Today we have a video from another yet classic original TV musical from back when they were doing these regularly -- most prorbably done live. This too, like so many of them, has an impressive pedigree.
This is Pinocchio, done in 1957. It starred the popular character actor Walter Slezak as Gepetto, and the little boy made of wood was played by...Mickey Rooney.
The production had a strong supporting cast, as well. I could see the great Stubby Kay and Jerry Colonna (best known for his many appearances with Bob Hope) on camera here. And checking the credits, the show also included the legendary Gilbert & Sullivan actor Martyn Green, and perhaps best of all, it featured Fran Allison -- of Kukla, Fran and Ollie -- as the Blue Fairy. Alas, the clip doesn't have her on camera, though you can hear her sing over the closing credits.
Also of note is that playing the role of Gepetto's Cat -- who dances across the screen here -- is a young actress named Sondra Lee. Her name might not mean much to most people, but she'll be familiar. The year before, she was in the Mary Martin production of Peter Pan, playing Tiger Lily. She had also been in the original Broadway cast, as well.
There's also a very clear "homage" (the polite term -- creative theft is more accurate) in this clip. When Pinocchio is asked to blow out the candles, you'll see him implore the audience to help him...just the same as Peter Pan did the year before, imploring everyone to please clap if you believe in fairies. It's a whole lot more effective in Peter Pan.
(Side note: a while back, maybe 25-30 years ago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was showing a tape of the Mary Martin Peter Pan, in conjunction with the Museum of Broadcasting. This was before the latter had built its own facility. I went with a friend, and it turned out that Mary Martin was in the audience and made a little speech beforehand. She made sure to point out that she specifically wore a green jumpsuit for the occasion, just to be in the Pan spirit. The museum host mentioned that they had another guest in the audience, that Mary Martin didn't know about. It was Sondra Lee -- who hadn't seen each other since they did the TV production about 30 years earlier. It was a lovely, touching reunion.
The score has an interesting history behind it, as well. The music was written by Alec Wilder, who later became a renowned music historian, but also was a highly respected composer most notably about operas and chamber music, though he also write a few minor musicals and some popular songs. The lyrics were by William Engvick, whose credits are not particularly substantive, however he did have one huge hit, writing the English lyrics for
The Song from Moulin Rouge," which is also known as “Where is Your Heart”.
This is the finale to Pinocchio, the "Happy Birthday Song." Odd, but fun is the commercial which immediately follows for Rexall, and stick around for the final credits with Fran Allison singing over.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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