This syndicated, half-hour drama is considered the first TV show with a nurse as the main character. Ella Raines starred as a private duty nurse who traveled the country filling in wherever needed. The series began airing on stations across the country in March 1954. A total of 39 episodes were produced.
A Syndicated Television Series Is Born
In February 1943, recent college graduate Ella Raines screen tested for a role in Universal’s Corvettes in Action and was signed to a term contract by Howard Hawks and Charles Boyer . When the film was released in the fall of 1943 it had been retitled Corvette K-225. Several months, and several additional pictures later, Universal would take over the seven-year optional contract from Hawkes and Boyer, placing Raines in its own films and lending her out to other studios [2, 3]. Between 1943 and 1950 — the length of her original contract — Raines appeared in nearly twenty films before transitioning to television roles. In 1950, she guest-starred in episodes of Robert Montgomery Presents, Lights Out and the premiere episode of Pulitzer Prize Playhouse.
Raines and William Dozier formed Cornwall Productions in October 1953, with Raines as president and Dozier as executive vice president . In its news brief announcing the formation of the company, Broadcasting*Telecasting reported that Cornwall would have its first production before cameras by the beginning of November at the Marion Parsonnet Studios in Long Island. The half-hour, black and white series would be called Janet Dean, Registered Nurse with Raines starring . Matty Fox’s Motion Pictures for Television (MPTV) would be in charge of distribution, with a hoped-for January 1954 premiere date . Only days later, The Billboard reported that Peter Godfrey had been signed to direct the first eight episodes of the series . Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Robert Aldrich would share directing duties with Godfrey and that Joan Harrison had been signed as producer . Screenwriter/producer Harrison, best known for her work with Alfred Hitchcock, had served as associate producer on Phantom Lady, a 1944 film co-starring Ella Raines. A third director, James Neilson, would also work on the series .
A full page advertisement touting the series was run in several industry publications near the end of November. It declared Janet Dean, Registered Nurse a “suspenseful, unusual TV film show based on a nurse’s exciting adventures among the rich and poor… in big cities and small towns… in peace and war… at home and abroad!” . The ad also stated that 39 half-hour episodes would be available March 1st, 1954. In mid-January 1954, Cornwall Productions announced that the first 13 episodes were in the process of being edited and scored and would be ready for distribution by the end of the month . The Billboard reported in early February that MPTV was close to signing a deal with Bromo-Seltzer to sponsor Janet Dean, Registered Nurse in 26 major markets across the country . On March 16th, The New York Times reported that Janet Dean, Registered Nurse would premiere on Tuesday, March 23rd at 7PM on WNBT (the city’s NBC affiliate) . It would be sponsored by Emerson Drug Company, which produced Bromo-Seltzer.
On March 20th, The Billboard reported that The Royal Doll Manufacturing Company had displayed a Janet Dean doll and nursing kit at the 51st American Toy Fair in New York City . Two dolls were shown, an 18-inch version retailing for $13.95 and a 14-inch version retailing for $9.95, the same price as the nursing kit. The dolls would come in a box shaped like a television set. All the toys would be available in May. In early April, Broadcasting*Telecasting announced Emerson Drug Co. would run a contest that month for the 21 television stations on which it was sponsoring Janet Dean, Registered Nurse (via its Bromo-Seltzer product) . The three stations that offered “the most conclusive evidence of merchandising accomplishment” for Bromo-Seltzer and the series would receive cash prizes ranging from $100-$250.
The promotion was the brainchild of Guy Cunningham, MPTV’s ad and promotion director, who felt the company’s traditional press kit was just a starting point for stations. The Billboard‘s Gene Plotnik called MPTV’s kits “among the handsomest and handiest in the trade.” Only one unidentified station declined to participate. Another, KTLA, initially refused but eventually gave in.
