What’s Going On? Nothing. Then It Must Be Seinfeld.

August 13 is International Left Handers Day. Looking at classic television shows, there are plenty of famous left handers to celebrate including Pierce Brosnan from Remington Steel, Lisa Kudrow from Friends, Sarah Jessica Parker from Square Pegs, Goldie Hawn from Laugh In, Bruce Willis from Moonlighting, Mary Kate Olsen from Full House, Drew Carey from The Drew Carey Show and Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Tim Allen from Home Improvement and Last Man Standing, and Ed O’Neill from Married . . . with Children and Modern Family.

Any of these actors would be worth writing a blog on, but today we are going to concentrate on a show that featured two left handers: Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander. Seinfeld celebrated the continuing misadventures of neurotic New York City stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his equally neurotic New York City friends.

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This show, always defined as being about nothing, was on for nine years, producing 173 episodes. The show featured one of the most unique concepts for a sitcom.  Like Burns and Allen, Jerry Seinfeld stars as himself, a comedian. He and three of his closest friends live in New York City and we get to listen in to their conversations, adventures, and boring daily chores. Each of the main characters has his or her own quirky traits.

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Debuting in 1989, the show was created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David. The characters were based on people they knew. Jerry’s best friend was George Costanza (Jason Alexander). His ex-girlfriend and now close friend Elaine Benes (Julia Louis Dreyfus) was often stopping by his apartment to discuss life. Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards), known as “Kramer,” lived across the hall from Jerry.

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Jerry is usually the calm in the storm in the group, handing out advice and being the voice of reason. He is a germaphobe and a neat freak. He always has a box or two of cereal on top of his refrigerator and we often see him eating it. He also loves the Mets. Jerry was an Abbot and Costello fan in real life and if you watch the show closely, you will see many references to the show and the actors.

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George has been Jerry’s friend since high school. He has a lot of poor traits including being cheap, a liar, and often petty. He often uses an alias, Art Vandelay, as part of his elaborate lies. However, he is loyal to Jerry.  Other actors considered for the role were Danny DeVito, Nathan Lane, David Alan Grier, Kevin Dunn, and Brad Hall.

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Elaine is trying to find Mr. Right but has to date a lot of Mr. Wrongs to get there. She is sometimes to honest for her own good. She has several jobs during the course of the series. Dreyfus beat out Rosie O’Donnell, Patricia Heaton, Mariska Hargitay, Jessica Lundy, Amy Yasbeck, and Megan Mullally for the role.

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Kramer is his wacky neighbor. He wears vintage clothes and is a bit naïve, but intelligent and caring.  As Kramer (Michael Richards) became more popular, his entrance applause grew so prolonged, that the cast complained it was ruining the pacing of their scenes. Directors subsequently asked the audience not to applaud so much when Kramer entered.

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Another recurring character on the show is Newman played by Wayne Knight. Newman lives in the same apartment building as Jerry. He’s a mailman. He bonds with Kramer but doesn’t like Jerry at all.

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Many episodes are based on real life experiences of Seinfeld and David.  Characters and plots from past shows are often referenced or expanded on. Like real life friends who have inside jokes, several themes reappear. Plots are often everyday activities. In one show, Jerry, George, and Elaine spend the episode waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant.

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Like Friends, it truly was an ensemble cast. While the audience loved Kramer, each of the characters was equally important. In a May 14, 2018 Variety story, authored by Scott Huver, who was reflecting on the popularity of the show, Jason was discussing the last episode. His quote sums up how crucial they all were: “And he (Jerry) said this really beautiful thing. He said, ‘For the rest of our lives when anybody thinks of one of us, they will think of the four of us, and I can’t think of any people that I would rather have that be true of.’ And as we all began to weep over the fact that Jerry had said that, that’s when they started calling our names and we had to go out and pretend that everything’s just hunky dory.”

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Unlike many other shows, Seinfeld was slow to gain a fan following. In season four, they finally it the top 30.  However, the show ranked number one for its entire final year.

Jerry Seinfeld received five Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, but never won. The show was nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series from 1992-1998 but only won the Emmy in 1993.

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Jerry Seinfeld turned down an offer from NBC that would have made him one hundred ten million dollars for a tenth season of the show.  There was talk this past year about a Seinfeld revival. After watching Will and Grace’s revival, I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Rarely do revivals live up to their predecessor’s quality.

The finale was viewed by 76 million people. Many fans found the show offensive. The entire group of friends are taken to jail for violating the Good Samaritan law in Massachusetts. They watch an overweight man being robbed and instead of getting help, they mock him.

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None of the friends did the right thing, but perhaps Seinfeld and Alexander can be excused since they were left-handed. Finales are tough especially for a much-beloved show and this one did not do the show justice. In my opinion, it deserved a more creative going away party.

We All Love Gracie: The Burns and Allen Show

I am excited that today is my 100th blog, and I have saved a very special show for the occasion. Today you learn everything you ever wanted to know about the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, one of my all-time favorites.

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The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, which premiered on 12 October 1950, was one of the first comedy series to make the successful transition from radio to television. When George and Gracie started in show business, Gracie was the “straight man,” but George figured out quickly that the audience responded to her immediately. They switched roles and they never veered from the formula again. The Burns and Allen Show was the first domestic comedy set in a real couple’s home and the first television series to depict the home life of a working show business couple.

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CBS was lucky enough to have Burns and Allen on their radio and television networks. In 1930, an NBC executive told them the public would not accept them and Gracie’s voice was too squeaky! William Paley was a huge fan of their comedy and wanted them to try this new medium. The television show was very similar to their radio show. One of the first tag lines for the show was “You’ve HEARD them on radio, now SEE them on television.”

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Ralph Levy was the first producer/director. Previously he had worked on variety shows and sports events. When he and George first met, it was not a great first impression. He thought it was the craziest concept he had ever heard for a show. George considered him a bit of a young punk. They put aside their differences and not only became close friends but greatly respected each other’s business decisions. Ralph would leave in 1953 to work for Jack Benny. When Jack did not have weekly shows, Ralph was working for both comedians, but the jobs became too much for one person.

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Ralph Levy with George and Gracie

The show was broadcast on Thursdays from October of 1950 until March of 1953. From March of 1953 until September of 1958 when it went off the air, it was on Monday nights. Originally, it was staged live and broadcast every other week. In the fall of 1952, they decided on a weekly format. Shows debuting in New York were considered better commercial successes, so the first six episodes were set in the Mansfield Theatre in New York. The West Coast would not see the show until two weeks after the East Coast did. A kinescope was filmed with a 16 mm camera. Duplicates were made, and these shows were sent on kinescopes across the country. In December of 1950, the cast was allowed to go back home to California to film the rest of the series.

In 1951, George would broadcast all over the US with the placement of coaxial cables. George realized filming the episodes would allow for syndication of the show. The show continued for eight years, producing 239 filmed episodes.

Burns and Allen started McCadden Productions. It was named for the street where George’s brother Willy, one of the writers of the show, lived on. Willy was also their manager. They employed more than 300 people and would go on to produce many shows including Mister Ed and the Bob Cummings Show. George truly valued everyone’s opinion and anyone, even the janitor, could make comments and suggestions for improvements.

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It was a grueling schedule to stick to for eight years. George and the writers met Monday morning. Gracie had wardrobe fittings and studied the newest script. They had rehearsals on Tuesdays, and Wednesdays were typically 12-hour days with filming beginning after another rehearsal. Thursday was Gracie’s only day off. The writers met Thursday as well as all day Friday. On Friday Gracie went shopping for her next show’s wardrobe. George devoted Saturday to narrowing down the script to fit the shooting time. On Sunday George and Gracie met with the director at 10 am to go over the script. Sunday afternoon and evening (as well as other scattered times during the week) Gracie studied and memorized the script.

Carnation Milk became a sponsor immediately and would stay with the show for all eight years. Carnation was like another character on the series. Actors were pitchmen for the products and commercial breaks were often part of the show. Gracie had their milk in full view in her kitchen. Their prop man who helped with this for all eight years was Nat Thurman.

George took his writers off to Palm Springs to work on the new show. The head writer was Paul Henning who would later go on to write, produce, and direct many classic sitcoms including The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction. The other writers were Sid Dorfman, Harvey Helm, Willy Burns and George. The writers were truly funny.  One day Jack Benny sent George a telegram from London.  It just read “What’s new?” George and his writers took an entire afternoon to answer it. They told Jack everything that was new including restaurant menus.

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Paul Henning

The show would often begin with George doing a monologue with his trusty cigar that would explain the beginning of the plot to the viewers. George frequently spoke to the audience during the show. In later years, he would retire to his study to watch the show on his television, therefore knowing what was going on in his absence. The rest of the cast was oblivious to the fact he could do so.

