The Loretta Young Show, airing on NBC from 1953 to 1961, was the first and longest-running anthology drama series to feature a female star as host and actress. Film star Loretta Young played a variety of characters in well over half of the episodes, but her glamorous, fashion-show entrances as host became one of the most memorable features of this prime-time series.
Premiering under the title Letter to Loretta, the series was renamed The Loretta Young Show during the first season. Originally, the series was framed as the dramatization of viewers' letters. Each teleplay dramatized a different letter/story/message. Even after the letter device was dropped, Young still introduced and closed each story. At the beginning of each episode, she entered a living room set (supposedly her living room) through a door. Turning around to close the door and swirling her designer fashions as she walked up to the camera, Young was consciously putting on a mini-fashion show, and the spectacular entrance became Young's and the series's trademark. Glamour and fashion had been important elements of her film star image, and she considered them central to her television image and appeal. (As an indicatition of how strongly Young felt about this aspect of the series, she later won a suit against NBC for allowing her then-dated fashion openings to be seen in syndication.)
The successful format and style or The Loretta Young Show spurred other similar shows. Jane Wyman Theater (1955-58), The DuPont Show with June Allyson (1959-61), and The Barbara Stanwyck Show (1960-61) were prime-time network series that attempted to capitalize on the Young's success. Similar syndicated series included Ethel Barrymore Theater (1953), Crown Theater with Gloria Swanson (1954), and Ida Lupino Theater (1956).
When original sponsor Procter & Gamble snapped up the proposed Loretta Young series, Young and her husband, Thomas Lewis, hired Desilu (credited on screen as DPI) to do the actual filming for the first season's episodes. At a time when television was often broadcast live from New York, the series was filmed in Hollywood, where Desilu was already a major force in telefilm production. The first five seasons of show were produced by Lewislor Enterprises, a company created by Young and Lewis to produce the series. When Lewislor's five-year contract with NBC was up and Lewis and Young had split personally and professionally, Young formed Toreto Enterprises, which produced the series's last three seasons. Young played a variety of characters, but stories most often centered around her as mother, daughter, wife, or single woman (often a professional) finding romance. Presenting both melodramas and light romantic comedies, the series was designed as and considered to be women's programming. (In fact, NBC reran episodes on its daytime schedule, which was targeted to women.) Young chose stories for their messages, lessons to be learned by characters and audiences. Her introductory remarks always framed the stories in specifically didactic terms, and she closed each episode with words of wisdom quoted from the Bible, Shakespeare, and other authoritative sources.
Stories affirmed postwar, middle-class ideas about the home, families, and gender roles. Single working women found love and were transformed. Mothers learned how to be better mothers. Women found true happiness within the domestic/heterosexual sphere of the middle-class home. Yet, characters sometimes had to stand up for their convictions, putting them at odds with the men in their lives. Women demonstrated strength, intelligence, and desire. This was a series that put women front stage and center, especially when Young portrayed the characters. Even when she did not act, themes of women's fiction, such as the play of emotions and the focus on character relationships, were present in the stories. Occasionally, the show explicitly addressed social issues of the day, such as American aid to war-ravaged Korea, the plight of East European refugees, and alcoholism. It stands out as a rare, prime-time network drama series where a woman tells her stories.
Unlike many of the live anthology dramas, big name guest stars were not a regular feature of The Loretta Young Show. The biggest stars appeared as guest hosts during Young's illness in the fall of 1955. Barbara Stanwyck, Joseph Cotten, Claudette Colbert, and several other film stars hosted the show in Young's absence. Marking the importance of her swirling entrances, none of the guest hosts came through the door to open the show. Over the years, guest actors included Hume Cronyn, Merle Oberon, Hugh O'Brian, and Teresa Wright.
The Loretta Young Show won various industry awards, including three Emmys for Young as Best Actress. It also was honored by numerous educational, religious, and civic groups. The series and its star were praised by these groups for promoting family- and community-based ideals in a rapidly changing postwar America.
The Loretta Young Show represents a type of television programming that no longer exists. The various anthology dramas of the 1950s disappeared as programs with continuing characters came to exemplify series television in the 1960s. TV series that worked through the image of the glamorous Hollywood star would forever remain a phenomenon of 1950s television, the period in which the Hollywood studio system that had created larger-than-life stars came to a close. The 1950s space for strong female stars also closed because television now had a permanent place in American homes. The industry no longer felt the need to attract specifically female audiences in prime time as a strategy to secure domestic approval for the medium.
Atkins, J. "Young, Loretta." In, Thomas, N., editor. International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 3: Actors and Actresses. Detroit, Michigan: St. James, 1992.
Bowers, R.L. "Loretta Young: Began as a Child-extra and Exuded Glamor for Forty Years." Films in Review (New York), 1969.
Morella, Joe, and Edward Z. Epstein. Loretta Young: An Extraordinary Life. New York: Delacorte Press, 1986.
Siegel, S., and B. Siegel. The Encyclopedia of Hollywood. New York: Facts On File, 1990.
Young, Loretta, as told to Helen Ferguson. The Things I Had To Learn. Indianapolis, Indiana: Bobbs-Merrill, 1961.