One of the neglected sources of enterainment and musical-comedy history is that curious sub-genre of the film musical - the musical made for televison, usually as a special.
Mary Martin's recorded TV version of "Peter Pan"(which originally aired on NBC's "Producer's Showcase" on December 8, 1960, under the direction by Vincent J. Donehue) is inarguably the best-known of this limited species and, thanks to the ever-resouceful Michael Arick, was restored several years ago and made available on DVD.
Martin also did two live early color versions of "Pan" - aired March 7, 1955 and January 9, 1956.
Mounted for Broadway by Jerome Robbins, it originally had only a few incidental songs by Moose Charlap and Carolyn Leigh, but was later expanded with added songs by Jule Styne and the team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
Also once available on VHS was director Delbert Mann's musical version of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," which aired on "Producer's Showcase" on September 19, 1955, and starred Frank Sinatra as the stage manager and Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint (in their singing debuts) as the young love interests, George Gibbs and Emily Webb.
The score by James Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn included the haunting title song and the popular "Love and Marriage."
And bootleg versions of Rosalind Russell and Leonard Bernstein's musical, "Wonderful Town," based on Russell's "My Sister Eileen" and co-directed by Herbert Ross and Mel Ferber, have been occasionally available. It originally aired on November 30, 1958.
At least these three titles are still remembered, especially by Broadway afficionados, but there are several more - more than you'd expect. Anyway, listed in no particular order and all waiting to be re-discovered on DVD, the assortment includes:
"Damn Yankees!": The fabulous Lee Remick, who always wanted to be a musical-comedy star, got her chance in the role of Lola in director Kirk Browning's TV version of the Richard Adler-Jerry Ross musical, televised on NBC's General Electric Theatre on April 7, 1967. The superb cast also included Phil Silvers as Mr. Applegate, Broadway's Jerry Lanning as Joe Hardy, Linda Lavin as the reporter Gloria Thorpe, Jim Backus as Benny, Ray Middleton as Joe Boyd and Fran Allison (of "Kookla, Fran and Ollie") as his wife Meg. Unlike the excellent 1958 Warner film version by George Abbott and Stanley Donen, this version kept the Ross-Adler score intact, reinstating "Near to You," "The Game" and "A Man Doesn’t Know."
"It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's ... Superman!": Back in 1966, Harold Prince joined forces with "Bonnie and Clyde" scribes Robert Benton and David Newman for an ambitious musical version of the "Superman" comic, with songs by by "Bye, Bye Birdie's" Charles Strouse and Lee Adams. It was an exhilarating show but it lasted at the Alvin Theatre for only 129 performances.
Nine years later, for some bizarre reason, ABC-TV decided to resurrect the material for an abbreviated 90-minute adaptation, which it then promptly abandoned. It was televised only once - and in an 11:30 p.m. time slot - and then disappeared. The cast included David Wilson as the title character/Clark Kent, Lesley Ann Warren as Lois Lane, Kenneth Mars as columnist Max Mencken (Jack Cassidy on stage), Loretta Swit as reporter Sydney Carlton (Linda Lavin on stage), and David Wayne, a hoot as the villain, mad scientist Dr. Abner Sedgwick.
(Note: Benton and Newman also collaborated on the 1978 Richard Donner "Superman" movie with Mario Puzo, an uncredited Tom Mankiewicz and Newman's wife, Leslie.)
"Applause": Larry Hagman stepped in for Len Carious for the filmed TV version of Lauren Bacall's Tony Award winning musical version of "All About Eve." It was shot during the production’s London run, with most of the West End cast, and televised on March 15, 1973.
Penny Fuller and Robert Mandan joined the cast, recreating their original Broadway roles. Also starring Harvey Evans, Sarah Marshall, Rod McLennan and Debbie Bowen.
"The Fantasticks": The legendary Tom Jones-Harvey Schmidt musical, directed by David Greene and Fielder Cook. Starring John Davidson, Susan Watson, Ricardo Montalban, Bert Lahr and Stanley Holloway. Broadcast date: October 18, 1964 (Hallmark Hall of Fame).
(Note: "The Fantasticks" would, of course, be eventually filmed by Michael Ritchie for United Artists - and deconstructed mercilessly (i.e., heavily edited) by Francis Ford Coppola. Funny how Coppola adds extra footage to his own films and subtracts it from the work of other directors. Hopefully, one day, MGM Home Entertainment will distrubute Ritchie's original version.)
"I Do! I Do!": Another musical by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, based on the Jan De Hartog two-character play, "The Four Poster," which takes place entirely in the bedroom of a couple married for 50 years. Lee Remick and Hal Linden played the roles essayed by Mary Martin and Robert Preston on stage. Directed by Gower Champion, who originally wanted to do it as a film with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Included in the score: "My Cup Runneth Over with Love." Broadcast date: 1982.
"Dames at Sea": The campy off-Broadway musical, filmed with Ann-Margret, Anne Meara, Ann Miller, Havey Evans and Fred Gwynne. Broadcast date: December, 1971.
"Meet Me in St.Louis": The estimable George Schafer directed - now get this - Jane Powell, Tab Hunter, Jeanne Crain, Myrna Loy, Lois Nettleton, Ed Wynn, Reta Shaw, Walter Pidgeon and Patty Duke, as Tootie, in this version of the enduring Vincente Minnelli-Judy Garland original film musical. Broadcast date: April 26, 1959.
"Kiss Me, Kate": Shot several times for TV - in 1958 by George Schafer with most of the original Broadway cast (Alfred Drake, Patricia Morrison and Julie Wilson), and ten years later, in 1968, by Paul Bogart with then-husband-and wife team, Robert Goulet and Carol Lawrence, and Jessica Walter, Michael Callan, Jules Munchin and Marty Ingels. Broadcast date of the 1968 version: March 25.
"Carousel": With Robert Goulet (again) as Billy Bigelow and then-newcomer Mary Grover as Julie Jordan. Broadcast date: May 7, 1967.
"Brigadoon": Yet another with Goulet, who starred under the director of Fielder Cook with Sally Anne Howes, Peter Falk and Marlyn Mason. Broadcast date: October 15, 1966.
"Annie Get Your Gun": Mary Martin played Annie Oakley to John Raitt's Frank Butler in Vincent J. Donehue's televersion of the Irving Berlin musical. Broadcast date: October 28, 1957.
"Evening Primrose": An original Stephen Sodheim musical, written especially for TV by playwright James Goldman from a short story by James Collier. Anthony Perkins starred opposite Charmian Carr (of "The Sound of Music") as a poet who lives clandestinely in a department story. (It was filmed at Stern Brothers Department Store on West 23rd Street by director Paul Bogart.) Broadcast date: November 16, 1966.
And, finally, getting back to "Peter Pan," there was yet another version - shown on December 12, 1976 and starring Mia Farrow as Peter and Danny Kaye as Captain Hook. It had a new score by by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse.
(Artwork: Publicity shot of the TV cast - John Davidson, Susan Watson, Ricardo Montalban, Bert Lahr and Stanley Holloway - of "The Fantasticks," and Ann-Margret in "Dames at Sea")