The first show had a very simple plot which was the key to many of their episodes. Gracie and Blanche want to go to the movies. The boys want to go to the fights. George makes up a complicated card game that doesn’t really make sense. He thought the nonsense rules would confuse the girls who would get mad and quit. Instead, Gracie thought the rules made perfect sense and she won the game, dragging the boys to the movies.

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The Burns lived at 312 Maple Drive in Beverly Hills and their best friends and next-door neighbors, Blanche and Harry Morton, lived at 320 Maple Dr. The sets were copied from the Burns’ actual home. A shot of their real home was used on the show for exterior scenes. George continued to live in the house even when they became quite wealthy and George was still living there when he passed away at age 100.The house still exists today. They were not arrogant people. Gracie continued to wear the same $20 engagement ring George bought for her when they had no money.

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The edge of the Burns’ swimming pool which was sometimes seen in the live episodes was an eighteen-inch tank of water which was designed to be quickly rolled on and off the stage. Lighting tricks were employed to create the illusion that the shallow tank had depth. George used the pool in his asides to the audience. One time he was supposed to have fallen in, and he showed up dry and made a comment about how quick things happen on television. Later he has to go into the pool again. He once again is seen completely dry, but this time he says nothing and he wrings a bunch of water out of his cigar.

Starting in the fall of 1955, Burns and Allen would often reappear after the end of the episode, before a curtain decorated with the names and locations of the various theaters where they headlined in their vaudeville days. They would perform one of their routines, often discussing Gracie’s relatives.

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The theme music was “Love Nest,” composed by Otto Harbach and Louis Hirsch. It was written for a musical comedy show, “Mary.” There are lyrics, but only the instrumental version was used on the Burns and Allen Show.

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Several staff members transitioned from radio with George and Gracie. Bill Goodwin continued to play himself, providing announcing duties. When he left in the second season to host his own show, Harry Von Zell took over the announcing duties. In real-life, Harry Von Zell had written several episodes of Wagon Train in 1957. The writers incorporated it into the show by having Harry pitch George ideas for western-themed shows. That year, George dressed like a cowboy from time to time and would say things like, “Meanwhile, back at the ranch.”

Bea Benaderet and Larry Keating

Bea Benaderet also moved from radio to television. She was Blanche Morton for the run of the show, but she went through several husbands (Hal March, John Brown, Fred Clark, and Larry Keating). George was extremely creative in his interaction with the audience. Hal March did the first seven shows; John Brown took over the for the next ten months; and Fred Clark was Harry through 1953 for 74 episodes. In a program “Morton Buys Iron Deer/Gracie Thinks George Needs Glasses,” Blanche is holding a catalog ready to hit Harry who spent $200 on an iron deer. George walks on stage and stops the action. He introduces Larry Keating and tells Bea that he is her new husband. They have a small chat about each other’s work. George stops them and says if they are that nice to each other, no one will believe they are married. He gives a cue, Blanche resumes her position, and hits Harry when he re-enters the scene.

Fred Clark, Hal March and John Brown

Bea and Gracie were close friends. Blanche truly loved Gracie and was extremely loyal to her. They laughed continuously. Bea also loved Gracie in their personal lives.

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George and Gracie’s daughter Sandra and son Ronnie also appeared in the show. In later years, Ronnie would become a regular. Ronnie became very popular; he and Gracie often covered for each other with George, and Ronnie was often busy trying to get her out of a bad situation. When he joined in 1955, the show moved back to New York. Harry Morton gets a temporary job there, so the Burns family went too. This change called for new sets, including the hotel where they all were living and Rumpelmayer’s sandwich and ice cream shop.

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Ronnie Burns

In the seventh year, the cast went back to Los Angeles. Fred de Cordova, who had taken over for Ralph Levy, left after three years to direct movies. Rod Amateau was brought on for the final two years.  In many ways, the seventh season was their most creative—this is when the “magic” TV screen appeared.

While the ensemble around them was incredible, the heart of the show was Gracie. Gracie always said that her character believed she was the smart one and everyone else was a little off. There was always a touch of reality in her logic. Gracie played her that way and the audience felt protective of her.

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Gracie was a bit of a perfectionist, but no one worked harder than her. If she had to perform a task on the show, she did it. In a New York Times article, she commented, “It makes me furious to see an actor go through the motion of writing an address on a piece of paper. They scribble it off in a second and you know they couldn’t have written anything.” Whenever Allen performed a task on the show, whether it was writing a name, sewing a handkerchief, or chopping up vegetables, she meticulously performed the duty while reciting her dialogue.

Everyone around her said she never blew her lines and was in almost every scene. George described her work ethic in his book I Love Her That’s Why: “On the set she gives absolutely no trouble and makes no demands. She arrives on time, does the job, jokes with the crew, and in general behaves less like a star than any actress I know.”

During the eight years that the show was on the air, Gracie Allen never appeared in the same outfit twice, and she had three costume changes in some episodes. Gracie Allen chose her own wardrobe. Jane Vogt was the wardrobe mistress for the rest of the cast. Bertha French was the show’s hair stylist and Gene Roemer did make-up. Gracie trusted Gene so much she typically slept while he got her ready.

The writers knew there were a few rules for writing for Gracie. Cheryl Blythe and Susan Sackett sum them up in their book Say Goodnight Gracie!: “(1) She thinks she is smart. (2) Keep her reactions consistent from week to week. (3) Her logic was illogical and her illogic was logical and then her reasoning worked.” Examples of her logic are: “Shorter cars use so much more gas. With a short car, you have to travel further to go the same distance.”  When the delivery boy tells Gracie he’s in a hurry because Mrs. Vanderlip is waiting for a chicken to make sandwiches, Gracie tells him she’ll wait a long time because it took her 2 years to teach their canary to sing.  Gracie keeps her clocks unplugged to save electricity. When she wants to know the time, she plugs it in.  Or take the time she froze a bunch of water; it will save her time when she needs it because she just has to defrost it.

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George gave Gracie most of the credit. Once he commented “You see, to be a straight man you have to have a talent, you have to develop this talent, then you gotta marry her like I did.” The audience liked George because they intuitively realized he adored Gracie.

George was the calm in the middle of the storm around him. Because he always knew what was going on, he remained relaxed when everyone else was confused. And the audience loved the fact that he shared information with them, so they were in on the fun.

Allen announced her retirement on February 17, 1958—effective at the end of the current season. Burns and Allen filmed their last show June 4, 1958.  The plot of the final program was Ronnie fearing he was going to lose his girlfriend to an exchange student. The filming was an emotional experience, although nothing was said about it being Allen’s last performance in the show itself. At the wrap party, Allen took a token sip of champagne from a paper cup, hugged her friend and co-star Bea, and said “Okay, that’s it.” After a brief last look around the set, she said, “And thank you very much, everyone.”

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“She deserved a rest,” Burns said. He explained that she had been working all her life and her lines were the hardest to learn. She had to memorize every word because some lines didn’t make sense.

Although Burns and Allen was never among the top-rated series, it maintained consistently high ratings throughout its eight seasons. The show received a total of twelve Emmy nominations: four for best comedy series, six for Allen as best actress and comedienne, and two for Bea Benaderet as best supporting actress.

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Inspired writing complemented the comic performances, making Burns and Allen an all-time classic. The show holds up remarkably well. The writers purposely kept topical and political humor out of the scripts. They also made sure there were no specific references to the 1950s, so the show did not sound dated in reruns. Their words can say it much better than I ever could, so here are some examples of their creative scripts.

 

Ralph Hanley: I’m here to help you with your income taxes.

Gracie: Oh, we’re glad, we got tired of paying them all ourselves.

 

Ralph: For medical you put down a full-length mirror, $50.

Gracie: That’s right, I got it for my father, so he won’t get pneumonia.

Ralph: How’s that?

Gracie: Well, you see, before he only had a half-length mirror, so when he went outside he forgot his pants.

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George: Would you ever think that such a beautiful mink coat would come from such an unattractive little thing that looks like a weasel?

Gracie: Oh, George, you’re just fishing—you know I think you’re handsome.

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Blanche: I just got a phone call from Lucille Vanderlip and she told me Margie Bates got a beautiful diamond bracelet from her husband.

Gracie: I can’t believe it.

Blanche: Why not?

Gracie: If Lucille’s husband gave another woman a diamond bracelet, you’d think she’d be the last one to mention it.

Blanche: Er . . . Gracie . . . you misunderstood me.

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Gracie: The night before last, George came home from the office feeling terrible.

Blanche: Probably flu.

Gracie: No, he drove the car.

