From 1955-56 on ABC, a live TV series titled Star Tonight offered the chance for young up-and-coming New York actors to star in a show opposite established players. The known stars included: Buster Crabbe, Neva Patterson, Theodore Bikel, and June Lockhart; the newbies included: Joanne Woodward, Maureen Stapleton, Jason Robards Jr., and Robert Culp.
The American Heritage Center has digitized a lost episode of Star Tonight from December 29, 1955, identified by University of Wyoming American Studies graduate student Gary Rutkowski. This episode is incomplete, running 12-minutes, and is called “Write Me a Love Scene.” It features Broadway star Tom Helmore opposite unknown Tom Middleton. Middleton plays a young man who seeks the talents of a famous playwright (Helmore) to help him win his ladylove. The twist is that the woman in question is the wife of the playwright!
Tragically, there are only four known episodes of the 80 episode-run of Star Tonight. This 12-minute segment, housed at the AHC, represents a fifth. The four other episodes include: “Taste” (airdate: 6/2/55; at UCLA Film & Television Archive; from a Roald Dahl short story, starring: Rudy Vallee, Leonard Elliot, Diana Millay, Violet Hemming, Byron Russell, and Wyatt Cooper); “A Door You Can Close” (airdate: 4/12/56; at UCLA Film & Television Archive; starring: Norma Crane, Signe Hasso, and Margery MacDaniel); “A Small Glass Bottle” (airdate: 6/7/56; at the Paley Center for Media; starring: Abby Lewis, Harry Townes, Virginia Kaye); and an unknown episode identified only by its sponsor as “Brillo’s Star Tonight” in the records at the Paley Center for Media.
The most intriguing part of the identification of this episode fragment is that there were no opening or closing titles and the film leader misidentified the show as an episode of Studio One. Grad student Gary Rutkowski determined the origin of the episode using an old-fashioned method—he hit the books. Using Larry James Gianakos’ Television Drama Series Programming: A Comprehensive Guide 1947-59, he went page by page until something rang a bell, in this case the title of the show, as listed on page 436. The cast listings by Gianakos confirmed the identification.
“Write Me a Love Scene” was based on a play by Florence Ryerson (co-writer of The Wizard of Oz screenplay) and her husband Colin Clements. Its choice may have been influenced by Variety’s pan of the series premiere in which the trade paper complained that the series needed to provide its young hopefuls with better material. In fact, this version of the play was already the third time it was adapted for television. In 1946, producer-director Harvey Marlowe produced a version for station WABD in which “performances were fluent, witty, and credible, with Wynne Gibson rating a special nod for a standout thesping job.” This show pre-dated the kinescope process and no copy would have been possible (other than an audio recording). The second adaptation of the one-act play was produced for the long-running Kraft Television Theatre, as their 14th production (on a double bill with “The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife”), broadcast on August 6, 1947. Interestingly enough, the AHC has a copy of that original script in the Edmund C. Rice papers. It reveals differences from the 1955 production in dialogue and business, for example instead of humming his wife’s favorite tune “L’Amour, Toujours, L’Amour,” Gaston plays it on the piano in the ’55 show. The 1947 episode is also lost, making the Star Tonight version the only one available.
Regarding the cast of Star Tonight: “Write Me a Love Scene,” Tom Helmore is best known today as the old college buddy who starts Jimmy Stewart on his pursuit of Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Young Tom Middleton would have a moderately successful career as a character actor in film and television. His credits include the films Ocean’s 11 and PT 109 and TV’s This Man Dawson and Lucas Tanner. In a bit part as a maid is Mary Boylan in one of her first screen roles, immortalized years later in one of her last as the teacher who chastises young Alvy Singer in the Oscar®-winning Best Picture Annie Hall (1977).
Special thanks for this project go to the American Heritage Center staff: Ivan Gaetz, Interim Director and UW Dean of Libraries; Rachel Gattermeyer, Digital Archivist; Halena Bagdonas, Digitization Technician; Kathy Gerlach, Digitization Technician; Bill Hopkins, Collections Manager/Head of Collections; John Waggener, Photo & Audio/ Visual Archivist; Leslie Waggener, Archivist; and Vicki Glantz, Reference Archives Specialist.
– Post courtesy of Gary Rutkowski, University of Wyoming graduate student in American Studies.