Mary Kay Stearns (1925-2018)

Actress Mary Kay Stearns, who starred in the early TV sitcom Mary Kay and Johnny with her real-life husband, died November 17th, 2018 at the age of 93. Her death went unreported until this week when The New York Times published an obituary.

Mary Kay and Johnny debuted on the DuMont network on Tuesday, November 18, 1947. It moved to NBC in October 1948, to CBS in March 1949, and then back to NBC in June 1949. The final episode aired in March 1950. Episodes ran either 15 or 30 minutes long.

Promotional photograph of Johnny and Mary Stearns, Circa 1950
Promotional photograph of Johnny and Mary Stearns, Circa 1950

It’s generally considered the first sitcom to air on a television network in the United States as well as the first TV show in which a married couple shared a bed. In 1948, Mary Kay’s pregnancy was written into the show. She gave birth in December of that year. Weeks later, baby Christopher joined his parents on the show, playing himself.

The Paley Center for Media has a single episode of Mary Kay and Johnny from June 1949 in its collection.

After their sitcom went off the air, Mary Kay and Johnny starred in commercials for U.S. Steel for several years.

Still from an episode of The United States Steel Hour showing Mary Kay Stearns.
Mary Kay Stearns in a 1955 commercial for U.S. Steel, from The United States Steel Hour
A Theatre Guild Production
© 2016 The Regents of the University of California
Photo Credit: UCLA Film & Television Archive/YouTube

In August 1999, the Archive of American Teleivsion (now known as The Interviews: An Oral History of Television) interviewed Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns, both together and individually.

Johnny Stearns died in 2001 at the age of 85.

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3 Replies to “Mary Kay Stearns (1925-2018)”

  1. I’ve seen that picture on your front page and always wondered who that couple was. Strange that hardly any episodes of MK&J were saved, as this show seemed to be a trailblazer!

    1. I am in accord with Charles Perry. I always wondered who that couple was, too. I thought it might have been two models from an advertisement. I had no idea they were Mary Kay and Johnny.

  2. Most people probably never heard of them. Their show did air before most people had TV and I don’t know if there were recordings made of the show. Everyone talks about The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy but they never talk about other early sitcoms, but that’s mostly because the episodes have been rerun for decades. But apparently of the episodes that were recorded, only one episode of the series survived.

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