly. The big thing you should have learned is that though the IMDb and other reference works nowhere list the director, I was able to fill in the director’s name thanks to John P Shanley’s review in The New York Times, displayed below. The director was William A Graham, who is still alive and who was working as recently as 2002. Directors normally received kinescopes of the teleplays that they directed. Might we have a lead here? Do any of you know William A Graham, or do you know how to reach him or his family? (The other thing you learned is rather minor, but it’s still fun. As you know, the pseudonym that Gore Vidal used for his pulp crime novel Thieves Fall Out was Cameron Kay. He will never autograph that book. Whenever he used the name Cameron Kay, you can be assured it was for a piece he did not enjoy and is not proud of. Where did he acquire that pseudonym? Look above. Now you know. We need to learn more, don’t we?)

References:
• “Television Programs,” The New York Times, Sunday, 13 December 1959, p X22:

• Review: John P Shanley, “The Story of Oklahoma’s Blind Senator,” The New York Times, Monday, 14 December 1959, p 63.

• Cecil Smith, “The TV Scene — Commercials Can’t Kill This Patient,” The Los Angeles Times, Tuesday, 15 December 1959, p A14:

Clickables:
• TV.com
• IMDb — oops! (The program on Sunday, 15 November 1959, 7:30–9:00pm EST was not Gore Vidal’s “The Light in the Dark”; it was an adaption of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” presented as an episode of the Hall of Fame. See “Television Programs,” The New York Times, Sunday, 15 November 1959, p X14. As far as I can tell, Gore Vidal had no involvement whatsoever.)
• IMDb — that’s better!
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following:
     Container 286 The indestructible Mr. Gore : Ts with AMs corrections, [ca. 1957] 1 folder. Draft of treatment. Aired on Sunday showcase (NBC), 1959 Dec. 13.
     Container 287 The indestructible Mr. Gore : Ts, [ca. 1957] 1 folder. Early draft of Act III.
     Container 288 The indestructible Mr. Gore : Tss with AMs annotations and corrections, 1957. 1 folder. Original title The story of Senator Gore. Draft annotated by GV on first page as "never done became Indestructible Mr. Gore."
     Container 289 The indestructible Mr. Gore : Ts with AMs corrections, [ca. 1959] 1 folder. First revision of final script. Script had the working title The blind senator.
     Container 290 The indestructible Mr. Gore : Ts, 1959. 1 folder. Second revision of final script. Script had the working title: The light in the dark.
     Container 291 The indestructible Mr. Gore : Ts with AMs corrections, 1959. 2 folders. Fourth revision of final script. Script housed in black notebook embossed: "NBC Sunday Showcase / The Indestructible Mr. Gore / Gore Vidal."
     Container 292 The indestructible Mr. Gore : Ts, 1959. 1 folder. Rehearsal schedule for performance on 1959 Dec. 13.
     Container 4366 Photographs of GV on the set of various television or film productions, 1956–1967. 2 folders.
          Includes:
          Three variant images of GV and others, including Martin Manulis on the set of the television program, Climax by photographer, J. Winston Pennock, 1956.
          One image of GV on set of Visit to a small planet, by photographer, Fred Fehl, 1957.
          Five variant images of GV and others on the set of The indestructible Mr. Gore. Images include GV on set alone or with others including Robert Alan Arthur [sic — should be Aurthur], William A. Graham, and others. Also includes partial contact sheets with images of costumed actors including E.G. Marshall, 1959.


DEAR ARTHUR

• Pre-recorded on videotape and aired in color on Tuesday, 22 March 1960, 8:30–9:30pm EST, on NBC, as part of the “Ford Startime” anthology series, season 1 episode 25

This was based on a then-unproduced P G Wodehouse (pronounced wood house) play entitled Arthur, which in turn was based Jemand, a play by Ferenc/Franz Molnàr. I hope I’m allowed to copy three paragraphs from a copyrighted book. That qualifies as fair use, doesn’t it? They are three fascinating paragraphs! They come from Brian Taves, P G Wodehouse in Hollywood: Screenwriting, Satires and Adaptations (New York: McFarland & Company, 6 June 2006), pp 110–111, which you can purchase directly from McFarland & Company or from Amazon, among other outlets. Here are the three paragraphs:

