STANLEY – a fascinating flop from the Golden Age of Television

Well, I guess I’m one of about three people who seem to be interested – I recently got the complete 3-DVD set of STANLEY, a mega-disaster half-year 1956 sitcom that came to NBC with impeccable credentials. Created by Max Liebman, written by Neil & Danny Simon, Woody Allen and Lucille Kallan (all alumni of YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS) and starring Buddy Hackett. By the fourth episode, his girlfriend, played by Carol Burnett, debuts and stays through the rest of the run. Broadcast live from NY, the show has Hackett as the guy behind the candy and ticket counter at a posh NY hotel. The show is loaded with appearances by Broadway people – Dick Gautier, Jane Connell, Dody Goodman, Patricia Hammerlee, Paul Lynde, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Mike Kellin, Norman Fell, etc. It’s also a kick to see the window cards for all the current shows on display at Stanley’s kiosk – THE MOST HAPPY FELLA, DAMN YANKEES, FANNY, MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, MY FAIR LADY, THE PAJAMA GAME and others.
Though the show bombed, I am finding it quite delightful – guess it depends on your tolerance for Buddy Hackett. Carol is wonderful, even here at the very start of her career.  Reading original writeups in the NY Times, the show was pegged as a loser right from the start.  One critic even offered a sheet of Green Stamps to anyone who managed to sit through more than one episode.   On the set itself, writer Woody Allen refers to the show as a “disaster.”  But the live audience seems to love what they are watching. On the last few episodes, when Hackett makes several announcements about the imminent end of the series, referring to the thousands of letters that have come in protesting the show’s cancellation, he is drowned out by lengthy protests and applause. On one show he begs for quiet so can get in one last sponsor plug.

Like so many 50s shows, the regular sponsors are a strange combination – Bobbi Home Permanents and Pamper Shampoo (hawked by young Vera Miles) alternating with Pall Mall Cigarettes, with young couples singing and dancing about “the FUN of smoking.”

I had watched a STANLEY episode several years ago at the Paley Museum (all 19 episodes were kinescoped though the show was never rerun) and was quite taken with the live ambiance and the make-mistakes-but-get-on-with it style of the program.  Props don’t work, camera placement is occasionally off-kilter, Buddy Hackett sweats up a storm and ad-libs to the surprise of his co-stars, especially Carol Burnett, who keeps up with him masterfully.  The credit roll at the end gets stuck once and is then over-cranked to compensate. stanley adstanley3206176carolbuddystanleystanley buddy   carol-burnett-through-the-years-16 The background singers and announcer Don Pardo are occasionally off-mike.  Producer Max Liebman loved live TV and event programming and faded quickly away when the medium went to film and tape.

Events moved slower then – though STANLEY was canceled in December 1956, the show stayed on until March 1957, when it was replaced by a Western (what else?), TALES OF WELLS FARGO.

The first episode is available for viewing at archive.org – the DVD kinescope print is of better quality and even includes the audience warm-up by Hackett and Pardo that preceded the show, with a number of off-color Buddy jokes.

STANLEY – Premiere Episode, September 24, 1956

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