Can You Match These Actors to Their 1950s TV Shows?

By: Olivia Cantor

"I Love Lucy" is a show everybody loved back then, which showed people that women can also successfully carry a show, and headline it for a long time. The original sitcom aired in 1951 and ended in 1957, which featured Desi Arnaz as her partner in life and in laughs, both onscreen and off.

The New York-set story of "The Honeymooners" featured comedic storylines coming out of two married couples’ interactions in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. It premiered on TV in 1955, and had the story revolve around funnyman Jackie Gleason’s bus driver character named Ralph Kramden.

"Bonanza" came on the air in 1959, and lasted on television up to the early ‘70s, which proves that an all-male western with some drama depicted on it could last for a long time back then. The series was about a widower living on a ranch with three grown sons he sired from three different women.

"Father Knows Best" starred Robert Young who first essayed the role of all-American dad Jim Anderson on radio, and continued it when it became a TV series in 1954. It was shown in black and white, and lasted until 1960.

It’s not so strange to have a real-life family star in one TV show these days, thanks to reality TV fare, but this was a rare occurrence in the 1950s. So when the popular radio-originating show called "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" crossed over to television in 1952, Americans welcomed the Nelson family in their living rooms via the new media technology, until the show ended in 1966.

The heroic adventures of "The Lone Ranger" first aired in 1949, and it ran its course until 1957. Its distinct opening theme music, the “William Tell Overture,” is forever connected to this character.

The popular show called "Leave It To Beaver" aired in 1957 and concluded in 1963, but it forever cemented its place in American pop culture for what it showed, and how it told stories. The show unfolded from the point of view of the young Theodore Cleaver, who is the one being referred to as “The Beaver” in the narrative, showing America a glimpse of American childhood told from a young boy’s perspective, which was rare back then.

It was in 1952 when Superman first debuted on American screens via the TV show, "Adventures of Superman," which lasted until 1958. While the original run was broadcast in black and white, the latter seasons were originally filmed in color, and the colored versions were the ones shown when the series went on syndication in 1965.

Like other shows of the 1950s, "Dragnet" first came to life on radio, where it was a successful crime drama. When it came to television in 1952, the success continued, even spawning a reboot in later decades.

"The Three Stooges" were originally a vaudeville comedy act that began in the 1920s. Moe Howard and Larry Fine were present during its start and were also there with a third stooge as they made short films that aired on television in 1958, gaining them more popularity that transcended until the ‘70s.

The TV version of "Perry Mason" debuted in 1957 and lasted on air until 1966, proving that early legal dramas were also a hit among TV viewers of the Golden Age of Television. Raymond Burr became known for this role, playing the criminal defense lawyer who was first popularized in many novels and on radio, prior to becoming a TV show.

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" was a western series primarily marketed to adults. It began airing in 1955 and concluded in 1961. They say that Hugh O’Brian was cast in the lead role because his profile resembles that of the real Earp's profile.

"The Phil Silvers Show" was actually titled "You’ll Never Get Rich" in the beginning because that was basically the premise of the sitcom’s story lines. But since Phil Silvers’ Sgt. Bilko character made a huge mark in pop culture, sometimes the show also gets called "Bilko" or "Sergeant Bilko."

"Gunsmoke" debuted on television in 1955 and lasted until 1975, counting a total of 20 seasons to its credit. Audiences loved watching Marshal Matt Dillon’s adventures in this western set in Dodge City, Kansas.

Guy Williams played rich intellectual Don Diego de la Vega, who secretly became "Zorro" to fight for the oppressed. The TV version of this character first aired in 1957 and concluded in 1958.

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello got their own show called "The Abbot and Costello Show" in 1952. It lasted until 1954 but continued to run in syndication afterward. While their original style is reflective of vaudeville comedy acts, the TV show actually had a narrative arc that featured fictionalized scenarios.

Before honing his craft playing moody cowboys in spaghetti western films, Clint Eastwood honed his cowboy poses in "Rawhide." He played the character of Rowdy Yates, and the show ran successfully from 1959 to 1965.

"The Real McCoys" is about the McCoy family, originally from Virginia, who had to move to California. Richard Crenna starred as Luke McCoy while Walter Brennan played his Grandpa Amos. The series aired from 1957 until 1963.

It’s interesting to note that the roster of writers who made "Have Gun, Will Travel," from 1957 to 1963, also became legendary in their own right later on. Gene Roddenberry, for instance, went on to create "Star Trek," Harry Julian Fink became a co-creator of the Dirty Harry character in movies, and Bruce Geller created the original concept for "Mission: Impossible" that also became a TV series.

Before getting into cars and racing on film, Steve McQueen played a bounty hunter character in the TV western, "Wanted: Dead or Alive." The show aired from 1958 to 1961, and this is where he showcased the cool persona he brought along successfully into the movies when he transitioned into a movie star.​

In modern-day language, Davy Crockett was technically a "mini-series." It aired between 1954 and 1955, featuring five episodes that ran for one hour each. The popular song, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” actually came from this series, which was later edited together and became films.

Amos Jones and Andy Hogg Brown were characters of African-American descent, but were originated by two white men – Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll -- on radio and later on film. But as they realized that black actors needed to portray the two on television, Alvin Childress and Spencer Williams got cast to play the comedic duo in the TV show, which aired from 1951 to 1953.

