Rod Serling’s 1st Produced TV Script Not Lost

65 years ago today–on Wednesday, September 13th, 1950–NBC aired the second episode of its Stars Over Hollywood anthology series. It was called “Grady Everett for the People” and if not for one simple fact it would likely be just as forgotten today as hundreds of other episodes of anthology series.

Burt Freed as Grady Everett
Burt Freed as Grady Everett

What makes “Grady Everett for the People” so special? It was supposedly Rod Serling’s very first produced TV script. Only it turns out Serling apparently didn’t write the script.

The Hunt for Early Serling

This is a story about procrastination and laziness. It starts quite a number of years ago when I published a list of Television Programs I’m Looking For. It included TV shows like Thrills and Chills Everywhere, Hour Glass, and Girl About Town. Also on the list when I published it was “Grady Everett for the People” because I’m a big fan of Rod Serling and was hopeful that this episode was out there somewhere.

(At one point in the mid-1990s, “Grady Everett for the People” was of the programs the Museum of Television & Radio–now the Paley Center for Media–was searching for. It’s no longer on the Paley Center’s list of missing TV programs.)

Now, I should stress that this list of mine was not, and is not, about “lost” TV shows and programs. It’s a little vaguer than that. None of the items on the list, including “Grady Everett for the People,” were technically “lost” or “missing” because nobody was really looking for them as far as I knew. Copies could exist somewhere and there may well be people who knew that copies exist somewhere. But I didn’t know. Hence the list. My hope was that people would read it and be able to provide some information.

That’s just what somebody did in April 2011 when they left a comment claiming to have a 16mm print of “Grady Everett for the People” as well as another episode of Stars Over Hollywood. Unfortunately, I was never able to get any details from whoever left the comment and therefore couldn’t confirm that a copy of the episode actually existed.

A few years later, an avid collector of Rod Serling’s TV work contacted me saying he had “Grady Everett for the People” on DVD and offered to send me a copy. The DVD arrived and sure enough, “Grady Everett for the People” was on it along with Serling’s other Stars Over Hollywood episode (“Merry Christmas for Sweeney,” originally broadcast December 20th, 1950) and an episode of WKRC-TV’s The Storm, a local, live anthology series that Serling wrote for in Cincinnati in 1951.

Did I immediately watch the episode? I did not. I added the DVD to a pile of DVDs, filed it away in my mental “To Do” list, and before long forgot about it.

Where Did It Come From?

I’ve thought about “Grady Everett for the People” on and off since I finally got my hands on it. How did it wind up on DVD? What was the source? How many people have copies? Stars Over Hollywood was filmed rather than aired live, so it seems unlikely that a kinescope recording could be floating around but 16mm prints distributed to NBC affiliates might still exist. The whereabouts of the original 35mm film elements for the episode are unknown.

Complicating matters somewhat is the fact that my DVD copy of Grady Everett for the People doesn’t feature Stars Over Hollywood opening credits. In fact, there are no opening credits at all. The episode starts with an incomplete sponsor spot for an unidentified shaving cream and Right Guard deodorant, then a title card reading “Grady Everett for the People” and beneath that “Starring Bert Freed.” There’s an incomplete voiceover over the title card.

The closing credits may also be incomplete, with no copyright date or production company listed.

For about the first minute, there’s a burned in company name on the bottom of the screen, a recent addition. A small logo is present on the lower right hand corner throughout the episode.

The collector who provided my copy later explained that he purchased it from a company specializing in public domain TV shows and movies. I got in touch with them and learned that they acquired it from a defunct independent dealer who purchased 16mm prints on eBay and sold them on DVD. The dealer was forced to add his company name and a logo to deter other companies from copying and selling his DVDs as their own. Please note: I am not in a position to state whether or not “Grady Everett for the People” is actually in the public domain.

As was the case with many other filmed anthology series from the 1950s, episodes of Stars Over Hollywood were repackaged and syndicated under names like Triangle Theater, Half Hour Theater, Hollywood Opening Night, Matinee Theater, Petticoat Theater, Summer Fair, Showcase Theatre, and Playhouse 7. Many of these movie packages were sponsored regionally or locally on individual stations. That means dozens of 16mm prints of “Grady Everett for the People” were shipped all over the country.

My guess is that a print from one of these movie packages is the source for my DVD copy of “Grady Everett for the People.”

Grady Everett and His People

It feels weird to put up a spoiler warning for a 65-year-old episode but if for some reason you don’t want to know how this episode ends, don’t read the last paragraph of this section.

“Grady Everett for the People” is not a terrible half-hour of television but neither is it in any way outstanding or groundbreaking. It’s heavy-handed at times and many of the characters are thin caricatures.

The basic story: Grady Everett is running for governor of an unnamed state. His son Paul visits him at his campaign headquarters. Paul is upset because one of his college professors suggested Grady was dirty. Grady insists it’s just politics.

After Paul leaves, Grady talks with his campaign manager, Mike, who reveals that the state’s two biggest papers have come out in support of Grady’s opponent, John Scott. Mike argues that Scott has dirt on Grady and the papers believe him.

