What if everyone in authority knew a preventable disaster was coming, and none of them did a thing to stop it?
For the penultimate show in his “The Seven Lively Arts” live series on CBS in 1957, John Houseman chose “The Blast in Centralia Number Five,” a drama about the Illinois mine disaster of a decade before.
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Starring Jason Robards and Maureen Stapleton, the drama was directed by George Roy Hill, and included the reading of a March 1947 letter to the governor of Illinois from miners pleading for him to save their lives from the dust explosion they were sure was coming at the Centralia Coal Company mine.
Nothing was done, and at 3:26 p.m. on March 25, 1947, the mine blew up. A total of 24 men escaped, eight were rescued, and 111 were killed.
“The show’s most moving moments were not taken from the official files,” Houseman said. “They showed Martin (played by Robards) visiting the widow of one of the dead men some months after the blast. Seated under a framed hand-tinted photograph of her late husband, Mrs. Colfax (Stapleton) reads what her man scrawled as he lay dying of gas poisoning in the darkened mine.”
“It is due in large part to (Hill’s) creative energy that the terrible irony of the disaster, with its revelations of human weakness and fortitude, came through with such overwhelming and tragic force,” Houseman wrote.
Unfortunately, CBS also lacked foresight. The program is lost, along with most of the rest of “The Seven Lively Arts” — a series that CBS cancelled just as it won an Emmy for best new show. Houseman, properly pissed off, refused to attend the ceremony.
Source: “Final Dress” by John Houseman