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Father Peyton’s Family Theater Celebrates 75th anniversary

Father Peyton’s Family Theater Celebrates 75th anniversary

Holy Cross Father Willie Raymond, president of Holy Cross Family Ministries, attends the Family Theater’s 75th anniversary celebration Thursday in Los Angeles. (photo: Jeff Ellingson / Family Theater Productions)

Father Patrick Peyton’s vision of reaching the masses through media remains strong 75 years after he founded Family Theater.

“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.

Wednesday, April 28, 2022, marked this major milestone as Family Theater Productions officially celebrated its 75th anniversary in style at the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, the site of the first Academy Awards.

These last 75 years have been momentous for Family Theater Productions, which has thrilled radio and then television audiences for decades. The vision of its founder, now Venerable Patrick Peyton, has continued and grown over the years. All his enthusiasm for bringing high quality programming to families is alive and well at the same studio location on Sunset Boulevard since 1948.


Insights of Attendees

“The 75th anniversary celebration was a snapshot of a crucial and exciting moment for Family Theater Productions but also an example of how award-winning content built upon Father Peyton’s dedication to encouraging families to pray together can make something beautiful and influential in our culture,” said Holy Cross Father David Guffey, national director of Family Theater Productions.

Others chimed in with plenty of accolades and enthusiasm for the future.

Holy Cross Father Willie Raymond, president of Holy Cross Family Ministries and former head of Family Theater, was “filled with joy at seeing what has transpired at Family Theater Productions. Especially in the last five years it’s just been phenomenal to see the quality of production enhanced. The kind of people we’ve assembled as a team and under the leadership of Father David Guffey is just extraordinary. So I feel like a parent who has seen really grow and develop.”

Senior producer and director Megan Harrington shared her vision that “the next five years at Family Theater Productions look bright. It’s a wonderful time to be in the type of storytelling we’re trying to stake a claim on.” She explained that claim is on families, and heartfelt and inspirational stories. “There’s enough darkness in the world. We can come in and offer a light. Because there’s so much hope, there’s so many stories” to make that she hopes in the next five years people will be saying, “Oh, Family Theater made that! I have to see that movie.”

Composer Grant Fonda shared his thoughts too. “The content that is being produced is creative and intelligent and being produced at an extremely high level. And it’s made all the better because its intentionally focused on the family.”

Also on hand was author Lisa Hendey, founder of Catholic Mom. She lauded Family Theater Productions for their “content that families can not only trust but enjoy together. I think now more than ever is so needed by our families. We need stories and this foundation that Father Peyton built … with messages that uplift and inspire. It so critical.”

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.”


Major Milestones

“Anything that lasts 75 years, I think is an achievement,” Father Guffey noted, “and Father Peyton’s humble beginnings rooted in prayer sets an incredible example of faith and trust in God.”

Father Peyton’s productions drew top talent, including include Jack Benny, William Shatner, Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Bob Newhart, Princess Grace, Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Loretta Young. Today the list goes on with people like Eduardo Verástegui and Ali Landry. One of the many highlights include Family Theater’s first television film in 1949, The Road to Peace, starring Bing Crosby and Ann Blyth, and produced by Twentieth Century Fox Studios. Add to this the Best Program and various other national and international awards, too many to list.


Looking Ahead

“The 75th anniversary is also a tribute to the ways that Hollywood and entertainment have changed,” Father Guffey reflected in an earlier statement. “We started in print, then went to radio, then television and film, and now social media, video and apps. Faith and family have been a part of this history in exciting ways. There’s a lot to celebrate and look forward to as we commemorate the founding this year.”

Of course, that includes Father Peyton’s vision and the way he dedicated his life to using mass media to spread devotion to the Blessed Mother through the Rosary and encouraging family prayer.

“Media and entertainment has changed drastically since Father Peyton founded Family Theater Productions 75 years ago,” Father Guffy noted, “and we have changed right along with it while staying firmly grounded in his vision and faithful execution of telling both faith-based and inspiring stories.”

That includes work beginning soon on an animated children’s series based on Chime Travelers, the popular book series by Lisa Hendey. And Family Theater Productions has extended its influence behind the scenes in Hollywood for many years, acting as vetting organization for scripts involving Catholic or faith matters. They also help and pastor many in the film industry “who were discerning the will of God in their lives,” said Father Guffey. “It’s a part of the work we have done that is truly hidden from the world but that only God understands and has placed us in these positions to support people who need it.”

He’s “looking forward to ushering the Family Theater Productions into the next many years, producing stories that unlock the heart to experience God in some way.”

“We cannot wait to move forward with new projects and continue to be a source of hope, beauty and strength for people who come to watch our films, engage with our content or pray with us,” he added, citing the 75th anniversary celebration as a springboard for the future.

He summed it up, saying it’s also about looking ahead to “our goals to reach more families while encouraging them in their prayer lives. We hope to continue to create content that will make people think, will make people hope, and will give people a little bit of beauty that will support their life.”

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