On April 27, 2022, at the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, on Hollywood Boulevard in, you guessed it, Hollywood, California, Family Theater Productions celebrated its 75th year in business.
Headquartered on Sunset Boulevard, also in Hollywood, not far from the Roosevelt, the company founded in 1947 by Venerable Patrick Peyton has spent decades making faith- and family-friendly media, from radio to digital.
Here's a quick peek at what happened during the event:
Friends, fans and collaborators showed up to help us mark the occasion, and Catholic and other Christian media outlets stepped up to carry the story.
Here's a sampling:
“Good evening. This is Jimmy Stewart. You know, since this is our first program, maybe we ought to have a dedication,” the actor told radio audiences at 7:00pm Pacific time on Feb. 13, 1947. “So right now let’s dedicate the Family Theater to your family.”
With those words 75 years ago, Father Patrick Peyton’s “Family Theater of the Air” officially debuted. The show airing from Los Angeles presented Flight from Home starring Loretta Young, Don Ameche and James Stewart as narrator.
Actually, although Family Theater was officially established that year, Father Peyton had already done his first nationwide broadcast on Mother’s Day two years earlier and that featured Bing Crosby.
At the event, Oscar-nominated animator Tim Reckart reminded that in filmmaking there is nothing like a “value neutral perspective. Everyone comes with a perspective. We have to make sure that we as Catholics are bringing our Catholic identity to our filmmaking.
"And that’s what’s great about Family Theater Productions. It’s coming from that Catholic perspective. It’s important for us to keep part of that conversation.”
A Hollywood organization started by Venerable Patrick Peyton – who dedicated his life to using mass media to spread devotion to Mary through the rosary and encouraging family prayer – is still operating out of its Sunset Boulevard offices, 75 years later.
Family Theater Productions, which has produced films with stars such as James Dean, William Shatner, Bob Hope, Princess Grace, Frank Sinatra, Eduardo Verastegui, Ali Landry and Jonathan Roumie, will be marking three quarters of a century this coming week.
“Our focus is creating stories that have an emotional impact, that unlock the heart, stories that are true and beautiful,” said Fr. David L. Guffey, C.S.C., National Director and Head of Production at Family Theater Productions.
From Catholic News Service (via Crux):
In addition to new projects, Family Theater Productions is still finding outlets for two of last year’s projects: “The House That Rob Built,” about a women’s college basketball coach, and “Pray: The Patrick Peyton Story.”
Family Theater made a deal with UP TV to debut “Pray” over Easter weekend, and to offer it on UP’s streaming service starting in June.
Other streaming deals are done “on a case-by-case basis,” Guffey told CNS.
With Family Theater Productions now having 75 years under its belt, there’s a five-year plan afoot.
“We have a direction that we’re headed,” Guffey said. “We really believe that great stories unlock the heart and open up people’s heart to the possibility of love and faith in new ways. We believe in the power of narrative, either in a document or a scripted film.”
Those would come in the form of feature films and possibly a limited television series “to bring beauty from the Catholic tradition to audiences throughout the world,” he said. “We’ll always be involved in Catholic content creation.”
From a Q&A with Father Guffey at Beliefnet:
JWK (John W. Kennedy): You’ve mentioned some of the great Hollywood stars Family Theater has attracted over the years. Are you still attracting the stars? It seems to me that Hollywood has changed a lot over the years and may be a bit less supportive of organized religion.
DG: Yeah, I think that probably is a good observation. You know, in the 1940s and 50s, first of all, there were a lot of stars that were fairly open about worshiping as a Catholic. So, there were those people to draw from, but even people who weren’t Catholic were anxious to be part of a production that was high quality and supported a kind of common set of values.
Frankly, at that time, it was probably good for their careers to appear in a show like Family Theater. That changed. Now, there’s a certain aspect of the entertainment industry that’s hostile to faith and faith-based programs. So now, you know, some actors may see it as a risk to their careers. Many still do it and make faith-based things, but it’s not the same world as it was then.
What I do find, however, in Hollywood is that there are so many people who really want to be part of quality projects. They’re not afraid of having faith be part of a storyline (and to) depict faith and belief in God as some part of the transformational process of a character.
Even the studios are learning a lesson. They’ve learned that there’s an audience for faith-friendly and family content. The evidence of that is you’ve seen major studios and major networks set up faith divisions within their companies to try to develop this kind of content for their audience and for their streaming platforms.
So, I think we’re on the verge of a really wonderful time actually in family and faith-based content.
And, one more video, showcasing FTP's history (aired at the event):