UCLA to Screen Light’s Diamond Jubilee Special from 1954

As part of its Archive Treasures series, the UCLA Film & Television Archive will screen a 1954 television special called “Light’s Diamond Jubilee” next Sunday (November 9th) at The Billy Wilder Theater. The two-hour special turned 60 this year, having originally aired on October 24th, 1954 from 9-11PM across all four TV networks then in existence — ABC, CBS, NBC and DuMont — making it a rarity in the annals of television. DuMont would cease collapse less than two years later.

The star-studded special celebrated the 75th anniversary of Thomas Edison’s invention of the incandescent light bulb. A mixture of live and filmed segments, it was the first television production of David O. Selznick and featured a bevy of Hollywood stars including Lauren Bacall, George Gobel, David Niven, Kim Novak, Walter Brennan, Helen Hayes, Brandon De Wilde, and Eddie Fisher. President Eisenhower also appeared in a filmed segment as well.

The overall script was penned by Ben Hecht, with individual sketches and skits written by the likes of Arthur Gordon, Irwin Shaw, Max Shulman, and John Steinbeck. Five directors were involved, three for the filmed portions and two for the live parts. Victor Young served as composer/conductor. The special was sponsored by hundreds of electric companies across the country and aired without commercials, although one could certainly consider the entire two-hour broadcast a big commercial.

Jack Gould was generally positive in his review of the special for The New York Times, calling it “a striking cavalcade of the American individual” and “a remarkable theatrical achievement,” although he criticized the “solemn note” of the last twenty minutes as well as President Eisenhower’s speech [1]. Broadcasting*Telecasting, on the other hand, gave “Light’s Diamond Jubilee” an incredibly negative review:

Unfortunately the anniversary of the electric light turned into (1) a free plug for pleasant but elderly clips from Hollywood shelves; (2) an array of disjointed scenes whose wast of writers, actors and money perhaps surpassed any previous mish-mash in television history; (3) examples of bad taste in pitting amorous scenes against faith and hope; and (4) further proof that Hollywood’s hackneyed press agentry and program formats are bad television. [2]

Yikes.

The screening will start at 7PM local time on Sunday, November 9th. Admission is free so classic TV buffs in the area might want to check it out. David O. Selznick’s son Daniel will be at the screening to talk about the special. More information can be found here. If anyone does go to the screening, I’d love to hear your thoughts on “Light’s Diamond Jubilee.”

Works Cited:

1 Gould, Jack. “Television in Review: ‘Light’s Jubilee’ a Fine Salute to Edison.” New York Times. 25 Oct. 1954: 36.
2 “In Review: Light’s Diamond Jubilee.” Broadcasting*Telecasting. 1 Nov. 1954: 12.


1 Comment

  • Randy says:

    There was also a 50th anniversary program on radio in 1929. Here’s a description of it from Elizabeth’s Macleod’s web page on documenting early radio:

    http://www.midcoast.com/~lizmcl/earlyradio.html

    10/21/29–Light’s Golden Jubilee Celebration. NBC Blue network. WJZ aircheck recorded by the Edison Company on “Rayediphonic” discs. The fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the light bulb is observed in this special program from Dearborn. Michigan. An array of luminaries including President Hoover pay tribute to Edison and his invention. Edison himself also speaks, and participates in a re-enactment of the first lighting of the electric lamp. Albert Einstien speaks by shortwave from Berlin, but reception is extremely poor. The recording includes the earliest surviving version of the NBC chimes — a five note progression very much unlike the standard G-E-C. The complete one-hour program was recorded, but a tape copy is in circulation via the National Archives which has been edited to approximately 32 minutes.

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