BISHOP FULTON SHEEN

Hosted by Bishop (later Archbishop) Fulton J. Sheen, the series consisted of Sheen speaking to the camera and discussing moral issues of the day, often using blackboard drawings and lists to help explain the topic.

 

When the blackboard was filled he would move to another part of the set, and request one of his "angels" (one of the TV crew) to clean the blackboard.

In 1952, DuMont was searching for programming ideas and tried a rotating series of religious programs hosted by a Protestant minister, a Jewish rabbi, or a Catholic bishop. While the other shows did not catch on, the bishop (Sheen) was a hit, found a sponsor in Admiral television sets, and became DuMont's only Emmy Award winner during its decade of broadcasting. Life Is Worth Living held the distinction of being aired on more stations (169) than any other regularly scheduled DuMont program, and is believed to have been the most widely viewed religious series in the history of television.

Prior to Life Is Worth Living, Sheen had appeared on the radio program The Catholic Hour from 1928 to 1952.  With his hypnotic gaze, disarming smile, and dramatic delivery, Sheen was deemed a natural for television. Airing opposite NBC's highly popular Milton Berle show on Tuesday nights, Sheen was the only person to give "Mr. Television", also known as "Uncle Miltie", a run for his money. Sheen drew as many as 10 million viewers each week.

Sheen and Berle enjoyed a friendly rivalry. Berle is reported to have joked, "We both work for the same boss, 'Sky Chief Supreme'", making reference to a grade of gasoline produced by Texaco, his sponsor. Later, when Sheen won an Emmy, Berle quipped, "He's got better writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!" As a take-off on Berle's popular nickname with the public, Sheen once opened his program by saying "Good evening, this is Uncle Fultie."

The charismatic Sheen became one of early television's most unlikely stars, winning an Emmy Award for "Most Outstanding Television Personality" in 1952. During his acceptance speech he happily borrowed Berle's line, crediting his four writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – for his success.

Sheen made controversial statements against communism and socialism. In 1953 an episode of Life Is Worth Living consisted of a reading of the burial scene from Julius Caesar, with Sheen substituting the names of Stalin, Beria, Malenkov and Vyshinsky for Caesar, Cassius, Marc Antony and Brutus. Sheen dramatically stated "Stalin must one day meet his judgment." One week later, the Russian dictator was dead from a stroke.