Jeopardy: What is My Favorite Game Show?

 

Three games shows have been around for a majority of my life: The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy. As a fan, I think most viewers fall in one of the three camps. I am definitely in the Jeopardy camp.

The Back Story of Jeopardy

The original Jeopardy was created by Merv Griffin in 1964. On the site, mervgriffinabc.blogspot, a story is included where Merv explains how Jeopoardy was created: “My wife Julann just came up with the idea one day . . . She noted that there had not been a successful “question and answer” game on the air since the quiz show scandals. Why not do a switch and give the answers to the contestants and let them come up with the question? . . . I loved the idea, went straight to NBC with the idea, and they bought it without even looking at a pilot show.”

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It was hosted by Art Fleming and ran until 1975. While Jeopardy’s format of giving contestants the answers and requiring them to provide the answer is unique, it was not the first tv game show to do that.  Television Quiz, airing in 1941-1942, also used this structure.

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A nighttime syndicated show was on in the evenings from 1974-1975. Don Pardo was the announcer for both the original and the nighttime show. John Harlan was hired as the announcer for a show titled The All-New Jeopardy which aired in October 1978 and ended in March 1979.

In September of 1984, the current version hosted by Alex Trebek (whose real name is George), began and continues today. Johnny Gilbert has partnered with Alex as announcer during the show’s run. The current version has produced more than 7000 episodes, just in case you wanted to watch them before you audition. Five shows are taped a day for 46 days. That would be a fun job to have with lots of time to recharge every year.

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Photo: johnnygilbert.tv

When I was in college in the mid-1980s, I remember listening to a radio show on Sunday nights from St. Louis that Art Fleming hosted and, as I remember it, it was very similar to Jeopardy.

Jeopardy has won a record-setting 34 Emmys. It also won the Peabody Award in 2011 for “decades of consistently encouraging, celebrating and rewarding knowledge of this, that and the other.” It has won several other awards including the Writers Guild of America Award in 2014.

The Rules of the Game

While there have been a few changes to the Jeopardy format over the years, the game has remained basically the same. Three contestants answer questions. Whoever buzzes in first is allowed to answer. Until 1985 contestants could answer as soon as the clue was revealed. In September of 1985, it was required that the contestant not hit the buzzer until the clue is read. The Jeopardy round has a clue where the contestant can bet an amount of their money, or up to $1000 if they have less than that amount. In the Double Jeopardy round, there are two clues available and players can bet up to $2000 or the amount of money they have.

A contestant chooses from categories of clues. Each of the clues vertically increases in monetary value. The second round, Double Jeopardy, features six new categories of clues. Clue values are doubled from the Jeopardy round.

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The Final Jeopardy round features a single clue. Contestants write their wagers using a light pen to write on an electronic display on their lectern. The contestants have 30 seconds to write their responses, while the show’s iconic “Think!” music plays in the background. In the event that either the display or the pen malfunctions, contestants can use an index card and a marker to manually write their response and wager.

The contestant with the highest score at the end of the round is that day’s winner. If all three contestants finish with $0, no one returns as champion for the next show. The second and third place winners receive a small amount of money.  The top scorer(s) in each game retains the value of the winnings in cash and return to play in the next day’s show. If there is a tie, both players can come back the next day.

Seven times a show has ended with no winner. Three new contestants then show up the next day.

The Clue Crew

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In 2001, the Clue Crew was formed. They travel around the world to tape clues. More than 5000 people applied for the three positions. The current crew is comprised of Sarah Whitcomb, Joe Cannon, and Kelly Miyahara. The team has been to more than 280 cities, including all 50 states and 44 other countries.

The Writers

Nine writers and five researchers create the categories and clues for Jeopardy.

You’ve Probably Hummed the Theme Even if You Don’t Watch the Show

Since the debut of Jeopardy in 1964, several different songs and arrangements have served as the theme music for the show, most of which were composed by Griffin. The main theme for the original Jeopardy series was “Take Ten” composed by Griffin’s wife Julann. The best-known theme song on Jeopardy is “Think!” originally composed by Griffin under the title “A Time for Tony”, as a lullaby for his son. “Think!” has always been used for the 30-second period in Final Jeopardy when the contestants write down their responses, and since the syndicated version debuted in 1984, a rendition of that tune has been used as the main theme song.