 

My top ten favorite shows are:

#13, March 15, 1951: The Vanderlips are having a party. Gracie was hoping they would invite the Mortons but there is no room, so she and George decide not to go so they can spend time with Blanche and Harry. Once Burns and Allen decline, the Vanderlips call the Mortons because they now have room, so the Mortons happily attend.

#17, February 12,1953: On the train home from San Francisco, Gracie thinks one of the passengers is planning on murdering his wife. She reports it and confuses the cops who believe Harry Morton has killed Blanche who is missing. Blanche actually is off on a shopping trip.

#38, August 3, 1953: Gracie is a witness to a bank heist. Johnny Velvet, the gangster behind the crime (played by one of my favorites, Sheldon Leonard), kidnaps Gracie so she cannot testify in court. After a couple hours, he takes her back because she is driving him crazy. He decides to kidnap George instead, but his men keep nabbing the wrong guy.

#40, August 17, 1953: Gracie is shopping in a department store when she trips. The store wants to settle quickly before it turns into a big lawsuit. Gracie thinks they are trying to sue her for putting a hole in the carpet. The adjustor meets her and assumes the store is in bigger trouble because she now has a head injury.

#79, April 5, 1954: Gracie, known for denting the car, explains the new ding when she tells him an elephant sat on the car. No one believes her. When the circus owner comes to the house to bring her a check for damages, George thinks it’s a prank to convince him, so he tears up the check. George finally realizes an elephant did indeed sit on the car.

#90, August 2, 1954: George and Gracie decide they want to see a movie with some friends. They are having a tough time coming up with a movie that someone in the group has not already seen. They finally find one everyone can agree on, but then someone else stops by to go with the group and they have seen it.

#118, January 3, 1955: Gracie is talking with a woman in the post office. She wants to retrieve a letter she mailed asking her husband for a divorce. She wrote it when he refused to let her mother come visit. Harry Von Zell overhears part of the discussion and assumes Gracie is divorcing George because he won’t let her mother come. He finally convinces George to invite Gracie’s mother. When George learns the actual story, he fires Harry again.

#192, June 4, 1956: George has given his coat to Harry Von Zell to use because he’s taking a date to the Stork Club. George gets locked into the steam room at the club and can’t get out till morning. He tells Gracie why he didn’t come home, but someone returns his coat from the Stork Club, so she thinks he is lying. He has to bring over everyone who had been involved in getting him out of the steam room to convince her he is telling the truth.

#213, October 29, 1956: Gracie misunderstands a conversation, thinking that the Mortons are moving to Pasadena. Gracie decides she and George will move too and tries to sell their house. As a subplot, Ronnie’s fraternity initiation requires him to say the exact opposite of what people expect to hear for a day. Having Gracie and Ronnie there all day truly confuses George.

#219, Ronnie is dating a girl he met at the store where he works. He leaves his coat at her house and her mother drops it off for him. Gracie assumes the mother is Ronnie’s girlfriend. She decides to get Ronnie fired from his job so he is no longer working with the older woman. She also mentions his seeing an older woman to his real girlfriend, not knowing who she is. Luckily, George sees this on his study television, so he is able to straighten out the mess.

If you have never seen the show, you might want to check out some of these on YouTube. There are also numerous DVD collections from their show specifically to sets of golden age classics variety packs. You can also catch their show on Antenna TV from 5-6 am every weekday, 4-5 am Saturday and Sunday mornings, as well as 9 pm Saturday night and 11 pm Sunday night.

It’s The Professor and a Whole Lot of Other People: Russell Johnson and Guest Stars

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Russell Johnson was born in Pennsylvania in 1924. He had six siblings. His father died from pneumonia when Russ was only 8, and his youngest brother died the following year. He was sent to Girard College, a boarding school for fatherless boys located in Philadelphia. He struggled early in his education, being held back for a year. In high school he made the National Honor Society.

In 1943, he married Edith Cahoon. They would divorce in 1948.

During World War II, Johnson joined the Army Air Corps and received the Purple Heart after his plane was shot down in the Philippines in 1945. Johnson flew 44 combat missions in the Pacific Theater. Once the war was over, Russ used his GI Bill to enroll in the Actors’ Lab in Hollywood to study acting. While there he met Kay Cousins, and they married in 1949 and were married until her death in 1980.

 

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Johnson’s big-screen career began in 1952. He was a friend of Audie Murphy and would appear in three of his films in the early 1950s. He was in a variety of movies throughout the 1950s, mainly westerns and sci fi classics such as It Came from Outer Space.

 

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Russell began receiving roles on television in 1950. In the 1950s he would be seen on 28 different shows. In 1959 he was offered a role in a western, Black Saddle. Johnson was Marshal Gib Scott. The show was on for one season.

 

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During the 1960s, Russell’s television work increased, and he appeared on 39 series including The Twilight Zone, Route 66, Ben Casey, Laramie, 77 Sunset Strip, Outer Limits, and Big Valley. In 1964 he was offered the role of The Professor on Gilligan’s Island, replacing John Gabriel who was a teacher in the pilot. Roy Hinkley was a genius who made complex inventions from the simple materials he found on the island. As we have learned, most of the cast of Gilligan’s Island was typecast after the show was cancelled, and they had a hard time getting other roles. Johnson discussed this circumstance in a later interview: “It used to make me upset to be typecast as the Professor . . . but as the years have gone by, I’ve given in. I am the Professor, and that’s the way it is. . . Besides, the show went into syndication and parents are happy to have their children watch the reruns. No one gets hurt. There are no murders, no car crashes. Just good, plain, silly fun. It’s brought a lot of joy to people, and that’s not a bad legacy.”

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Although he had trouble at first, he did go on to appear in 45 different shows from 1970-1997, including That Girl, Marcus Welby, Cannon, McMillan and Wife, Lou Grant, Bosom Buddies, Dallas, Fame, Newhart, ALF, and Roseanne. He had a recurring role on Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law from 1971-1973.

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In 1982, Russell married for a third time. He married Connie Dane, and they were married until his death from kidney failure in 2014.

In 1993, he published his memoirs, Here on Gilligan’s Isle.

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Like so many of the tv icons in the 1960s—Barbara Eden, Adam West, Butch Patrick, David Cassidy, Maureen McCormick—Russell struggled with his alter ego, eventually accepting his role as the Professor. While being tied to one character for 50 years makes it tough to get the roles you want, it’s hard to be critical of a personality that gives such pleasure to decades of viewers and makes you a household name for half a century. Being given the chance to portray a character that America loves is a hazard of the business but is certainly better than never receiving a starring role.

You Never Know Who Might Show Up

With a show like Gilligan’s Island, you would assume it would be almost impossible to have guest stars. After all, they are on a deserted island. Except for the native people who might be living there, where would stars come from? Amazingly, Gilligan’s Island featured many guest stars over the years. Let’s look at a few of them.

Vito Scotti appeared on four different episodes playing Dr. Boris Balinkoff, mad scientist, twice, a Japanese sailor, and a Japanese soldier who does not believe World War II is over.

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Mel Blanc could be heard portraying a parrot several times and a frog.

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Hans Conried visited the island twice as Wrongway Feldman, an incompetent pilot who had crashed on the island years before.

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Kurt Russell was a modern-day Tarzan.

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Richard Kiel, a Russian agent, pretended to be a ghost to scare the castaways off the island so he could have the oil rights. When the cast turns the tables and acts like ghosts, he didn’t stick around long.

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Zsa Zsa Gabor was a rich socialite who falls in love with the Professor.

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Larry Storch is a robber hiding out on the island and pretending to be a doctor.

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John McGiver was Lord Beasley Waterford, famous butterfly collector.

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Don Rickles is con man Norbert Wiley who is hiding out on the island.  He kidnaps Mrs. Howell and later Ginger, planning on getting ransom for each castaway.  After the Professor puts him in jail, Ginger convinces them to let him out for a party.  Norbert steals jewelry and other items from the castaways and leaves the island.

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Phil Silvers crashes onto the island as Herbert Hecuba, arrogant movie producer. He orders everyone around like they’re his servants.  He is not impressed with Ginger’s acting ability, so the castaways write and perform a play to show off her talents. In the middle of the night, Hecuba takes off with their play, claiming it as his own back in the US.

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Sterling Holloway is an escapee from a prison and the owner of a pigeon. The Professor thinks he can get a message back to the States through the pigeon, but when Birdy finds out he is paroled, he sends the bird off first.

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A variety of actors played natives on the show. In all, there were 54 guest stars given credit on the show.

In addition, Bob Denver, Tina Louise, and Jim Backus all had guest starring roles playing people who were look-alikes for Gilligan, Ginger, and Mr. Howell.

I guess it’s a good lesson to always keep up appearances because you never know who might show up when you’re stranded on an island.

