The Wednesday Play: General Electric Theater – Clown (1955)

GE Theater with Ronald Reagan

Most of the plays featured in this strand have been British. But as I’ve remarked before, the US had plenty of its own play strands, artfully disguised as “anthology shows”. One of the longer lasting anthology shows – and eventually most controversial – was General Electric Theater. Guess who the sponsor was.

An offshoot, as many of these strands were, of a radio show, it was broadcast every Sunday evening at 9pm, starting on February 1 1953 and running for an amazing nine years until May 27 1962 for a total of 209 episodes, all of which were adapted from novels, short stories, plays, films and magazine fiction. Originally host-less, on September 26 1954, the show took on no less an actor than Ronald Reagan to introduce and even star in some of the segments.

Given Reagan part-owned the show, it made him a wealthy man; however, when he spoke out in 1962 against the problems of ‘big government’, it didn’t stop GE from firing him, possibly under pressure from Robert Kennedy, leading to the show’s cancellation.

Along the way, though, General Electric Theater accrued a remarkable number of performances from stars of the day, including Kevin McCarthy, Lee Marvin (no fewer than seven times), Lon Chaney Jr, Dean Stockwell, George Snaders, Alan Ladd, Vincent Price, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Judy Garland and even Nancy Reagan herself.

This week’s play, though, is Clown, which stars Henry Fonda in an adaptation of the autobiography of circus performer Emmett Kelley. Enjoy!