Philip Morris Playhouse

Philip Morris Playhouse is a 30-minute old-time radio dramatic anthology series.[1]

Philip Morris Playhouse
GenreDramatic anthology
Running time30 minutes
Country of originUnited States
Hosted byCharles Martin
AnnouncerJoe King
Bud Collyer
Ken Roberts
Art Ballinger
Nelson Case
Carl Frank
Written byMorton Fine
David Friedkin
Milton Geiger
David Ellis
John Hobish
Harold Swanton
Directed byWilliam Spier
Jack Johnstone
Charles Martin
Produced byWilliam Spier
Original releaseJune 30, 1939 – September 2, 1953
Opening themeOn the Trail from Grand Canyon Suite
Sponsored byPhilip Morris cigarettes

The program "[g]enerally ... featured straight and crime drama," radio historian John Dunning wrote. He noted that one of the directors was William Spier, who "had directed Suspense in its salad days and brought to The Philip Morris Playhouse the same slick production" that was used in Suspense.[2]

Philip Morris Playhouse was broadcast on CBS June 30, 1939 – February 18, 1944, then returned to the air (again on CBS) November 5, 1948 – July 29, 1949.[3] The 1948 edition replaced a giveaway show, Everybody Wins.[4] Its third and final incarnation on radio was a bit more complicated, as explained on The Digital Deli Too website:

The emerging popularity of between three and five other popular playhouse formats of the early 1950s persuaded Philip Morris to resurrect its Philip Morris Playhouse a third time as Phillip Morris Playhouse On Broadway, beginning with its initial CBS run on March 15, 1951. Emphasizing Broadway productions, the subsequent series ran over CBS for twenty-six installments, only to jump to NBC on September 11, 1951. The series ran on NBC for the remainder of 1951, jumping back to CBS on January 13, 1952. CBS aired the remainder of the canon through September 2, 1953.[5]

In 1951, a trade publication reported that the program's annual budget was $1 million.[6]

Background and formatEdit

Philip Morris Playhouse evolved from an earlier radio program, Johnny Presents, which featured both music and a dramatic segment in each episode. That program's name referred to Johnny Roventini (sometimes known as "Little Johnny"), a dwarf bellhop who made famous the advertising slogan "Call for Philip Morris." In 1939, the segments were separated to create two programs, a musical show featuring Johnny Green on NBC and the drama-oriented Philip Morris Playhouse on CBS.[3]

A newspaper article published when the show resumed in 1948 summarized its format as it replaced a giveaway show, saying, "Instead of a carload full of prizes, the listeners will get big-name Hollywood and Broadway stars in a weekly series based mostly on original scripts of a crime-mystery nature with a strong psychological element."[4]

The program did not have a regular cast, relying instead on guest actors and actresses from week to week. In the words of a 1949 article in Sponsor magazine, "Playhouse uses name stars."[7] Those featured during its time on the air compose a virtual Who's Who of entertainment. Sylvia Sidney, Claude Rains, Eddie Cantor, Tallulah Bankhead, Burgess Meredith, Maureen O'Sullivan, Lana Turner, Joan Bennett, Franchot Tone, Raymond Massey, Pat O'Brien, Brian Donlevy and George Raft are but a sample of the overall list.[5]

With stars changing from week to week, responsibility for the quality and success of Philip Morris Playhouse lay largely in the hands of its director. For most of the program's run, that director was William Spier, who a 1949 magazine article said "is generally rated radio's top-notch creator of suspense-type dramas."[8] Spier's dedication to quality was such that he took a recorder along on a vacation in Europe. After he returned, a magazine article reported, "He's come back with a batch of authentic sound effects for future use, among them the chimes of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the roar of [an English] Channel storm and the characteristic sounds of European trains."[9]


As the title indicates, Philip Morris Playhouse was sponsored by Philip Morris, a cigarette company. The company was active in old-time radio, with one source reporting, "Philip Morris and Company was ... one of the most prolific sponsors of Radio throughout the Golden Age," sponsoring more than 40 programs over the years.[5]

Having the company's name in the title essentially provided free advertising; every time the program's name appeared somewhere, it was more publicity for the Philip Morris company as well. The arrangement also had other effects, however. One history of old-time radio commented: "When a nationally known company sponsored a show, they were not only paying the bills, they were putting their image and reputation on the line. Especially if the show bore the name of the company.... So if there was any hanky-panky going on with the stars or with anyone connected with the show, it was a direct reflection of the prestige and image of the sponsoring product. Not only that -- it hurt sales." [10]

