The show was produced by Family Theater Productions, a film and radio studio extension of the Family Rosary Crusade founded by the Holy Cross Priest, Father Patrick Peyton, CSC, as a way to promote family prayer. The motto of the these Holy Cross Family Ministries is, "The family that prays together, stays together."
The program had no commercial sponsor, yet Father Peyton, CSC arranged for many of Hollywood's stars in film and radio at the time to appear. In its ten-year run, well-known actors and actresses, including James Stewart, Gregory Peck, Irene Dunne, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Shirley Temple, Barbara Whiting Smith, Raymond Burr, Jane Wyatt, Charlton Heston, Lizabeth Scott, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Gene Kelly, Kate Smith, William Shatner and Chuck Connors, appeared as announcers, narrators or stars.
In 1951, while the radio version was still on the air, Family Theater moved to television where it aired in syndication. The spelling of the title was altered to Family Theatre and the series was extended to one hour. Father Peyton also hosted the TV version, which ran for seven years.
One of the TV episodes was "Hill Number One", famous for featuring an early appearance by James Dean (as John the Apostle - not John the Baptist, as is commonly thought). It combined a World War II story with the story of the Crucifixion of Christ and has recently been released on DVD.
As of May 2008, the Catholic television network EWTN began showing selected Family Theatre episodes at 11:30pm on Sundays and 1:00am on Thursdays, ET. As of September 2009, however, these programs were no longer being broadcast on EWTN. However, the radio version still airs on the radio on Sunday nights with an agreement with Immaculate Heart Radio, another Catholic network.
Radio Maria USA
Radio Maria USA's ten station English language network (based at KJMJ in Alexandria, Louisiana) still airs the series on Sunday afternoons from 2 until 2:30pm Eastern time.
- Family Theatre ep. "Hill Number One: A Story of Faith and Inspiration" at the Internet Movie Database
- Family Theater is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]