The year 1961 brought two outstanding medical dramas to television even though they aired only a week apart. One was "Dr. Kildare" that premiered over at NBC. The other was the medical drama series "Ben Casey" that premiered a week after "Dr. Kildare". "Ben Casey" upon its premiere on October 2,1961 became one of the biggest television hits at ABC spanning five seasons and 153 episodes all in black and white until March 21,1966. "Ben Casey" was just that...a gritty riveting medical drama that was so realistic that it brought on superior acting from it's guest stars not to mention the astounding writing and big production values made this show such a colossal hit and a ratings winner for ABC. Interesting note about this show...Actor Vince Edwards was discovered by Bing Crosby whose production company Bing Crosby Productions produced this series and was filmed at Desilu Studios. Vince Edwards took the character of "Ben Casey" and made him into one of the biggest television icons of the early-1960's. Vince Edwards appeared in all 153 episodes of the series. Veteran actor Sam Jaffe who played Casey's mentor and friend Dr. David Zorba appeared in 127 episodes of the series,and was replaced in the show's final season by Franchot Tone(Dr. Niles Freeland),and also by Harry Landers(Dr. Ted Hoffman). Actress Jeanne Bates(Nurse Willis) appeared in 42 episodes of the series from 1961-1966. "Ben Casey" came at a time when America was at a crossroads within itself especially with the subject of the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, the confrontations in the Southern states against Jim Crow,and the sudden death of President John Kennedy.
Given the support and assistance from the American Medical Association which was behind some of the scenes during production, the series "Ben Casey" was groundbreaking for it's era with some tough issues and hard hitting drama especially with some of the medical issues that each week Dr. Casey and his staff at fictional County General Hospital had to face. The success of "Ben Casey" brought 11 Prime-Time Emmy Nominations winning the Prime-Time Emmy in 1963 for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role(Kim Stanley),and also Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role(Glenda Farrell)Big time name directors ranging from Leo Penn, Irvin Kershner, Sydney Pollack, John Meredyth-Lucas, Mark Rydell, Arthur Hiller, Alvin Ganzer, Marc Daniels, Richard C. Sarafian, Alan Crosland, to Jerry Lewis, Gerald Mayer and even Joesph Pevney and Paul Wendkos contribute to some of the great episodes not to mention superior writing from the show's creator(James E. Moser for all 153 episodes),along with Jack Laird, Chester Krumholz, Don Brinkley, Alvin Sargent, Al C. Ward, Lester Pine, Wilton Schiller, Ken Kolb, Harry Julian-Fink, Dean Riesner, Norman Katkov and William Bast.
Big name guest stars ranging from Peter Falk, Shelley Winters, Cesar Romero, Millie Perkins, Eddie Albert, Tom Bosley, Stella Stevens, Dick Clark, Mary Astor, Ricardo Montalban, Anne Francis, Davy Jones, Barry Sullivan, Bradford Dillman, Brett Somers to George C. Scott, Jerry Lewis, Roddy McDowell, Robert Culp, Greg Morris, Eartha Kitt, Percy Rodriguez, Antoinette Bower, Ellen Burstyn, Jack Warden, to Carroll O' Connor, James Best, Hari Rhodes, Peter Breck, Jack Klugman, Telly Savalas, Bruce Dern, Cliff Robertson, Beau Bridges, Sally Kellerman, Norman Fell, Neville Brand, Patricia Barry, Brooke Bundy, Suzanne Pleshette, Piper Laurie, and even Richard Basehart, Ray Walston, Larry Hovis, Ivan Dixon, Yvonne Craig, William Windom, Patricia Blair, Marlo Thomas, Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Simon Oakland not to mention Tuesday Weld, Pippa Scott and James Caan and even Jerry Lewis and Sammy Davis,Jr. made a special guest appearances.
The best episodes from this Emmy award winning series starts with the pilot episode "To The Pure" to "I Remember A Lemon Tree", "The Sweet Kiss of Madness", "And If I Die", "A Little Fun to Match the Sorrow", "And Even Death Shall Die", "Behold a Pale Horse", "When You See An Evil Man", to the two-part "A Cardinal Act of Mercy". Other great episodes were "If There Were Dreams to Sell", "The Echo of a Silent Cheer", "A Certain Time, A Certain Darkness", "But Linda Only Smiled", "Courage At Three-AM", "A Woods Full of Question Marks", "Where Did All The Roses Go?", "Every Other Minute,It's The End of the World", "Dress My Doll Pretty", "In Case of Emergency,Cry Havoc","One Nation Indivisible" to "A Falcon's Eye, A Lion's Heart, A Girl's Hand", "The Fireman Who Raised Rabbits", "A Horse Named Stravinsky", "If You Play Your Cards Right,You Too Can Be A Loser", "Allie", "A Hundred More Pipers", "Between Summer and Winter,The Glorious Season", along with "Legacy from a Stranger" were some of the great episodes that this series produced during its astounding five season run.
"Ben Casey" premiered on ABC's Monday night schedule in Prime-Time from October 2,1961 until May 13, 1963. The network moved the series to Wednesday nights in Prime-Time from September 9, 1963 until April 22,1964 in favor of another produced Bing Crosby series "Breaking Point". "Ben Casey" went back to Monday nights on September 14, 1964 and remained until the final episode of the series on March 21,1966 after five seasons and 153 black and white episodes. When "Ben Casey" was canceled in the Spring of 1966, the series was replaced by the espionage British import series "The Avengers" on March 28,1966. In the fall of that year it would be replaced by the Western-adventure series "The Big Valley".