Pioneering sitcom Mary Kay and Johnny celebrates its 70th anniversary today. The first sitcom on network television in the United States, the show is all but forgotten today. Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns created and starred in the series as newlyweds living in New York City. Johnny worked as a banker; Mary Kay was a housewife.
The series debuted on the DuMont network on Tuesday, November 18, 1947. It moved to NBC in October 1948, to CBS in March 1949, and finally back to NBC in June 1949. The final episode aired in March 1950. Episodes ran either 15 or 30 minutes long.
According to many sources, Mary Kay and Johnny was the first television series to show a married couple sharing a bed.
Mary Kay and Johnny wrote Mary Kay’s real-life pregnancy into the story line in 1948, years before I Love Lucy did the same with Lucille Ball. Mary Kay gave birth to a son, Christopher, in December 1948. Weeks later, he made his acting debut alongside his parents on their sitcom.
Lost and Forgotten
I’ve researched Mary Kay and Johnny on-and-off over the past 15 years. There isn’t much information available. A single episode from June 1949 survives at The Paley Center for Media. I watched it more than a decade ago. I don’t remember much but I do recall an animated opening credits sequence.
Wikipedia claims “fragments” from other episodes exist but offers no proof. At least two scripts and a handful of promotional photographs also survive.
The Archive of American Television interviewed Mary Kay and Johnny in August 1999, jointly and separately. Here’s the first part of their joint interview:
Johnny Stearns died in 2001 at the age of 85. Mary Kay is still alive and recently celebrated her 92nd birthday.
Do you remember watching Mary Kay and Johnny in the late 1940s or early 1950s? If so, please share your memories in the comments. Also, if anyone reading this is friends with Mary Kay Stearns, I’d love an autograph.