As a tribute to a great American, someone in TV land needs to get a hold of the kinescope of the 1956 “U.S. Steel Hour” production of “Bang the Drum Slowly” and showcase this gem starring Paul Newman, Albert Salmi and George Peppard. TCM, AMC, PBS, ESPN Classic, TV Land — I’m talking to you.
In doing a little research, I noticed that “Bang the Drum” first aired on CBS on Sept. 26, 1956 — 52 years to the day that Newman died of cancer at age 83. It was the first adaptation of Mark Harris’ heart-tugging novel, published the same year, about a baseball player who is desperate to hide his terminal illness from his teammates.
Newman plays the team’s star pitcher Henry Wiggens, narrator of the novel, who tries to help his friend Bruce Pierson (Salmi) hide his condition.
I saw this version of “Bang the Drum” once years ago — it was either on PBS or TV Land (back when TV Land wasn’t afraid of black and white programs) — and I remember the famous opening with Newman addressing the aud on a dark stage.
The presentation had that extra bit of crackle and snap that comes with live dramatic TV, plus the retro-excitement of knowing that you’re watching an important moment in the career ascent of a great actor. As an added bonus, the young twinkly-eyed Newman is breathtakingly handsome.