Johnny Stearns

Show creator / Actor


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his three-hour Archive interview (one hour solo and two hours with his wife, Mary Kay Stearns), Johnny Stearns (1916-2001) talks about growing up with a theater background (his mother founded the "Petersborough Players" in Petersborough, New Hampshire - the model town for Thorton Wilder's "Our Town.") He describes how Wilder staged "Our Town" there himself, making the Petersborough summer theatre production the first after the play's Broadway run. Stearns recalls his days in the theatre on the New York stage and his entrance into television on the experimental Philadelphia station WPTZ-TV. He discusses his work on stage and in film ("Boomerang" with Elia Kazan), and details how he became the creator, writer, producer, and star (along with his wife) of the very first television situation comedy, Mary Kay and Johnny (1947-50). Stearns outlines the week-by-week production of the show, storylines used, and its run on three different networks (Dumont, NBC, CBS). He also talks about serving as the spokesperson (along with his wife) for U.S. Steel in the 1950s, appearing in commercials during the U.S. Steel Hour. Stearns speaks of other series he produced and directed, including: The Steve Allen Show (the WNBC show which would later become the Tonight show), Faye and Skitch (1953-54), Make Me Laugh (1958), Music Bingo (1958-59), and Seven Keys (1961-64). He also details producing the long-running agricultural program AG, USA, which began in 1961. Michael Rosen conducted the interview in Corona del Mar, CA on August 25, 1999.

"We wanted {our characters} to be as close to ourselves as we could get so it would be effective. Some people liked us, some people hated us."

Highlights
Johnny Stearns on the Golden Age of Television
01:38
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on how they met
05:08
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on Johnny producing the local version of The Steve Allen Show
03:28
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on incorporating Mary Kay's pregnancy into Mary Kay and Johnny; on what they could and couldn't say on the show
03:02
Johnny Stearns on writing the first script and dressing the set for Mary Kay and Johnny
03:13
Full Interview

Chapter 1

START OF JOINT INTERVIEW WITH MARY KAY STEARNS: On how they met and their first date; on getting engaged
On their television debut and thoughts on early television; on writing the first script and dressing the set for Mary Kay and Johnny
On theater people looking down on television; on Mary Kay and Johnny getting picked up as a series for Dumont

Chapter 2

On getting a half-hour version of Mary Kay and Johnny; on typical story ideas and production
On the format, premise, and characters on Mary Kay and Johnny
On the comedy on the program; on the challenges of acting in live television; on sets and locations on Mary Kay and Johnny

Chapter 3

On the directors of Mary Kay and Johnny; on the cameras used on the show; on getting recognized by fans and working with Standards and Practices
On the comedy on the show; on what it was like during the early years of television
On what they did after Mary Kay and Johnny went off the air; on Mary Kay getting an interview show called Mary Kay's Nightcap; on why Mary Kay and Johnny went off the air

Chapter 4

On problems getting writers for Mary Kay and Johnny; on the show going off the air
On becoming spokespeople for The U.S. Steel Hour and U.S. Steel; on Johnny producing the local version of The Steve Allen Show
On their commercials as spokespeople for The U.S. Steel Hour; on additional television appearances together

Chapter 5

START OF SOLO INTERVIEW WITH JOHNNY STEARNS: On his childhood and early influences; on his early interest in theater; on his mother forming the "Petersborough Players" and the theater's connection to "Our Town"
On moving to California; on being a spokesperson for U.S. Steel and creating the agricultural program AG, USA; on getting a job as a grip at Paramount and his friendship with Leif Erickson; on his memorable movie moments

Chapter 6

On a memorable moment from a movie set, contd.
On productions he was in on Broadway; on not getting stage fright
On producing and directing Make Me Laugh; on his work on Music Bingo and his recollections of the Quiz Show Scandals
On the craft of acting; on writing comedy and eventually writing for Mary Kay and Johnny; on the Golden Age of Television
Shows

Colgate Comedy Hour, The

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Johnny Stearns on producing the "Autumn Crocus" episode of The Colgate Comedy Hour
01:00