The Skipper and His Little Buddy: Alan Hale Jr. and Bob Denver

We continue our month-long exploration of the actors who appeared on Gilligan’s Island. Today we look at the two biggest stars: Alan Hale Jr. and Bob Denver.

Alan Hale Jr.

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Alan Hale Jr. (Alan Hale Mackahan, Jr.) was born in 1921 in Los Angeles, California.  He looked exactly like his father, Alan Hale Sr. who was a well-known movie actor acting with legends like Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn. His mother, Gretchen Hartman, was also a silent film star.

Hale’s first screen role was when he was 12 in Wild Boys of the Road.

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He appeared in more movies and television series than any of the other Gilligan’s Island cast.  In all he would appear in 92 movies and 123 different tv shows.

In 1943 he married Bettina Reed Doerr. They would be married for twenty years and have four children. During World War II, Hale served in the US Coast Guard.

In the 1950s, he could be seen in many westerns as well as The Loretta Young Show and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. He had regular roles on two sitcoms in that decade: Biff Baker USA and Casey Jones. Biff Baker is a businessman who becomes involved in espionage.  He and his wife travel around the world, working behind the scenes to solve problems. Although it was a serious show, there was some humor in the episodes also. As Casey Jones, Hale drove his train, The Cannonball Express, around the country.

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The early 1960s was a prolific time for Alan Hale. The majority of his television credits came during this decade. You can see him in reruns of Jack Benny, The Lucy Show, Perry Mason, My Favorite Martian, and The Andy Griffith Show.

The year 1964 was a momentous one for Alan. He married Naomi and remained with her till his death. He also tackled the role he would become famous for.

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Sherwood Schwartz said he was having trouble finding the right person to play Jonas Grumby. He auditioned a lot of people, including Carroll O’Connor. One night while having dinner at a local restaurant he saw Hale dressed in a Civil War costume and decided he might be the one. Although the Skipper often became frustrated with Gilligan, they had a father and son relationship. Hale and Denver managed to pull that off. They were close friends in their personal lives as well.

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Unlike some of the cast who felt typecast after they left the show, Hale embraced the role he had played. He would later own and manage a popular restaurant in Los Angeles called “Alan Hale’s Lobster Barrel” and could be seen greeting guests as the Skipper. Both he and Jim Backus appeared on Bob Denver’s sitcom Good Guys in 1968.

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After Gilligan, Hale’s career did not slow down. Until his death he would continue to appear in a variety of series including Batman, Green Acres, The Flying Nun, The Wild, Wild West, Here’s Lucy, Marcus Welby, The Doris Day Show, Gunsmoke, McMillan and Wife, Simon and Simon, Growing Pains, The Love Boat, and Magnum PI.

In addition to acting and his restaurant business, Alan enjoyed fishing, golfing, cooking, traveling, storytelling, spending time with his family, and philanthropy. In 1990, Hale died after suffering from thymus cancer at the young age of 68.

Alan Hale had a long and prosperous career.  From all accounts, he liked acting and enjoyed life. Perhaps we should leave the last word to his costars who knew him best.

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Bob Denver said, “He was a big, lovable man who made everyone feel good. He had a great time with his life.”

Dawn Wells described him: “What a dear man . . . what a dear, dear man . . I never saw him disgruntled, having a temper tantrum or depressed. He was so jovial and so sweet and so strong. . . He was a nice man.”

 

Bob Denver

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Bob Denver was born in New York in 1935. He went to college at Loyola University in Los Angeles, majoring in political science. He worked as a mailman and a teacher before deciding to go into acting full time.  His first appearance was on Silent Service in 1957.

While Alan Hale was in more shows and movies than any of the other crew members, Bob Denver was easily in the fewest.  While he appeared in seven movies, he was only in 21 television shows, and on six of them he had regular roles.

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His sister suggested him for the part of Maynard G. Krebs on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. His role as Dobie Gillis’s best friend propelled him into stardom. Dobie Gillis was on the air for four years, producing 144 shows.

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In the 1960s he would appear on Dr. Kildare, The Farmer’s Daughter, The Andy Griffith Show, Make Room for Daddy, and I Dream of Jeannie. In the mid-1960s, Bob was offered the role of Gilligan on a new show, Gilligan’s Island.  In 1966 he married Maggie Ryan. They would have two children during the six years before they divorced.

Schwartz wanted to cast Jerry Van Dyke in the role who turned it down to play Dave Crabtree in My Mother the Car. Denver was perfect in the role of the inept Gilligan who caused many mishaps on the island but was the center of affection of the rest of the castaways, especially the Skipper.

The same year Gilligan was cancelled, Denver remarried. Like many sitcoms, the relationship with Jean Webber lasted three years before the couple cancelled it.

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Although Denver was given a lead role in three more sitcoms, most of his work after 1967 cashed in on his character of Gilligan. In 1968, he starred in Good Guys. He played the role of Rufus Butterworth who opens a diner with his best friend from childhood.  The show only lasted for 42 episodes. Like Gilligan’s Island, Sherwood Schwartz produced this show. In an interview in 1994 with Peter Anthony Holder on Montreal radio station CJAD 800 AM, Denver discussed Schwartz. “Oh yeah, sure. Sherwood, as a producer, he was one of the best writer producers. It’s amazing. That man was just amazing. We never knew there were any problems when we were shooting. He kept all the network craziness away from us. He was writing scripts literally four months in advance, so that special effects and props always got them in plenty of time. . . you just memorized your words and went down there and had a great time. It wasn’t until afterwards when I left that I realized that not everybody was in the same situation. So every time I had a chance to work with him I did.”

At this time, Bob was also involved with Broadway and dinner theater plays after 1970.

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In 1972 Denver tried marriage a third time. He and Carole Abrahams made it three years and produced one child before divorcing. In 1973, he took the lead on Dusty’s Trail. As Dusty, he manages to get a wagon and stage separated from the rest of the wagon train heading west, and the lost group of travelers try to catch up with the rest of their party.  This one only lasted 26 shows.

In 1975, Denver appeared in his weirdest sitcom yet, Far Out Space Nuts. Lasting only 12 episodes, Denver played a maintenance man in a space company who is accidentally launched into space with a co-worker. Apparently, television producers decided Denver looked like someone who was always lost.

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In 1979, Bob tried the marriage ride one more time. This time he would stay married to Dreama Perry until his death.  The couple would have a child, making a total of four children for him.

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Like many of the other castaways, Denver published a book of memoirs.  It was called Gilligan, Maynard, & Me.

In 2005, Denver passed away from complications following throat cancer surgery, leaving Dawn Wells and Tina Louise as the only surviving actors from the show.

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While Denver is obviously the most-recognized character from Gilligan’s Island, he also had the most difficult situation to work with in being typecast. He was never able to shake the traits that were part of Gilligan to explore other roles.  He mentioned he would have liked to be in Northern Exposure. I wonder if he would have been happier being a teacher or if he enjoyed his career.

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Next week we will discover more about our last regular member of the show, Russell Johnson.

Mary Ann vs Ginger: Dawn Wells and Tina Louise

While all the girls loved David Cassidy growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, guys had a harder choice.  They were always asked to choose between Jeannie and Samantha and Mary Ann vs. Ginger. Ginger and Mary Ann didn’t seem to have much in common.  Unfortunately, that was also true of Dawn Wells and Tina Louise. Let’s look at their careers and their time as cast members on Gilligan’s Island.

Dawn Wells

Dawn Wells was born in October of 1938 in Reno, Nevada. Her father was a real estate developer and she seemed to have a happy childhood, gardening and horseback riding. Her parents divorced when she was young, but they shared custody. She was bright, an honor roll student. She was also on the debate team and her class treasurer. She won Miss Nevada. Originally, she wanted to be a doctor or a dancer, but bad knees reduced her choices and then she took drama at Stephens College. She was bit by the acting bug and transferred to the University of Washington, earning her degree in theatre.

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After school, Dawn moved to Hollywood and began working in both theater and movies. Her first film was Palm Springs Weekend in 1963. In the early 1960s, she appeared in about 20 shows, many of them westerns.

In 1964 she was offered the role of Mary Ann Summers on Gilligan’s Island. She enjoyed her time with the show. In a September 27, 2014 LA Times article by Susan King, she said, “Bob Denver, who played the bumblingly sweet Gilligan, was a comic genius. Alan Hale Jr., who embodied the teddy bearish Skipper, was a wonderful man. I never saw him angry.” She also adored Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer. Russell Johnson wrote the foreword for one of her books. The only member of the cast she hasn’t had contact with was Tina Louise.

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In the original Gilligan’s Island theme song, Mary Ann and the Professor were not mentioned. They were referred to as “the rest” and then later the lyrics became “the Professor and Mary Ann.” Wells has mentioned in several articles that Bob Denver was the one that got the change made.

