Martin Manulis: Requiem for a TV heavyweight

Pubrequiem02_2Playhouse 90” — what a legacy. If Martin Manulis had only produced Rod Serling’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” he would forever have earned his place in TV history books.

But as the creator and chief steward of CBS’ high-end dramatic anthology series, Manulis, who died last week at the age of 92, presided over many more great hours of television, most of them live, though “Playhouse 90” also ran “filmed presentations” about once a month. (Click here for Manulis’ Variety obit.) Thanks to the Archive of American Television, click here for vid of a comprehensive 11-part interview of Manulis in 1997.

It’s maddening that those of us born long after the skein ended its 1956-61 run have had scant opportunities to see these smallscreen gems. I’ve seen a kinescope of the original “Requiem,” and it lived up to every inch of its advance billing. (With all due respect to Anthony Quinn and the 1962 feature version, once you’ve seen Jack Palance as the hard-luck boxer, you can’t never go back.) I’ve also seen a beat-up copy of another breathtakingly good Rod Serling teleplay, “The Comedian,” helmed by John Frankenheimer with a fearless perf from Mickey Rooney. And that’s about it.

I’d love to see the original “Days of Wine and Roses” starring Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie. I’d love to see Serling’s “A Town Has Turned to Dust,” with Rod Steiger and James Gregory. And I’d like to see at Manulis least some of the “Playhouse 90” segs that I’ve never heard a thing about. If I can turn on the tube any time day or night and find a repeat of the Ultimate-Fighting-Xtreme-Street-Skate’n’Spandex-Challenge semi-finals from 1997, why can’t we have the Ultimate-Badass-TV-Dramatists-Showdown airing once a week or so on an artsy channel? Or how about a comprehensive, anotated DVD set? A “Playhouse 90” download-on-demand website?

(Pictured above: “Requiem” stars Keenan Wynn, Jack Palance and Ed Wynn. Pictured right: Manulis in 2004.)