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Even Game Shows Have Spin-offs

In addition to the daily show, three other versions of Jeopardy have been created: Rock & Roll Jeopardy which was on VH1, Jep! which was on the Game Show Network, and Sports Jeopardy! hosted by Dan Patrick.

More Than Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Ken Jennings holds the record for the longest appearance on Jeopardy, June 2 – November 30, 2004. He won $2,520,700.  Many people have studied Jennings’ streak and determined that due to filming fatigue, no one is likely to break his record.

The highest earner is Brad Rutter who won $4,355,102 between his first appearances and his tournaments. Roger Craig has the all-time record for a single day of winning. In 2010, he won $77,000.

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Julia Collins who was on in 2014 holds the record for female both for number of games and total winnings. She won $429,100.

Another famous contestant is buzz kill Arthur Chu. He was the first contestant to consistently skip around the board trying to find the daily doubles. Since Chu’s appearance, many contestants have jumped around the board instead of trying to run the categories from top to bottom. Often the categories can be understood better if contestants pick them in order. Personally, I admit that I did hold a grudge against Chu for many years for “ruining” Jeopardy.

Watson, I Presume

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The IBM Challenge aired February 14–16, 2011, and featured IBM’s Watson computer facing off against Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a two-game match played over three shows. Watson won both the first game and the overall match to win the grand prize of $1 million, which IBM divided between two charities (World Vision International and World Community Grid). Jennings, who won $300,000 for second place, and Rutter, who won the $200,000 third-place prize, both pledged to donate half of their winnings to charity.

Tournaments

During the most recent version of Jeopardy, various tournaments have been held annually. Currently, there is a Tournament of Champions featuring the top fifteen winners from the past year, The Teen Tournament, The College Championship, Celebrity Jeopardy, and the Teachers Tournament.

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Portrayals and Parodies

Jeopardy has been part of several television shows and movies over the years. In 1988, a show titled “Mama on Jeopardy” featured Thelma Harper (Mama’s Family) competing on the show when Iola was rejected. She doesn’t know many answers but starts to make a comeback and is able to move into Final Jeopardy. She ends up in second place but wins a trip to Hawaii for herself and her ungrateful family.

In 1990, an episode titled “What Is . . . Cliff Clavin?” aired on Cheers. Cliff appears on Jeopardy and wins $22,000, way more money than his competitors have. However, for Final Jeopardy, Cliff bets everything. The answer is “Archibald Leach, Bernard Schwartz, and Lucille LeSueur” and the correct question is “What are the real names of Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, and Joan Crawford,” but Cliff’s answer is “Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen” and he ends up with no money.

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In 1992 on the Golden Girls in “Questions and Answers,” Dorothy auditions but is rejected because they don’t think she’s likable enough for the viewers to root for her. She has a dream that night where she does appear, competing against Rose and neighbor Charlie.

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Perhaps the most famous show to host Jeopardy was Saturday Night Live with their version.

Happy New Year

In honor of its 35th anniversary, Jeopardy is holding a special All-Star tournament this year. Six teams will compete in February during a two-week period. Some of our favorite contestants will be part of the celebration. Captains were chosen and they each drafted their own team. Captains include Buzzy Cohen, Colby Burnett, Julia Collins, Austin Rogers, Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter. This should be a fun couple of weeks.

I admit these three were my favorite contestants during a tournament. This was a fun couple days. One of my favorite moments was during the introduction of the contestants when they portrayed See No Evil, Hear No Evil,  Speak No Evil. (Buzzy Cohen, Alex Trebek, Alan Lin, Austin Rogers)

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Will You Marry Me?

One of the contestants in 2018 was Michael Pascuzzi. When it came time for Alex to talk with the contestants after the first commercial break, he announced he had no information on his card about Pascuzzi. So, Alex told him to say whatever he wanted. He then proposed to his girlfriend, Maria Shafer, who was in the audience. She must also be a fan, because not only did she say yes, she answered “What is yes.”

 

To Be-ard or Not to Be-ard

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Of course one of the most asked questions at the beginning of each fall season is will Alex have the mustache or not. This year, Alex took it a step further. He began the year with a full beard in addition to the mustache and let viewers decide whether it was a keeper or gotta go. Spoiler alert: You will only see the beard for a few shows.

