Not a TV Pilot – Summer of Decision (1959)

Strictly speaking, this has absolutely nothing to do with television, let alone obscure television. But that isn’t going to stop me from talking about it. In 2006, Passport Video released a five-disc collection of classic television programs called The Golden Age of TV Drama. Included on the fifth disc was a half-hour program called “Summer of Decision,” starring Nicholas Pryor, Kevin McCarthy and Suzanne Pleshette.

According to the booklet including in the collection, “Summer of Decision” aired on November 13th, 1959 and was presumably an unsold pilot. (Interestingly, the version of The Golden Age of TV Drama in my collection includes something called “For the Defense,” an unsold pilot starring Edward G. Robinson. The current version offered at Amazon.com and Passport’s website has replaced this with an episode of The Federal Men called “The Case of the Steady Hand.” Perhaps copyright concerns popped up and Passport was forced to remove “For the Defense.”)

In any event, I can’t find any mention of “Summer of Decision” in television listings for November 13th, 1959. Furthermore, according to an article in The New York Times, “Summer of Decision” wasn’t a television pilot or even intended for broadcast [1]. It was a film produced by The Council on Social Work Education for use in promoting the field of social work. The film premiered on December 6th, 1959 at the Hunter College Auditorium in New York City.

Summer of Decision
Summer of Decision

The premiere was sponsored by the Social Work Recruiting Committee of Greater New York (which was, according to the article, formed in 1956 because of an acute shortage of social workers). “Summer of Decision” would later be shown in other parts of New York.

In “Summer of Decision,” David Michael (played by Nicholas Pryor), a college student just ending his junior year, is off to learn about social work for the summer. His father (played by Paul McGrath) wants David to work construction with him over the summer. But David is interested in trying something a little different this summer. And if social work isn’t right for him, he promises he’ll work with his father after he graduates.

Nicholas Pryor as David
Nicholas Pryor as David

The man in charge of internship project in New York is one Mr. Rogers (played by Kevin McCarthy) and lo and behold, David ends up working with him. He soon meets Susan Bennett (played by Suzanne Pleshette), another young up-and-coming social worker. The two share a drink. Susan is quite sure she wants to make social work her career; David is less certain. Mr. Rogers brings David with him when they go to talk with tenants at a building that has been condemned who won’t leave, even though the housing authority has found them other places to live. They visit seven apartments. It’s a moving experience for David.

Suzanne Pleschette as Susan
Suzanne Pleschette as Susan

David gets a phone call from his father with an invitation to go out West starting the following Tuesday. A job has popped up in California and David is invited to help out. David promises to think about it and later decides to leave the internship.

Susan: “Well now, what’s the big news you’ve been threatening to tell me?” David: “I’m taking a trip out West. My father needs my help on a job in California. I’m gonna to go with him.” Susan: “When?” David: “Next Tuesday.” Susan: “But how can you? What about your job?” David: “Now don’t sound so annoyed. I’m sure Rogers will understand.”

But before David can talk with Rogers he is asked to sit and stay with a little girl named Carole who never talks to strangers. Somehow, David is able to get through to her using a toy telephone to communicate. He’s done a fine job. Perhaps, suggests Rogers, David instinctively did the right thing and has the natural insight into human behavior that a social worker ought to have. David is asked to stay with Carole again the following Tuesday and he decides to stay in New York City.

“I didn’t take the trip to California. And as much as my father wanted me to go, he accepted my decision. I stayed with Carole on Tuesday. And while she didn’t talk to me we got be pretty good friends. I helped Mrs. Benson get ready to move into a new apartment. And I bothered Rogers with questions about social work.”

David even spends a day at a graduate school of social work, digging through its library. And he listens to Rogers give a talk in front of a legislative committee hearing about juvenile delinquency. He even goes to the United Nations, where Rogers gives another speech. And he makes a decision about his life:

“Today, I start my senior year in college. And I made up my mind. I know now what I want to do. I’m sure about the career I want.”

Lois Nettleton had a small part in “Summer of Decision” as a receptionist. The film runs 26:22.

Lois Nettleton as Receptionist
Lois Nettleton as Receptionist

Sources 1 “Movie Premiere to Assist Drive for Social Workers.” New York Times. 22 Nov. 1959: 95.

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