(Months later, The Billboard would reveal the results of the contest . The winning station was WEEK-TV in Peoria, which spent $3,500 to mount a parade on main street the day the series premiered. It also polled the city to find the most popular nurse. Trailers were run in local movie theaters, mailings sent to local nurses and pharmacists, ads in newspapers, TV Guide, buses and lobbies. All this time, money and effort netted the station the top prize of $250, used to throw a party for station personnel. Detroit’s WXYZ-TV came in second, and won $150, by having four salesmen call local stores and “was able to provide the added twist of flashing plugs for ‘Janet Dean’ on the moving letter sign around the top of its headquarter building. In third place, and $100 richer, was KDYL in Salt Lake City which placed a special poster in 1,631 stores in three states.)
More Than Just A Nurse
A February 1954 profile on William Dozier in Broadcasting*Telecasting revealed that Ella Raines had approached him with the idea for Janet Dean, Registered Nurse. Dozier had “toyed with the idea of a television series with a nurse as the leader character” for some time and felt such a series would have “an unlimited scope without forcing–on all social levels, in all locales” . Rather than tie the series to a single setting by having the main character work in a hospital, the series would act more like an anthology series by making its sole character a private duty nurse. As such, she would move to a new assignment in a new location each week, often working in hospitals but able to take jobs wherever she was needed. In a March 1954 United Press article, Raines echoed Dozier’s comments, explaining that “the character of a nurse offered unlimited flexibility in situation and locale” . Furthermore, “we’ve also made Janet a member of the Air Force Nurses Corps reserve. That means she’s subject to recall for temporary or extended service anywhere, so we certainly won’t be limited geographically” .
According to a brief article in the April 4th, 1954 edition of The Chicago Daily Tribune, each episode of Janet Dean was “based on an actual case” . Larry Wolters repeated this assertion a few days later in his column, writing that the series “is not a soap opera but a series of dramas based on actual cases” . MPTV advertised the series as “authentic — each dramatic show is based on an actual case history” . According to Raines, “one thing we’re priding ourselves on is authenticity where the nursing profession is concerned. In this connection we’d like to feel that the show may encourage girls to take up the profession. There just never seems to be enough qualified nurses” .
Ella Raines as Janet Dean
The series had a technical adviser who was a nurse (Harriet Stambach, R.N.) but whether episodes were truly based on real cases is unknown. The closing credits to each episode included a familiar disclaimer noting that “Characters and incidents shown in this film are fictitious. Any resemblance to any person living or dead, or to any event, is purely coincidental.” Fairly often, episodes saw Janet placed in danger as she tried to save lives. For example, in one episode she rushes into a trapped elevator to help the injured inside despite the fact that it might plummet to earth without warning. In another, her patient was the sole witness to a robbery and the robber wanted him dead. Other episodes saw Janet involved in cases dealing with mental illness, polio, rigged sporting events, bigotry, baby-selling, gangs and perhaps the most deadly disease of all: plain, simple ignorance.
Not every episode included a crisis, however. One episode didn’t feature Janet (or Ella Raines) at all. Instead, Kim Hunter starred as a nurse named Sylvia Peters who takes over for Janet on a case and winds up helping a young doctor battle fee-splitting. In another episode, Janet is charged with overseeing the recuperation of the manager of a baseball team that stands a good chance of winning the playoffs and tries to convince him to help an old friend of hers, a pitcher for another team. Gore Vidal, using the pseudonym Cameron Kay , wrote an episode in which Janet reminisces about her days in England during World War II. She shares with some friends the tale of the “jinx nurse,” a beautiful young woman who dated many pilots, all of whom were killed in action shortly thereafter.
Aside from the aforementioned Kim Hunter, other guest stars on Janet Dean, Registered Nurse included Darren McGavin and a young Sal Mineo. Each episode of Janet Dean, Registered Nurse was titled “The [Blank] Case,” coinciding with the name Janet wrote on a file during the opening credits.
Critics And Ratings
The American Nurses’ Association released the following statement praising Janet Dean, Registered Nurse: “The sympathetic portrayal which Miss Raines gives to the spirit and substance of nursing is noteworthy” . Syndicated newspaper columnist John Crosby noted that Janet Dean “arrived with some impressive endorsements” from two nursing associations; the other was the National League of Nursing, which suggested that the series would allow for a better understanding of modern nursing . Crosby, however, argued that Janet Dean had little in common with real nurses: “If this is modern nursing, the profession has got a lot harder than it used to be. Ella Raines, who played Janet, is quite a girl. She not only has to put the thermometers in their mouths but also placate the relatives, psychoanalyze the husband and run down the clews [sic] . He then ran through the plots of several episodes, including one in which Janet’s patient was a blind woman whose son was plotting to kill her, to demonstrate just how unrelated they were to actual nursing.