One of Wodehouse’s plays, Arthur, not yet staged, instead appeared on television, as a 1960 segment of the hour-long anthology series Ford Startime. Retitled “Dear Arthur,” it was based on Wodehouse’s 1952 adaptation of a Ferenc Molnàr play. (Around the same time, Wodehouse also adapted Molnàr’s Game of Hearts, and like Arthur, it remained unstaged.) The television version starred Rex Harrison, one of the few actors the easy-going Wodehouse openly detested. Harrison’s persona was the opposite of the types Wodehouse had created in his own musical comedies. “Who ever started the idea that he has charm? I had always considered Professor Higgins the most loathsome of all stage characters, but I never realised how loathsome he could be till I saw Sexy Rexy playing him. Why everyone raves about the thing I can’t imagine.” Yet, while Wodehouse’s reaction is understandable given the much gentler characters typical of his own musical comedies, he could have asked for no better actor in the role for Arthur.
“Dear Arthur,” as adapted for a one-hour television format by Gore Vidal, is a surprising story of a father and daughter, both of whom are blackguards. Sarah Marshall plays the golddigger, the widow of a husband who left her an income from a tin mine. Her father, as played by Harrison, is a smooth ex-convict who passes himself off as her attorney. With their true relationship a secret, the two are widely suspected of a romantic involvement. Harrison concocts a plan for the ultimate marriage of convenience of his daughter, to Arthur, an explorer perpetually away from home — a nonexistent man whose history he invents. Soon, others come forward as former acquaintances of Arthur, including a woman who says her daughter is his illegitimate offspring. Jealousy over Arthur adds to a wealthy young American’s wooing of the supposed neglected wife, and helps to bring them together.
Although the play reaches a natural conclusion at this point, there is a fourth act in which complications ensue after an apparent lovers’ rift. The plot expands from simple romantic comedy elements to include a political dimension, and Arthur is reported to have broadcast a speech denouncing Prince Rainier and urging democracy for Monaco (in the play, it was radio speeches denounced by both left and right). This was perhaps Wodehouse’s jibe at his own German World War II broadcasts. Ultimately Harrison must succeed in killing off his own imaginary creation to enable the union of the couple; as in Brother Alfred, an imaginary person has changed from a convenience to become troublesome. Supplementing in “Dear Arthur” as a type of Greek chorus is a wealthy socialite Angela Baddeley, who ends as the perfect next victim of Harrison’s latest scam. The program is amusing and delightful, with many lines reminiscent of Wodehouse, including his adage that a husband has no use for brains — they just unsettle him (coming from Harrison as advice to his daughter).

There are many ways to read the above passage. Those who are interested in Wodehouse would read it as a summary of an adaption of one of his works. Those who are studying this for a course can read it repeatedly in a feverish attempt to memorize it for the final exam. Those who are interested in Hollywood screenwriting can read it as an amusing, perhaps instructive, anecdote. Those who are like me will read it as evidence that a copy of this program still exists! I think it is time for me to purchase this book, contact the author, and find out where he saw this teleplay. We must locate it, restore it, clear the rights, and get it released! And that’s all there is to it. So there.

And, of course, now we can see that there is a b&w 16mm kinescope at the Library of Congress, and that it was shown in 1999 at the AMPAS Mary Pickford screening room in Hollywood:

Ford Startime: Dear Arthur (NBC, 1960). Director: Bretaigne Windust, Gordon Rigsby. Adaptation: Gore Vidal, from the 1950 P.G. Wodehouse adaptation of the Ferenc Molnar play. Cast: Rex Harrison, Hermione Baddeley, Sarah Marshall, Nicholas Pryor. Telecast: March 22, 1960. (60 minutes, sound, b&w, 16mm; LC Collection, courtesy NBC).

Now that we’ve located the b&w kinescope, can we locate the 2" color quad?

An 8×10 glossy is available for $9.99+shipping from MovieGoods:

References:
• Jack Gould, “Filming for TV: A.B.C., Warner Beat Path to Ratings,” The New York Times, Sunday, 20 March 1960, p X13:

• The New York Times, Sunday, 20 March 1960, p X13:

• “Television Programs,” The New York Times, Sunday, 20 March 1960, p X14.

• “Television,” The New York Times, Tuesday, 22 March 1960, p 75:

• The New York Times, Wednesday, 23 March 1960, p 74.

Clickables:
• TV.com.
• IMDb
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 281 Dear Arthur : Ts, 1960. 1 folder. Final script, revised. Aired on Ford startime (NBC), 1960 Mar. 24.


DARK POSSESSION

• Aired (live?) in color on Sunday, 19 June 1960, 9:00–10:00pm EDT, on NBC, as part of “The Chevy Mystery Show,” season 1 episode 4

This was yet a fifth performance of Gore Vidal’s first teleplay, with a different cast and a different crew. I know of no copy that survives. If you can locate a copy, please please please write to me! Thanks!

