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Series / The Millionaire

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The Millionaire is a television drama series which aired on CBS from 1955 to 1960.

It has an anthology format, with each episode telling a self-contained story about an ordinary person who receives a check for $1,000,000 from an Anonymous Benefactor, and how their life is changed for better or for worse.

Each episode begins with Eccentric Millionaire John Beresford Tipton (Paul Frees) giving the name of this week's beneficiary to his executive secretary, Michael Anthony (Marvin Miller); the rest of the episode is the story of what happens, for better or worse, when the beneficiary receives the money.

This series contains examples of:

  • And You Thought It Was a Game: Frank Harrigan doesn't take the million dollar check seriously because he assumes it is a prank by his friends.
  • Anonymous Benefactor: The recipients of the million dollar checks never, with one or two rare exceptions, learn the name of their benefactor. (The checks themselves are anonymous bank drafts, not drawn on a named account.)
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • Walter Carter has trouble convincing his friends and family that he's received a million dollars because he has a history of mental health problems that make it seem more likely he's delusional.
    • Henry Banning has trouble convincing his friends and family that he's received a million dollars because he has a reputation as a spinner of tall tales.
    • Jeff Mercer has trouble convincing his parents that he's received a million dollars because he's only twelve.
  • Character as Himself: To add to Tipton's mystique, his face was never shown and the actor who played him went uncredited; instead, the credits ended with "and John Beresford Tipton".
  • Clear My Name: Jack Martin is on death row for a crime he didn't commit when he receives his million dollars, giving him a chance to clear his name.
  • Clear Their Name: Several episodes involve the beneficiary trying to clear somebody's name or resolve an injustice.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Usually, Tipton and Anthony disappear from the story once the million dollars has been handed over, leaving the stage to the beneficiary. "The Hugh Waring Story" is an exception: Waring is about to be executed for murder, and doesn't care about the money; instead the episode is about Anthony becoming convinced Waring has been framed and persuading Tipton to see justice done.
  • Dead Person Impersonation:
    • Russell Herbert is murdered shortly before Michael Anthony arrives to present his check, and his murderer poses as him and accepts the check.
    • Eric Lodek, a reclusive Holocaust survivor, dies shortly after receiving his million dollar check. The person who finds the body, being in urgent need of a way out, decides to take the check and Lodek's identity.
  • Eccentric Millionaire: John Beresford Tipton, who gives strangers checks for a million dollars to see what will happen.
  • The Faceless: Tipton's face was never shown. He usually only appeared as a voice from off-screen or an arm reaching out from the kind of high-backed chair people sit in before a Chair Reveal.
  • Faking the Dead: In "The Hugh Waring Story", Hugh Waring's wife fakes her own death and frames him for her murder. After he's executed, she comes out of hiding to claim inheritance of the Tipton million, only to find that she's been hoist by her own petard: Waring's death was also faked in order to flush her out.
  • Fall of the House of Cards: At the beginning of "The Louise Williams Story", Tipton builds a house of cards while pontificating on the precariousness of human existence, finishing up by breathing on it and making it fall down. Then he hands Michael Anthony the latest million-dollar check and says they'll see how Louise Williams' life will stand up to an unexpected wind.
  • Fun with Foreign Languages: In the episode where the beneficiary is Alicia Osante, a Latina immigrant, Tipton decides to have fun with Anthony by giving him his instructions in Spanish. An apparently befuddled Anthony struggles through the conversation with the help of a Spanish-English dictionary Tipton gives him, but as he's leaving he bids Tipton "hasta la vista", with a smile showing that he's been fluent the whole time.
  • Guilt by Coincidence: Philip Sargent shows up with a valise full of cash right after a bank robbery, and is suspected of being one of the robbers.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: Iris Millar decides to use part of her new wealth to set up her boyfriend, Dr. Wells (played by a young DeForest Kelley) with a fancy office and help him cultivate the rich and famous. He's not on board with the plan, protesting, "I'm a doctor, not a politician!"
  • Inheritance Murder: Mildred Kester's brother-in-law tries to murder her so that his wife, her sister, will inherit her million.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: One of the conditions of the gift is that the beneficiaries are not allowed to tell anyone how they came by the money. In some episodes, this results in the beneficiary being suspected of having an affair.
  • Mistaken for Murderer: Fred Malcolm mistakenly believes his wife is trying to commit Inheritance Murder to get hold of his million.
  • Mistaken Identity: In "The Terrence Costigan Story", Michael Anthony gets in a traffic accident and loses a million dollar check he was on his way to deliver. The check is found and delivered by Terrence, an impoverished street sweeper, resulting in a false belief that Terrence is a wealthy philanthropist. At the end of the episode, Tipton sends Anthony back with another million dollar check, this one for Terrence.
  • Motive Misidentification: Several of the beneficiaries have plausible but entirely incorrect theories about who anonymously gave them a million dollars and why. These include a man with a rich fiancée who's been trying to prove that he can make his way without her help, and an accountant whose client has already tried to bribe him once to cover up an insurance fraud. Alicia Osante doesn't even wait to hear about the check, spending the entire episode trying to avoid Anthony because she thinks he's an INS agent.
  • Once per Episode: Each episode begins with Michael Anthony being called to Tipton's office to collect the week's check. Each time, he finds Tipton engaged in a different one of his many hobbies and ready with a metaphor about how the hobby can be related to human nature and the ways people deal or fail to deal with unexpected changes.
  • On One Condition: In "The Uncle Robby Story", Robert Chesley leaves all his money to his niece and her husband with a condition that any portion of it they don't spend on their honeymoon will instead go to another relative they both dislike. It's not meant unkindly; Uncle Robby isn't rich and expects to leave his favorite relatives just enough for a nice time, with the penalty only included because he knows that otherwise they're likely to donate a windfall to charity instead of treating themselves. Then he receives a million dollars from Tipton and dies before he has a chance to change the will...
  • Pet Heir: In one episode, the recipient of the million dollars is an elderly spinster who dies shortly afterward and leaves all her money to her cat Ralph, with an allowance for her nephew on condition of him being Ralph's caretaker.
  • Same Surname Means Related: Played for laughs when Michael Anthony goes to deliver a check to Charles Bradwell, who works at a school. When he introduces himself, Bradwell initially assumes he's the father of a student at the school whose name happens to be Henry Anthony. (This also ties into the episode's theme, as Bradwell's big regret that determines his use of the million is that he has no family of his own.)
  • The Scrooge: Quentin Harwood was excessively frugal before he had a million dollars, and continues to be so even when he's wealthy, causing friction with his wife.
  • Suicide by Assassin: Brian Hendricks hires a man to kill him so his family can get a life insurance payout. Then he receives a million dollars from Tipton, leaving him scrambling to cancel the deal.
  • Suspicious Spending: One of the conditions of the gift is that the beneficiaries are not allowed to tell anyone how they came by the money. In some episodes, this results in the beneficiary being suspected of criminal activity when they start spending money and can't explain where they got it. Examples include Joe Iris, an ex-convict, and Pev Johnson, a bank clerk who is suspected of embezzlement.
  • Syndication Title: In syndication, the show was sometimes billed as If You Had a Million.
  • Taxman Takes the Winnings: Discussed and averted. It's specified that Tipton pays whatever taxes the beneficiaries would be liable for, ensuring that they receive the full million dollars.