Four Star Television

Four Star Television

Four Star Television, also called Four Star Films, Four Star Productions, and Four Star International, was an American television production company which operated from 1952 to 1989. It was formed by prominent Hollywood actors Dick Powell, David Niven, Ida Lupino, and Charles Boyer. The company produced many well-known shows of the early days of television, including "The Rifleman", "", "Trackdown", "Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater", "Richard Diamond, Private Detective", "The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor", "Stagecoach West", "The Dick Powell Show", "Burke's Law", "The Rogues" and "The Big Valley".


Dick Powell

The story of Four Star properly begins with actor Dick Powell. A Hollywood veteran for twenty years in 1952, Powell longed to produce and direct. While he did have some opportunities to do so, such as MGM's "Lady in the Lake" (1947) and at RKO Radio Pictures -- including the legendarily bad film "The Conqueror" (1956) with John Wayne -- Powell saw greater opportunities offered by the then-infant medium of television.

Four Star Playhouse

Powell came up with an interesting program idea: an anthology series, with a rotation of established stars every week, four stars in all. (Hence the name of the program, "Four Star Playhouse," and the studio.) The stars would own the studio and the program, as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had done successfully with Desilu studio.

Powell had intended for the program to feature himself, Charles Boyer, Joel McCrea and Rosalind Russell, but Russell and McCrea backed out and David Niven came on board as the "third star". The fourth star would be a guest star at first. CBS liked the idea and Four Star Playhouse made its debut in fall of 1952. While it ran on alternate weeks only at that first season (the program it alternated with was the television version of Amos and Andy) it was successful enough to be renewed and made a weekly program from the second season till the end of its run in 1956. Actress/director Ida Lupino was brought on board as the de facto fourth star, though unlike Powell, Boyer and Niven she owned no stock in the company.


Following the cancellation of Four Star Playhouse, two new programs came on CBS: a comedy called "Hey, Jeannie" which starred Jeannie Carson, and a western anthology show "Zane Grey Theater", more formally named "Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater". Carson's show ran for just a season, but "Zane Grey Theater" ran for four, and was an influential show. It hosted the pilot episodes for "Trackdown" starring Robert Culp (which in turn hosted a pilot for "" with Steve McQueen), "The Westerner" with Brian Keith, "Black Saddle" with Peter Breck and Russell Johnson and "The Rifleman". It can in short be said to be strongly responsible for the influx of westerns on television in the 1950's.

"Richard Diamond, Private Detective"

Not that Four Star stuck to westerns, though it aired many. In 1957 it debuted the first of its many police/detective shows, "Richard Diamond, Private Detective". The Diamond show had originally created for radio by Blake Edwards, and the character played by Powell, but Edwards recast the character with the then-unknown Clark Gable-lookalike David Janssen. Other successful crime series by Four Star included "The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor", "Burke's Law", starring Gene Barry, and "Honey West", starring Anne Francis.

"The Rogues"

Another program, "The Rogues", starred Boyer and Niven with Gig Young; this was the closest the studio's owners would come to appearing on the same program since Four Star Playhouse. The idea was for the three actors to alternate as the lead each week playing moral con-man cousins out to fleece reprehensible villains, often with one or two of the others turning up to play a small part in the caper (real ensemble episodes were rare). The schedule of who pulled leading man duty was largely determined by the actors' movie commitments, thereby giving Niven, Boyer, and Young additional work between film roles. In the event, Young wound up helming most of the episodes since he usually had more spare time than Niven or Boyer, but even he had to be replaced by Larry Hagman (twelve years before playing J.R. Ewing on "Dallas") as another cousin for one show when Young was too busy. The series only lasted through the 1964-65 season but remains fondly remembered for its sophistication and humor by many who saw it.

A Major Launching Pad

The studio was extremely successful in the late 1950's as a result of the success of its programs. Four Star also helped bring some prominent names in television and movies to public attention including David Janssen, Steve McQueen, Robert Culp, Chuck Connors, Mary Tyler Moore, Linda Evans, Lee Majors, The Smothers Brothers, Aaron Spelling, and Sam Peckinpah. The studio was well known as being sympathetic to creative staff and Powell was quite willing to do battle with network executives on behalf of writers, directors, and actors. It also made Powell, Niven, and Boyer very wealthy men.

