The 5th Emmys Evaluated (1953)

Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball at the 5th Emmy Awards

Welcome to “Emmys Evaluated,” a series that looks at the nominations and wins in the television industry’s foremost awards ceremony and performs some revisionist history to retroactively pick the winners from the categories and nominees the The Television Academy selected.

By its fifth year, the annual Emmy Awards was kind of getting into a swing of things. It had gone national the year before, and after a more stripped down number of categories, the Emmys returned in 1953 with an expanded list, doubling the categories from six to 12. It’s hard to get a feel of how the ceremony actually proceeded, as with previous years; no recording of it, by radio or television, seems to be around.

We do know, however, that the 5th Emmys, recognizing the best in television of 1952, were held on February 5, 1953. Comedian and “personality” Art Linkletter hosted the event at the Hotel Statler in Los Angeles, and presided over a ceremony that saw I LOVE LUCY as the “big” winner. I say “big,” because the show and its star Lucille Ball each took home an award; with two wins, I LOVE LUCY was the only program of the night to take home more than one. That distinction is muddied somewhat by the continued omission of noted performances for the acting categories, but I’ll get to that.

Early Emmys favorites THE GOLDBERGS and TEXACO STAR THEATRE didn’t appear once again, and two notable “snubs” by The Television Academy of 1953 include ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN and THE ABBOTT AND COSTELLO SHOW, programs I’ve enjoyed in the past. But we’ll see how often I aligned with what the Academy did recognize nearly 68 years ago.

I’ll mark with an * the actual winner, bold my pick at the top of the list, and rank in order of my enjoyment from there. I’ve denoted shows or episodes that I couldn’t really track down online (specifically for the year for which they were eligible for this ceremony) with a ~.

  • I LOVE LUCY*
  • THE GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW
  • THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE & HARRIET
  • MISTER PEEPERS
  • THE AMOS ‘N ANDY SHOW
  • OUR MISS BROOKS~

As with the previous year, I LOVE LUCY totally blows its competition out of the water. I just think the show holds up unlike much anything else from this era of television, and among this crop of nominees, that sentiment is unchanged. THE GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW is still neat, and an amusing sitcom with some great meta moments (including an episode in which Burns is upset with Jack Benny for stealing one of his jokes). THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE & HARRIET, the long-running, prototypical 1950s family sitcom, is pretty bland, but it’s not unpleasant. The same couldn’t be said for MISTER PEEPERS. I like Wally Cox alright I guess, especially his TWILIGHT ZONE (1959–64) episode, but his wimpy teacher character begins to grate. THE AMOS ’N’ ANDY SHOW, although it stars actual black actors, owes its existence to the tremendously racist radio show of the same name, on which its African American characters were voiced by white men. So that’s an ugly legacy, and indeed the show itself doesn’t do much better at avoiding racial stereotypes. Strangely missing is OUR MISS BROOKS, an apparently popular sitcom that I couldn’t find any TV episodes for 1952; it was also a radio show. I LOVE LUCY at the top is clear.

  • STUDIO ONE
  • ROBERT MONTGOMERY PRESENTS*
  • CELANESE THEATRE~
  • GOODYEAR TELEVISION PLAYHOUSE~
  • KRAFT TELEVISION THEATRE~

Once again, the dramatic anthology shows aren’t represented well with extant episodes. Shows were either kinescoped or broadcast live at this point in time, so tapes were wiped to make room for new shows or the live feed just evaporated into the ether if no one was capturing it. Maybe that’s the case with 1952 episodes of CELANESE THEATRE, GOODYEAR TELEVISION PLAYHOUSE, and KRAFT TELEVISION THEATRE, but regardless, what remains are STUDIO ONE and ROBERT MONTGOMERY PRESENTS. STUDIO ONE has a greater amount of material still available, lending some weight to my choice of it as #1 for this category. An adaptation of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” was silly fun, while ROBERT MONTGOMERY PRESENTS’ “The Ringmaster” was a decent melodrama starring Vincent Price. The Mark Twain adaptation was also supplemented by other interesting adaptations of popular stories, so I have to give the edge to STUDIO ONE, although as mentioned, the dramas of TV’s earliest days don’t hold up as well as the comedies.

  • YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS*
  • THE COLGATE COMEDY HOUR
  • ARTHUR GODFREY AND HIS FRIENDS~
  • THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW~
  • TOAST OF THE TOWN~

YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, cemented by Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca’s performances (and it should be mentioned, Carl Reiner’s great support), has to once again take the cake for Best Variety Program. THE COLGATE COMEDY HOUR is a fun program, built around rotating hosts (Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis famously appeared on the show a ton of times), but it doesn’t match the reliability of YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS for good comedy. I am most upset that 1952 episodes of THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW aren’t readily available, as I love Jackie Gleason, but I am less disappointed in missing out on ARTHUR GODFREY AND HIS FRIENDS (a talent exhibition show) and TOAST OF THE TOWN (soon to be known as THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW). It’s a testament to YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS’ greatness that I probably would have thought it the best from this batch even if I could have watched all of its competitors.

  • WHAT’S MY LINE?*
  • THIS IS YOUR LIFE
  • DOWN YOU GO~
  • TWO FOR THE MONEY~
  • YOU BET YOUR LIFE~

The quiz show scandals of the 1950s had not yet fully taken root, so the genre was still flourishing in 1952. Steadily growing in popularity was WHAT’S MY LINE?, which saw a panel of public personalities guess everyday citizens’ jobs through a game of 20 Questions, essentially. In every episode, a celebrity guest came by, in which case the panel was blindfolded and tried to guess the actual identity of the person. It’s an OK show, and there are decent quips from the panel. Like a lot of quiz shows from this era, though, I’m sometimes taken aback by how casual things are; there are a lot of awkward pauses and dead air that aren’t immediately remedied by the host. Meanwhile, THIS IS YOUR LIFE, which “surprise” profiles a celebrity guest who has been in the business for some time, takes second by default. Clips of this show have circulated among different fanbases for decades; for example, a Laurel and Hardy appearance is an interesting artifact of the retired duo. Because, yes, THIS IS YOUR LIFE usually took its retrospective look at the lives of celebrities who could be considered, well, “washed up.” It’s schmaltzy, and at times propagandistic (as in a Jeanette MacDonald episode that portrays her marriage to Gene Raymond as perfect), but it’s mildly interesting in most cases. DOWN YOU GO, a Hangman variant, is missing, as is TWO FOR THE MONEY, hosted by Will Rogers’ heir apparent Herb Shriner. The real absence is felt with YOU BET YOUR LIFE, hosted by Groucho Marx; I simply couldn’t find episodes of the TV show (not the radio version) from 1952. Marx probably would have taken the win for me.

  • DRAGNET*
  • MARTIN KANE, PRIVATE EYE
  • FOREIGN INTRIGUE
  • RACKET SQUAD
  • THE BIG STORY~

DRAGNET became an immensely popular cop show in its day, and saw its fair share of revivals over the years. For 1952, it’s a more cinematic TV show than its competitors, so for that alone it gets more points; it feels a little more “serious.” On the whole, though, it shares the cheesiness of its fellow nominees. MARTIN KANE, PRIVATE EYE is, as you might expect, a detective show. FOREIGN INTRIGUE sees American newspaper reporters, abroad in Europe, foiling seditious plots, while RACKET SQUAD, in a bit of an interesting twist, is an anthology show that focuses on the different scams “confidence men” employ to fool the average person. Oh, and the missing THE BIG STORY apparently dramatized “true” newspaper stories. They’re actually all pretty comparable in quality for me, but DRAGNET has the slight edge for its visuals, and it should be mentioned, the more compelling performance by its creator and lead, Jack Webb.