Ella Raines as Janet Dean
Likewise, in Images of Nurses on Television (1983), Kalisch, Kalisch and Scobey state that the “most frequent theme, found in one-third of the episodes, portrayed Miss Dean in a criminal or disastrous situation calling for extraordinary bravery or solutions, rather than for nursing knowledge and skills” . Furthermore, they note that critics felt the series was “heavy handed” and were mindful of the fact that Janet “applied her psychological interventions with or without the doctors’ approval or help” . Yet those same critics were said to find Ella Raines “attractive and competent but not particularly appealing in those episodes in which she was still a nurse and not yet immersed in the more Freudian aspects of the case” . Ultimately, the authors contend that while “nursing responsibilities and knowledge infrequently received attention” the character of Janet Dean “emerged as a dynamic woman, a problem-solver, and an individual who used initiative” .
Ella Raines was voted Best Actress Appearing Regularly in a Non-Network Dramatic Film Series in The Billboard‘s Second Annual TV Film Awards, the winners of which were announced at the end of June 1954 . Janet Dean, Registered Nurse ranked sixth in the Best Non-Network Dramatic Film Series category . The following year, in The Billboard‘s 3rd Annual TV Film Program and Talent Awards, Raines ranked eighth in the Best Actress in Any TV Film Series category. The awards were announced in the August 1955 issue .
Among women, Janet Dean, Registered Nurse performed well, according the ratings information from The Pulse. The following table includes the average monthly Pulse rating followed by the show’s rank among men and women:
The reason for the big jump between March and April 1955 is unknown. In April, its 14.4 rating placed the series 12th among syndicated film series (Life of Riley was first with a 16.6 rating) . As a syndicated series, Janet Dean, Registered Nurse‘s local or regional performance was in many ways more important than how it fared nationally. Low ratings in many of the markets sponsored by Emerson Drug Company/Bromo-Seltzer, for example, could do more to impact that future of the series than high ratings in one or two markets served by other sponsors.
Production and Distribution
A May 8th, 1954 list of film series currently in production published in The Billboard indicated that 26 of a planned 39 episodes had been completed . A week later, however, The Billboard reported that MPTV had decided not to produce the last 26 episodes of the series in color, suggesting only the first 13 had been completed at that point . It was decided that the “color boom” MPTV thought was just around the corner was in fact still a few years off; plans to actually produce any color episodes appear to never have made it past the preparation stage. In mid-June, The Billboard reported that Chase National Bank had loaned Cornwall $260,000 to finish a third batch of 13 episodes of Janet Dean, Registered Nurse . At that point, a total of 35 episodes had been completed. Hedda Hopper reported in July 1954 that Ella Raines had completed 39 episodes of Janet Dean, Registered Nurse and would soon start another series (whether she meant another season of Janet Dean, Registered Nurse or an entirely new television program is unknown) .
In early October 1954, Broadcasting*Telecasting reported that MPTV had signed a 10-year agreement with UM&M Corp. which would see UM&M take over sales of MPTV syndicated programming on a local and regional basis as well as re-runs with MPTV retaining responsibility for network and national sales . Matty Fox explained that the “time and effort expended by [MPTV] salesmen in markets other than the top 40 or 50 in the country did not contribute a financial return commensurate with the investment in the sales effort” . Because Janet Dean, Registered Nurse was not sold on a national level, UM&M would effectively take over all sales responsibility for the series. An article in The Billboard about the MPTV-UM&M deal suggested that the latter company had taken over all distribution responsibilities, not just local and regional .
Guest Star Kim Hunter
Broadcasting*Telecasting reported in mid-March 1955 that Emerson Drug Co. would begin sponsoring The Science Fiction Theatre (a Ziv Television production) in April, dropping its sponsorship of Janet Dean, Registered Nurse in major markets (said to include New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis and Salt Lake City) . In August 1956, The Billboard reported that Guild Films was negotiating with Matty Fox to purchase seven series originally produced by MPTV, including Janet Dean, Registered Nurse . MPTV’s deal with UM&M collapsed when UM&M went out of business.
