Thursday, January 10, 2019

Mary Kay Stearns, and "Mary Kay and Johnny"

In late 1947 (which can be regarded as being not simply part of the period of early television, but very early television; this was the year before Milton Berle came to TV), Mary Kay Stearns, and her husband, Johnny Stearns, became TV stars--through their Mary Kay and Johnny program on the DuMont Network.  The show was a live, weekly situation comedy--"one of the earliest network situation comedies," television historians Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh have noted.

The New York Times wrote, this week: "The show, which at various points in its run was 15 minutes or a half-hour long, told gently humorous tales of the fictional Johnny, a banker, and Mary Kay, a homemaker. Mr. Stearns, who wrote the episodes, often drew from the couple’s lives for inspiration."

The program left the DuMont Network in 1948. It soon became an NBC show,  and then, for a time, aired on CBS. For part of 1949, when it returned to NBC, it was seen five nights a week.  The show remained on the air until 1950.

Johnny Stearns died in California in December of 2001, at age 85.  The New York Times reported this week that Mary Kay Stearns died in November, in California.  She was 93. 

In The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present (Ballantine Books, several editions), historians Brooks and Marsh wrote about the popularity of the Mary Kay and Johnny show:

"That sponsors were quite uncertain of the effectiveness of TV at this early illustrated by the following.  A few weeks after the program premiered, the sponsor, who had no way of knowing whether anyone was watching (there were no audience ratings), decided to conduct a test by offering a free mirror to the first 200 viewers who wrote in their comments on the program. Just to be safe, the company ordered an extra 200 mirrors so as not to disappoint anyone..." Brooks and Marsh wrote that 8,960 letters were received from TV viewers.