Fred Coe, leading producer and director during the “golden age of television” of the 1950s, was born in Mississippi but raised in Nashville, and he called Tennessee home. Nurtured in the arts and theatre at Peabody Demonstration School, Coe began his career doing radio dramas for WSM in Nashville. He joined the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in 1945 as a production manager. He was named head of NBC’s Playhouse in 1948, from where he would launch a spectacular series of dramas and other television programs.
Described by media critic Richard Corliss as “one of TV’s smartest, boldest pioneers,” Coe was the primary creative force behind the Philco-Goodyear Playhouse, a highly regarded live performance anthology produced in New York City. (1) Coe’s guidance in the Philco series, as well as other anthologies such as Playhouse 90, produced such television drama classics as Marty by Paddy Chayefsky, The Trip to Bountiful by Horton Foote, The Death of Billy the Kid by Gore Vidal, Days of Wine and Roses, and the musical Peter Pan, starring Mary Martin, which was the highest rated program yet on television when it aired in 1955. Coe was famous for nurturing the creative side of television: its writers, directors, and actors. He supported writers like Chayefsky, Foote, Vidal, Tad Mosel, and J. P. Miller, directors Delbert Mann (also from Nashville) and Arthur Penn, and young actors such as Grace Kelly, Paul Newman, Nancy Marchand, and Rod Steiger. Coe also convinced current movie stars such as Henry Fonda, Jose Ferrer, Humphrey Bogart, and Lauren Bacall to do television productions.
Coe’s success in television led to opportunities both on the stage and the movie screen. On Broadway, he produced The Miracle Worker and All the Way Home, which won a Pulitzer prize. In 1965 he directed the film classic A Thousand Clowns. This work largely ended Coe’s period of significance in American drama. He died in 1979. A member of the Television Hall of Fame, Coe was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame in 1994.
Jon Krampner, The Man in the Shadows: Fred Coe and the Golden Age of Television (1997)