“THIS HAS BEEN A FOUR STAR PRODUCTION!”
Four Star Productions
operated from 1952 to 1989. It was formed by prominent Hollywood actors
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, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Zane Grey Theater, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor, Burke's Law, The Rogues, and The Big Valley.
The story of Four Star properly begins with actor Dick Powell. A veteran of Hollywood for about 20 years in 1952, Powell longed to produce and direct. While he did have some opportunities to do so at Howard Hughes' RKO studio (including the legendarily bad film The Conqueror, starring John Wayne) Powell saw the opportunities being offered by the then infant medium of television.
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 Wanted: Dead or Alive with Steve McQueen), The Westerner with Brian Keith, and The Rifleman with Chuck Connors. It can in short be said to be strongly responsible for the influx of westerns on television in the 1950's. ('The Sharpshooter' was an episode from the "Zane Grey Theater." This particular episode was the pilot for "The Rifleman". "The Rifleman" made its debut in the fall of 1958. The first episode was written by Sam Peckinpah. Dick Powell at Four Stars Production bought it as the pilot for "The Rifleman". "Zane Grey Theater" was originally on CBS and then later went to ABC.)
Four Star Productions did not stick to just 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-look alike David Janssen.
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, 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.
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, possibly as a result of having directed The Conqueror amidst dust clouds of atomic test radiation in Utah (the government had assured everyone that it was perfectly safe; out of a cast and crew of 220, 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. Four Star was sold to new owners in 1968 and was renamed Four Star International. Later sold to New World Pictures in 1989. It is now owned by News Corporation.
Four Star Productions left behind a legacy of great TV classics.
“THIS HAS BEEN A FOUR STAR PRODUCTION!”
Music: A booming fanfare composed by Rudy Schrager, usually accompanied with an announcer saying “FILMED BY FOUR STAR!” or “THIS HAS BEEN A FOUR STAR PRODUCTION!” Later in its existence, it was replaced with another fanfare composed by Joseph Mullendore. As the logo approached the end of its run in the mid-1960s, it was replaced with a more patriotic fanfare, composed by Herschel Burke Gilbert.