James Garner starred as Bret Maverick, the poker player who roamed around the old west, in the TV show called "Maverick," which aired from 1957 to 1962. Coincidentally, when Mel Gibson adapted the show into a 1994 movie, taking the role of Bret Maverick, an older James Garner co-starred with him, this time playing Marshal Zane Cooper.

Reed Haley essayed the role of Bart Matthews, the lawyer who usually worked pro bono in the TV series called "Public Defender." This legal drama aired from 1954 to 1955and had notable guest stars such as Natalie Wood, Lyle Talbot, and Charles Bronson, to name a few.

Richard Greene portrayed Robin Hood in the British TV series called "The Adventures of Robin Hood," which ran from 1955 to 1959. It also aired in the U.S., as well as in Canada and Australia, and was actually produced by American Hannah Weinstein who had already moved to the U.K. by that time.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. played a secret agent-turned-private detective in "77 Sunset Strip." The series aired from 1958 to 1964. His daughter, Stephanie Zimbalist, also played a detective in the ‘80s series, "Remington Steele."

The 1950s American TV landscape featured many suburban family life scenarios and "The Donna Reed Show" was no exception. Donna Reed played a middle-class housewife who was married to a doctor and had two teenage children. This scenario played successfully on television from 1958 to 1966.

"Our Miss Brooks" aired from 1952 to 1956, coming out of a successful radio series that started airing in 1948. Eve Arden played the titular teacher character, and the narratives revolved around her life as a public high school teacher.

Roy Rogers is the quintessential all-American cowboy Dale Evans in "The Roy Rogers Show," whose aim is to help those in need. The show successfully aired from 1951 to 1957, and as reruns from 1961 to 1964, targeting Saturday morning viewers – namely, children.

"Highway Patrol" was supposed to depict the California Highway Patrol but was developed into a more generic-sounding highway patrol to reach a wider audience. The series starred Broderick Crawford as the police chief of the patrol, and also featured notable guest stars such as Barbara Eden, Larry Hagman, and Leonard Nimoy, to name a few.

While the sitcom called "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" made Dwayne Hickman a star, it also featured a very young actor who would transition into a big Hollywood movie star later on: Warren Beatty. This sitcom ran successfully from 1959 to 1963 and also featured "Gilligan’s Island" lead actor Bob Denver as Dobie’s best friend.

"The Cisco Kid" is a character created by American literary writer O. Henry, so it’s no surprise that he also ended up writing episodes of this TV series. This ‘50s program is also notable for being shot in color, even though it aired in black and white.

"Blondie" is the TV series version of the popular comic strip, which features the same female-driven narrative headlined by Blondie and her hubby, Dagwood. The TV series version, which aired in 1957, featured Pamela Britton as Blondie.

"Fury" was the name of the horse that’s also a character in the TV series starring Peter Graves. The show was aimed at children and starred a boy in the lead. It aired from 1955 to 1960.

Tommy Rettig played Jeff Miller at the start of the show called "Lassie," from 1955 to 1957. Lassie had several humans as the dog was transferred to different places, until the long-running show ended in 1973.

The memorable comics character of "Dennis the Menace" was turned into a cute TV series which aired from 1959 to 1963. It starred Jay North as Dennis Mitchell and famous voice actor Mel Blanc also had a guest role.

"Make Room for Daddy" first aired in 1953 and ran for three seasons before it was revised to "The Danny Thomas Show" but with similar continuing storyline content. The show transferred networks and ran successfully until it ended in 1964.

"Sea Hunt" was a TV series that aired from 1958 to 1961. It focused on the character of Mike Nelson who was played by Lloyd Bridges. The show also had notable guests, like Bridges' sons. Beau Bridges and Jeff Bridges, as well as Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern, to name a few.

"I Married Joan" became a new star vehicle for an already popular vaudeville star, Joan Davis, when it aired in 1952. She was able to bring her radio comedy persona into the show until it ended in 1955.

"The Rifleman" aired from 1958 to 1963, featuring a father raising a son in the New Mexico territory of the late 1800s. The notable single parent storyline was very unique for American media.

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Image: CBS Television via Wiki Commons

About This Quiz

Any TV lover worth his or her pop culture badge would definitely know the many successful television shows of each decade. And what decade would provide those rightful TV-watching stripes than having them identify the shows during the Golden Age of Television.

Indeed, each media produced by humankind always came out with its own respective golden age era. For television, whose technicalities were still being polished, debated upon, and even being fought in court during the 1940s, the latter part of that decade became the Golden Age of Television, continuing it well up to the 1950s and even the early 1960s. The 1950s was the definitive decade for this era since there were many kinds of innovations that appeared ever since the first commercial television broadcast was made.

And what were those innovations? For one, the kinds of programs that were shown were always being experimented upon. Genres borrowed from TV's earlier audiovisual cousin, cinema, which also developed and got enhanced as the television industry unfolded more. TV commercials also had a different approach of selling back then, but all of these early innovations were pivotal in the development of the television industry today.

So, do you think you can name the '50s TV shows where some prominent actors first appeared or got popular? Take a shot and take the quiz!

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