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Monday, December 17, 2018

A Ray Bradbury Christmas!

( Watch Steve Canyon "The Gift" early-early morning Wednesday December 19th 2018 on DECADES TV! )

Dean Fredericks as Steve Canyon.
Saturday December 20th 1958 marked the only Christmas network airing of Ray Bradbury's Steve Canyon teleplay THE GIFT. In fact it was the ONLY airing of this episode in the US until Decades TV ran it this past June 7th.  Early morning Wednesday December 19th Decades TV will air it once again for the first holiday airing of this Christmas episode in nearly 60 years to the day. As promised, here's some background on this unique story.

Ray Bradbury.
Ray Bradbury's THE GIFT began life as a science fiction short story that appeared in the December 1952 issue of ESQUIRE Magazine. It has been reprinted many times over the years since, most notably in the Bradbury anthology R IS FOR ROCKET (1st printing by Doubleday 1960), and has been translated into French, Italian, German, Romanian and Dutch.

Steve Canyon Story Editor Sidney Carroll.
Bradbury told me in 2006 that he did it as a favor for his friend, Sidney Carroll (Steve Canyon Story Editor), who thought it could be adapted for the TV series as their "Christmas episode".

Cover of the first printing of Bradbury's anthology in 1952 with Carroll's short story.
Carroll had written short story called "None Before Me" which which impressed Ray Bradbury so much he included in his 1952 anthology "Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow". It describes a lonely miser who becomes fascinated by a lavish dollhouse. Bradbury's book is an anthology of fantasy stories, and it is only in the last sentence that Carroll's story turns to fantasy, with rather startling result.

Cover of Bradbury's script with the "1968" typo.
Carroll wrote an outline for Bradbury adapting "The Gift" short story to fit the Steve Canyon TV series format, and Bradbury turned in a 35 page teleplay on September 26, 1958 (mis-typed on the cover by the Steve Canyon typist/secretary as September 26, 1968). This was too long for a half-hour show, and although Bradbury probably performed a shorter second draft, the final shooting script was undoubtedly polished by Sid Carroll and turned in on October 23rd, 1958...nearly a week before shooting commenced on Wednesday October 29th.

First page of the revised shooting script for THE GIFT.
Most of the Steve Canyon episodes had only one day of rehearsal, which was customary for half-hour network shows, but curiously The Gift had two. It appears that something wasn't working out that day (Monday, October 27th) with the child-actress that had been cast, as the daily production report page notes (besides the "Child Welfare Worker" and "School from 9am to 12pm") that, "Above child-actress was re-cast as of this date."

Barbara Beaird and Dean Fredericks in a publicity shot from THE GIFT.
Barbara Beaird was then cast as "Lisa Serenko", and following that rehearsal day (with Director Don Taylor and cast members Dean Fredericks, Sean McClory, Celia Lovsky, Trudi Ziskind, Wendy Stuart, Frank Nehez, Lillian Adams and William Bryant) began filming the next day, Wednesday October 29, for 3 days, ending on Friday October 31st. Shooting that had been every week since Monday July 14 would stop for two weeks to "re-tool the series" and not begin again until Friday November 14th (with the 17th episode "Operation Big Thunder").

Exterior scene from THE GIFT, shot Thursday October 30, 1958, Universal Studios. Left to right, Sean McClory, Celia Lovsky, Barbara Beaird and Dean Fredericks.
Not long after, Producer David Haft commented in a letter to Canyon-creator Milton Caniff that he had a funny feeling that at some point during the season the Air Force, advertising agency and the show's sponsor got together, and said "Let's teach Haft the television business", and had apparently done so. The remaining half of the series' shows would be very different in content (in an attempt to make it more like Caniff's comic strip and to not upset the aerospace industry, test pilots. etc). More about this in a future post.

Producer David Haft with Steve Canyon creator Milton Caniff during Caniff's visit to Universal Studios at the end of June 1958, about 2 weeks before shooting commenced on the TV series on July 14th.
Barbara Beaird apparently impressed sufficiently to warrant returning for a sequel episode (along with Celia Lovsky), "Iron Curtain", though not written by Bradbury. Beaird was later the voice of "Rolly" in "One Hundred And One Dalmatians" (1961, and Lovsky appeared as "T'Pau", the ruler of the planet Vulcan on Star Trek in 1967. William Bryant returned to Steve Canyon as "Kirby" (with a promotion to Captain) a few months later in the episode "Strike Force". More about that particular "peculiar" episode in a later post.

Barbara Beaird reprises her role as Lisa Serenko in a publicity photo taken during the filming of the 25th episode of Steve canyon, "Iron Curtain", on the Universal Studios "European Street" backlot on Thursday January 15, 1959.
Two and a half weeks after the episode aired on NBC, Ray Bradbury wrote a letter to Sid Carroll. In it he mentions "I'm sorry the stars didn't work out at the end". What that means is they didn't have the budget (or technical ability at the time) to create a shot that we would take for granted today. Here is the snippet of his script for you to compare to the end of the filmed episode:

Last page of the September 26th draft of Bradbury's script.
Here's Bradbury's letter to Sid Carroll, courtesy of my pal Matt Tauber, and be sure to visit his EXCELLENT Caniff/Comics blog at

Ray Bradbury's January 8th 1959 letter to Steve Canyon Story Editor Sid Carroll.
I previously reported that this episode played on NBC exactly 60 years ago to the day of this screening...well, I apologize for my "senior moment, I was one day off, it was on December 20th bad.

Art by Ren Wicks that appeared in the December 1952 Esquire magazine
illustrating the first printing of Ray Bradbury's "The Gift".
You can read Ray Bradbury's entire short story "The Gift" online here and here.

I had intended to post this yesterday (Sunday) but health issues intervened. I hope you get to watch Steve Canyon "The Gift" early Wednesday December 19th 2018 at 4am Eastern time (1am Pacific time) on Decades TV. Alternately "The Gift" can be seen uncut on our The Complete Steve Canyon On TV Volume 2 DVD available from us on our web-store here and via these links on eBay and Amazon.

Watch the Steve Canyon Christmas episode "The Gift" Wednesday December 19th at 4am Eastern time (1am Pacific time) on Decades TV's LOST TV.
Finally, though I knew Ray and Maggie Bradbury a bit, and had dinner with several them times and attended a social event with them years ago, my dear friend Patricia Rogers was also a dear friend to Ray and Maggie, and this post is dedicated to her.

Ray Bradbury and Patricia Rogers

John R. Ellis
Hollywood, CA

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