Monday, March 31, 2014

Marietta College Goes Hollywood

Marietta College assumes a stage name.

In the fall of 1962, Marietta College stepped into the national spotlight to play a part in a new NBC television series.  With the stage name of "Cordella College," Marietta was featured in scenes of the critically-acclaimed, yet short-lived comedy-drama, It's a Man's World.  The one-hour program followed the daily lives of four young men who lived on a houseboat while attending a small college.

Universal City's Revue Studios heard about Marietta while planning the series and considered it as one of several possible locations for the backdrop.  In November 1961, they sent director Peter Tewksbury to town with a camera crew to collect material and shoot film.  A Cleveland native, Tewksbury had already directed other popular shows, including Father Knows Best and My Three Sons.

The original title of the program was "Four Young Men," and the story was to be set in a small town in Oregon.  By April of 1962, Marietta's selection as the backdrop for It's a Man's World had been confirmed, and the setting had been changed to a small Ohio River town called "Cordella."  The film that had been made during the Marietta visit would be projected on a large translucent screen while the actors performed in front of it, creating the illusion that they were actually on the Marietta College campus.

Marietta College students pose for a sales presentation photo for the 1962 television show, It's a Man's World. The Marcolian, March 30, 1962

It's a Man's World debuted Monday, September 17, at 7:30 p.m. on NBC.  Viewers from coast to coast watched scenes of downtown Marietta, the Williamstown Bridge, and Erwin Tower.  They could even hear the college carillon playing in the background.

Stars of the show were Glen Corbett (later known for Route 66), Michael Burns (Wagon Train), Ted Bessell (That Girl), and Randy Boone (The Virginian).  Their characters were Wes Macauley, a pre-law student working his way through school; Wes' younger brother Howie; fellow student Tom-Tom DeWitt; and Vern Hodges, a drift-about folksinger.  The four lived on "The Elephant," a ramshackle houseboat moored along the Ohio River.  The show's writers broke away from the traditional family-show formula and presented "young people as they really are." They addressed serious issues, such as feminism, sexual freedom, and the widening generation gap.

Michael Burns as Howie Macauley, Randy Boone (with guitar) as Vern Hodges, Glenn Corbett as Wes Macauley, and Ted Bessell as Tom-Tom DeWitt.

Although It's a Man's World was popular among the younger crowd and reviews were positive, the show was cancelled during its first season due to weak ratings. At that time commercial sponsors did not target the younger audience, saying that surveys showed they did not watch much television and were not "big buyers." 

A nationwide campaign to save the show was launched, and in December 1962, Ted Bessell and Randy Boone traveled to Marietta College to lead students in a protest against NBC's decision.  Bessell and Boone were welcomed at the Tau Kapp Epsilon fraternity house, where they were made honorary members, met the TKE "Sweetheart," and Boone sang a song about saving the show.  Then a group of about 150 MC students piled into cars to accompany the stars to Parkersburg for a rally in front of local NBC affiliate, WTAP.  All their efforts were unrewarded, however, as the last episode was aired in February of 1963. 

Randy Boone and Ted Bessell perform at a rally at Marietta College sponsored by Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity.

Marietta College students protest the cancellation of NBC's It's a Man's World at local TV station WTAP.

Critics now believe that It's a Man's World, with its mature themes and youthful audience, was simply ahead of its time. Many viewers still recall their favorite episodes with fondness, but the show has never been released in syndication, nor commercially in any video format.