As a writer, it’s always fun to discover something new. In this case, what’s new is actually old but that makes it even more fun. A new series has been released on DVD called Lost & Rare Film and TV Treasures. The first from the series to be released is Lost & Rare Vol. 1: Television Pilots—five half-hour shows featuring some serious Hollywood talent from the 1950s golden age of television. For those who don’t know, a pilot is a sample episode shown to a potential sponsor or aired on a network to test audience response.
It’s hard to say which pilot is the biggest treasure—Maggie, featuring a 23-year-old Margret O’Brien in her fourth appearance with Leon Ames as her fictional father? Meet McGraw, with Frank Lovejoy delivering a snappy film noir tight enough to be a movie? The shaggy and bumbling Munroe is utterly unlike the suave Lassie and is a foretaste of other military/buddy sitcoms. Ed Wynn is also a bit shaggy and bumbling, which is what makes The Ed Wynn Show so appealing.
And when I’m in a certain mood, I want to watch a show that I know will have a happy ending. Jane Powell’s films are excellent in that capacity and The Jane Powell Show lost pilot, in which Powell plays a performer-turned-professor’s wife who still manages to pull off two musical numbers, didn’t let me down. What a treat!
Here’s a rundown on the content of Lost & Rare Vol. 1: Television Pilots:
(1963) 25 min. — Unsold, unaired and lost but funny pilot about a lovable army K-9 Corp mutt who tangles with a cat and a lion loose on an army base. Cast includes veteran TV faces Guy Marks, Jan Stine, Joan Freeman, James Flavin and Sig Ruman.
(1954) 29 min. — Episode of Four Star Playhouse shown on Feb. 25, 1954 stars Frank Lovejoy as a hard-hitting private eye. A beautiful woman (Audrey Totter) hires McGraw as her bodyguard when she claims that her gangster husband plans to kill her. Terrific script with clever plot twists. Although not intended as a pilot, the popular character spun off into the 1957-58 series Meet McGraw (aka The Adventures of McGraw) with Lovejoy in the title role.
The Jane Powell Show
(1961) 32 min. — Pilot for an unsold Four Star TV series starring the great Jane Powell in a situation comedy about a big city actress-singer who marries a math professor (Russell Johnson, the Professor on Gilligan’s Island) and tries to fit into his professional life at small town Redwood College. Directed by Rod Amateau.
(1957) 30 min. — Pilot about married actors (Leon Ames and Fay Baker) and their clever teenage daughter (Margaret O’Brien) who move from Manhattan to suburban Connecticut and clash with their new neighbors. Filmed in 1957, this episode aired on Aug. 30, 1960as part of a CBS summer series, The Comedy Spot, that ran unsold pilots. Produced by George Burns and directed by Rod Amateau, with original commercials.
The Ed Wynn Show
(1958) 33 min. — Amiable situation comedy starring beloved comedian Ed Wynn, who had pioneered a TV variety show in 1949-50, years before this pilot. At the conclusion Ed address the home audience on a soundstage about his new career move and hopes for this series, which sadly only ran for 16 episodes.
This Lost & Rare DVD collection shows both actors and television in transition, adjusting to a medium only a decade old. Meet McGraw became a series and The Ed Wynn Show ran for a short season, but whether because of difficulties with scripts or behind the scenes conflicts of contracts and management, the other pilots never made it on the small screen. These are the ones most fun to watch and wonder why they were never picked up. Were audiences unwilling to see a grown-up Margaret O’Brien not shedding tears? Was McGraw too seedy and sexy for his time slot? Munroe unable to secure the Ken-L Ration dog food sponsorship?
The Lost & Rare Film and TV Treasures were compiled and released by Festival Films. The uniqueness of these films and the clarity of the prints really make me wonder what other lost and rare treasures are tucked away in the attic. I have a feeling they will surprise us; although in truth, I’ve already been told about the next release in this series: Lost & Rare, Vol. 2: Sports Immortals, which features rare glimpses of Babe Ruth, Joe Louis and so many more.
If you think you already know television and film, Lost & Rare will be a series to watch!
Victoria Balloon is a writer, classic film enthusiast and pop-culture pundit. In addition to knitting small appliances, Victoria is currently involved in helping to bring back the Matinee At The Bijou TV series in an HD sequel to be hosted by Debbie Reynolds. Her insightful articles can be found at the Matinee At The Bijou website.