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Wells embraces her character and people respond in a positive way. People who grew up watching the show see her as friendly and unassuming. Like Barbara Eden and others who suffered from typecasting, she sees her time as Mary Ann in a positive view: “Mary Ann has been such a big part of my life, it’s really impossible to get away from it. But why would I want to? Everywhere in the world that I go, I am greeted with love. . . I created a character that meant something to some people and it has lasted.”

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However, Wells admits that most of the cast suffered from stereotyped views of their roles on the show. She worked hard to continue acting, performing in more than 66 theatrical productions, as well as countless voice-overs and commercials.

She had married Larry Rosen in 1962, but they divorced the same year her role as Mary Ann ended.

After the demise of Gilligan, she received other roles, appearing in 24 shows from 1967-2018, but in many of them she played Mary Ann, not a character like Mary Ann, but the actual Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island.

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In 1998, she opened the Dawn Wells Film Actors Boot Camp in Idaho. She also designed a line of clothing for physically challenged people, “Wishing Wells Collections” and launched a beauty line, “Classic Beauty.” She also wrote two books, a cookbook from the show and A Guide to Life: What Would Mary Ann Do?

Dawn Wells has taken her role of Mary Ann and let it be part of her without limiting herself. She willingly accepts the character as part of herself, but she has continued to grow and expand her career. I think when Mary Ann was rescued from the island, she probably had a very similar career.

Tina Louise

Tina Louise was born in New York City in 1934. Like Wells, her parents also divorced when she was quite young. She first appeared on Broadway in “Li’l Abner” while a teenager. She was given good reviews and was offered a role in her first movie, God’s Little Acre in 1958. She then began studying with Lee Strasberg.

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During this time, she made one album, “It’s Time for Tina,” a collection of classics from composers such as George Gershwin, Jule Styne and Cole Porter.

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After making several movies, she returned to Broadway, starring with Carol Burnett in “Fade In, Fade Out.” Like Dawn Wells, Louise accepted a number of roles on television in the early 1960s, also many westerns.

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Tina left the Broadway show to take the part of Ginger Grant on Gilligan’s Island.  Surprisingly, she was not the first choice and replaced Kit Smythe who was cast in the pilot. Unlike Wells, she did not appear to enjoy her time with the show. Many articles have been written about her dissatisfaction with the fact that she thought she would be the star of the show instead of one of seven more equal cast members. The other cast members describe her as professional but unhappy. She distanced herself from the show as soon as it ended, not participating in future projects.

Also, like Wells, Tina married but divorced after five years.

Louise made quite a few movies after her time on Gilligan and continued to work in television, appearing on 27 different series including Bonanza, Love American Style, Kojak, Marcus Welby, and The Love Boat.

Again, like Dawn Wells, Tina Louise has expanded her acting career into other venues. In 2005 she got a lot of money for 80 lines of voice-over work for a gaming machine, MegaJackpots which were located in casinos across the country.

She also penned three books so far, Sunday: A Memoir in 1997 and two childrens’ books, When I Grow Up in 2007 and What Does a Bee Do? in 2009. She has also spent time volunteering in literacy projects and providing tutoring for school children.

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Louise has also discovered a love of abstract painting and has exhibited her work around New York, recently at the Patterson Museum of Art.

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Unlike Dawn Wells, Tina Louise did not embody her character of Ginger but has instead refused to be associated with the show and her role. Both actresses went on to forge new careers for themselves and became successful in various fields. It’s too bad that they are the only remaining crew members left from the show and do not get along. As you can see from comparing their lives, they do have quite a bit in common, and their acting journeys have been similar. They have said they do not dislike each other; they just never formed a deep friendship.

The Millionaire and His Wife: Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer

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Today we continue our month-long series about the characters on Gilligan’s Island and the stars who portrayed them. We begin with the millionaire, Thurston Howell III, and his wife, Lovey. On the island, their money is worthless, but it doesn’t stop Mr. Howell from bribing other captives when it’s in his best interest.  He must have been a boy scout who learned the motto, “Be prepared,” because he and his wife took clothes on a three-hour tour to last a few years. In real life, Natalie Schafer was the millionaire. Both Backus and Schafer had very interesting careers.

 

Jim Backus

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Jim Backus was born in Cleveland in February of 1913. He was one of those stars who seemed to excel in everything:  radio, Broadway, animation, big-screen movies, and television series. In an interesting aside, Margaret Hamilton who would go on to have a full career including the Wicked Witch of the West at the Wizard of Oz, was one of his grade school teachers. Jim grew up in a wealthy area, attending Shaw High School in East Cleveland. His father was a mechanical engineer. I could not find exact proof of this but several articles mention he was expelled from the Kentucky Military Institute for riding a horse in the mess hall. He later attended the American Academy of Dramatic Art.

In 1939 he married Betty Kean; they divorced in 1942. One of his famous quotes was “Many a man owes his success to his first wife and his second wife to his success.”

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In the 1940s, Backus began appearing on radio as the “rich man,” which he often portrayed afterward on radio and television. He played the role of aviator Dexter Hayes on Society Girl on CBS Radio Network. He also appeared on the Mel Blanc Show as Hartley Benson, an arrogant character, and as Hubert Updike on The Alan Young Show. He also showed up regularly on The Jack Benny Program.

During his radio years, he married Henny Backus whom he was married to the rest of his life.

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He began his big-screen cinema career in 1949 and would go on to appear in almost 100 movies, including Here Come the Nelsons, Pat and Mike, and Rebel Without a Cause (seen above). His most famous movie role was probably Tyler Fitzgerald in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. My favorite movie of his is Hello Down There with Tony Randall and Janet Leigh from 1969.

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During the 1950s, he began auditioning for roles on television. He would go on to appear on 18 different series during that decade, including I Married Joan, on which he starred with Joan Davis. On the show, Backus played a respected judge and Davis was his scatterbrained wife. The show was very popular and lasted three seasons.

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As if he wasn’t busy enough with acting in the 1950s, he also made a song recording with Phyllis Diller that hit the top 40 in 1958. It was called “Delicious,” and the two of them would take a sip of champagne throughout the song, saying “Delicious.” As the song continues, they get more drunk and a bit giddy, slurring their words and laughing hysterically.

 

His television career continued to be demanding in the 1960s. He appeared on 25 series, and four of them had regular starring sitcom roles. In 1960, The Jim Backus Show debuted. The program focuses on Backus in the role of Mike O’Toole, the editor/proprietor of a low rent wire service struggling to stay in business.

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He had made movie shorts about Mr. Magoo in the 1950s and in 1960, he starred in 130 episodes of Mr. Magoo and would make 26 more episodes under the title The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo in 1964-1965. Mr. Magoo was an older nearsighted man who was very popular, appearing in ads and merchandise for years. The humor of the show was based on the difference between what Mr. Magoo thinks he sees and the reality of what was really there. Jim Backus liked to repeat a story about his famous character. He was in the movie, Don’t Bother to Knock, with Marilyn Monroe. She asked Jim to meet her in her dressing room later and his curiosity got the best of him, so he went, only to learn she wanted him to portray Mr. Magoo which he did.

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This was also the decade he was offered the role of Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island in 1964. That same year he was asked to play the role of Abner Kravitz on a new show, Bewitched but turned it down because he was committed to Gilligan’s Island. Gilligan’s Island would run from 1964-1967 and he would go on to appear in several Gilligan revivals including the far-fetched The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island.

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During 1968-1969, Backus took the role of Mr. Dithers in a revival of Blondie.

During the 1960s, he also appeared on 77 Sunset Strip, The Beverly Hillbillies, Daniel Boone, The Wild, Wild West, and I Spy, among others.

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Backus continued his television work into the 1970s where he appeared on 31 shows. He appeared in a variety of genres including I Dream of Jeannie, Young Dr. Kildare, Medical Center, The Brady Bunch, Gunsmoke, Ellery Queen, Charlie’s Angels, Fantasy Island, and The Love Boat.

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Backus also continued his commercial work in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the spokesperson for La-Z-Boy furniture and General Electric. He and Natalie Schafer appeared in an ad for Redenbacher’s popcorn. They played their characters from Gilligan’s Island but apparently had been rescued and were in a luxurious home. In a sweet ending, it was the last television appearance for either of them.

When Jim Backus had a little bit of free time between acting jobs, he loved to golf. He also tried his hand at writing a few books and film scripts, including his autobiography which he wrote with his wife, Only When I Laugh in 1965.

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In July of 1989, Backus died from pneumonia, after suffering from Parkinson’s disease for many years.

He had a long and varied career and seemed to have many friends in the business.

 

Natalie Schafer

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A millionaire in real life, Natalie Schafer seemed like a very fun woman, a bit of a character. She was born in November of 1900 in New Jersey and raised in Manhattan. She was quite secretive about her age, often claiming she was born in 1912.