References:
• “Television Programs,” The New York Times, Sunday, 19 June 1960, p X12:

Clickables:
• IMDb
• TV.com

CREDITS ACCORDING TO TV.COM and IMDb
Host Walter Slezak
CAST ACCORDING TO TV.COM and IMDb
Charlotte Bell Wheeler Diana Lynn
Emily Bell Anne Seymour
Ann Bell Marion Ross
General Bell Berry Kroeger
Dr. Roger Waring William H Bassett

GEVOEL VOOR RECHT

My knowledge is limited to what is on IMDb, which states that this was a Dutch (or Flemish???) translation of A Sense of Justice broadcast somewhere in Belgium on 20 March 1962.

CREDITS ACCORDING TO IMDb
Production Company N.T.S.
Translator J.W. Hofstra
CAST ACCORDING TO IMDb
? Winnifred Bosboom
? Hans Croiset
? Leo de Hartogh
? Piet Kamerman

A VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET

• Aired (live?) on Wednesday, 12 June 1963 at 9:00pm EDT on WQXR Radio 1560AM and 96.3FM

Not many families in 1963 had videotape recorders. But countless families in 1963 had reel-to-reel tape recorders hooked up to their radios. There is no doubt in my mind that some people still have this recording rusting in their garages or attics. If you are one of those people, please contact me immediately so that we can clean and rescue the tape. I know of no archive that has kept this program, and so it is up to you home collectors to come forth and make this priceless bit of history available again.


The New York Times, Wednesday, 12 June 1963, p 33.


ON THE MARCH TO THE SEA

• Aired (live?) on Sunday, 17 July 1966, showtime unknown, on the BBC2 in England, as part of the “Theatre 625” anthology series, season 3 episode 34

Maddeningly, the bulk of the UK’s television history was bulk erased. What survives is mostly in BBC storage and unavailable even to the BBC, which has the strangest of archiving rules! The title of the anthology series, incidentally, is an in-joke, referring to the number of scanning lines in each raster.

On the March to the Sea was Gore Vidal’s rewrite of his earlier teleplay, Honor, which he also turned into a stage play. If you have any leads at all on where this teleplay might be located, please contact me! Thanks! Or even if you don’t have any leads, but simply know something about it, say a fuller roster of a few of the cast or crew, that would be enormously helpful. Write to me. Tell me. Let me know. Thanks so much!

CREDITS ACCORDING TO IMDB.COM
Producer Cedric Messina
Director Alan Gibson
Original Music Stanley Glasser
Production Design Julia Trevelyan Oman
CAST ACCORDING TO IMDB.COM
John Hinks Joss Ackland
Colonel Thayer Barrie Ingham
Grayson Hinks Tony Bill
Amelia Blair Tessa Wyatt
Mrs. Blair Tucker McGuire
Minna Hinks Stella Tanner
Colonel Sutcliffe Lindsay Campbell
Aaron Hinks Richard James
Mr. Grayson Peter Madden
Servant Gwigwi Mrwebi
Union Sergeant John Sterland
Union Captain Donald Sutherland

References:
• Arthur Gelb, “Chase Acquires New Vidal Play: Will Produce ‘Fire to the Sea’ in December—Styne to Do ‘Gypsy’ Music,” The New York Times, Wednesday, 16 July 1958, p 25.

• The New York Times, Sunday, 21 February 1960, p X1.

• The New York Times, Sunday, 19 June 1960, p X3.

• The New York Times, Sunday, 14 August 1960, p X3 (Hyde Park Playhouse).

• The New York Times, Tuesday, 28 August 1962, p 29:

Clickable references:
• IMDb
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 302 On the march to the sea : Ts, 1966. 1 folder. Script adapted from the play of the same title for a production on BBC2. The play was a later version of the earlier television script, Honor. Probably aired on Theater 625 (BBC2), 1966 Mar. 12.


POSETA MALOJ PLANETI

A Serbian translation of Visit to a Small Planet, but whether it was a translation of the teleplay or the Broadway play, I do not know. All I know is what’s on IMDb, which says it was broadcast somewhere in Yugoslavia sometime in 1967.

CREDITS ACCORDING TO IMDB.COM
Director Sava Mrmak
CAST ACCORDING TO IMDB.COM
? Pavle Bogatinčević
? Milutin Butković
? Tatjana Lukjanova
? Slobodan Perović
? Predrag Tasovać

UPTIGHT

As far as I can tell, this was never produced.

