The Life of Riley

The Life of Riley, with William Bendix in the title role, is a popular American radio situation comedy series of the 1940s that was adapted into a 1949 feature film, a long-running 1950s television series (originally with Jackie Gleason as Riley for one truncated season, then with Bendix for six seasons), and a 1958 comic book.

The show was adapted for television on NBC by the producer of the radio series, Irving Brecher.  It was seen for a single season telecast from October 4th, 1949 to March 28th, 1950.
Originally, William Bendix was to have appeared on both radio and television, but Bendix’s RKO Radio Pictures movie contract prevented him from appearing on the television version.  Instead, Jackie Gleason starred, however, it came to an end after 26 episodes, not because of low ratings or a desire by Gleason to leave the series, but because Irving Brecher and sponsor Pabst Brewing Company reached an impasse on extending the series for a full 39-week season.

The second TV series ran for six seasons, from January 2nd, 1953 – May 23rd, 1958.  It was produced by Tom McKnight for NBC, and featured William Bendix.  He was supported by Marjorie Reynolds, as wife Peg, Tom D’Andrea as schemer buddy Gillis, Gloria Blondell as Gillis’ wife, Honeybee, Lugene Sanders as daughter Babs, and Wesley Morgan as son Junior. This Life of Riley series with Bendix, was a ratings hit, ranking at #16 in its first season, with four of its six seasons in the top 30, and ran for a total of 217 episodes. It then went into syndicated reruns.

In all of the show’s incarnations, the comedic plot lines centered around Riley himself, a gullible and occasionally clumsy (but big-hearted) lug, and the doings and undoings of his family.  Riley’s penchant for turning mere trouble into near-disaster through his well-intentioned bumbling was often aided or instigated by his arch best friend/next-door neighbor, Gillis.
In several ways, Riley was a prototype for later blue-collar situation comedy protagonists such as blustery, get-rich-quick schemer Ralph Kramden and his animated stone-age counterpart Fred Flintstone; along with blustery bigot Archie Bunker.
The final season and a half, broadcast from January of 1957 through June of 1958, was filmed and originally broadcast in color, although only black-and-white film prints of those final episodes were syndicated.
Sponsors of the TV show included Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer (1949–50), Gulf Oil (1953–58) and Lever Brothers (1957–58).

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