|General Electric Theater|
|Presented by||Ronald Reagan|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||10|
|No. of episodes||302|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Production company||Revue Studios|
|Distributor||NBCUniversal Television Distribution|
|Picture format||Black and white|
|Original release||February 1, 1953 –|
June 3, 1962
General Electric Theater was an American anthology series hosted by Ronald Reagan that was broadcast on CBS radio and television. The series was sponsored by General Electric's Department of Public Relations.
After an audition show on January 18, 1953, titled The Token, with Dana Andrews, the radio series, a summer replacement for The Bing Crosby Program, debuted on CBS on July 9, 1953, with Ronald Colman in an episode based on Random Harvest . With such guest stars as Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Van Johnson, Jane Wyman, William Holden, Alan Young, Dorothy McGuire, John Hodiak, Ann Blyth, James Mason, Joan Fontaine, and Judy Garland, the series continued until October 1, 1953. Jaime del Valle produced and directed the show. Ken Carpenter was the host and announcer. Wilbur Hatch supplied the music.
Also known as G.E. Stereo Theater, the program "was the first network radio series to be broadcast on FM in stereo."
The television version of the program, produced by MCA-TV/Revue, was broadcast every Sunday evening at 9:00 pm EST, beginning February 1 1953, and ending June 3 1962. Each of the estimated 209television episodes was an adaptation of a novel, short story, play, film, or magazine fiction. An exception was the 1954 episode "Music for Christmas", which featured choral director Fred Waring and his group The Pennsylvanians performing Christmas music. Jacques Tourneur directed four episodes, "The Martyr'" (1955), "Into the Night" (1955), "Aftermath" (1960) and "Star Witness: The Lili Parrish Story" (1961).
On September 26, 1954, Ronald Reagan debuted as the only host of the program. GE added a host to provide continuity in the anthology format. The show's Nielsen ratings improved from #27 in the 1953–1954 season to #17 in 1954–1955, followed #11 in 1955–1956, #3 in 1956–1957, #7 in 1957–1958, #26 in 1958–1959, #23 in 1959–1960, and #20 in 1960–1961.
General Electric Theater made the already well-known Reagan, who had appeared in many films as a "second lead" throughout his career, wealthy, due to his partial ownership of the show. After eight years as host, Reagan estimated he had visited 135 GE research and manufacturing facilities, and met over 250,000 people. During that time, he would also speak at other forums such as Rotary clubs and Moose lodges, presenting views on economic progress that in form and content were often similar to what he said in introductions, segues, and closing comments on the show as a spokesman for GE. Reagan, who would later be known as "The Great Communicator" because of his oratorical ability, often credited these engagements as helping him develop his public-speaking abilities.
Among the guest stars on the anthology were:
Michael Reagan, adopted son of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, contends that Attorney General of the United States Robert F. Kennedy pressured GE to cancel The General Electric Theater or at least to fire Reagan as the host if the program were to continue. The series was not dropped because of low ratings but political intervention, the younger Reagan still maintains. Michael claimed that Robert Kennedy told GE officials that the company would receive no federal contracts so long as Reagan was host of the series. Michael noted the irony that his father's dismissal propelled Reagan into the political arena, and eighteen years afterwards, Reagan would take the oath of office as the oldest person to become U.S. president up to that time (Donald Trump would surpass this record with his election in 2016 then Joe Biden would surpass this record with his election in 2020.) Kennedy's directive is another example of the "law of unintended consequences." Had Kennedy stayed out of GE contract matters, likely there would have been no Governor or President Reagan.
From Reagan: The Life, H.W. Brands, Anchor Books, New York 2015
Page 124–125: Reagan's jeremiads against encroaching government cited the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) as a case in point – until he got wind that TVA executives were listening and wondering to General Electric's boss, Ralph Cordiner, why they shouldn't shift their purchases to a more appreciative company. Cordiner said he wouldn't censor Reagan – a move that caused Reagan to censor himself. Reagan recalled saying: “Mr Cordiner, what would you say if I could make my speech just as effectively without mentioning TVA?” [He also recalled the response:] “Well, it would make my job easier.” Reagan concluded the story “Dropping TVA from my speech was no problem.” [This quote is taken directly from Where's the Rest of Me?, Ronald Reagan with Richard G. Hublen, Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1965, pp. 269–270]
Page 131: In 1961, the Justice Department launched a probe into price-fixing in the electrical equipment industry. General Electric was a prime target. Corporate management decided prudence lay in avoiding anything that raised the company's profile needlessly. Reagan's attacks on big government did just that. .... The company offered to keep him on pitching commercial products if he would stop talking politics. ...He decided the reduced stage was too small.
From An American Life, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1990, page 137: “In 1962, there was a change in management at General Electric that brought an end to my satisfying eight-year relationship with the company. Ralph Cordiner was retiring and the new management asked me asked me, in addition to continuing as host of the GE Theater, to go on the road and become a pitchman for General Electric products – in other words, become a salesman. I told them that after developing such a following by speaking out about the issues I believed in, I wasn't going to go out and peddle toasters.
From When Character was King, Peggy Noonan, Penguin, New York, 2001, page 84:, New management asked him to stay on....but go on the road and pitch GE products. They insisted. He said no. They cancelled.
Don Herbert, a television personality well known as the host of Watch Mr. Wizard , appeared as the "General Electric Progress Reporter", adding a scientific touch to the institutional advertising pitch. The show was produced by Revue Studios, whose successor-in-interest, NBC Universal Television, was co-owned by GE.
Following General Electric Theater's cancellation in 1962, the series was replaced in the same time slot by the short-lived GE-sponsored GE True , hosted by Jack Webb.
On March 17, 2010, General Electric presented Reagan's widow Nancy Davis Reagan with video copies of 208 episodes of General Electric Theater, to be donated to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
On April 20, 2010, a "lost" live episode of General Electric Theater – "The Dark, Dark Hours", which originally aired on December 12, 1954 – was uncovered by NBC writer Wayne Federman, who was working on a television retrospective for the Reagan Centennial Celebration.The episode was noteworthy because it teamed Ronald Reagan with James Dean. Highlights were broadcast on the CBS Evening News , NBC Nightly News , and Good Morning America .
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