In 1956, mega-talent slash genius slash quasi-madman Orson Welles shot the pilot episode for “The Orson Welles Show,” an anthology program akin to “The Twilight Zone.” Developed for Desilu (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s production company), the show never took off, but the pilot still exists to this day. Even better, you can watch it here.
Just a friendly heads up—the actual content of the video doesn’t start up until about the 58 second mark, and Welles’ setup of the episode (which includes a description of the Fountain of Youth as “a silly fountain”) doesn’t wrap up until, well, it never really quite ends.
The creative team behind the pilot—namely Welles, who not only starred in and directed, but also wrote, produced the music, and did the art direction—made some interesting structural decisions. Welles narrates throughout, which in itself isn’t that strange, but his voiceover (and on-screen presence, which the editors repeatedly cut back to) is overlaid atop still shots of the characters in action. Welles goes on and on with exposition, while actors are shown frozen in mid-scene. The voiceover ends, they resume moving, and then Welles occasionally voices their dialogue (as their mouths move).
Oddities aside, Welles was on the forefront of television production in other ways with “The Fountain of Youth.” The still shots—regardless of how successful they might have been—were unique to TV at the time (or would have been, had the show taken off). He uses rear projection, on-screen costume changes, and even illustrations in the broadcast. And don’t think the pilot was a total dud, either. Though it never aired as part of “The Orson Welles Show,” it ran as part of NBC’s “Colgate Theater” in 1958 and won Welles a Peabody Award.
Based on a story by John Collier, the pilot follows a scientist (played by Dan Tobin), whose life’s work is to find the secret to eternal youth. When he’s spurned by a Broadway starlet (Joi Lansing), who has taken up with a tennis star (Rick Jason), he uses his discovery of a youth-granting serum against the vain couple. Watch below. [Dangerous Minds]