Playhouse 90 Pioneer Martin Manulis Dies
Los Angeles, CA — Producer Martin Manulis, a stage, television and film producer best known for his pioneering work with Playhouse 90, the live anthology series that became a television classic, died September 28 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 92, and passed away as a result of natural causes.
Manulis, who began his career in the theater, was born in May 30, 1915, in Brooklyn, New York. He developed an interest in stage production as a boy, when he attended Broadway plays with his mother.
After graduating from Columbia University with a degree in English, he worked as a stage director and producer in New York before and after World War II, during which he served in the Navy as a press liaison. In 1945, he became managing director of the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, Connecticut.
In the 1950s, during the early days of television, Manulis began producing plays for the CBS series Best of Broadway and the dramatic anthology series Suspense, Studio One and Climax! By the time of Playhouse 90, he had moved to Los Angeles.
Playhouse 90, one of the most revered productions of television’s so-called Golden Age, premiered on CBS in 1956 and ended its run in 1961. Ambitious and provocative, the ninety-minute dramatic series showcased the work of some of the finest on-the-rise writers, performers and directors of the era, many of whom went on to distinguish themselves in the theater and in film, in addition to television.
These included directors such as John Frankenheimer, George Roy Hill and Arthur Penn; writers William Gibson, J.P. Miller and Rod Serling; and performers Charlton Heston, Paul Newman, Cliff Robertson and Joanne Woodward. In addition, the show attracted such veteran performers as Claudette Colbert, Burl Ives, Mickey Rooney and Teresa Wright.
Manulis produced every episode of the first two seasons, and in all he produced more than sixty of the landmark show’s installments.
In its first season, Playhouse 90 won six Primetime Emmy Awards, and its second episode, Requiem for a Heavyweight, about a beleaguered boxer, was named best new program of the year, as well as best program of the year overall. Other awards went to Rod Serling for his teleplay, Jack Palance for his lead performance, Ralph Nelson for his direction and Albert Heschlong for his art direction.
High points of the series included such heralded productions as The Miracle Worker, The Comedian, Forbidden Area, The Eighty Yard Run, The Days of Wine and Roses and The Helen Morgan Story.
The series was also an incubator for feature films: Requiem for a Heavyweight, The Miracle Worker and The Days of Wines and Roses, among others, were later made into acclaimed motion pictures.
The pace and pressure of producing a live ninety-minute drama on a weekly basis were grueling, and during the third season Manulis scaled back his involvement and oversaw a third of the slate.
In 1958, he became production chief at Twentieth Century Fox Television, where he served as executive producer of the sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.
He segued into film production in 1962, with the big-screen adaptation of The Days of Wine and Roses, directed by Blake Edwards and starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. He also produced the films Luv, also starring Lemmon, Dear Heart, with Glenn Ford and Geraldine Page, and Duffy, with James Coburn and James Mason.
He later returned to television, producing such series as James at 15, and the miniseries Chiefs and Space.
In the 1970s, Manulis served as director of the American Film Institute and as artistic director of the Ahmanson Theatre from 1987 to 1989.
Katherine Bard, Manulis’s wife of forty-four years, died in 1983. He is survived by a son, two daughters a grandchild and two great-grandchildren.
Archive of American Television talks with Martin Manulis
On June 17, 1997, Martin Manulis was interviewed in Los Angeles by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation’s Archive of American Television.
During the five-hour interview, Manulis talked about the Golden Age of Television and the challenges of producing live television anthologies. He focused on his greatest contribution to television, critically acclaimed anthology Playhouse 90.
Manulis recalled celebrated teleplays like Requiem for a Heavyweight and The Miracle Worker. Plus, he shares his work experiences with Jack Palance, Ed Wynn, Jack Lemmon, Claudette Colbert, Rod Serling, Tad Mosel and J.P. Miller.
He also spoke of his later work producing The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and such miniseries as Space.
The complete interview is available for viewing at the AAT office, located on the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences plaza in North Hollywood. You may also view the entire interview on Google Video. Contact the Television Archive at (818) 754-2800 for more information.
To learn more about this life and works of this American Archive of Television personality online, please visit the Archive of American Television Update blog.