Playhouse 90


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About

A relative latecomer to the group of live anthology dramas, Playhouse 90 was broadcast on CBS between the fall of 1956 and 1961. Its status as a "live" drama was short lived in any case, since the difficulties in mounting a ninety-minute production on a weekly basis required the adoption of the recently developed videotape technology, which was used to pre-record entire shows from 1957 onward. Both the pressures and the costs of this ambitious production eventually resulted in Playhouse 90 being cut back to alternate weeks, sharing its time slot with The Big Party between 1959 and 1960. The last eight shows were aired irregularly between February and May of 1960, with repeats broadcast during the summer weeks of 1961.

Despite its late entry into the field of anthology dramas, many considered--and still consider--Playhouse 90 as the standard against which all other drama anthology programs are to be judged. Although its debut show, a Rod Serling adaptation of the novel Forbidden Area, failed to garner much critical interest, the following week's presentation of an original teleplay by Serling, "Requiem for a Heavyweight," was an enormous success, both in this initial television broadcast and later as a feature film. "Requiem" swept the 1956 Emmys, winning awards in all six categories in which it was nominated, including best direction, best teleplay, and best actor. Playhouse 90 established its reputation with this show and continued to maintain it throughout the remainder of its run.

The success of Playhouse 90 continued into the 1957-58 season with productions of "The Miracle Worker," "The Comedian," and "The Helen Morgan Story." Although these shows, along with "Requiem" and "Judgment at Nuremberg" were enough to ensure the historical importance of Playhouse 90, the program also stood out because of its emergence in the "film era" of television broadcasting evolution. By 1956, much of television production had moved from the east to the west coast, and from live performances to filmed series. Most of the drama anthologies, a staple of the evening schedule to this point, fell victim to the newer types of programs being developed. Playhouse 90 stands in contrast to the prevailing trend, and its reputation benefited from both the growing nostalgia for the waning live period and a universal distaste for Hollywood on the part of New York television critics. It is also probable that since the use of videotape (not widespread at the time) preserved a "live" feel, discussion of the programs could be easily adapted to the standards introduced by the New York television critics.

It has been argued that Playhouse 90 in fact contributed to the demise of live television drama by making it too expensive to produce. Its lavish budget was undoubtedly a factor in the quality of its productions, but its cost--as reflected in the newly-introduced ratings system--was enormous when compared with filmed series, against which it could not compete. Playhouse 90 stood out as an anomaly in its time, and its short run of under four seasons demonstrated that a program of its kind could not survive in a changing production environment, regardless of its acclaim. If Playhouse 90 was an outstanding program, and representative of the best that drama anthology programs could offer, it was also the last of its genre to be shown as part of a regular network schedule.

-Kevin Dowler

PRODUCERS

Martin Manulis, John Houseman, Russell Stoneman, Fred Coe, Arthur Penn, Hubbell Robinson

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

133 Episodes

CBS

October 1956-January 1960   Thursday 9:30-11:00

July 1961-September 1961   Tuesday 9:30-11:00

FURTHER READING

Hawes, William. The American Television Drama: The Experimental Years. University, Alabama : University of Alabama Press, 1986.

Kindem, Gorham, editor. The Live Television Generation of Hollywood Film Directors: Interviews with Seven Directors. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1994.

MacDonald, J. Fred. One Nation Under Television: The Rise and Decline of Network TV. New York: Pantheon, 1990.

Skutch, Ira. Ira Skutch: I Remember Television: A Memoir. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow, 1989.

Stemple, Tom. Storytellers to the Nation: A History of American Television Writing. New York: Continuum, 1992.

Sturcken, Frank. Live Television: The Golden Age of 1946-1958 in New York. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1990.

Wicking, Christopher, and Tise Vahimagi. The American Vein: Directors and Directions in Television. New York: Dutton, 1979.

Wilk, Max. The Golden Age of Television: Notes From the Survivors. New York: Dell, 1977.

