70th Anniversary of Mary Kay and Johnny

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 91st 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.

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15 Replies to “70th Anniversary of Mary Kay and Johnny”

  1. Strange that a show that ran for that long wouldn’t have more surviving episodes. Interesting story: It was sponsored by Anacin and in order to judge the show’s audience, they made an on-air announcement that they would send a personal size mirror to any viewer who mailed a request. This was in 1948, and the company assumed the audience was so small that they only ordered 400 mirrors. Imagine their surprise when they got over 3,000 responses!!

    1. I double checked my sources and I underestimated the request number, it was actually 8,960. For 1948, that was a huge number!

    2. The first season was not filmed. Episodes from 1948 were filmed, and existed until 1975, when the films were dumped in the East River, along with other Dumont films.

      1. True, Edie Adams complained in a congressional hearing about this after searching in vain for shows featuring her husband Ernie Kovacs.

  2. That is interesting about the real-life pregnancy. I wonder if it was such a big issue with “I Love Lucy” because there were so many more televisions at that point, including in areas that might not have had reception a few years earlier. It is also interesting about the Anacin promotion.

  3. That Anacin story is included in nearly every article or write-up about Mary Kay and Johnny. It’s one of the only contemporary accounts of the series I’ve ever come across.

    1. Ok, it is a common story among Tv historians, but there are some people who don’t know as much as us about early Tv. You may know the story Robert, but clearly David didn’t. I write for the Davids, not for the Roberts!!

      1. I’m glad you shared it. I was trying to point out how little we know about Mary Kay and Johnny. The Anacin story is told and retold because it’s basically the only well-known story about the series.

        (I admit to not having watched the Archive of American Television interviews with Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns. Yet. I’m sure they shared memorable tales from the series.)

    1. This Billboard Magazine dated March 1948 was a fantastic social history read- I learned new 1940s lingo of the entertainment world. They used the word ‘fleshers’ for stage shows ( in the flesh) versus ‘pictures’. They use ‘ork’ for orchestra, tix for tickets ( it’s not a new word!), wax and platters for records, ‘legit’ is a type of actor. I just spend over an hour reading it. Thanks for the link.

  4. I have been under the impression that Fred and Wilma Flintstone were the first couple to share a bed on television.

    Darwinn Bruce

    1. Mary Kay and Johnny sorta fell into the cracks of early television. Had episodes been saved, we might have heard about the Sterns as much as Lucy & Desi!

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