She began her career in Broadway, appearing in 17 plays. She married actor Louis Calhern in 1934 and they divorced in 1942. She moved to Los Angeles in 1941 to become a film actress and received parts in 34 movies. Incidentally, she and her ex remained friends and appeared together in the movie Forever Darling in 1956.

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Like Backus, Schafer typically played wealthy and sophisticated roles. She did not have the versatility her tv husband had but continued to stay busy acting on television.  While Gilligan’s Island was her only long-term role, she appeared on 21 shows in the 1950s (including I Love Lucy, Loretta Young, Phil Silvers, and Topper); 8 in the 1960s (including The Beverly Hillbillies, 77 Sunset Strip, and Route 66); 15 in the 1970s (including Mayberry RFD, The Brady Bunch, and McMillan and Wife); and an additional 8 shows in the 1980s before she passed away (including Three’s Company, The Love Boat, Trapper John, and Simon and Simon).

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Schafer made most of her money from investments, particularly in real estate.

Several sources revealed that much of her fortune was bequeathed to either her Gilligan’s Island co-star Dawn Wells or to care for her dogs; however, at least $1.5 million was donated to the Lillian Booth Actors’ Home to renovate their outpatient wing. I never saw any answers from Wells about inheriting money, but on Vicki Lawrence’s talk show, she did say that Schafer spent her last years living with her. Like many wealthy people, she was quite thrifty.  She often admitted that she accepted the role of Mrs. Howell because she got a free trip to Hawaii to film the pilot and didn’t expect it to get picked up.

 

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Everyone seemed to like her on the set. Dawn Wells said she especially adored Schafer and Backus. Schafer was a hard worker and liked to keep fit. In a Chicago Tribune article from October 25, 1965, she relayed her secrets for staying in shape. For one thing, she did her own stunts on the show. She also said she swam nude every morning and evening, doing 100 strong kicks at the side of the pool. She also invented an ice cream diet for herself. She claimed to eat a quart a day, saying she had a bowl of vanilla ice cream with her coffee, two bowls of varying flavors for both lunch and dinner, and another single bowl for an afternoon snack. She claimed that she would lose three pounds in five days.

In 1990, Schafer passed away from liver cancer. After her death, she wanted people to realize her true age, and many of her closest friends were quite surprised to learn she was 12 years older than she claimed.

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While Thurston Howell III and his wife Lovey were two interesting characters, I don’t think they can compete with the characters who were Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer. I had a lot of fun learning about them.

How Much Luggage Do You Need for a Three-Hour Trip? The Story of Gilligan’s Island

Today we begin a month-long look at Gilligan’s Island.  I admit I was never a big Gilligan fan, but there are so many dedicated viewers that I decided it was time to take a closer look.  Today we look at the series, and in the following weeks, we’ll look at the actors who appeared in the cast.

Gilligan's Island (US TV Series)

Gilligan’s Island was created by one of my favorite producers, Sherwood Schwartz. It aired from September 1964 till April of 1967, producing 98 episodes and a ton of other versions of the show which aired as new series or television movies, including the hard-to-believe Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island.

THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS ON GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, Alan Hale, Jr., Bob Denver, Curly Neal, 1981. (c) Uni

The premise of the show was that on a three-hour tour, the SS Minnow became shipwrecked on a deserted island after a typhoon. Seven castaways now must make the island their home as they wait to be rescued. We have the captain of the ship, the Skipper (Alan Hale), his first-mate Gilligan (Bob Denver), millionaire Thurston Howell III (Jim Backus) and his wife Lovie (Natalie Schafer), movie star Ginger Grant (Tina Louise), the girl next door Mary Ann (Dawn Wells), and the Professor (Russell Johnson). All they have is a transistor radio and whatever they had on the ship.

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CBS gave the okay for Schwarz to film the pilot. Schwartz wanted Jerry Van Dyke for Gilligan, but Van Dyke said it was “the worst thing” he ever read. He turned down the script and accepted the role of Dave Crabtree on My Mother the Car.

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The pilot was titled “Marooned.” Seven characters were in the pilot, but only the Skipper, Gilligan and the Howells were going to be in the ongoing series. These were the only castaways mentioned in the pilot theme song. The final day of filming for the pilot was November 22, 1963, the day of Kennedy’s assassination. The staff was crowded around a radio between scenes trying to get the updated news. In the opening of the episodes in the first season, as the Minnow leaves the harbor, you can see an American flag flying at half staff as a tribute to Kennedy.

After seeing the pilot, several changes were requested. The first change was to the theme song. Originally it was written by the talented John Williams and sung by Schwartz and was a Calypso-sounding song. The lyrics were quite different from the song we recognize today. The background music and laugh track were the same for both the pilot and the ensuing shows. The three characters who were not part of the series at first were the same characters that later appeared . . . sort of. The Professor was a high school teacher played by John Gabriel, Ginger was an actress but also a secretary played by Kit Smythe, and Mary Ann was Bunny, a dumb blonde stereotype played by Nancy McCarthy.

Because so many changes happened between the pilot and the first episode, the pilot was not aired until 1992 when it was broadcast on TBS.

The first season was filmed in black and white but later colorized for syndication The second and third seasons were filmed in color.

While the pilot had been filmed in Hawaii,  the show was taped at a lagoon built at the CBS Radford Studios in Studio City, Los Angeles. The film was supposed to be shot in Malibu, but it was too foggy. The Ventura Freeway was nearby and when traffic was too loud, production had to halt. The lagoon would become a parking lot in 1995.

There were four boats that “played” the part of the SS Minnow. One was used in the opening credits which had been rented in Honolulu for the filming of the pilot. One was used in the opening credits for the final two years. One was shown in beach scenes and the fourth was built at the studio.

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The eventual theme song was called “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle,” and was written by Schwartz and George Wyle. There were two versions, one for the first season which referred to Mary Ann and the Professor as “the rest,” and another version for the last two seasons which specified “The Professor and Mary Ann.” Dawn Wells credits Bob Denver for going to bat for her and Johnson threatening to take his name out of the song if they were not added.

For the opening credits, the song was:

Just sit right back

And you’ll hear a tale

A tale of a fateful trip

That started from this tropic port

Aboard this tiny ship

The mate was a mighty sailing man

The skipper brave and sure

Five passengers set sail that day

For a 3-hour tour, a 3-hour tour

The weather started getting rough

The tiny ship was tossed

If not for the courage of the fearless crew

The Minnow would be lost, the Minnow would be lost

The ship set ground on the shore of this

Uncharted desert isle

With Gilligaaan

The Skipper too

A millionaire, and his wife

A movie star

The Proffessor and Mary Ann

Here on Gilligan’s Isle

 

For closing credits, the lyrics were:

So, this is the tale of our castaways

They’re here for a long long time

They’ll have to make the best of things

It’s an uphill climb

The first mate and his skipper too

Will do their very best

To make the others comfortable

In the tropic island nest

No phone, no lights, no motor cars

Not a single luxury

Like Robinson Crusoe

It’s primitive as can be

So, join us here each week my friends

You’ll sure to get a smile

From 7 stranded castaways

Here on Gilligan’s Isle!

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Most of the episodes can be categorized into five themes. (1) One of the castaways make some useful object from local material. These could be anything from their bamboo huts to hot water pipes to a stethoscope to a pedal-powered car. They just could not produce anything that could get them off the island! (2) Visitors would often appear on the island. We’ll learn about some of the guest stars on the show in our last monthly blog. None of these visitors ever help the characters get rescued. Unbelievably, Ginger, Gilligan, and Mr. Howell all had look-alikes end up on the island, causing trouble for them. (3) Dreams occur a lot. When we see them, all the characters are part of the dream.  Apparently, the hot weather made them sleepy. (4) News from the outside world, usually heard on the radio, caused trouble on the island. (5) Strange objects showed up on the island from time to time like a WWII mine or radioactive vegetable seeds.

Despite many corny scripts and imagination-stretching storylines, the show received solid ratings all three years. When it went into syndication, it grew in popularity. Many of the stars from Gilligan play their characters from the show in other series’ television episodes in the 1970s and 1980s.

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The last episode was called “Gilligan the Goddess.” Unfortunately, the castaways were not rescued. A fourth season was expected or perhaps Schwartz would have saved them. In season three, the show was on Monday nights competing with The Monkees.  Schwartz was assured it would be back because it had higher ratings than The Monkees. Gunsmoke, which aired Saturday nights, was given the potential ax. However, CBS president William Paley pressured the executives who then moved Gunsmoke to Monday night and cancelled Gilligan’s Island.