Highlights
Martin Manulis on the Playhouse 90 productions of "Days of Wine and Roses" and "The Comedian"
John Frankenheimer on directing Playhouse 90
Ricardo Montalban on appearing in the Playhouse 90 teleplay "Child of Trouble"
Horton Foote on adapting existing works for Playhouse 90
Who talked about this show

Erik Barnouw

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Erik Barnouw on early television shows and television writers he admired, including Playhouse 90 and Paddy Chayefsky

Dick Berg

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Dick Berg on writing "The Right Hand Man" for Playhouse 90

Robert Butler

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Robert Butler on being an associate director/AD on Playhouse 90
Robert Butler on being an associate director/AD on specific productions of Playhouse 90 penned by Reginald Rose, including "A Quiet Game of Cards"
Robert Butler on various Playhouse 90 teleplays that were not always successful

Dick Cavett

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Dick Cavett on being an extra on the last episode of Playhouse 90 done live from New York

Jeanne Cooper

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Jeanne Cooper on working on Playhouse 90

Sam Denoff

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Sam Denoff on observing the early days of live television while working as a page at NBC's Studio 8H where Kraft Television Theater, Robert Montgomery Presents, and other live anthology series were filmed

Dominick Dunne

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Dominick Dunne on floor managing Playhouse 90

Nanette Fabray

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Nanette Fabray on appearing on Playhouse 90, directed by John Frankenheimer

Norman Felton

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Norman Felton on becoming Executive Producer of Playhouse 90

Horton Foote

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Horton Foote on his adaptation of William Faulkner's "Old Man" for Playhouse 90
Horton Foote on adapting existing works for Playhouse 90
Horton Foote on his Playhouse 90 teleplay "The Shape of the River" (airdate: May 2, 1960), and on the end of Golden Age of Television

John Frankenheimer

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John Frankenheimer on the "The Days of Wine and Roses" episode of Playhouse 90
John Frankenheimer on directing Playhouse 90
John Frankenheimer on not getting to direct the "Requiem for a Heavyweight" episode of Playhouse 90
John Frankenheimer on directing Playhouse 90
John Frankenheimer on directing Playhouse 90
John Frankenheimer on directing Playhouse 90
John Frankenheimer on directing Playhouse 90
John Frankenheimer on Mickey Rooney in "The Comedian" episode of Playhouse 90
John Frankenheimer on casting Playhouse 90 with Ethel Winant 
John Frankenheimer on "The Last Tycoon" episode of Playhouse 90
John Frankenheimer on the "Clash by Night" episode of Playhouse 90
John Frankenheimer on Playhouse 90 directors and how videotape affected shooting
John Frankenheimer on directing Playhouse 90's "The Days of Wine and Roses"
John Frankenheimer on directing Playhouse 90's "The Old Man" and videotaping the whole show
John Frankenheimer on directing Playhouse 90's "For Whom the Bell Tolls"
John Frankenheimer on directing Playhouse 90's final episode "Journey to the Day"
John Frankenheimer on the end of the Golden Age of Television

William Froug

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William Froug on Screen Gems producing backup material, like "Natchez" for Playhouse 90

Jerry Goldsmith

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Jerry Goldsmith on where he would sit and conduct the orchestra during live Playhouse 90 broadcasts for director John Frankenheimer and on mishaps on live television 
Jerry Goldsmith on composing for Playhouse 90 for producer Herbert Brodkin
Jerry Goldsmith on the various directors of Playhouse 90

Arthur Hiller

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Arthur Hiller on meeting Jack Benny, one of his idols, while he was directing an episode of Playhouse 90
Arthur Hiller on directing Playhouse 90
Arthur Hiller on working on Playhouse 90 with Martin Manulis, who created the show, and on the quality of the program
Arthur Hiller on getting the opportunity to direct on Playhouse 90 through Martin Manulis and working with Manulis
Arthur Hiller on camera tricks and fast changes he had to make while directing Playhouse 90
Arthur Hiller on production schedule for Playhouse 90 and some memorable moments on the show
Arthur Hiller on being the only director who directed both "live" and filmed episodes of Playhouse 90
Arthur Hiller on specific episodes of Playhouse 90 and working with guest stars - both actors and non-actors

Pat Hitchcock

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Pat Hitchcock O'Connell on acting on Playhouse 90

Ron Howard

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Ron Howard on how he came to be cast as a child actor on Playhouse 90
Ron Howard on a mistake he made on "live" TV as a child actor on Playhouse 90

Kim Hunter

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Kim Hunter on appearing on the Playhouse 90 production of "The Comedian" directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Mickey Rooney
Kim Hunter on appearing on the Playhouse 90 production of "Requiem for a Heaveyweight"

