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The Joseph Cotten Show', also known as On Trial, is a half-hour NBC anthology series of courtroom dramas, hosted by and occasionally starring Joseph Cotten. The second of three series known as On Trial to have been broadcast during the early years of television, The Joseph Cotten Show aired thirty-one episodes from September 14, 1956, to September 13, 1957. Four other new episodes were broadcast on CBS in the summer of 1959. The series was filmed in Los Angelesmarker, Californiamarker, in conjunction with Fordyce Productions and Revue Studios, later Universal Television. In its full season, The Joseph Cotten Show aired at 9 p.m. Friday opposite CBS's The Crusdader and then, at mid-season, the sitcom, Mr. Adams and Eve, starring Howard Duff and Ida Lupino. ABC aired Jan Murray's Treasure Hunt quiz show in the same time slot.

Historical episodes

Cotten appeared in different roles in fifteen episodes, including the title character in the series premiere, "The Trial of Edward Pritchard", the story of a physician of questionable background in Glasgowmarker, Scotlandmarker, who is accused of having poisoned his wife and mother-in-law and who claimed to have been a personal friend of the Italian revolutionary Garibaldi.

Virginia Gregg starred twice in historical roles, first as Mary Surratt, the woman hanged in the conspiracy case stemming from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, in the 1956 episode "The Mary Surratt Case", directed by Ida Lupino. Cotten appeared with Gregg in the role of Robert Westwood. Gregg also portrayed Frances Adeline Miller Seward, wife of United States Secretary of State William Henry Seward, who was stabbed the same night that Lincoln was murdered. Cotten played Seward in this 1957 episode entitled "The Freeman Case". This episode is not about the attack on Seward but about a legal case that the attorney Seward handled on behalf of the African American Willie Freeman, who was found guilty but insane of the murders of a white farm family. The prosecutor in the trial was John Van Buren, son of former U.S. President Martin Van Buren.

In the first episode of 1957, "The Trial of Colonel Blood", Michael Wilding guest starred in the title role of Thomas Blood, the Irishmarker-born colonel who in 1671 tried to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of Londonmarker. Norman Lloyd, a director of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, portrayed the Second Duke of Buckingham. Henry Daniell portrayed King Charles II.

The series also aired a Victorian-era mystery "The Tichborne Claimant", with Gladys Cooper portraying the Roman Catholic Lady Tichborne, who seeks the whereabouts of her son, Roger Cooper, who disappeared at sea. In her search, Lady Tichborne encounters the Protestant Thomas Castro of Australia, played by Robert Middleton. She tries to make Castro her heir and to pass him off as her son Roger, despite obvious difference in body weight and education between the two men. Two trials determined that Castro was an imposter and had committed perjury. He spent fourteen years in prison and returned in poverty to Australia. Dayton Lummis appeared in this episode as Colonel Duncan Smythe.

Other episodes and guest stars

The second episode entitled "We Who Love Her" stars Kevin McCarthy and film star Alexis Smith as Carl and Libby Wilson. Eduard Franz and Joan Fontaine appeared together as De Santre and Adrienne in "The De Santre Story". Fontaine also appeared in the 31st and last episode of the full season, "Fatal Charm". Chuck Connors, two years before being cast as Lucas McCain in ABC's western series, The Rifleman, appeared as a character named "Andy" in the third episode, "The Nevada Nightingale", with Regis Toomey as the judge.

The episode "Death in the Snow" features Olive Carey, of Mr. Adams and Eve, in the role of Mrs. Gerber, Hoagy Carmichael as Frazier, Keenan Wynn as Bill Harris, Jr., and Anthony George, later of CBS's Checkmate, as an Indian guide. "Law is for the Lovers" features Inger Stevens, later ABC's The Farmer's Daughter, Ron Hagerthy as Jerry, Jr., and Everett Sloane as Anthony. June Lockhart, prior to her casting as Ruth Martin in CBS's Lassie, appeared as Julie Baggs in the episode "Libel in the Wax Museum".

Cotten appeared as Frank Parsons with Audrey Totter as his wife, Ella, in the 1957 episode, "The Case of the Jealous Bomber". William Hopper, son of Hedda Hopper and later a cast member of CBS's legal drama, Perry Mason, appeared in the same episode as Arnold Bait. Totter was thereafter cast on NBC's Cimarron Citymarker western series.

Barbara Bel Geddes, Ellen Corby and Florida Friebus appeared together in "The Gentle Voice of Murder". Ron Hayes portrayed the character "Jeff Moore" in his first ever acting role in the 1957 episode, "A Case of Sudden Death". Hayes's co-stars were Joseph Cotten as Clint Anderson and John Doucette as Owen Davy.

In the four 1959 episodes, Charles Laughton guest starred in "Eleanor", Rod Steiger as inventor Charles Steinmetz in "The Lonely Wizard", Joan Crawford and John McIntire in "Strange Witness", and Thomas Gomez, with Joseph Cotten, in "High Green Wall", the series finale.


  1. Alex McNeil, Total Television, New York: Penguin Books, 1996, 4th ed., p. 618
  2. McNeil, Total Television, appendix

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