Unlike today, where most TV shows feature a regular cast playing the same characters in a `series’ of stories, during the 1950s dramatic anthology series were common.
Nearly every week, either live or on film, shows like Studio One, Playhouse 90, Lux Theatre, and Climax! would present an original teleplay or an adaptation of a famous book, movie, or stage play.
The result was what is now recognized as the `golden age’ of televised drama, where young unknown actors could learn their craft working along side stage and movie veterans, and promising writers could hone their skills.
Since many of these shows were performed and broadcast live. . . goofs, gaffs and miscues would sometimes add to their already considerable entertainment value.
Between 1954 and 1958 CBS television aired 166 hour-long dramatic presentations on their show Climax! sponsored by Chrysler motors.
Hosted first by actor William Lundigan and then later co-hosted by singer, actress, and Disney legend Mary Costa, these shows featured an impressive list of established stars and up and coming talent including:
Michael Rennie, Red Skelton, Barry Nelson, Peter Lorrie, Linda Christian, Linda Darnell, Steve McQueen, Thomas Mitchell, Anne Francis, Howard Duff, Vera Miles, Sebastian Cabot, Lee Marvin, Elaine Stritch, along with many others.
A number of these actors would made multiple appearances over the years, albeit playing different characters.
Perhaps most famously, Climax! in its 3rd episode marked the first screen appearance of super secret agent James Bond, although in their 1954 production of Casino Royale Barry Nelson played an Americanized CIA agent `Jimmy Bond’ in a battle with villainous Peter Lorre.
Other famous adaptations included Sorry, Wrong Number, The Champion, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, The Lou Gehrig Story, and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
The live performances are necessarily stage-bound, and are not as slickly mounted as the filmed episodes, but provide ample entertainment nonetheless.
We are fortunate to have nearly a dozen of these shows available on the Internet Archive, and that number appears to be growing.
You can view a list of their current offerings at THIS LINK.
While this list will hopefully expand, right now the following episodes are available.
Climax: Trail of Terror
Climax!: The Scream in Silence
Climax!: A Promise to Murder
Climax!: Public Pigeon #1
Climax!: The Volcano Seat
Climax!: Trial By Fire
Climax!: Fours Hours in White
Climax!: An Error in Chemistry
Climax! - The Lou Gehrig Story (1956)
Climax!: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Climax - Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
During its four year run Climax! garnered nearly a dozen Emmy nominations, including best dramatic series in 1956 and 1957. Of note,11 of their scripts were subsequently sold to the movies.
For those who miss the Golden Age of Televised drama, or those who would like to know what it was all about, I feel certain you’ll get a lot of satisfaction out of having these multiple Climaxes in your collection.