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January 25: The Guiding Light

January 25, 2014
guidinglightThe Guiding Light, which would become the longest-running drama in television history, premiered as a 15-minute NBC radio serial on this date in 1937. The show was created by Irna Phillips (1901-1973), the Jewish mother of the American soap opera, who based the series on her own experience after giving birth to a still-born baby at age 19 and finding comfort in the radio sermons of Preston Bradley, a well-known Chicago preacher. The show detailed the lives and loves of one Reverend Rutledge and his daughter Mary; the show’s title came from the Friendship Lamp that the minister left in his window to signal that his door was open to those in need. By the late 1940s, the Rutledges were replaced by the Baum family, who were then renamed the Bauers and would serve as the show’s main featured family for decades to come. The Guiding Light came to CBS television in 1952 and ran concomitantly as a radio show until 1956. In the 1960s, it was the first television drama to feature regularly an African-American couple, first played by Billy Dee Williams and Ruby Dee, and then James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson. The last show, after more than 16,000 episodes on radio and television, aired on September 18, 2009. To watch all or some of a 15-minute episode from 1953, look below. “Our day-by-day existence is a serial drama.” —Irna Phillips