What was going on with the institution of marriage in 1956? Based on my viewing of two episodes of Screen Directors Playhouse from that year I would conclude that no one took that romantic bond very seriously. The two disheartening stories of married couples in What Day Is It? and Every Man Has Two Wives left me sort of offended.
Gower Champion directs himself and his wife in the former title about a song-and-dance married couple performing a George M. Cohan tribute in a third-rate theater. The couple go on and off stage making costume changes between acts and wife Claire (Marge Champion) asks husband Conroy how they will celebrate this special day after they are through working. Conroy, however, cannot remember what the special occasion is.
As the duo continues to perform and Conroy tries to unravel the mysterious date while off-stage, the man reveals that he does not know the date of any of the couple’s significant events, such as Claire’s birthday, their wedding day, their engagement day, the day they met, etc. This leads to both becoming quite furious with the other and Claire demands a divorce before they hit the stage for the final number. When all is said and done a singing telegram man arrives at the door to sing happy birthday to Conroy.
It is incredibly deplorable that a husband cannot recall his own wedding date or his wife’s birthday. The forgetful husband gag has been used ad nauseam in sitcoms to dig men into trouble, and the extent of Conroy’s ignorance is obnoxious to say the least. The audience is supposed to laugh at the fact that the man has forgotten something that should be the easiest thing for him to remember and an event that does not actually harm the woman who wants him to remember it. Nevertheless, I’m not giggling.
The next episode, Every Man Has Two Wives has almost a swingers feel to it but goes beyond that to really push the infidelity envelope. Barry Nelson plays husband Bill who apparently has spent the last decade of his marriage rambling on about the high school sweetheart Fay who got away. His wife Della (Janet Blair) is somehow used to being told she is second-rate but proposes the couple visit Bill’s hometown to see how the years have affected his love.
Not long after the couple arrives in town they run into Buddy Ebsen‘s Fred, who was Bill’s buddy in high school. He invites the couple to dinner at his home and to meet his wife, who happens to be Fay (Mary Sinclair). Bill is immediately jealous but discovers his friend is the Potato King of the state and is quite wealthy. Della is surprised to find that Fay is very beautiful still and is jealous of her husband’s reaction to her. At dinner, Bill and Fay hit the dance floor for one number after another and there is nothing respectable about how close they are. Della and Fred watch and become increasingly somber. Eventually we learn that Fay chose Fred for marriage because he could give her all the things money can buy, and she turns out to be a shallow and horrible person.
For a while it seemed as if the characters in Every Man Has Two Wives were going to just act as if Fay’s greed-driven marriage decision was absolutely natural, but they finally call her out and Bill can return home with his wife and no longer hang the spectre of Fay over Della’s head. The story has a “happy” ending only because the couple doesn’t split, but the relationship sure walked a fine line the could have destroyed the marriage.