One funny fact I read about was how often the US Coast Guard received telegrams from citizens who were pleading for them to make an effort to rescue the cast from Gilligan’s Island. The Coast Guard sent these telegrams to Schwartz.

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I can’t say that after learning more about the show, it made my favorites list, but there are definitely worse shows on television than Gilligan’s Island. If it was one of your favorites, you’ll enjoy hearing about the stars who played the castaways. I certainly learned they were just as interesting a group of people in real life as they were on the isle they called home for three years.

My Heroes: Hogan and Company

In looking at war-themed television shows, M*A*S*H has to be number 1.  An episode could have you sobbing one minute and laughing hysterically the next minute. Hogan’s Heroes might not be at the same level, but it is a fun, well-written show with an interesting cast of characters. Debuting about two decades after the war ended, the show first aired in September 1965 and continued till April 1971, producing 168 episodes.

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The setting of the show is Luft Stalag 13, a prisoner of war camp where Allied prisoners are held north of the town of Hammelburg.

The POWs are using the camp as their base for Allied espionage tactics to sabotage the Nazis and to help other Allied POWs and defectors escape Germany. Colonel Robert E. Hogan, played by Bob Crane, is the mastermind of the crew. While Hogan and his boys help the Allied cause, the two men who aid the cause the most do it unwittingly. Colonel Wilhelm Klink (Werner Klemperer) and Sergeant of the Guard Schultz (John Banner) are easily tricked and proud of the fact that no prisoner has ever escaped Stalag 13. The incompetent Germans are more concerned with making sure they do not cause trouble with their superiors which could get them sent to the Russian front. The Germans in the camp are portrayed as inept and easily manipulated. In later episodes Sgt Schultz tends to look the other way, realizing that Hogan and his men are much more than mere prisoners.

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A series of tunnels allows Hogan and his men to come and go at will. A doghouse in the guard dog compound is one of their doors and they make friends with the dogs who never track them down. A bunk in the barracks is another trap door and the main entrance into the tunnels. A periscope disguised as a sink faucet allows them to view the compound. Hogan is also able to listen in to the telephone switchboard and to make phony calls when necessary. A planted microphone in Klink’s office allows the men to hear any conversation taking place there. A portion of the barbed wire fence is a frame that can be lifted to get in and out of camp. Sometimes the guys “borrow” cars from the Germans or have planes land near the fence for air drops.

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NBC actually turned down the show. From what I read, they didn’t think the pilot was bad; they seemed to think it was so good that the innovative story lines could not be sustained in a weekly show. The pilot was filmed in black and white, but after CBS put the show on the schedule, it decided to film the rest of the episodes in color.

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The show ranked in the top 20 for most of the seasons it was on television. However, the show engendered debate because it was a comedy about WWII. One critic wrote “Granted, this show is often funny and well-acted. But there’s simply no excuses for turning the grim reality of Nazi atrocities . . . for yet another brainless joke.”

The outdoor scenes were filmed on the 40 Acres Backlot in Culver City, California. The set was also used in a Mission Impossible show as a South American prison. In 1975 it was destroyed and became part of an industrial park.

The instrumental theme song was composed by Jerry Fielding. He wrote lyrics for it, so it could be featured on an album, “Hogan’s Heroes Sing the Best of World War II,” songs sung by cast members Ivan Dixon, Robert Clary, Richard Dawson, and Larry Hovis. It was also on Bob Crane’s album, “Bob Crane, His Drums and Orchestra Play the Funny Side of TV.”

Actors often played a variety of roles on the show. For example, William Christopher (who would later star in M*A*S*H) played a POW, a German soldier, and a British pilot. Arlene Martel appeared as a resistance fighter in one show and Olga and Gretchen in other episodes.

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The regular cast included the following:

Colonel Robert E. Hogan (Bob Crane). He is the senior ranking POW officer and the leader of the group. He commanded the 504th Bombardment Group. He was shot down during a raid on Hamburg. Many of his plans are quite complex. Being a ladies’ man, all the women fall for Hogan. Bob provided the drums for the theme song. He also played them in a couple of episodes.

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Staff Sergeant James Kinchloe (Ivan Dixon). Part of the US Army Air Force, “Kinch” is responsible for the radio, telephone, and other electronic communications for the POWs. He can also mimic German officers. He worked for the telephone company in Detroit before the war. He left the show after the fifth season. He was replaced by Kenneth Washington for the final episodes.

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Technical Sergeant Andrew Carter (Larry Hovis). United States Army Air Corps Technical Sergeant Andrew J. Carter is in charge of ordnance and bomb-making. Hovis was intended to be in the pilot only, but he was then offered a regular role moving from lieutenant to a sergeant. He worked in a drug store in Indiana and hoped to become a pharmacist after the war. He produces formulas, various chemicals, and explosive devices.

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Corporal Louis LeBeau (Robert Clary). Free French Air Force Corporal Louis LeBeau is a Master Chef who is passionate about his cooking and a notoriously patriotic Frenchman. Schultz and Klink nickname him “The Cockroach.” His cooking talent often get the Germans out of bad situations. Hogan uses LeBeau’s culinary skills to bargain for extra privileges. In real life, Clary was a French Jew who was in the Nazi concentration camps at Ottmuth and Buchenwald and had his serial number tattooed on his arm.

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Corporal Peter Newkirk (Richard Dawson). Royal Air Force Corporal Peter Newkirk is the group’s jack of all trades. When necessary he performs as a conman, magician, pick-pocket, card sharp, forger, bookie, tailor, lock picker, and safe cracker. He does numerous impersonations of German officers and a voice imitation of Adolf Hitler. Newkirk was convinced to dress as a woman for various plots.

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Colonel Wilhelm Klink (Werner Klemperer). Wilhelm Klink is an old-line Luftwaffe officer from aristocratic Prussian descent, but he is portrayed as inept, a bit dimwitted, cowardly, and often clueless. He has been stuck at the rank of colonel for twenty years with an efficiency rating a few points above “miserable.” Klink often gets splashed with water or snow.

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Sergeant Hans George Schultz (John Banner). Hans Schultz is Klink’s clumsy, but lovable, Sergeant of the Guard who is forever taking small bribes from the prisoners, with whom he is overly friendly. Sometimes the boys talk in front of him or tell him exactly what they are going to do. He always says, “I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing!” Before the war, he owned the most successful toy company in Germany.

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General Albert Hans “Hansi” Burkhalter (Leon Askin). General Albert Burkhalter is Klink’s superior officer, a gruff man. Burkhalter frequently tires of Klink’s babbling and says, “Shut up, Klink!” He regularly threatens to send him to the Russian Front or have him shot.

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Some of the other regular roles included Sigrid Valdis as Hilda, Howard Caine as Major Hochstetter, and Cynthia Lynn as Helga.

 

There are some famous “goofs” in the filming of the show. (1) In one scene, a periodic table of elements is hanging on a wall. It shows all the 103 elements known to science in the 1960s; however, in the 1940s, fewer than 92 elements were known. (2) On numerous occasions Eva Braun, Hitler’s mistress, is mentioned either by Hogan’s men or the Germans. Braun’s association with Hitler was a closely guarded secret only known to Hitler’s inner circle, whose existence wasn’t revealed until after the war. (3) The center top ribbon on Colonel Hogan’s dress uniform is the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, an award that was created by the Air Force after World War II.

The most surprising thing I learned about the cast members were their backgrounds. Werner Klemperer, Howard Caine, Leon Askin, and John Banner, who portrayed the Germans Klink, Hochstetter, Burkhalter, and Schultz, were all Jewish. All of them also served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. Klemperer was born in Cologne, Germany, and Banner and Askin were both born in Vienna, Austria; the three of them immigrated to the United States after fleeing the Nazi regime. Banner had been held in a pre-war concentration camp, and his family was killed during the war. Robert Clary, John Banner, and Leon Askin were all survivors of the Holocaust. Werner Klemperer escaped Nazi Germany in 1933 with his parents. When asked about their willingness to play these roles, Klemperer said, “I am an actor. If I can play Richard III, I can play a Nazi.” Banner’s response was “Who can play Nazis better than us Jews?”

As mentioned earlier, Robert Clary was imprisoned for three years in Nazi camps. His comment when asked about his participation on the show was “Hogan’s Heroes was very different—we weren’t really dealing with Nazism.”

While it is surprising that this show was able to get produced so soon after WWII, the show received a lot of praise from critics. Hogan’s Heroes had 12 Emmy nominations, with two wins, both for Werner Klemperer for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy.

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The show has held up amazingly well since it aired 53 years ago. All seasons are available on DVD, and the show is currently seen on Me TV weeknights from 9-10 pm, CST. Tune in some night when you want to go to bed laughing–it’s a nice break from the news.