Mary Kay and Johnny

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on how Mary Kay and Johnny (one of TV's earliest sitcoms) came about
03:12
Johnny Stearns on writing the first script and dressing the set for Mary Kay and Johnny
03:13
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on rehearsal and production of the first episode of Mary Kay and Johnny
02:26
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on getting a contract to continue Mary Kay and Johnny beyond one episode
01:41
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on writing Mary Kay's pregnancy into Mary Kay and Johnny
02:22
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on the half-hour NBC version of Mary Kay and Johnny and the birth of their son
02:02
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on a typical production week on Mary Kay and Johnny
01:16
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on story ideas for Mary Kay and Johnny
02:06
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on the half-hour NBC version of Mary Kay and Johnny and temporarily filling the time slot for Kukla, Fran and Ollie
02:33
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on moving their show from Dumont to NBC, to CBS, and back to NBC; on having a fallout with the sponsor
02:08
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on the format, premise, and characters of Mary Kay and Johnny
06:06
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on the comedy of Mary Kay and Johnny
01:49
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on production of Mary Kay and Johnny at NBC
01:30
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on the challenges of acting in live television; on sets and locations on Mary Kay and Johnny
04:12
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on the directors and floor managers of Mary Kay and Johnny
02:05
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on their infant son appearing on Mary Kay and Johnny
00:35
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on getting recognized from Mary Kay and Johnny
01:10
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on incorporating Mary Kay's pregnancy into Mary Kay and Johnny; on what they could and couldn't say on the show
03:02
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on the laughter heard on Mary Kay and Johnny coming from the crew
01:04
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on kinescopes of Mary Kay and Johnny
02:13
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on the physical comedy and type of humor on Mary Kay and Johnny
02:03
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on rehearsals and improvisation on Mary Kay and Johnny
01:45
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on using their real identities on Mary Kay and Johnny; on not wanting celebrity
02:22
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on their show being on television at the birth of the medium, and experiencing the growth of the industry
01:27
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on Mary Kay and Johnny moving to CBS and then returning to NBC
00:50
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on similarities between Mary Kay and Johnny and later sitcoms
01:10
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on why Mary Kay and Johnny went off the air
02:27
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on problems getting writers for Mary Kay and Johnny
03:52
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on NBC's reaction to Mary Kay and Johnny wanting to end Mary Kay and Johnny
01:56
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on problems with studio space on Mary Kay and Johnny
01:23
Johnny Stearns on writing comedy and eventually writing for Mary Kay and Johnny
01:32
Johnny Stearns on how Mary Kay and Johnny reflected the era in which it was made; on how it was made
02:13

Steve Allen Show, The (1956-61)

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on Johnny producing the local version of The Steve Allen Show
03:28

United States Steel Hour, The

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on becoming spokespeople for The U.S. Steel Hour and U.S. Steel
03:52
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on their commercials as spokespeople for The U.S. Steel Hour
03:27
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on the directors of their commercials for The U.S. Steel Hour
00:47
Topics

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on incorporating Mary Kay's pregnancy into Mary Kay and Johnny; on what they could and couldn't say on the show
03:02

Comedy

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on how Mary Kay and Johnny (one of TV's earliest sitcoms) came about
03:12

Comedy-Variety

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on the challenges of acting in live television; on sets and locations on Mary Kay and Johnny
04:12

Fame & Celebrity

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on getting recognized from Mary Kay and Johnny
01:10
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on using their real identities on Mary Kay and Johnny; on not wanting celebrity
02:22

Industry Crossroads

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Johnny Stearns on the Quiz Show Scandals
02:34

Quiz Show Scandals

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Johnny Stearns on the Quiz Show Scandals
02:34

TV's Golden Age (1940s & '50s)

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on how Mary Kay and Johnny (one of TV's earliest sitcoms) came about
03:12
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on the challenges of acting in live television; on sets and locations on Mary Kay and Johnny
04:12
Johnny Stearns of Mary Kay and Johnny on the Golden Age of Television
01:38

Television Industry

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on getting recognized from Mary Kay and Johnny
01:10
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on incorporating Mary Kay's pregnancy into Mary Kay and Johnny; on what they could and couldn't say on the show
03:02
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on using their real identities on Mary Kay and Johnny; on not wanting celebrity
02:22
Professions

Actor

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on the challenges of acting in live television
00:40
Johnny Stearns on the craft of acting
03:15

Actress

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on the challenges of acting in live television
00:40

Performers

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on the challenges of acting in live television
00:40
Johnny Stearns on the craft of acting
03:15
Genres

Comedy Series

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on how Mary Kay and Johnny (one of TV's earliest sitcoms) came about
03:12
Johnny Stearns on writing the first script and dressing the set for Mary Kay and Johnny
03:13
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on rehearsal and production of the first episode of Mary Kay and Johnny
02:26
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on getting a contract to continue Mary Kay and Johnny beyond one episode
01:41
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on the premise and production of Mary Kay and Johnny
28:23
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on the humor, censorship, and end of Mary Kay and Johnny
27:23

Commercials

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on commercials they appeared in
03:27
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on their commercials as spokespeople for The U.S. Steel Hour
00:36
People

Steve Allen

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on Johnny producing the local version of The Steve Allen Show
03:28

Jack Gilford

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on Jack Gilford as the local grocer on Mary Kay and Johnny
00:50

Alan Handley

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on Alan Handley wanting to use Mary Kay's sign-off from Mary Kay's Nightcap for Dinah Shore's show
01:23

Dwight Hemion

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Johnny Stearns on working with director Dwight Hemion
02:09

Elia Kazan

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Johnny Stearns on appearing in the play "Night Music" with Elia Kazan and Lee J. Cobb
01:22

Delbert Mann

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on the directors and floor managers of Mary Kay and Johnny
00:35

Howard Morris

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on Howard Morris of Mary Kay and Johnny
00:35

Garry Simpson

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on the directors and floor managers of Mary Kay and Johnny
00:08

Mary Kay Stearns

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Johnny Stearns on writing comedy and eventually writing for Mary Kay and Johnny
01:32

Bud Yorkin

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Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on Bud Yorkin as cameraman of Mary Kay and Johnny
00:11

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