There appear to have been no plans to produce additional episodes of Janet Dean, Registered Nurse past its initial 39-episode order. Whether this was because of low ratings, lack of sponsor support, the changes in distribution or some other reason(s) is unknown. Some stations did not air all the produced episodes. In New York City, for example, WNBT stopped airing the series in October 1954 after only 29 episodes had been broadcast. Other stations continued to repeat the series throughout the 1950s. In July 1957, two stations were reported to still be airing the series . It may have been on airing as late as 1960.
Janet Dean, Registered Nurse was syndicated nationally. It may have been aired in Canada. A December 1953 article in Broadcasting*Telecasting reported that MPTV had set up MPTV (Canada) Ltd. to distribute its programming in that country . It was definitely aired seen in Sondrestrom, Greenland on an Air Force television station, where it was the number one drama series . It also aired in Australia in the late 1950s.
Only a handful of episodes are known to exist today. The Museum of Broadcast Communications has two in its collection. The Paley Center for Media and UCLA’s Film and Television Archive each have one. An additional two or three circulate in the hands of private collectors. Copyright was renewed on the series in December 1989 by a company called Krypton International Corporation but the current rights holder is unknown. Also a mystery is the fate of the Janet Dean dolls and nursing kit unveiled at the 51st American Toy Fair by The Royal Doll Manufacturing Company. Were the toys ever actually released?
Janet Dean, Registered Nurse was the only television series Cornwall Productions ever made. In 1956, after the series had ended, Ella Raines appeared in one film — The Man in the Road — and made guest appearances in two television series — Rheingold Theatre and The Christophers — before retiring from acting. She would come out of retirement just once in 1984 for an episode of Matt Houston. She passed away in 1988 at the age of 67, perhaps best known for her role in 1944’s Phantom Lady. But she should also be remembered for starring in the first television series to focus on nursing. William Dozier died in 1991; Joan Harrison in 1994.
2 “RKO Will Star George Sanders in ‘Nine Lives’-Booth Tarkington Novel Bought for $100,000.” New York Times. 15 Jul. 1943: 25.
3 “Screen News Here and in Hollywood — Ella Raines Borrowed by RKO for ‘Tall in the Saddle’-‘Cover Girl’ Here Today.” New York Times. 30 Mar. 1944: 18.
4 “Dozier, Raines form Cornwall Productions.” Broadcasting*Telecasting. 12 Oct. 1953: 40.
7 “Talent Notes on Air and Screen.” The Billboard. 24 Oct. 1953: 4.
8 “‘Janet Dean’ Gets Top Film Talent.” The Billboard. 31 Oct. 1953: 1.
9 All three directors (Peter Godfrey, Robert Boyle and James Neilson) were named in a profile on William Dozier published in Broadcasting*Telecasting on February 8th, 1954 (“Film Maker: William Dozier,” Page 81).
10 [Advertisement.] Broadcasting*Telecasting. 30 Nov. 1953: 55.
11 “Distribution.” Broadcasting*Telecasting. 11 Jan. 1954: 34.
12 “MPTV Nears Sales to Bromo.” The Billboard. 13 Feb. 1954: 6.
13 “Radio-TV Notes.” New York Times. 16 Mar. 1954: 36.
14 Plotnik, Gene. “Plugs and Premiums.” The Billboard. 20 Mar. 1954: 12
15 “Merchandising Contest Set for ‘Janet Dean’ Show.” Broadcasting*Telecasting. 5 Apr. 1954: 30.
16 Plotnik, Gene. “Plugs and Premiums.” The Billboard. 7 Aug. 1954: 6.
17 “Film Maker: William Dozier.” Broadcasting/Telecasting. 8 Feb. 1954: 81.
18 Gaver, Jack. “Actors Elbowing Into Counting Rooms.” Tuscaloosa News. United Press. 19 Mar. 1954: 13.
20 “Ella Raines to Star in Series About Nurse.” Chicago Daily Tribune. 4 Apr. 1954: N12.