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I Know That Girl From Somewhere: The Career of Meredith MacRae

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Meredith MacRae is one of those actresses almost everyone recognizes but are not always sure why they remember her. Perhaps it was one of her 14 movies. Then again it could be the two television shows she had a regular role on or one of the other 18 shows she appeared on. It might be from a game show where she was a a panelist or as a singer on a variety show or one of her many commercials. Some folks saw her talk show in LA. She also worked hard for a variety of charities and traveled around the country speaking on alcoholism. Viewers might not be exactly sure how they know her, but everyone realizes they liked her. She had that friendly and caring quality.

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MacRae was born on May 30, 1944, in Houston, Texas on a military base where her father was stationed. Her father, Gordon MacRae was a big star, featured in Roger & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma and Carousel. Her mother, Sheila MacRae was an actress and comedienne, appearing as Jackie Gleason’s wife on The Honeymooners.

Meredith began her acting career at a young age, receiving a part in By the Light of the Silvery Moon in 1953, which starred her father. Her part was later cut.

Her father struggled with alcoholism, and her parents divorced when she was ten.  Meredith was always close with her siblings.

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She attended UCLA and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. She had roles in two of the ever-popular beach blanket movies—Beach Party in 1963 and Bikini Beach in 1964. That same year she married Richard Berger, former president of MGM. They divorced four years later.

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Meredith would appear on the big screen ten more times, none of the movies being well remembered.

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In 1963, Meredith was offered a role on My Three Sons. She played Sally, Mike’s girlfriend and later wife from 1963 until 1965. Although the show was on the air until 1972, Tim Considine who played Mike, left the show in 1965 and the story line was that he and Sally moved to Arizona.

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MacRae was offered another sitcom role when her work on My Three Sons ended. She took the role of Billie Jo Bradley on Petticoat Junction, appearing in 114 episodes. She was the third star to play Billie Jo. In 1970 the show as cancelled.

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In 1969, Meredith married again, this time to actor Greg Mullavey (best known from his role on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman). They divorced in 1972 but remained friends and had a daughter Allison. Meredith was extremely close to her daughter and she traveled with her often.

Meredith released two singles with Lori Saunders and Linda Kaye Henning, her sisters on Petticoat Junction. She also had two singles as a solo artist. She was also seen on many game shows including Match Game, Family Feud, and the $10,000 Pyramid.

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Meredith would continue her television career throughout the 1970s and 1980s. She was seen in The Interns, The FBI, The Rockford Files, CHiPs, Fantasy Island, Webster, Magnum PI, and was on my favorite episode of Love American Style.

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Eventually Meredith became a television producer and writer. She also made several PBS specials tackling women’s issues, medical problems, and the aging of America. She received her own talk show which was really an investigative show called “Mid-Morning Los Angeles” for which she won an Emmy.

During the late 1990s, MacRae complained about vertigo and a loss of short-term memory. She was misdiagnosed as having issues related to peri-menopause. In 1999, she struggled with severe headaches and was told it was muscle spasms.  When she went in for a second opinion, she discovered she had Stage 4 brain cancer. She had the tumor removed and then agreed to join an experimental cancer drug treatment group, but she had an allergic reaction which caused her brain to swell. She had more surgeries and then broke her hip.

Many people praised her for maintaining her dignity and sense of humor during this painful time.

Meredith had a way of making others feel important. She had a genuine warmth and was friendly, appearing sincerely interested in others. I read about a Ladies’ Fun Night which she held every month or two. She would invite her friends and a guest speaker. Typically, about 25 women were invited including her old friend Linda Henning.

Meredith always found time to travel to discuss the effects of alcoholism on families. She enjoyed seven years with her father when he was sober before he passed away, and he approved of her speaking engagements.  She also worked for many charities including the League of Women Voters, Women in Film, Committee for the Children’s Burn Foundation, and the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation (UCPF). Her parents had also supported UCPF, and Meredith was their telethon host for 20 years. After she passed away, the MacRae/Edelman Center, a place where adults with cerebral palsy can get help, was named for her.

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When asked what helped her get through some of the tough times in her life, she replied “I believe in getting help from your friends. I don’t know what I would do without my women friends.” Many viewers who never met Meredith in person considered her a friend. She lived an incredibly meaningful life.

 

 

The Show That Captured America’s Heart: Eight is Enough

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Beginning in 1977, Eight is Enough was a hard show to categorize; not really a drama but not a comedy either, even though it featured a laugh track. The show was based on the 1975 autobiography of newspaper editor and columnist Thomas Braden. Tom Bradford (Dick Van Patten) was a columnist for a Sacramento, California newspaper. He and his wife Joan (Diana Hyland) have eight children:  Mary (Lanie O’Grady), David (Mark Hamil), Joanie (Laurie Walters), Nancy (Kimberly Beck), Elizabeth (Connie Needham), Susan (Susan Richardson), Tommy (Chris English), and Nicholas (Adam Rich).

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A few changes were made from the pilot episode. ABC questioned the performances of the actors who played Nancy and Tommy and replaced them with Dianne Kay and Willie Aames.  Another change from the pilot occurred in the role of David. Originally, Mark Hamil was signed but after he received the offer to appear in an upcoming movie Star Wars, he received permission to break his contract and the role was taken over by Grant Goodeve.

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When the show began, David lives on his own.  Mary is going to school to be a doctor while Joanie, Susan, and Nancy are late studying acting, fashion, and modeling. Elizabeth and Tommy are in high school, and Nicholas is still in elementary school. Tommy would later be part of a rock ‘n roll band.

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Four episodes into the series, Diana Hyland who played Joan, the mother, was diagnosed with breast cancer and died soon after. For the rest of Season 1, she was said to be away. In Season 2, Tom was portrayed as a widower and later in the year he meets and marries Abby, played by Betty Buckley. Abby is a school teacher. The series deals with the trials and tribulations every family tackles, including school concerns, sibling rivalry, and relationship issues. The kids were quite different in personality, and it seems like everyone could relate to at least one of them. While The Brady Bunch sometimes seemed a bit syrupy, everyone wanted to be part of a family like the Bradfords.

The show captured the hearts of many viewers, being number one for a while. In the first season the show finished 23rd overall, but seasons 3-4 had the show 11th or 12th each year.

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In Season 3, Susan marries Merle “The Pearl” Stockwell (Brian Patrick Clarke) who was a baseball star, and David marries Janet (Joan Prather) in a double ceremony. In the last season, Goodeve suggested he and Janet divorce because he didn’t think David was being featured in enough storylines. With so many of the kids flying the coop, Ralph Macchio was brought in as Abby’s orphaned nephew who lived with the Bradfords.  You always know when an orphaned relative is hired, the show is not going to last long.

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The show was developed by writer William Blinn. The first three seasons were filmed at The Burbank Studios (now the Warner Brothers Ranch) and the last two years were filmed at MGM Studios in Culver City. Writers were often shared with The Waltons, which was another Lorimar-produced show.

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During the first couple of seasons, an instrumental version of the theme was played during the opening. However, in later seasons, lyrics were added, and the theme was sung by Grant Goodeve. Those lyrics are:

There’s a magic in the early morning, we’ve found,

When the sunrise smiles on everything around.

It’s a portrait of the happiness that we feel and always will,

For eight is enough to fill our lives with love.

 

Oh, we’re lucky we can share this beautiful stage.

So many find the world an empty place.

Anyone who asks to stand alone is always standing still,

And eight is enough to fill our lives with love.

 

Oh, love makes all the difference now,

And one that really shows.

Just look at every one of us —

See how it overflows!

 

Though we spend our days like bright and shiny new dimes,

If we’re ever puzzled by the changing times,

There’s a plate of homemade wishes on the kitchen window sill,

And eight is enough to fill our lives with love.

Yes, more than enough to fill our lives with lo-o-o-ove.

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After five seasons, with production costs rising and ratings falling, the show was cancelled.  Their “sister” show The Waltons was also done. Later in a 2000 interview, Van Patten said that he learned about the cancellation in a newspaper story.

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Two television movies aired in the 1980s. “An Eight Is Enough Reunion” was seen in 1987 when everyone came home to celebrate Tom’s 50th birthday, and “An Eight is Enough Wedding” aired in 1989. Mary Frann and Sandy Faison, respectively, played Abby in these movies.

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Unfortunately, the show is rarely seen in syndication. DVDs were released between 2012 and 2014.

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Most of the articles I read portrayed the set as a fun place to work, due to the positive influence of Van Patten.  He stayed close to many of the actors and actresses and truly viewed them as family. It was a critically acclaimed show, nominated for several Emmys. While clothing styles may have changed, family issues haven’t. The Bradford family handled their problems together in a realistic manner. It would be a fun show to binge watch this winter.

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