References:
• George Gent, “‘C.B.S. Playhouse’ Signs Gore Vidal: Writer Will Offer TV Drama on Invasion of Privacy,” The New York Times, Thursday, 9 November 1967, p 95:

• “Gore Vidal to Pen TV Script,” The Los Angeles Times, Wednesday, 6 December 1967, p D28:


BESUCH AUF EINEM KLEINEN PLANETEN

• Aired on Monday, 31 May 1971, time slot unknown, network unknown, series unknown

This was a German translation of Visit to a Small Planet. But was this a translation of the teleplay, or of the Broadway play? Remember, the Broadway play had been translated into German and was wildly successful on the German stage a decade earlier. If you know anything about this, and especially if you can locate the program, please write to me! Many, many thanks!


Variety (weekly), 262 no 1, Wednesday, 17 February 1971, p 52.

Reference:
• IMDb: A German performance of “Visit to a Small Planet.”


RECHT IN EIGEN HAND

• Aired in 1973, exact date unknown, time slot unknown, network unknown, series unknown

This was a German translation of A Sense of Justice.

Reference:
• IMDb: A German performance of “A Sense of Justice.”


DARK POSSESSION / THE TURN OF THE SCREW / THE DEATH OF BILLY THE KID

• Possibly aired at various times between 1973 and 1984; other specifics unknown

Italian translations of these three teleplays, scheduled for broadcast by RAI. I know nothing more. If you have any information on these presentations, no matter how slight, I desperately want to hear from you. Infinite thanks!

Reference:
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 3127 Radiotelevisione Italiana. Contracts, 1973-1984. 1 folder.


And now for the remainders, the mysteries, the undated, the unproduced, the unknown


THE COPPER CAGE
(Original title: I SHALL DIE)

Another mystery. Seems never to have been produced. If you’re doing Vidalian research at Harvard, could you look this up and let me know what’s in that folder? Many thanks!

Reference:
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following:
     Container 276 The copper cage : Tss with AMs corrections, undated. 1 folder. Treatment. Original title: I shall die. Apparently not produced.
     Container 277 The copper cage : Ts with AMs corrections, undated. 1 folder. First draft.
     Container 278 The copper cage : Ts with AMs corrections, undated. 1 folder. Second draft.


THE DEADLY LADY

Since this was an adaption of The Judgment of Paris, I presume it was written not long after the novel was published. This was never produced.

Reference:
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following:
     Container 279 The deadly lady : Tss, undated. 1 folder. Three variant treatments. Adapted by GV from his novel, The judgment of Paris. Apparently not produced.
     Container 280 The deadly lady : Tss, undated. 1 folder. Possibly first draft of script. Apparently not produced.


LORD BYRON

Reference:
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 293 Lord Byron : Ts, undated. 1 folder. Treatment. Apparently not produced.


THE MONUMENT

Adapted from Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder. Probably not produced. But take a look at a newsclipping I already included above. Look again — carefully:

• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 300 The monument : Ts, undated. 1 folder. Treatment. Based on the play, The master builder, by Henrik Ibsen. Apparently not produced.


QUEEN AURELIA

This was a pilot, presumably for an unrealized series entitled Queen Aurelia.

Reference:
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 306 Queen Aurelia : Ts with AMs corrections, undated. 1 folder. Pilot script. Apparently not produced.


TALL, DARK MAN

While Googling this, I ran across some other title that was vaguely similar, though the similarity is probably merely coincidental: “The Tall Man.” This was season 1 episode 22 of a series called Dark Moment, which dealt with one of Gore Vidal’s favorite stories, Billy the Kid!

Reference:
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 312 Tall, dark man : Ts, undated. 1 folder. Treatment. Apparently not produced.


TRAVELER IN TIME

Reference:
• The Gore Vidal Finding Aid lists the following: Container 313 Traveler in time : Tss, undated. 1 folder. Two variant treatments. Apparently not produced.


And that, I think, more or less ends that story. Gore Vidal continued to write movie scripts for television — Dress Grey from the Lucien Truscott novel, and Gore Vidal’s Billy the Kid — but they were made as movies, not teleplays. It is definitely worth scouting about for videos of both those movies, though, as they display a side of Vidal’s talents and personality that you’ll never get from his other works. Gore Vidal’s Billy the Kid is especially moving in that, at long last, Vidal realized a life-long goal of “making one good movie, mine, reflective of me.” For that it should be treasured.