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Theatre - When Soap Operas Were Live in the 50's

Updated on February 29, 2012

15 Minute Soap Operas

Soap Operas in the Early 1950s -

In the early 1950s Soap Operas had just been invented. The idea? Put out daily serial programs, let advertising for homemakers pay for the programming (read "Soap" a term for products in the home). Bing Crosby, with his investment dollars, and his Research and Development people were aggressively working on the VIDEO, but it had not yet been invented. It wouldn't really be useful and practical until the early 1960s.

In the 50's these daily programs were 15 minutes long and they were LIVE. My father, Burt French was the original "Matt" on "Love of Life". He was a national idol in 1954. Mail was coming in with unprecedented volume. Of course, at the time, they did not know what was unprecedented, since it was all totally new. Put yourself back there. Oh, you can't? Imagine that this was all in its moment of commencement!

Kinescope - A Word You Have Never Heard Of Before -

Go back in your mind, if you can, before the time when EVERYBODY had a recording instrument in their hands. On the set, there were only the LIVE TV Cameras. The live programs were broadcast across the NATION, right then, right now, in that moment. But never again. The only thing that preserved that moment was a guy taking a film of the live broadcast with what they called a KINESCOPE. It was a movie of the live broadcast.

DEEP in the Vaults of Some Manhattan Basement -

Not that anyone, except historians would care, but somewhere these years are stored up and sitting in a gray basement with cooled atmosphere and probably not humidified. Burt Frenches performances and thousands of other actors performances are preserved in Kinescope.

When Burt Went Up -

My father told me that he "went up" (forgot his ines) one time, and because there was not video, which allowed for stopping dialogue and beginning again, he kept on talking. The entire production crew was frozen. They kept shooting and waited for Burt's dialogue to pick up again. THERE WAS NO STOPPING IN LIVE TV. Burt kept on. He "ad libbed" through the entire relationship that he and his lover had. 6 minutes later, he hit on a piece of dialogue 3 pages later. When he hit those lines, all the cameras kicked in again. The crew began clicking through their blocking, and the actors relaxed their anxious shouilders. Burt got on a line that worked. Burt relaxed. Only the Kinescope, which is now locked in a subterranean vault, knew that that particular 15 minute program was "fraught with LIVE NERVES."

"Chris, as a 5 Year Old Staring at the Giant TV Set" -

I had fought with the Italian kids and the Irish kids. It was NOON. We lived under the Triborough Bridge in Astoria, Queens. My Mom would call out with her magnificent alto voice. "Chris, stop playing, its time to come in and see your Father on TV".

I would run in from my Astoria Gang's Hood. My buddies would wonder why my Mother was calling me in to watch TV. How weird! I would stand in front of the TV and touch my father's image. I would "palm" the TV and stare at him. Then, in 15 minutes, it was over. It was actually NOTHING at the time. It's just that NOW. I know it was history. He would come back over the Triborough Bridge and go to our apartment in Astoria, study late into the night, and then do the live performance all over again, jumping on the Triborough again and repeating the LIVE challenge.

Not "go up" Again -

"Soap Operas Smoach Operas" - Now, 50 years later, it all seems "so what". But at the time, as a 5 year old, it seemed so strange to watch my Father on TV, take in his fan mail, and have my Mom read it, and then have him come home that night and begin MEMORIZING his lines for the next day's performance. Every night, he would vow to himself, that he would not "go up again".

Pressure? You bet. Nobody has pressure like that now at all. Because this was before VIDEO, this was the most pressure ever on TV people. Those who, in that moment of history, had to play LIVE, were uniquely pressured in that moment. Still wonderful, though, ain't it? Incredible times.

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    • Christofers Flow profile image

      Christofer French 8 years ago from Denver

      Yes, they were real "reality" drama because there were NO do overs. No, let's shoot that again. Live Theatre basically, but with the cameras rolling. My Dad and his like were true pioneers.

    • C La profile image

      C La 8 years ago

      Thanks for this! My heart is off again on again with the genre. I think all of the passion and suspense has dissolved over time, more than likely due to reality television. It's pretty sad. I think Soaps are a great reflection of life and people's desire and faults. Whenever they do live shows *thanks OLTL!!* it always makes me remember why I love them.