Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Remembering NBC Soap Opera 'The Greatest Gift', Whose Cast Included Anne Meara

Anne Burr starred as Dr. Eve Hunter opposite Phil Foster, who played
Dr. Philip Stone.
NBC daytime soap opera The Greatest Gift premiered August 30, 1954, and told the dramatic story of Eve Allen, a young doctor who returns from the Korean War to assume control of her late uncle's practice in the small American town of Ridgton. The short-lived series has been mentioned this week in numerous stories about the passing of Anne Meara, credited as her TV debut.

When she moved to Ridgton, Eve took the biggest and most decisive step toward her life-long dream of becoming a general practitioner. Prior to this, her medical activities had been centered about laboratory work and, although she was acclaimed for having discovered the antidote to a virus which had killed her fiance, the glory of her accomplishment was dimmed in the light of her unrealized dream. Eve's settling in Ridgton, however, rekindled her fondest hopes, for at last she saw herself becoming the kind of doctor she had always wanted to be. But even the happiest occasions can be tinged with trouble, and Eve found her situation was no exception. From the beginning she had to fight the inherent prejudice against "women doctors." After finally winning an appointment on the hospital's staff — though not without an intense and bitter struggle — her capabilities as a doctor, and as a woman, were tested constantly. Obstacles, however, were nothing new to Eve; she met and overcame many along her life's path. Although each one left her with an invisible scar, they also continued to make her life — and the lives of those she dealt with — more meaningful and rewarding.

Created by Adrian Samish, The Greatest Gift cast included Anne Burr (Dr. Eve Allen), Philip Foster (Dr. Phil Stone), Marion Russell (Lee Connor), Henry Barnard (Peter Blake), Josef Drake (Sam Blake), Ward Costello (Ned Blackman, original), Gene Peterson (Ned Blackman, recast), Frank Maxwell (Arthur), Woody Parker (Dick Steele), Doris Rich (Martha), Mary K. Wells (Lillian), Janet Ward (Fran Allen), Anne Meara (Harriet), Jack Klugman (Jim Hanson), Athena Lorde (Betty Matthews), Martin Balsam (Harold "Hal" Matthews) and Alan Stevenson (Martin Beal).

The Greatest Gift broadcast live from Philadelphia Monday through Friday from 3-3:15 p.m. ET. until April 1, 1955, then moved to the 3:30-3:45 timeslot until the final episode aired on July 1, 1955.

Anne Meara talked about The Greatest Gift in her fascinating Archive of American Television interview, including how the cast traveled to Philadelphia and back to shoot the show, drinking on the way home. She also talked about her character, Harriet, an unwed mother raising a son, Dennis.

Watch Meara's interview below (starts at 6:08).

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