Lamont Johnson

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Lamont Johnson on acting in the Playhouse 90 episode "Forbidden Area"

Shirley Jones

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Shirley Jones on starring on Playhouse 90
Shirley Jones on appearing on Playhouse 90 and acting on live television

Ernest Kinoy

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Ernest Kinoy on writing the Playhouse 90 episode "Shadows Tremble"
Ernest Kinoy on working on Playhouse 90

Jeff Kisseloff

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Jeff Kisseloff on interviewing television ad executives for his book,"The Box: An Oral History of Television, 1929-1961," and on the censorship of the Playhouse 90 episode "Judgment at Nuremberg"

Jack Klugman

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Jack Klugman on a production of Playhouse 90
Jack Klugman on Playhouse 90
Jack Klugman on a production of Playhouse 90 with Art Carney and working with Rod Serling

Angela Lansbury

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Angela Lansbury on the experience of doing "live TV"

Piper Laurie

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Piper Laurie on Playhouse 90's production of "The Ninth Day", her all time favorite role

Jack Lemmon

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Jack Lemmon on appearing on the Playhouse 90 production of "Face of a Hero"

Loring Mandel

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Loring Mandel on comparing Playhouse 90 to other anthology shows, and on writing the episode "Project Immortality," directed by Fielder Cook
Loring Mandel on writing the Playhouse 90 episode "The Raider," directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and starring Rod Taylor and Paul Douglas

Abby Mann

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Abby Mann on writing the Playhouse 90 classic "Judgment at Nuremberg"
Abby Mann on going to Germany to do research for Playhouse 90: "Judgement at Nuremberg"
Abby Mann on dealing with the network over the content of Playhouse 90: "Judgement at Nuremberg," and on the cast
Abby Mann on the cast of Playhouse 90: "Judgement at Nuremberg," and on writing the feature film version
Abby Mann on the process of writing, and on sparring with the network over a line about "gas chambers" in Playhouse 90: "Judgement at Nuremberg"
Abby Mann on the historical importance of Playhouse 90: "Judgement at Nuremberg" teaching Americans about the Holocaust
Abby Mann on Maximilian Schell as "Hans Rolfe" in Playhouse 90: "Judgement at Nuremberg"
Abby Mann on the feature film version of "Judgement at Nuremberg," and on Judy Garland as "Irene Hoffmann-Wallner," and on the public reaction to the show
Abby Mann on the main villain of Playhouse 90: "Judgement at Nuremberg" being patriotism
Abby Mann on Playhouse 90: "Judgement at Nuremberg" director George Roy Hill
Abby Mann on the legacy of Playhouse 90: "Judgement at Nuremberg"

Delbert Mann

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Delbert Mann on directing productions of Producers' Showcase  and Playhouse 90
Delbert Mann on colleagues he met at Playhouse 90

Martin Manulis

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Martin Manulis on the Playhouse 90 productions of "Days of Wine and Roses" and "The Comedian"
Martin Manulis on being brought in to produce Playhouse 90, and on working for CBS as a producer
Martin Manulis on how he came to produce Playhouse 90
Martin Manulis on working for CBS executive Hubbell Robinson on Playhouse 90
Martin Manulis on the budget for Playhouse 90, and on getting famous actors to appear on the show
Martin Manulis on attracting A-list actors to appear on Playhouse 90 and other anthology shows
Martin Manulis on the first episode of Playhouse 90, "Forbidden Area," and second episode, "Requiem for a Heavyweight"
Martin Manulis on the casting of Playhouse 90's "Requiem for a Heavyweight" by Ethel Winant
Martin Manulis on the success of Playhouse 90's production of "Requiem for a Heavyweight"
Martin Manulis on Rod Serling writing "Requiem for a Heavyweight" for Playhouse 90
Martin Manulis on the challenges of producing a weekly, live show like Playhouse 90, and on the quality of the episodes
Martin Manulis on the work schedule of Playhouse 90
Martin Manulis on the lack of diversity on Playhouse 90 and on television in the 1950s in general
Martin Manulis on the advertisers of Playhouse 90, and on Playhouse 90's "Portrait of a Murderer"
Martin Manulis on network censorship and Playhouse 90, and on working with Rod Serling
Martin Manulis on leaving Playhouse 90, and on becoming Head of Television for 20th Century Fox Television
Martin Manulis on the legacy of Playhouse 90
Martin Manulis on getting a Producers Guild award for Playhouse 90