Grady Everett and Mike
Grady Everett and Mike

Before long the truth comes out. Six years ago, Grady took money from a crooked contractor named Steve George and awarded him the contract for a new school. The building goes up and promptly collapses, killing nine students. Grady paid off both the inspectors who cleared the building and the investigators looking into the collapse. Oh, and he also provided the faulty materials that led to the collapse.

Grady meets with Steve and offers a solution. Steve will take the blame, keeping Grady’s name clear, and after he is elected Grady will get him out of jail and give him enough money to disappear.

After listening to Grady dictate a statement to Joe, another staffer working on the campaign, Mike blows up and resigns, unwilling to work for a man with Grady’s ethics. Paul starts to wonder if perhaps his father really is dirty and then feels ashamed for doubting him.

Grady Everett and His Son Paul
Grady Everett and His Son Paul

As the election returns start to pour in, Steve’s wife stops by the Grady campaign headquarters and reveals the whole story. Paul is perhaps not too shocked and argues with his father, who he finally sees for the dirty politician he really is. Grady is indignant and throws out all of his staffers.

Later, after Scott is declared the winner, Joe is the only one Grady has left by his side. Then Joe reveals that his little brother was one of the kids killed in the school collapse. He started working for Grady so he could be there to watch his downfall. Joe then shoots and kills Grady before walking out.

There is a cast list included in the closing credits but it doesn’t identify the characters play. Here’s the cast as best as I can figure it:

Burt Freed as Grady Everett
Lynn Stalmaster as Mike
Byron Foulger as Joe
Stanley Glenn as Paul
Gilbert Fallman as Steve George
Barbara Wooddell as Mrs. George

Serling’s Involvement

Rod Serling is given a “Story by” credit for “Grady Everett by the People” while Oliver Crawford receives a “Teleplay by” credit.

Rod Serling's Story By Credit
Rod Serling’s Story By Credit

Oliver Crawford was a prolific scriptwriter who penned at least two other episodes of Stars Over Hollywood. If Serling didn’t write the teleplay for “Grady Everett for the People,” how much involvement did he actually have? Exactly what did he write? Could he have written a script that was later rewritten by Crawford? Was any of the dialogue Serling’s?

Confusingly, Serling also receives only a “Story by” credit for his other Stars Over Hollywood episode but there is nobody else listed as providing the teleplay. So did Serling write that script?

What should television historians and fans of Serling make of “Grady Everett for the People?” Does it reflect Serling in his infancy as a scriptwriter? It’s impossible to say. There is a twist at the end, which seems like classic Serling even if it felt obvious. The characters are stiff and one-dimensional but so, too, were many of the characters on The Twilight Zone. The character of Mike is especially troubling. At first he seems sleazy and it’s suggested that he’s done some questionable things in the past to help Grady. Then, suddenly, he has a change of heart and wants nothing to do with Grady as if he didn’t know the sort of man he was working for. The motivation for his transformation is perhaps the weakest element of the episode.

It seems, ultimately, that the question of what was Rod Serling’s first produced TV script remains open. Even if he did write a script for “Grady Everett for the People,” it apparently wasn’t used in favor of a teleplay by Oliver Crawford. He may have written the script for another episode of Stars Over Hollywood that aired in December 1950. He definitely wrote a number of scripts for WKRC-TV’s The Storm in 1951 and 1952.

If anybody has any answers, I’d love to hear them.


4 Comments

  • Patrick McNamara says:

    It’s likely that Serling only wrote an outline of the story. That would have explained the overall plot of the story but didn’t include any of the dialogue. It likely wasn’t any longer than a paragraph or two. He could even have only verbally described the story idea to Crawford who wrote all the details and dialogue of the story. So it was Serling’s idea but Crawford did all the work.

    • Patrick McNamara says:

      I forgot to add that the Internet Archive has audio of many Stars over Hollywood episodes. They seem to be radio plays. As with many TV shows, Stars over Hollywood may have started as a radio series before becoming a TV series.

  • Brad Apling says:

    In the Introduction to Patterns (published by Bantam), Rod Serling noted – “My first television script had been sold in early 1950 to an NBC film series on the Coast called Stars Over Hollywood. It was brave and adventuresome. Beyond this, the production and conception of the program were symptomatic of absolutely the worst features of Class-B moviemaking. The plots were an ABC mishmash, with the depth and levels of an adobe hut. The performances were rarely ever able to overcome the scripts. The piece I sold them was called “Grady Everett for the People.” It starred Burt Freed…I don’t recall too clearly the essence of the story or the way it was done, but I have a vivid recollection of the payment involved. It was exactly $100 for all television rights. I never met anyone connected with this production, nor did I set foot in the studio.”

    So, perhaps as Patrick McNamara indicated, it was a story treatment rather than a full script or Oliver Crawford, who was also new at that time, was hired to rewrite the script (if the execs wanted some changes made).

  • jayjayPL says:

    where can i watch this episode?

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