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5 Witchcraft In the late 1950s, when producer Norman Felton told the higher-ups at Metro Goldwyn Mayer that he wanted to do a television series on psychiatry , he got nowhere. They knew that the psychiatric profession had been depicted in theatrical ‹lms from Spellbound to Lolita. But they were convinced that a weekly series on the subject would drive away a high percentage of the audience. In the mid-1950s, Warner Brothers had tried to make a series out of Kings Row, a romantic drama about a turnof -the-century psychiatrist based on the Henry Bellman novel and the 1941 movie classic. The program, on ABC, had lasted only a few months. “Psychiatry is like witchcraft to the general public,” Metro executives told Felton. “Viewers would simply ‹nd it too scary.” But after Felton hit paydirt with Dr. Kildare, the idea took on a different value. Now some Metro executives were actually elated that Felton ’s company, Arena Productions, would be working in association with MGM on that kind of show. Felton’s interest in the subject was re-ignited by a Kildare episode that Herbert Hirschman had guided to completion during the 1961–62 season. Based on a script by Harry Julian Fink, it depicts Anna Costigan (guest star Vera Miles), who is charged with pushing her husband to his death. The district attorney thinks that she also killed her husband’s ‹rst wife. Denying the wife’s murder but admitting her husband’s, Costigan pleads innocent by reason of insanity. She is ordered to undergo psychiatric examination and is brought to Blair General Hospital. 110 There Kildare and Gillespie have opportunities to push the story along. The court appoints Dr. Theodore Bassett, a noted forensic psychiatrist, to determine Costigan’s mental condition. Insanity is indicated, but Bassett is still hounded by an element of doubt, even after questioning her under sodium amatal, a truth serum. In a climactic scene demonstrating the use of post-hypnotic suggestion , Bassett hypnotizes the woman and then orders her to her room. She is to pick up scissors on her dresser and, if she did, in fact, willfully push her husband off a cliff, to cut her long hair short. When she returns to Dr. Bassett’s of‹ce, Costigan ‹rst breaks a mirror, then severs her hair. Bassett is now sure that the report he has already completed is correct: Anna Costigan is a cruel psychopath, but she is legally sane. Felton was excited. He was sure that here lay the basis for a new series built around the psychiatrist, who was played by Wendell Corey. A versatile actor with formidable ‹lm and stage credits, Corey had shown that he was capable of carrying a TV series. He had been featured in a number of key dramas on prestigious anthology series of the 1950s, and he had been a star of two situation comedy series in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Peck’s Bad Boy and The Nanette Fabray Show. Felton decided that since Kildare and Gillespie had minor roles in the episode anyway, they should be edited out. Scenes were reshot and the drama was reshaped as a pilot for the 1962–63 season. It was the birth of The Eleventh Hour, the direct programming descendent from the Casey/Kildare craze of that year. Two others followed. The Nurses made its debut on CBS the same season, and The Breaking Point, a psychiatric series from the Ben Casey stable, followed a year later. Undoubtedly, network executives expected to add more doctor shows. After all, the Western craze of the late 1950s had saturated the medium to the point that twenty Westerns graced prime time during the height of their popularity. Moreover, a clutch of medical ideas had been pitched to them that were copies of Kildare and Casey with but anemic variations.1 Now, however, the networks seemed willing to be experimental with producers (as long as they had track records). Programmers accepted ideas that clearly aimed to point the doctor formula toward roads they hadn’t traveled before—toward issues of the mind and toward other health professions . Essentially, they were testing the limits of the formula. The test didn’t last long, as this chapter and the next one indicate. Witchcraft | 111 The Eleventh Hour, The Breaking Point, and The Nurses made producers and network programmers wary. The shows instigated tensions between physicians and two other constituencies of the medical institution , psychologists and nurses. Network programmers’ concerns...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780472027576
Related ISBN
9780472034277
MARC Record
OCLC
671656072
Pages
472
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-21
Language
English
Open Access
No
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