Bob Markell

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Bob Markell on working on Playhouse 90
Bob Markell on working on Playhouse 90

JP Miller

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JP Miller on writing the Playhouse 90 teleplay "The Days of Wine and Roses" (Airdate: October 2, 1958)
JP Miller on writing the Playhouse 90 teleplay "The Days of Wine and Roses" (Airdate: October 2, 1958)
JP Miller on doing research for the Playhouse 90 teleplay "The Days of Wine and Roses"

John Moffitt

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John Moffitt on John Frankenheimer's directing style

Paul Monash

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Paul Monash on writing Playhouse 90, and on working with Martin Manulis
Paul Monash on working with John Frankenheimer on the Playhouse 90 episode "The Death of Manolete"
Paul Monash on writing various episodes of Playhouse 90, and on working with various directors
Paul Monash on other writers of Playhouse 90, including Rod Serling

Ricardo Montalban

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Ricardo Montalban on appearing in the Playhouse 90 teleplay "Child of Trouble"

Tad Mosel

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Tad Mosel on writing "The Morning Face" for Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse and "The Play Room" for Playhouse 90
Tad Mosel on working with Martin Manulis on Playhouse 90
Tad Mosel on writing for Playhouse 90 for producer Martin Manulis
Tad Mosel on writing "If You Knew Elizabeth" for Playhouse 90
Tad Mosel on how Playhouse 90 handled the time difference between the East Coast and the West Coast with the use of kinescopes
Tad Mosel on writing "The Play Room" and "The Innocent Sleep" (featuring Buster Keaton) for Playhouse 90
Tad Mosel on casting for Playhouse 90
Tad Mosel on watching Playhouse 90 go live
Tad Mosel on watching Playhouse 90 and other live dramas of his be performed

Robert Mott

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Robert Mott on working on Playhouse 90

Hal Needham

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Hal Needham on working on Playhouse 90

Hugh O'Brian

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Hugh O'Brian on appearing on Playhouse 90

Bernie Oseransky

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Bernie Oseransky on working with Peter Lorre and director John Frankenheimer on the set of Playhouse 90 when he was an usher

Fess Parker

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Fess Parker on appearing on the Playhouse 90 episode "Turn Left at Mount Everest"

Arthur Penn

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Arthur Penn on directing for Playhouse 90; the potency of television at the time
Arthur Penn on directing Playhouse 90
Arthur Penn on bloopers on Playhouse 90
Arthur Penn on Playhouse 90's productions of "Dark Side of the Earth" with Van Heflin and "Portrait of a Murderer"

Carl Reiner

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Performer/writer Carl Reiner on his work on Playhouse 90
Carl Reiner on working with Ernie Kovacs on Playhouse 90

Del Reisman

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Del Reisman on leaving NBC Matinee Theater and going to Playhouse 90
Del Reisman on Playhouse 90 writers Tad Mosel and Paul Monash
Del Reisman on working with Rod Serling on Playhouse 90, and how censorship there led to his creation of The Twilight Zone
Del Reisman on the Playhouse 90 on-air introductions
Del Reisman on interviewing with Martin Manulis to be story editor for Playhouse 90
Del Reisman on working with Martin Manulis personally and professionally on Playhouse 90
Del Reisman on finding material as story editor for Playhouse 90, and on the duties of the story editor
Del Reisman on a typical workweek for him as story editor of Playhouse 90, and on how original material got to him
Del Reisman on working with writer James P. Cavanagh on Playhouse 90
Del Reisman on working with writer Elick Moll on Playhouse 90
Del Reisman on how CBS standards and practices influenced or shaped the content of Playhouse 90
Del Reisman on Playhouse 90 writer David Shaw
Del Reisman on Playhouse 90 writer Leonard Spigelgass
Del Reisman on Playhouse 90 writer Leslie Stevens
Del Reisman on Playhouse 90 writer Robert Allan Arthur
Del Reisman on the particular challenges of writing for Playhouse 90
Del Reisman on the kinds of source material used for Playhouse 90, and on portraying real-life people on the show
Del Reisman on Playhouse 90 director Franklin J. Schaffner
Del Reisman on Playhouse 90 director John Frankenheimer
Del Reisman on Playhouse 90 casting director Ethel Winant
Del Reisman on the Playhouse 90 episode "Requiem for a Heavyweight"
Del Reisman on the Playhouse 90 episode "Eloise"
Del Reisman on the Playhouse 90 episode "The Miracle Worker"
Del Reisman on the Playhouse 90 episodes "Winter Dreams" and "The Death of Manolete"
Del Reisman on the Playhouse 90 episodes "The Great Gatsby" and "The Comedian"
Del Reisman on the Playhouse 90 episode "Turn Left at Mount Everest"
Del Reisman on leaving Playhouse 90, and on the legacy of the show

