Kiss Me Kate made its television debut in NBC’s Hallmark Hall of Fame strand on November 20, 1958, in a 90-minute version adapted by Bella and Sam Spewack themselves. The assigned director, George Schaefer, had just a little relevant experience: he had previously directed the 1956 television version of The Taming of the Shrew, also for Hallmark Hall of Fame, which is discussed here. And the casting also headed for an experienced exponent of the role of Fred, Alfred Drake, who had starred in the 1948 Broadway production.
Oddly, however, Lilli was first offered to someone who had never played her before, Maureen O’Hara, and ultimately never did; her date with spanking destiny awaited her five years hence in McLintock! (1963). In the end, good sense prevailed, and the part went to the Broadway original, Patricia Morison.
‘She’ll show up across Alfred Drake’s knee as the spirited spankee for the umpteenth time,’ promised the Philadephia Inquirer, publicizing the show. Since leaving the Broadway production, Pat had played Lilli over and over again; she told the press she had lost count of the numner of times she had been spanked. Her most recent experience was in a production by the Kenley Players in Warren, Ohio, that August (with David Atkinson as Fred), and she was considering offers to do a Spanish-language production in Mexico and another vernacular version in Italy. Of course, she accepted NBC’s offer, and her plummy Lilli was committed to color videotape, though the program only survives as a black-and-white kinescope. But at least it survives – the only known recording, other than the 1949 soundtrack album, of any of her performances in her signature role.
Despite publicity claims that the show was to be performed live, the production was prerecorded to bypass the threat of a television actors’ strike. It had to be abridged for timing reasons, which meant losing two songs, ‘Bianca’ and ‘Too Darn Hot’ – though the latter would have been cut anyway because the lyrics were considered too darn hot for television! But despite the cuts, all the relevant Shrew business was present and correct, from an initial smacked bottom in the wooing scene,
through the OTS exit in the wedding scene,
to the ‘cushion moment’ on arrival at Petruchio’s house,
though it must be said that, by apparent oversight, Lilli seemed rather less bothered about sitting down when confronted by the gangsters earlier on.
At the center of it all, of course, was the spanking,
and one thing you get from this version that you can never get from a stage production is the end of the spanking, as the curtain comes down and the camera switches to the reverse angle.
A rehearsal was photographed for Life magazine,
and a studio publicity shoot was arranged for Drake, Morison and Julie Wilson, the production’s Lois.
As usual, the more photos that are taken of a scene, the more important it is reckoned to be. In the case of this production, the spanking scene was evidently absolutely crucial. The session started with group shots of all three stars.
Lois, it seems, is particularly excited at the discomfiture of her rival:
Then Julie Wilson was released, and the photographer concentrated on Fred and Lilli, with some interesting progression in the latter’s mood as the spanking gets underway:
Finally they changed ends:
There seems to have been a marked preference for right-hander shots among the publicists putting together the copy for the newspaper ads,
but it looks as if not enough had been taken in the shoot. Never mind, photographs are easily flipped over!
And so television audiences were encouraged to tune in… and see some spanking! You can, too: the video is on YouTube here.