Philip Morris Intercollegiate Acting CompetitionEdit

In the 1950s, Philip Morris Playhouse On Broadway offered an unusual opportunity for college students. For three seasons, the Philip Morris Intercollegiate Acting Competition gave each winning student a role in one episode and $250 for the performance. Additionally, at the end of each season, one overall winner was selected. He or she received $2,000 and an opportunity to perform in a stage production. One website reported, "Reaching out to college campuses across the nation, Philip Morris Playhouse On Broadway afforded a total of forty-two aspiring thespians the chance to perform opposite some of the finest Film and Stage performers of the era." Robert Culp and James Garner were two of the competition's winners.[5]

The competition was promoted via advertisements in newspapers on college campuses. In a typical ad, part of the text read,

ATTENTION ALL COLLEGE STUDENTS. Every Tuesday Evening over NBC, PHILIP MORRIS PLAYHOUSE presents an Outstanding College Student Featured with Famous Hollywood Stars in the PHILLIP MORRIS Intercollegiate Acting Competition.[11]

TV versionEdit

A short-lived television version of Philip Morris Playhouse ran on CBS from October 8, 1953, until March 4, 1954. Kent Smith was the host for the program, which one reference source said "was hastily ordered by sponsor Philip Morris after its first offering in that time slot, Pentagon Confidential, was blasted by the critics." [12] Broadcast live from New York, the episodes' genres varied from comedy to melodrama. Stars included Eddie Albert, Nina Foch, Franchot Tone and Vincent Price.[13] Joseph Papp served as director for the series as he had more TV experience than any of the directors from the radio version.


Selected episodes are listed below.


Date Title Star
September 5, 1941 Yellow Jack NA[14]
September 12, 1941 One Way Passage NA[15]
September 19, 1941 Angels with Dirty Faces Sylvia Sidney[16]
September 26, 1941 A Man to Remember NA[17]
October 3, 1941 June Moon Eddie Cantor[18]
October 10, 1941 The Little Foxes Tallulah Bankhead[19]
October 17, 1941 Wuthering Heights Raymond Massey and Sylvia Sidney[20]
October 24, 1941 Night Must Fall Maureen O'Sullivan and Burgess Meredith[21]
October 31, 1941 My Favorite Wife Madeleine Carroll and Burgess Meredith[22]
November 7, 1941 Made for Each Other Martha Scott[23]
November 14, 1941 The Devil and Miss Jones Lana Turner[24]
November 21, 1941 Girl in the News Joan Bennett[25]
November 28, 1941 You Only Live Once Burgess Meredith[26]
December 5, 1941 Stage Door Geraldine Fitzgerald[27]


Date Title Star
January 23, 1942 The Great McGinty Brian Donlevy[28]
February 13, 1942 Vivacious Lady Madeleine Carroll[29]
April 17, 1942 The Man Who Played God Raymond Massey[30]
June 12, 1942 No Time for Comedy Melvyn Douglas[31]
June 19, 1942 Take a Letter, Darling Melvyn Douglas[32]
June 26, 1942 Friendly Enemies Charles Winninger, Charlie Ruggles[33]
July 3, 1942 This Gun for Hire Marlene Dietrich[34]
July 10, 1942 The Man Who Came to Dinner Monty Woolley[35]
July 31, 1942 Man Hunt Robert Montgomery[36]
August 14, 1942 The Maltese Falcon Edward Arnold[37]