21 Wolters, Larry. “Where To Dial Today.” Chicago Daily Tribune. 9 Apr. 1954: A4.
22 [Advertisement]. The Billboard.
23 Gaver, Jack. “Actors Elbowing Into Counting Rooms.”
24 Gore Vidal Papers (MS Am 2350). Houghton Library, Harvard University.
25 Wolters, Larry. “Where To Dial Today.” Chicago Daily Tribune. 9 Apr. 1954: A4.
26 Crosby, John. “Ella Raines In Nurse Role On TV Is Not Very Medical.” Modesto Bee. Jun 21. 1954: 9.
28 Kalisch, Philip A., Kalisch, Beatrice J., and Scobey, Margaret. Images of Nurses on Television. New York: Springer Publishing Company, Inc., 1983: 138.
29 Ibid, 138.
30 Ibid, 138-139.
31 Ibid, 139.
32 “Ella Raines and Menjou Top Syndicated Drama Thesps.” The Billboard. 31 Jul. 1954: 8.
33 “D. Fairbanks Noses Out ‘Favorite Story’.” The Billboard. 31 Jul. 1954: 8.
34 “The Billboard’s 3rd Annual TV Film Program and Talent Awards.” The Billboard. 6 Aug. 1955: 4-5.
35 “The Billboard Scoreboard: Top 25 Vidfilms Among Men.” The Billboard. 4 Dec. 1954: 6.
36 “The Billboard Scoreboard: Top 25 Vidfilms Among Women.” The Billboard. 11 Dec. 1954: 6.
37 “The Billboard Scoreboard: Top 25 Vidfilms Among Men.” The Billboard. 1 Jan. 1955: 4.
38 “The Billboard Scoreboard: Top 25 Vidfilms Among Women.” The Billboard. 8 Jan. 1955: 4.
39 “The Billboard Scoreboard: Top 25 Vidfilms Among Men.” The Billboard. 5 Mar. 1955: 6.
40 “The Billboard Scoreboard: Top 25 Vidfilms Among Women.” The Billboard. 12 Mar. 1955: 6.
41 “The Billboard Scoreboard: Top 25 Vidfilms Among Women.” The Billboard. 2 Apr. 1955: 4.
42 “The Billboard Scoreboard: Top 25 Vidfilms Among Women.” The Billboard. 14 May 1955: 9.
43 “The Billboard Scoreboard: Top 25 Vidfilms Among Women.” The Billboard. 11 Jun. 1955: 7.
44 “The Billboard Scoreboard: Top 24 Non-Network Vidfilm Series and Their Pulse Multi-Market Ratings.” The Billboard. 28 May 1955: 10.
45 “TV Film Series in Production.” The Billboard. 8 May 1954: 8.
46 “Color Era Years Off? MPTV Thinks So, Calls Halt to Chrome Series.” The Billboard. 15 May 1954: 5.
47 “Chase Loans ‘Janet’ 260G.” The Billboard. 19 Jun. 1954: 1.
48 Hopper, Hedda. “Looking at Hollywood.” Chicago Daily Tribune. 21 Jul. 1954: A2.
49 “UM&M to Handle MPTV Films Locally.” Broadcasting*Telecasting. 4 Oct. 1954: 31.
51 “MPTV Turns Distribution Over to Amory’s UM&M.” The Billboard. 9 Oct. 1954: 5.
52 “‘Science Theatre’ Sales Reach 58 as Three Buy.” Broadcasting*Telecasting. 14 Mar. 1955: 59.
53 “Guild, Fox Discuss Pix, Cartoon Deal.” The Billboard. 18 Aug. 1956: 8.
54 “List Tabs Syndicated Shows Most Used as Spot Carriers.” The Billboard. 26 Aug. 1957: 22.
55 “Formation of MPTV Ltd. to Bring Films to Canada.” Broadcasting*Telecasting. 14 Dec. 1953: 104.
56 “AF Reindeer Rating Scores.” The Billboard. 5 Jan. 1957: 1.
Originally Published September 3rd, 2007
Last Updated April 29th, 2018