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The Millionaire


De Kelley in “The Millionaire – The Iris Millar Story” Pt.1


DeForest Kelley in this 1955’s episode of the series “The Millionaire.” Not to be missed, as he a) plays a doctor! b) wears a short-sleeved smock, c) says “I’m a doctor, not a politician!” and d) probably gets the right girl in the end (after the closing).

Michael Anthony (Marvin Miller) hands check to Betty Perkins (Inger Stevens) in a 1956 episode

The Millionaire is an anthology series that aired on CBS Television from January 19, 1955, to June 8, 1960, originally sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive. The series explored the ways sudden and unexpected wealth changed life for better or for worse and became a five-season hit during the Golden Age of Television. It told the stories of people who were given one million dollars from a benefactor who insisted they never know him, with one exception. The series was known in syndication as If You Had a Million.

The benefactor

The benefactor was named John Beresford Tipton, Jr. Viewers heard his voice, making observations and giving instructions; they saw only his left arm as he reached for a cashier’s check for one million dollars each week and handed it to Michael Anthony, his executive secretary. It was Anthony’s job to deliver that check to its intended recipient.

The cast – Miller in 1958.

Invariably, The Millionaire began with a very brief opening theme fanfare behind the ascending title frame, followed by the camera’s training directly upon Michael Anthony, played by veteran character actor and radio and television announcer Marvin Miller. The unseen John Beresford Tipton was played by another veteran character actor and voice artist, Paul Frees.

Miller was the only cast member who was seen in every episode. The most regular recurring supporting actors were Roy Gordon, as banker Andrew V. McMahon, on whose Gotham Trust Bank the anonymous Tipton’s cashier’s checks were drawn; and Ed Herlihy, as the announcer for The Millionaire.

Michael Anthony

The Millionaire told the stories of Tipton’s beneficiaries in flashback, as if from Anthony’s case files. Each episode began with Anthony, behind his desk and looking directly into the camera, speaking one or another variation on this theme:

“My name is Michael Anthony, and until his death just a few years ago, I was the executive secretary to the late John Beresford Tipton, Jr. John Beresford Tipton, a fabulously wealthy and fascinating man, whose many hobbies included his habit of giving away one million dollars, tax free, each week — to a total stranger.”

From there, the camera faded to a brief tour of the grounds on which Tipton’s home stood, as Anthony continued speaking:

“This is Silverstone, John Beresford Tipton’s 60,000 acre estate. From here, he spent the later years of his life pursuing many hobbies, often tied to his fascination with human nature and behavior. Mr. Tipton was a man of so many wide interests, that when called into his presence, one never knew just what to expect.”

The camera then showed Anthony entering Tipton’s presence, invariably greeting him with, “You sent for me, sir?” Tipton spoke for a moment to Anthony (always referring to him as “Mike”), explaining what prompted him to choose “our next millionaire”, before handing Anthony the envelope containing the check, sometimes adding, “I’ll want a full report.”

The beneficiaries

Following the commercial break, Anthony, back in the present and behind his desk, would introduce the week’s millionaire.

Exactly how Tipton chose whom to make an instant millionaire was never necessarily disclosed, although Tipton made it plain in the show’s first episode exactly what his intentions were. Saying that he wanted to set up a new kind of chess game, “with human beings,” Tipton told Anthony:

“I’m going to choose a number of people for my chessmen, and give them each a million dollars. No one is ever to know that I am the donor.”

After showing the beneficiary in a typical situation for few minutes at the beginning of the episode, Anthony would arrive, deliver the check, and have the beneficiary sign a legal statement binding him or her never to reveal the source of this million-dollar gift except to a spouse (if the recipient was single, Anthony would add, “… should you marry”), under penalty of forfeit. Once the document was signed and the thanks were given, Anthony disappeared from the beneficiary’s life forever. The remainder of the episode showed how the gift affected the beneficiary.

The beneficiaries were not always poor but could be from any social class or occupation, from secretaries and construction workers to professionals like doctors and lawyers. Nor were they always likely to find their lives changed for the better because of their sudden wealth.

The series ran for 206 episodes, and Tipton made 206 millionaires. However, the amount Tipton invested in his hobby was much more than $206 million, since, as Anthony told the recipient each week, “The taxes have already been paid.”

The exceptions

Tipton did meet one beneficiary, a man condemned to be executed for a crime he never committed. He used a portion of his million-dollar gift to prove his innocence, with direct help from Michael Anthony, the only time Anthony stayed in even the periphery of a beneficiary’s life.

Tipton visited the man as he was about to leave prison, though he was shown in his customary position: from behind, only his hand or arm and a brief glimpse of the top of his head in view. The only other time Tipton was seen in any episode, beyond presenting Anthony with the next check to deliver, was one in which Anthony was arrested and needed Tipton to bail him out to finish the mission.

In another episode, Anthony said that the beneficiary “got the money, all right … but not from me.” Anthony was on his way to deliver the check when he was run down in a street accident, and the check was jarred loose from his possession. It made its way around a few stunned townspeople before it finally reached its rightful owner, offering a short study of those people’s reactions to instant wealth as well as the intended recipient’s.

End of production

The Millionaire ceased regular series production in 1960, its final regular episode, “Millionaire Patricia Collins,” airing June 7, 1960, and its final summer reruns in its regular production time slot appearing that September. The show became a familiar presence in syndicated reruns from the 1960s through the 1980s, both on its original network, CBS, and on numerous regional independent stations. In 1999, the TV Land cable channel aired a few selected episodes. The show was never officially released on home video.

Creator and producer Don Fedderson later produced a TV movie version of The Millionaire with Martin Balsam as Arthur Haines and Robert Quarry as Michael Anthony. The movie was intended as a backdoor pilot for a revival series, which never occurred.

Guest stars

Since each episode featured a different beneficiary, numerous guest stars appeared during The Millionaire’s production, including Charles BronsonDennis HopperJack LordNora MarloweJoyce MeadowsMartin MilnerAngie DickinsonRobert VaughnMary Tyler MooreAgnes MooreheadRita MorenoAaron Spelling, and Betty White.

At least two professional athletes appeared on the show: basketball and baseball player Chuck Connors (who also had a career as an actor) and Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Don Drysdale.

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