All but forgotten in the hoopla surrounding the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is the Kraft Television Theatre adaptation of Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember (published in 1955), which was broadcast live on Wednesday, March 28th, 1956. Broadcasting*Telecasting reported that the production would feature a cast of 107 (with 72 speaking parts) and 31 sets . Claude Raines served as narrator. An Associated Press article explained that production had to be moved from NBC’s facilities in Manhattan to a larger studio in Brooklyn due to the 3,000 gallons of water and two massive tanks needed to recreate the sinking . Set designer Duane McKinney was concerned that wooden scenery would be warped and potentially unusable, as in the case of doors, having been submerged in water for days. But the broadcast was a success, both critically and with viewers.
Jack Gould of The New York Times called it “technically brilliant” and an “extraordinary demonstration of staging technique that imparted a magnificent sense of physical dimension to the home screen” . He lauding the emotion and tension while criticizing the intrusion of commercial breaks. Gould’s only criticism of the production itself was the actual sinking of the Titanic but he insisted it was a “very minor reservation” and summed up the show as “a triumph of organization in the dramatic art.”
A review in Broadcasting*Telecasting praised the production’s ability to retell the story of the Titanic without being too dry and historical or too fictionalized, noting that “in telecasting the tragic story of the Titanic with its unspoken but effectively delivered moral of the inevitable results of cocksure complacency, Kraft’s ‘A Night to Remember’ gave every viewer a program to remember for a long time to come” . According to the same review, production costs were approximately $85,000 (it also stated there were 127 castmembers rather than 107).
“A Night to Remember” received a Trendex rating of 27.7; for the 9-9:30PM the program drew a 28.2 rating . In mid-April, The Billboard reported that Kraft was in negotiations to repeat the program, needing to secure rights from Walter Lord . The repeat, from a kinescope recording of the original live broadcast, was eventually scheduled for Wednesday, May 2nd.
In 1958, a feature film adaptation of Lord’s book starring Kenneth More was released, greatly overshadowing the Kraft Television Theatre production. Although the 1958 film has been released on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray, the television version has never been commercially released on any format. The Paley Center for Media, UCLA’s Film & Television Archive, The Library of Congress and The Museum of Broadcast Communications all have the episode in their collections. The Museum of Broadcast Communications even has it available for viewing online (just log in to the Archives, select TV, and search for “night to remember” under episode title).
2 Mercer, Charles. “TV Show to Recall Sinking of Titanic.” Associated Press. The Miami News. 27 Mar. 1956: 8B.
3 Gould, Jack. “TV: Last Hours of Titanic.” New York Times. 29 Mar. 1956: 55.
4 “In Review: A Night to Remember.” Broadcasting*Telecasting. 2 Apr. 1956: 12.
5 “Kraft’s Night to Remember.” Billboard. 7 Apr. 1956: 4.
6 “Repeat Talked for ‘Titanic’.” Billboard. 14 Apr. 1956: 3.