On October 13, 1957 - 50 years ago today - NBC aired a live, nationally-televised production of Pinocchio featuring music composed by Alec Wilder. It is widely considered one of the classics from "the Golden Age of Television"
wilderworld recently asked Pinocchio lyricist William Engvick to share his recollections of the production. Here is some of what he related:
“I thought it was pretty good. The night of the broadcast I was in the studio. I watched it from a room - I wasn’t with the players. Mickey Rooney was friendly and nice. I can’t remember if Alec was there. Even if he was, he always pretended he wasn’t. They had never done it live before, and it had to be perfect because you couldn’t edit like you can today. There were a number of rehearsals of which I attended a few.
“It might have been a more pleasant experience were it not for the 'producer' [and scriptwriter], a terrible guy named Yasha Frank who resented us because he wanted to do it all himself. He’d been successful with Pinocchio in WPA days. The real producer was David Susskind of Talent Associates. He was a nice guy. He liked us. He also hired us for Hansel and Gretel [broadcast in April of 1958].
"I worked on Pinocchio from July to September. The Lullaby was something Alec and I had written a while before called Simple As ABC. I thought it would work in the show, suggested it and changed the words. Alec wrote all the music very quickly. It takes me longer to write, so Alec took off for Rochester - or wherever - and left me alone with these monsters! I felt like I was doing all the work. Sometimes he’d never say where he was. I think it was a real weakness of his: he simply couldn’t be tied down to anything, or own anything. Except for books. Bookstore owners loved Alec. He bought loads of books and gave most of them away.
“After Hansel and Gretel, Alec and I decided not to do anymore. We were offered a third program [Hiawatha] but turned it down. The drug company [Rexall] that sponsored them pulled out. Yasha Frank killed himself shortly after that. Several years later his son called me for permission to produce Pinocchio again. I said that would be fine, but nothing came of it.
“That was a long time ago. It’s all part of a dream.”
A video or DVD of the Pinocchio broadcast has never been released commercially, although a kinescope copy of it exists at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
Listen to Your Heart, Happy News, Pinocchio's Song, Lullaby, The Fox's Pitch, The Jolly Coachman, The Birthday Song from LP Pinocchio (Columbia CL 1055); Sung by Fran Allison, Stubby Kaye, Mickey Rooney, Gordon B. Clarke, Martyn Green, Jerry Colonna and chorus