Four Star Revue/All Star Revue

By Jim Davidson
Posted 8/12/2007

Season 1
1950-51


The Hosts
Ed Wynn
Season 1 - 11 Episodes
Season 2 - 7 Episodes

Known as "The Perfect Fool," Ed Wynn was a veteran of vaudeville and radio, and at the premiere of Four Star Revue, had already had a year's experience in television, hosting his own show.
Danny Thomas
Season 1 - 12 Episodes
Season 2 - 8 Episodes

Following success as a nightclub entertainer, Danny Thomas was considered a natural for television. While his Four Star/All Star Revue stint was entertaining, it wasn't until his Make Room for Daddy sitcom that Thomas became a bonafide TV star.
Jack Carson
Season 1 - 10 Episode
Season 2 - 4 Episodes

A versatile character actor, equally comfortable in both comedy and drama, Jack Carson was a familiar face to moviegoers. He made a series of films co-starring Dennis Morgan and was popular on radio before moving into television.

Jimmy Durante
Season 1 - 8 Episodes
Season 2 - 8 Episodes
Season 3 - 8 Episodes


One of America's most beloved entertainers, Jimmy Durante starred in more episodes of Four Star/All Star Revue than any other host. His act was similar to that seen on his other radio and TV shows, including the trademark, "Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are."

Martha Raye
Season 2 - 4 Episodes
Season 3 - 5 Episodes
Season 4 - 3 Episodes


One of the great comediennes of 1950s television, Martha Raye was the only host to survive the third season of All Star Revue, which morphed into her own show that continued on for more than two seasons.
Olsen and Johnson
Season 2 - 4 Episodes

Longtime veterans of films, Olsen and Johnson didn't quite gel on television. Their run on All Star Revue was a short one.


George Jessel
Season 3 - 6 Episodes

The ultimate toastmaster, Jessel was a natural at witty repartee and knew how to bring out the best in his guests.


Tallulah Bankhead
Season 3 - 6 Episodes

The grand dame of the cutting remark, Tallulah Bankhead shone on TV, as she had on radio and in the theater. Sadly, her tenure as a small screen hostess was a brief one.

Broadcast History
Wednesdays, 8:00 - 9:00 pm, NBC-TV
Four Star Revue (10/4/1950 - 7/18/1951)

Saturdays, 8:00 - 9:00 pm, NBC-TV

All Star Revue (9/18/1951 - 6/21/1952)

Saturdays, 8:00 - 9:00 pm, NBC-TV
All Star Summer Revue (6/28/1952 - 8/30/1952)


Saturdays, 8:00 - 9:00 pm, NBC-TV

All Star Revue (9/6/1952 - 4/18/1953)


Saturdays, 9:00 - 10:30 pm
(every 4th week), NBC-TV
All Star Revue (10/3/1953 - 12/26/1953)

If Four Star Revue was the sister show to The Colgate Comedy Hour, it was the poorer of the two siblings. Both were on the same network and had the same variety format, with rotating hosts who often crossed over from one show to the other. But what Four Star Revue didn't share with The Comedy Hour was great ratings.

Not that the ratings were bad. In fact, they were quite respectable. In its second season, the show tied with Dragnet for 20th place. And even in it's third and final season as a weekly show, it had only fallen to 26th place - just behind Amos 'n' Andy.

The real problem was cost. At the time of its premiere, Revue cost $50,000 an episode to produce, making it one of the two most expensive shows on television (the other being The Colgate Comedy Hour). Naturally, at that price, its sponsors wanted to see a reasonable return on their investment. But when they saw other shows scoring higher ratings at a fraction of the cost, they began to wonder if they couldn't get a bigger bang for their buck elsewhere.

So not surprisingly, holding on to sponsors was a problem. In contrast to The Comedy Hour, which had the same sponsor for its entire run, Revue saw its underwriters come and go. Because the cost was so high, NBC came up with an arrangement to split it equally between three sponsors. But even then, the sponsors kept bailing.

Another issue Revue had to deal with was the revue format itself. It became apparent early on that simply plugging in a big star didn't guarantee success. The format worked well for old vaudevillians like Jimmy Durante and (for a time) Ed Wynn or a visual comedienne like Martha Raye. But for personalities like George Jessel and Tallulah Bankhead, whose humor was more verbal and cerebral, it was less successful. And supper club entertainer Danny Thomas didn't find his perfect TV vehicle until landing the lead on the sitcom Make Room For Daddy.

As is evident in the smattering of episodes that still exist, Four Star Revue/All Star Revue has much to recommend it as entertainment, not to mention its historical importance for the place it holds in the careers of many great entertainers. An example of the big budget, megastar variety show of the early fifties, it was eventually done in by the economics of the television business.

Behind the Scenes

Like the Colgate Comedy Hour, Four Star Revue/All Star Revue had a dependable array of talented people running things in the background.

NBC's Pete Barnum was the first executive producer, joined by Harold Kemp of the William Morris Agency in the second season. Sam Fuller of NBC took over that job in the third season. These people had, as their primary responsibility, the role of liaison between their companies and the show. Barnum and Fuller also ensured that the hosts were well stocked with big name guest stars. Various producers worked under the execs, doing the day-to-day job of getting the show on the air.