  • THE GABBY HAYES SHOW
  • TIME FOR BEANY*~
  • BIG TOP~
  • KUKLA, FRAN AND OLLIE~
  • PUPPET PLAYHOUSE~
  • SUPER CIRCUS~
  • ZOO PARADE~

It’s interesting judging this category, because its nominees were not made for my demographic, especially for this era. Children’s programming in 1952 was certainly less universal than cartoons today. Not that it matters much; the only nominee I could find for this year was THE GABBY HAYES SHOW. Its namesake was a Western sidekick mainstay at the time, and he would introduce and conclude Western stories on his program. Bob Clampett’s (of Looney Tunes fame) puppet show TIME FOR BEANY won, but it is mostly missing, let alone for 1952. BIG TOP and SUPER CIRCUS were circus-themed kids’ variety shows, KUKLA, FRAN AND OLLIE and PUPPET PLAYHOUSE were more puppet content, and ZOO PARADE showed off animals. Literally have to give it to Gabby Hayes.

  • VICTORY AT SEA
  • SEE IT NOW*
  • CAMEL NEWS CARAVAN
  • LIFE IS WORTH LIVING
  • MEET THE PRESS~

This category recognized news, documentary, and other non-fiction programs, so it’s a little strange to judge today. Perhaps that’s why VICTORY AT SEA, a 24-part documentary series about World War II, holds up the best today. It’s one of the earliest examples, I feel, of “prestige” limited series dedicated to a serious topic. SEE IT NOW was the “canonical” winner, and essentially created the “news magazine” format for television, which a show like 60 MINUTES (1968-present) would embody. Hosted by Edward R. Murrow, its in-depth reporting is certainly more interesting today than the 15-minute long episodes of CAMEL NEWS CARAVAN, which were truly bite-sized updates of news. LIFE IS WORTH LIVING is one of the most bizarre relics of this Emmys ceremony, as is its host Fulton J. Sheen, then the Catholic Church’s Auxiliary Bishop of New York. This Catholic priest diverted viewers from Milton Berle’s successful show to talk about “serious topics.” In one episode I watched, he rails against communism. Sheen was wildly popular on television for a time, even for a nation that is not primarily Catholic, and indeed his show was more broadly about God-fearing citizenship. It’s relatively boring, I presumably disagree with everything Sheen stood for, and so it lands in last place. I couldn’t find a remnant of MEET THE PRESS, but it has to better than what Chuck Todd is doing with it now, right?

  • Jack Webb
  • Thomas Mitchell*
  • John Newland
  • John Forsythe
  • Charlton Heston~
  • Vaughn Taylor~

As with the 4th Emmys, the 5th Emmys did not find it necessary to distinguish for what performances its acting nominees were being recognized, leaving me to do some detective work. Even in the case of a more obvious performance (i.e. on a show that was nominated elsewhere), some of these actors’ episodes were lost. In that case, I just tried to find the next best thing. However, in the case of Jack Webb, it was clear that his work on DRAGNET warranted his nomination. And Webb indeed was pretty good on it, turning in a decent cop performance for the day. Noted character actor Thomas Mitchell was a gregarious conman in STUDIO ONE’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” a more amusing performance than John Newland’s Victor Frankenstein in TALES OF TOMORROW’s “Frankenstein.” Fun fact: Lon Chaney Jr. played Frankenstein’s Monster in this adaptation, and was not aware for part of the program that they were in fact performing live. Thinking it was still a rehearsal, he gently set down a chair he was supposed to smash in one scene. Anyways, John Forsythe is pretty forgettable in “The Beach of Falesa,” an episode of SUSPENSE, and I couldn’t find any of the 1952 TV appearances of Charlton Heston and Vaughn Taylor. No performances in this category truly impressed me, but Webb still ended up the clear winner.

  • Helen Hayes*~
  • Sarah Churchill~
  • June Lockhart~
  • Maria Riva~
  • Peggy Wood~

Incredibly, I could not find any of the 1952 TV performances by any of the women nominated for Best Actress at the 5th Emmys. Furthermore, I have yet to find any of the TV appearances Helen Hayes had already been nominated thrice for. It’s unfortunate that this entire category can’t be judged, but considering how consistently critically acclaimed she was, I’ll take the point on Helen Hayes’ win.

