TV on DVD — ‘Loretta Young Show’ anthology

The show is 60 years old, and the star is 100. So how come the idea feels fresh and contemporary?

“The Loretta Young Show” just hit DVD shelves in a hefty 17-disc box from Timeless Media Group. This 100th Birthday Edition collects the best of the studio-era movie star’s 1950s TV anthology, in which she played dozens of roles over an eight-season run of 257 episodes.

In this spiffy box (discs in plastic flip-pages, not Timeless’ typical paper sleeves), the elegant Young famously makes her fashion-plate entrance to introduce each episode. She swoops in the door of her “apartment” in yet another designer gown, twirling its full skirt in a move still recalled fondly by ’50s grandmothers. Young also closes each half-hour with a Bible verse, philosophy quote or other homily.

In between, she goes to town on a hundred-plus roles of varying attitudes (in film prints of varying quality). Here, she’s a foreign correspondent in a topical drama of postwar Korea. There, she’s a shop clerk in love with the son of a nasty, rich widow, laugh track included. Later, she plays the daughter of a Declaration of Independence signer, then ancient Egypt’s Queen Nefertiti. She gets to be a Western woman with a gun, a Manhattan mother too busy for her kid, a neglected Hollywood wife, a dedicated doctor, an Indian maharani.

Meryl Streep, anyone?

And that’s what got me wondering about reviving this star-anthology format. (See the sidebar story below this one). What actor doesn’t want to “stretch,” to “play against type,” to strut all the stuff they feel capable of doing? Why not go back to featuring big names in closed-end stories changing weekly? No more convoluted conspiracies, drawn-out dopplegangers, or arch sitcom contri vances. Forever something fresh, and if it doesn’t work, who cares? There’s always next week. (If it does work, there’s always the spinoff.)

Of course, you need a bankable star to build on. By the time 40-year-old Loretta Young sashayed into early television, she’d been in movies for 25 years and 100 titles (“The Farmer’s Daughter,” “The Bishop’s Wife”). As a contract star in Hollywood’s studio heyday, she made up to 10 films a year, many screened this January in Turner Classic Movies’ monthly star salute. (Young died in 2000 at 87.) She had the star power, public goodwill and acting chops to pull it off.

Not that plenty of today’s big names couldn’t carry the same sort of show. But there’s another crucial element revealed in the “Loretta Young Show” DVD box (Timeless’ list price, $100). It’s not in the bonus features, though those are fun _ Young’s audio recollections, her children’s reminiscences, even behind-the-scenes home movies (from a camera given to her by Spencer Tracy!). It’s in the episodes themselves. These discrete 30-minutes-and-done dramas are, for the most part, really well made. They establish their stories and settings quickly, flesh them out, then finish them so effectively, you can’t wait to watch the next. Think anybody knows how to make shows like that anymore?