Four Star hired Herschel Burke Gilbert to compose the music of many of its programs. In the approximate decade from 1956 to 1966, Gilbert estimated that he had done the composition for some three thousand individual episodes of various television series.

Dick Powell's Death

But the glory days would not last. On January 2, 1963, just a day after his last appearance on his program The Dick Powell Show ran, Dick Powell died of stomach cancer, likely a result of having directed "The Conqueror" amidst dust clouds of atomic test radiation in Utah (the United States Government had assured everyone that it was "perfectly safe"; out of a cast and crew of 220 people, 91 had contracted cancer by 1981, including John Wayne). The studio would never quite recover from Powell's death.

An ad executive named Thomas McDermott was brought in to run the studio for Niven, Boyer and Powell's family. But without Powell's vision, the studio went into decline. Within two years after Powell's death, Four Star had only 5 programs on the air, and after another two years all but one, "The Big Valley", would be gone.

For a brief time, Four Star Television owned Valiant Records, but sold the label to Warner Bros. Records shortly after pop group The Association released their first records for the label. Early copies of the album "And Then...Along Comes The Association" show the Four Star disclaimer blacked out at the bottom of the label.

Four Star was sold to new owners in 1968 and was renamed Four Star International. While it did get a hit of sorts in a show called "Thrill Seekers" (which was a sort of proto-reality television program), the studio was living off of its successful syndicated reruns for years and was sold to New World Pictures in 1989. It is now owned by News Corporation.

Listing of programs

*Four Star Playhouse (1952-56) hosts Dick Powell, Ida Lupino, David Niven, Charles Boyer

*Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater (1956-60)

*Hey, Jeannie (1956-57) starring Jeannie Carson

*Mr Adams And Eve (1957-58) starring Ida Lupino & Howard Duff

*Richard Diamond, Private Detective (1957-60) starring David Janssen

*Trackdown (1957-59) starring Robert Culp

*Black Saddle (1958-59) starring Peter Breck

* (1958-61) starring Steve McQueen

*The Rifleman (1958-63) starring Chuck Connors

*The David Niven Show (Summer 1959)

*The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor (1959-62)

*The June Allyson DuPont Show (1959-61)

*Johnny Ringo (1959-60) produced by Aaron Spelling, starring Don Durant

*Law of The Plainsman (1959-60) starring Michael Ansara

*The Westerner (1960) produced by Sam Peckinpah, starring Brian Keith

*Michael Shayne (1960-61) starring Richard Denning

*Dante (1960-61) starring Howard Duff

*The Law and Mr. Jones (1960-62) starring James Whitmore

*Stagecoach West (TV series) (1960-61) starring Wayne Rogers

*The Tom Ewell Show (1960-61)

*Peter Loves Mary (1960-61) starring Peter Lind Hayes & Mary Healy

*Mrs G. Goes To College (1961-62) starring Gertrude Berg

* (1961-62) starring Stephen McNally

*The Dick Powell Show (1961-63)

*Saints and Sinners (1962-63) starring Nick Adams & John Larkin

*The Lloyd Bridges Show (1962-63)

*McKeever And The Colonel (1962-63) starring Scott Lane & Allyn Joslyn

*Ensign O'Toole (1962-63) starring Dean Jones

*Burke's Law (1963-65) / aka Amos Burke, Secret Agent (1965-66) Gene Barry

*Honey West (1965-66) starrng Anne Francis & John Ericson

*The Rogues (1964-65) David Niven, Charles Boyer, Gig Young

*The Big Valley (1965-69) starring Barbara Stanwyck

*The Smothers Brothers Show (1965-66)

*PDQ (1966-69) host Dennis James

*Thrill Seekers (1973-74) host Chuck Connors

*Mad Movies with the L.A. Connection (1985)

*Liar's Club (1988-89) host John Barbour

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