The Screen Guild Theater

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The Screen Guild Theater
Jack Benny, George Murphy, Joan Crawford and Reginald Gardiner on the premiere of
The Screen Guild Theater (January 8, 1939) [1]
Other names
  • The Gulf Screen Guild Show
  • The Gulf Screen Guild Theater
  • The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater
  • The Camel Screen Guild Players
  • Stars in the Air
  • Hollywood Sound Stage
  • Hollywood On Stage
Genre Anthology drama
Running time
  • 30 minutes
  • 60 minutes (1950–51)
Country of origin United States
Language(s) English
Home station
  • CBS (1939–48)
  • NBC (1948–50)
  • ABC (1950–51)
  • CBS (1951–52)
Hosted by
Written by
  • Bill Hampton
  • Harry Kronman
Directed byBill Lawrence
Produced byBill Lawrence
Original releaseJanuary 8, 1939 – June 29, 1952
No. of series14
No. of episodes527
Audio formatMonaural sound

The Screen Guild Theater is a radio anthology series broadcast from 1939 until 1952 during the Golden Age of Radio. Leading Hollywood stars performed adaptations of popular motion pictures. Originating on CBS Radio, it aired under several different titles including The Gulf Screen Guild Show, The Gulf Screen Guild Theater, The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater and The Camel Screen Guild Players. Fees that would ordinarily have been paid to the stars and studios were instead donated to the Motion Picture Relief Fund, and were used for the construction and maintenance of the Motion Picture Country House. [2]


Dinah Shore and Gail Patrick in the CBS Radio studio at a rehearsal for "Belle of the Yukon" (February 12, 1945) [3]


The Screen Guild Theater had a long run beginning January 8, 1939, lasting for 14 seasons and 527 episodes. Actors on the series included Ethel Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Eddie Cantor, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, Nelson Eddy, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Sam Levene, Johnny Mercer, Agnes Moorehead, Dennis Morgan, Gregory Peck, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Temple, and Dinah Shore.

The series began with a variety format, with mixed success. The program increasingly came to rely on adaptations of major motion pictures—presenting a considerable challenge to writers who had to compress the narrative into 22 minutes. [4] :601

Fees these actors would typically charge were donated to the Motion Picture Relief Fund, in order to support the creation and maintenance of the Motion Picture Country Home for retired actors. A 1940 magazine article noted that The Screen Guild Theater was "the only sponsored program on the air which gives all its profits to charity." [5] Nearly $800,000 had been contributed by the summer of 1942. [4] :600

The first three seasons of the CBS series were sponsored by Gulf Oil. With uncertainties in the oil market due to World War II, Gulf dropped the show, and in 1942 the Lady Esther cosmetics corporation assumed sponsorship. The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater was consistently one of the top ten radio programs. Reverses in the cosmetics industry led Lady Esther to withdraw in 1947, and Camel Cigarettes purchased a three-year contract. Changing time slots and networks brought about a decline in ratings. In the fall of 1950 the series returned to CBS, where it ran until its final broadcast June 30, 1952. The Screen Guild Theater earned a total of $5,235,607 for the Motion Picture Relief Fund. [6]

Notable broadcasts

"A table of highlights would run many pages," wrote radio historian John Dunning, who lists the following notable Screen Guild broadcasts: [4] :601

Shirley Temple's parents declined an offer of $35,000 for her to perform a radio version of The Blue Bird on a commercial broadcast; instead, she presented it on the Screen Guild program without payment. [4] :601 An attempt was made on her life during the show. As Temple was singing "Someday You'll Find Your Bluebird", a woman in the audience rose from her seat and pulled out a handgun, pointing it directly at her. The woman hesitated and was disarmed. It was later discovered that she had lost a child on the day it was publicly stated that Temple was born, and blamed her for stealing her daughter's soul. [10]

The series benefited during its 1950–51 season on ABC, when it was expanded to a full hour. Few broadcasts are known to have survived in radio collections: [4] :601 [11]

Broadcast history

The Screen Guild Theater was hosted by George Murphy in 1939, and Roger Pryor for the remainder of its run. [4] :600

  • The Gulf Screen Guild Show (1939–40),
  • The Gulf Screen Guild Theater (1940–42),
  • The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater (1942–47), and
  • The Camel Screen Guild Players (1947–48) [4] :600

See also

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