Climax! "The Long Goodbye" (lost premiere episode of anthology series; 1954)
Climax! (later known as Climax Mystery Theater) was an anthology series that ran on American network CBS between 1954 and 1958. Each episode showcased a different story, most of which were adapted from other media, and usually performed live. While many episodes are considered lost, the series premiere is especially sought-after as it contains one of the most memorable production errors in TV history.
The 'walking corpse' incident
On October 7th, 1954, Climax! premiered with a live adaptation of Raymond Chandler's 1953 novel The Long Goodbye. In the course of the episode, actor Tristram Coffin's character was murdered, and he was next seen as a body lying under a sheet as investigators examined the crime scene. All was proceeding normally when - according to contemporary accounts - Coffin the 'murder victim' suddenly sat up, discarded the sheet and calmly headed off the set. (Different accounts describe the erstwhile corpse as either 'crawling' or 'strolling' away.) Adding to the surreal vibe, the actors playing the investigators continued their examination, even discussing the removal of the now-absent body, seeming entirely oblivious to the bizarre turn of events. The adaptation carried on without further diversions and the character's murder was solved, leaving viewers utterly confused.
Since Climax! billed itself as a top-tier, highbrow program, its debut had garnered considerable critical attention. Write-ups of the incident, including confirmation from embarrassed CBS executives that Coffin had believed himself to be out of frame at the time, appeared in multiple newspapers. The gaffe would pass into television history, albeit sometimes attached to the wrong show or episode. These days it is most often claimed that the incident involved Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre in "Casino Royale", a special live dramatization of the James Bond novel that aired around the same time; this is probably due to it being conflated with the third episode of Climax!, which adapted the same Bond story.
The actual episode containing the incident has not resurfaced since its first airing, and it is unknown if a copy is still in existence. It is highly unlikely, given that early live TV was not often recorded, and even if it had been in this case a gaffe of this magnitude would not have been thought worth saving.
As of this writing, the only episode of Climax! to ever get an official release on home media is "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde", which appeared in a Classic Sci-Fi TV compilation. Several episodes from later seasons have also shown up online.
- A Snopes article on the episode, featuring newspaper excerpts. Retrieved 06 Mar '13