Broadcast of Julius Caeser

If you were watching television on the evening of April 3, 1949, chances are you were choosing between one of two shows: WATV’s broadcast of a western film or NBC’s broadcast of Julius Caesar, performed by Amherst students at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

U.S. households with TVs had only those two viewing options that Sunday, when the Amherst College Masquers—a student dramatic society—made television history with NBC’s broadcast to 17 cities. It was the first nationally televised performance of a full Shakespeare play. 

 

Before Masterpiece Theatre
NBC's broadcast of Julius Caesar, performed by Amherst students at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Arranged by NBC Vice President Charles R. Denney ’33, the play featured some 50 students in the cast and crew. The director was Professor of Theater and Dramatic Arts F. Curtis Canfield ’25. 

The Washington Post, Life and Time covered the broadcast, which drew viewers from, for example, more than 40 percent of TV-owning households in the New York area. 

And a Chicago Tribune article on the show reported, “1) Shakespeare makes a high order of television program, and 2) Amherst knows how to train actors.”