  1. ^ Terrace, Vincent (1981), Radio's Golden Years: The Encyclopedia of Radio Programs 1930–1960. A.S. Barnes & Company, Inc. ISBN 0-498-02393-1. P. 214.
  2. ^ Dunning, John. (1976). Tune in Yesterday: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, 1925–1976. Prentice-Hall, Inc. ISBN 0-13-932616-2. Pp. 482-483.
  3. ^ a b Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 545–546. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved 2019-10-09. Philip Morris Playhouse, music.
  4. ^ a b "Philip Morris Cancels 'Giveaway' Air Show". The Afro-American. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d "The Philip Morris Playhouse Radio Program". The Digital Deli Too. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  6. ^ "photo caption". Broadcasting-Telecasting. April 9, 1951. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  7. ^ "Why Sponsors Change Programs". Sponsor. 3 (5): 54. January 31, 1940. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  8. ^ "William Spier". Radio and Television Mirror. 32 (3): 19. August 1949. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  9. ^ Banks, Dale (September 1949). "From Coast to Coast". Radio and Television Mirror. 32 (4): 15, 21. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  10. ^ Mott, Robert L. (2000). Radio Live! Television Live!: Those Golden Days when Horses were Coconuts. McFarland & Company, Ind. ISBN 0-7864-1812-5. Pp. 22-23.
  11. ^ "Philip Morris ad". The Michigan Daily. December 7, 1951. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  12. ^ McNeil, Alex (1996). Total Television. Penguin Books USA, Inc. ISBN 0-14-02-4916-8. P. 659.
  13. ^ Brooks, Tim & Marsh, Earle (1979). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows: 1946-Present. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-25525-9. P. 494.
  14. ^ "Johnny Presents". Harrisburg Telegraph. September 5, 1941. p. 19. Retrieved July 21, 2015 – via  
  15. ^ "Johnny Presents". Harrisburg Telegraph. September 12, 1941. p. 15. Retrieved July 21, 2015 – via  
  16. ^ "Johnny Presents". Harrisburg Telegraph. September 19, 1941. p. 17. Retrieved July 21, 2015 – via  
  17. ^ "Johnny Presents". Harrisburg Telegraph. September 26, 1941. p. 8. Retrieved July 21, 2015 – via  
  18. ^ "Johnny Presents". Harrisburg Telegraph. October 3, 1941. p. 15. Retrieved July 21, 2015 – via  
  19. ^ "Johnny Presents". Harrisburg Telegraph. October 10, 1941. p. 15. Retrieved July 21, 2015 – via  
  20. ^ "Raymond Massey and Sylvia Sidney in 'Wuthering Heights'". Harrisburg Telegraph. October 11, 1941. p. 26. Retrieved July 21, 2015 – via  
  21. ^ ""Playhouse" Star". Harrisburg Telegraph. October 18, 1941. p. 27. Retrieved July 21, 2015 – via  
  22. ^ "Robinson-Zivic Fight". Harrisburg Telegraph. October 31, 1941. p. 19. Retrieved July 22, 2015 – via  
  23. ^ "Martha Scott". Harrisburg Telegraph. November 1, 1941. p. 28. Retrieved July 22, 2015 – via  
  24. ^ "Lana Turner Friday Star on 'Playhouse'". Harrisburg Telegraph. November 8, 1941. p. 22. Retrieved July 22, 2015 – via  
  25. ^ "(photo caption)". Harrisburg Telegraph. November 15, 1941. p. 29. Retrieved July 26, 2015 – via  
  26. ^ "Johnny Presents". Harrisburg Telegraph. November 28, 1941. p. 19. Retrieved July 26, 2015 – via  
  27. ^ "Johnny Presents". Harrisburg Telegraph. December 5, 1941. p. 19. Retrieved July 26, 2015 – via  
  28. ^ "Johnny Presents". Harrisburg Telegraph. January 23, 1942. p. 15. Retrieved July 28, 2015 – via  
  29. ^ "Madeleine Carroll Returns In Playhouse 'Vivacious Lady'". Harrisburg Telegraph. February 7, 1942. p. 26. Retrieved August 1, 2015 – via  
  30. ^ "The Short and Long of Radio". The Evening News. April 17, 1942. p. 16. Retrieved August 1, 2015 – via  
  31. ^ "Philip Morris Playhouse". Harrisburg Telegraph. June 12, 1942. p. 13. Retrieved August 2, 2015 – via  
  32. ^ "Johnny Presents". Harrisburg Telegraph. June 19, 1942. p. 21. Retrieved August 2, 2015 – via  
  33. ^ "Playhouse Presents Stars in Radio Adaptation of "Friendly Enemies"". Harrisburg Telegraph. June 20, 1942. p. 22. Retrieved August 4, 2015 – via  
  34. ^ "Marlene Dietrich Has Star Role in Playhouse Drama". Harrisburg Telegraph. June 27, 1942. p. 25. Retrieved August 6, 2015 – via  
  35. ^ "Johnny Presents". Harrisburg Telegraph. July 10, 1942. p. 11. Retrieved August 6, 2015 – via  
  36. ^ "Radio Highlights". Harrisburg Telegraph. July 31, 1942. p. 11. Retrieved August 18, 2015 – via  
  37. ^ "Arnold Is Playhouse Guest Star". Harrisburg Telegraph. August 8, 1942. p. 25. Retrieved August 18, 2015 – via  

External linksEdit