  • Jackie Gleason
  • Sid Caesar
  • Herb Shriner
  • Wally Cox
  • Jimmy Durante*~

As with the acting categories, these Best Comedian/Comedienne categories don’t specify for what roles they’re being nominated. Unlike those acting categories, though, connecting the dots is much easier because each of these people were the hosts or stars of their own shows. However, since it wasn’t specified, I took a liberty with Jackie Gleason; his show is not extant from 1952, but he did appear on the MDA Telethon with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and gosh, I love Gleason, as mentioned earlier. There is something about him that is so inherently likable to me. That’s why he takes the win here for me, but right behind him is Sid Caesar, one of the great TV comedians of the era. I also took a liberty with Herb Shriner; the game show he hosted, TWO FOR THE MONEY, couldn’t be tracked down, so I went off his WHAT’S MY LINE? appearance. It’s a very limited slice of performance that doesn’t really capture what he was about, I gather, but it’s preferable to Wally Cox as Mister Peepers. And finally, winner Jimmy Durante was one of the hosts for FOUR STAR/ALL STAR REVUE, but his episodes of the show are nowhere to be found for 1952. And so Gleason, who was still able to carry a silly improvised bit for a charity event, is the best comedian here for me.

  • Lucille Ball*
  • Imogene Coca
  • Joan Davis
  • Eve Arden~
  • Martha Raye~

Because of my distaste for the word “comedienne,” my instinct was to think that this was a silly category. But then, it’s as silly a category as Best “Actress,” isn’t it? That’s a conversation for another day. For this conversation, it’s easy to start with, once again, how good Lucille Ball and I LOVE LUCY were. Imogene Coca, of YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, is a phenomenal comic performer, but the characterization that Ball was able to commit to, plus the greater wealth of surviving I LOVE LUCY episodes (I mean, all of them are), puts her over. Joan Davis was the star of I MARRIED JOAN, a very I LOVE LUCY-esque sitcom about a “craaazy” wife and her suffering husband. Her slapstick comedy is alright, but Ball and Coca have the definite edge. Eve Arden, star of the aforementioned and missing OUR MISS BROOKS, and Martha Raye, who at this point was hosting ALL STAR REVUE every once in a while, couldn’t be judged. But what the hell, I would probably end up picking Ball anyways.

  • Lucille Ball
  • Donald O’Connor
  • Edward R. Murrow
  • Adlai Stevenson
  • Arthur Godfrey
  • Fulton J. Sheen*
  • Jimmy Durante~

This is an interesting category, as an overlap of the comedian categories and the, well, dryer aspects of hosting and “personality.” I have to say it again, but yes, Lucille Ball was indeed the most outstanding personality on television in 1952. She was simply the most entertaining to watch. Donald O’Connor, as a regular host of THE COLGATE COMEDY HOUR, is actually a close second; he was fresh off the success of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952) at this time. Edward R. Murrow is one of the greatest journalists of all time, and I went to journalism school, so sure, his anchoring on SEE IT NOW carries a bit more weight. But here’s where things get weird: Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic nominee for president in 1952 against Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, most outstanding (TV) personality? Huh? The closest I could figure is that this nomination referred to his (presidential) nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, which I must admit, was a good one. There’s a little bit of bias here as well, as one who thinks Stevenson was a more progressive politician than you might expect for his day, and I think he would have been a good president. This politician even beat out actual entertainer Arthur Godfrey, who I think is a bit too bland from what I’ve been able to gather (for 1952, it was just a WHAT’S MY LINE? appearance), and Catholic priest Fulton J. Sheen. I’ve vaguely covered what I think of Catholic priests, and I am genuinely shocked that he won Most Outstanding Personality. And so that leaves poor ol’ Jimmy Durante, a great old school comedian who, as far as much of the internet is concerned, didn’t appear on television in 1952. But this is a weird category, and the actual entertainment sensation that was Lucille Ball has to beat out her comedian peers, and certainly the journalist, politician, and Catholic priest.

And so I LOVE LUCY/Lucille Ball took home more awards in my book then they did in reality, with three wins of the 12 categories. And I went 50/50 for those 12 categories, aligning with The Television Academy’s decisions nearly seven decades ago six times. There were certainly some wins and nominations here (I’m looking specifically at Fulton J. Sheen) that are strange or obscure in hindsight, but as a whole, I feel, with each Emmy Awards ceremony, the concurrent improvement of the quality of television.

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