Joseph Santley, remembered today primarily for staging the musical numbers in the Marx Brothers' debut film The Cocoanuts, was Jimmy Durante's producer-director, not just on Revue but on the Schnoz's subsequent Colgate Comedy Hour and Texaco Star Theater stints, as well. Santley had directed Durante in the 1940 Gene Autry vehicle Melody Ranch and did some producing-directing for Ed Wynn on Revue, too.

Leo Morgan, who later worked on Sid Caesar's Caesar's Hour, produced for Danny Thomas, Olsen and Johnson, and Martha Raye. Norman Zeno was Jack Carson's first producer, before Coby Ruskin was promoted from director to replace him. (Ruskin was subsequently blacklisted for a time and had to move to England to find work. Returning to the States, he resumed his career by directing shows like The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., and Here's Lucy.)

Tallulah Bankhead brought her producer-director Dee Engelbach over from her radio program The Big Show, while George Jessel borrowed Martin and Lewis's Colgate Comedy Hour producer-director Ernest D. Glucksman.

Ezra Stone, who had played eternal teenager Henry Aldrich on radio ("Coming, Mother!"), directed Revue episodes for Danny Thomas, Ed Wynn, Martha Raye, and Ezio Pinza. He was married to actress Sara Seegar, and his subsequent work included episodes of The Munsters and Lost in Space.

Other directors were James V. Kern (later of I Love Lucy and My Three Sons), Garry Simpson, Bill Bacher, and Tim Whelan.

In the early days of TV, there were often two directors, one to stage the show and another to handle the technical task of directing the cameras. On Revue, TV directors included Grey Lockwood, Sid Smith, Doug Rodgers, and Hal Keith.

 Writer-director Nat Hiken worked for Jack Carson and Martha Raye on Four Star Revue/All Star Revue.

The brilliant Nat Hiken, who had been with Fred Allen and Milton Berle on radio, was Jack Carson's head writer before performing the same function on Martha Raye's shows. At the start of the third season, he became Raye's director, as well, before moving on to create the classic Phil Silvers Show (aka Sgt. Bilko) and Car 54, Where Are You? Working with Hiken on scripts were Billy Friedberg and Al Singer.

Throughout his 1950s TV shows, Jimmy Durante primarily used only two writers, Charles Isaacs and Jack Elinson, while Ed Wynn's list was much longer and included John Whedon, Seaman Jacobs, Bud Pearson, Dick McKnight, Bob Schiller, Vincent Bogert, Al Johansen, Leo Solomon, Bud Pearson, Joe Stein, Stan Burns, Herb Sargent, Maurice Richlin, Bill Jacobson, Art Stander, Sid Dorfman, and Hal Kanter.

Danny Thomas wrote some of his own material, but also relied on Arnold Horwitt, Morris Freedman, Julie Oshins, Bob Schiller, Phil Sharp, Aaron Ruben, and Jerry Seelen.

George Jessel's writers were Mannie Manheim and Larry Gelbart (formerly of Your Show of Shows and Bob Hope and futurely of M*A*S*H). Tallulah Bankhead performed material written by Mort Green, George Foster, Robert Tallman, Howard Snyder & Hugh Wedlock, and Danny Simon & his brother Doc Simon (who would grow up to become superstar playwright Neil Simon).

Some of the show's choreographers were future Hollywood director Herbert Ross (for Martha Raye), George Hale and Aida Broadbent (Jimmy Durante), Ronnie Fletcher (Tallulah Bankhead), Valerie Bettis (Ezio Pinza), and Seymour Felix (The Ritz Brothers).

Musical directors included Merle Kendrick (Ed Wynn), Lou Bring (Danny Thomas and Ed Wynn), Roy Bargy (Jimmy Durante), Dean Elliott (Jack Carson), George Bassman (Martha Raye), Milton DeLugg (Olsen and Johnson), Meredith Willson (Tallulah Bankhead), and Al Goodman (George Jessel).

Andre Baruch was announcer in the early, New York-based episodes, while Don Pardo filled that role in later episodes originating from that city. Hal Sawyer introduced many west coast episodes.

Sources

As usual, I've tried to stick to primary sources as much as possible. The main ones are The New York Times TV listings, ads, articles, and reviews, Variety reviews and articles, Time magazine reviews and TV listings, the online catalog of the UCLA television archives, the Internet Broadway Database, and the episodes themselves. I've also made use of the books Inka Dinka Doo: The Life of Jimmy Durante by Jhan Robbins (Paragon House, 1991), Make Room For Danny by Danny Thomas with Bill Davidson (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1991), Ed Wynn's Son By Keenan Wynn as told to James Brough (Doubleday & Company, 1959), Take It From the Big Mouth: The Life of Martha Raye by Jean Maddern Pitrone (The University Press of Kentucky, 1999) and King of the Half Hour: Nat Hiken and the Golden Age of TV Comedy by David Everitt (Syracuse University Press, 2001).

 

Season 1
1950-51



Copyright 2007 by Jim Davidson. All Rights Reserved.