Rita Riggs

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Rita Riggs on costuming Playhouse 90
Rita Riggs on a typical workweek costuming for Playhouse 90
Rita Riggs on working with various people on Playhouse 90
Rita Riggs on working with various writers on Playhouse 90, including Rod Serling
Rita Riggs on costuming for Playhouse 90's "Days of Wine and Roses" and "Old Man"
Rita Riggs on using the Western Costume Company for Playhouse 90
Rita Riggs on Playhouse 90 producer Martin Manulis

Cliff Robertson

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Cliff Robertson on his character and the importance of the Playhouse 90 production of "The Days of Wine and Roses"
Cliff Robertson on John Frankenheimer's directing process on the Playhouse 90 production of "The Days of Wine and Roses"
Cliff Robertson on the premise of the Playhouse 90 production of "The Days of Wine and Roses"
Cliff Robertson on starring in the Playhouse 90 live production of "The Days of Wine and Roses" 

Mickey Rooney

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Mickey Rooney on starring in the Playhouse 90 episode "The Comedian"
Mickey Rooney on working in live television on the Playhouse 90 episode "The Comedian"

William Schallert

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William Schallert on working on the first episode of Playhouse 90
William Schallert on memories of working on Playhouse 90

Ralph Senensky

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Ralph Senensky on his first job at Playhouse 90 and becoming Production Supervisor
Ralph Senensky on the Playhouse 90 production of "The Death of Manolete"
Ralph Senensky on his on-the-job training at Playhouse 90 and the production process
Ralph Senensky on difficulties on a production of "Last Clear Chance" on Playhouse 90
Ralph Senensky on the legacy of Playhouse 90
Ralph Senensky on Playhouse 90 and how to direct comedies and dramas

William Shatner

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William Shatner on appearing in the Playhouse 90 production "A Town Has Turned to Dust" with Rod Stiger, directed by John Frankenheimer and writen by Rod Serling

David Shaw

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David Shaw on writing for Playhouse 90
David Shaw on writing various episodes of Playhouse 90

Aaron Spelling

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Aaron Spelling on writing for Playhouse 90

Fred Steiner

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Fred Steiner on his association with Playhouse 90

George Takei

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George Takei on appearing in the Playhouse 90 teleplay "Made In Japan" (airdate: March 5, 1959)

William Tankersley

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William Tankersley on CBS Standards & Practices' workings with Rod Serling on Playhouse 90
William Tankersley on CBS Standards & Practices' workings with Martin Manulis on Playhouse 90

Robert Vaughn

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Robert Vaughn on "The Troublemakers" on Playhouse 90 with Ben Gazarra, directed by John Frankenheimer
Robert Vaughn on working with director John Frankenheimer

Ethel Winant

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Ethel Winant on going to work casting for Playhouse 90
Ethel Winant on casting for Playhouse 90's production of "Days of Wine and Roses": Cliff Robetson
Ethel Winant on casting for Playhouse 90's production of "The Death of Manolete"
Ethel Winant on casting for Playhouse 90's production of "The Last Clear Chance" starring Paul Muni
Ethel Winant on casting for Playhouse 90's production of "The Old Man", the first production on television to utilize edited video tape
Ethel Winant on casting Suzy Parker in Playhouse 90's production of "The Death of Manolete"
Ethel Winant on difficulties she encountered in casting minority actors for shows like Playhouse 90 and The United States Steel Hour's production of "Doomsday at Noon"
Ethel Winant on Playhouse 90's productions of "Portrait of a Murderer" and "Judgement at Nuremberg", and on network and sponsor censorship

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