 

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So, You Want to Be on the Show

Auditioning for the current version of the show begins with a written exam, comprising fifty questions in total. This exam is administered online periodically, as well as being offered at regional contestant search events. If you have considered auditioning for Jeopardy, here is what you should know. I took these paragraphs directly from the Jeopardy site:

“First, you must take and pass the online test. If you pass the test and meet the minimum eligibility requirements, you will be placed into a random selection process for an invitation to an audition. Assuming you perform well at the audition, you will be placed into the contestant pool and could be invited to compete up to 18 months from your audition date. Making it to an audition is not a guarantee of being invited to compete on the show.

There is no fee to take any of the tests, but any costs you incur in connection with the test are your responsibility. Likewise, if you are invited to participate in an in-person audition, all costs (including, but not limited to, accommodations, meals, transportation and parking) must come at your own expense.

If you pass the test and do well at your audition, you will be placed in a pool of potential contestants for 18 months after your audition date. But attending an audition and being put in the pool does not guarantee that you will be invited to appear on the show. If you are selected to compete on the show, our contestant coordinators will contact you with full details. Prospective contestants are notified about a month in advance of their tape date.”

What is My Favorite Jeopardy Story?

Some of the most entertaining parts of Jeopardy are when Alex talks to the contestants. I remember one woman who was in Yellowstone and while the rest of the family was taking a class about what to do if bears show up, her mom was alone at the campsite with several bears. One lady said she and her mom learned Swedish because they loved Abba songs. One guy said he met his wife because she came over and introduced herself. Later he found out, she did that because she thought he was very smart and talking about philosophy because she heard him discussing Plato. He had to inform her they were discussing play-doh, nothing enlightening. One poor girl said her parents got pregnant late in life and could not decide on a name. Her mom asked her bridge club for suggestions. She ended up taking the first letter from each of their names and calling her daughter “Pidge.”

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One of my favorite facts about Jeopardy was discovered on a Seinfeld episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, but it has also been discussed on the show.  Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner get together every night for dinner to watch Jeopardy. Watching an episode with them is definitely on my bucket list.

There are a lot of shows that made me sad when they left the air, but when Jeopardy is cancelled, I will go into a major withdrawal. Like so many Jeopardy fans, it’s a multi-generational interest. my son Brice and daughter-in-law Melanie and I share many texts about watching Jeopardy shows and how we feel about categories or contestants. For my entire life I’ve counted on people dying, paying taxes, and watching Jeopardy. I can give up the first two, but the last one is gonna be a challenge!

 

Sheldon Leonard: A True TV Pioneer

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The Depression changed the course of Sheldon Leonard’s life. He was born in Manhattan to Jewish parents. He went to Syracuse University on an athletic scholarship. While there, he was president of the dramatics club. His degree was in finance, and he landed a job at a prestigious brokerage firm. Then the Depression hit, and he was out of a job. He had to fall back on the only other skill he could think of which was acting.

In 1931 he married Frances Bober whom he was married until his death. They would have two children.

Acting was not quick money either though. It took five years until he landed his first major Broadway role in Hotel Alimony in 1934. It did not have a long run, but his next two shows were more successful: Having a Wonderful Time in 1937 and Kiss the Boys Goodbye in 1938.

 

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He then entered film work. He had several very small roles in a couple of movies and a couple of shorts, but in 1939 he was cast in Another Thin Man, the popular movie series with William Powell and Myrna Loy. That began his career as a heavy, often being cast as a gangster. He would appear in To Have and Have Not with Bogie and Bacall in 1944. In 1946 he was cast as the bartender in It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Because it has become a Christmas staple, it has brought Sheldon a lot of recognition. Sheldon would appear in 74 movies during his career, 69 of them by 1952.

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During this time, he also gave radio a try. He was working on both sides of the mic. He sold scripts to several shows including Broadway is My Beat. He also portrayed his stereotyped gangster role on many shows including as Grogan on The Phil Harris, Alice Faye Show. You could hear him on Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Bob Hope, Duffy’s Tavern, the Halls of Ivy, and The Judy Canova Show, among others.

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It was only a matter of time before Sheldon took his talents to television. He appeared in four episodes of Your Jeweler’s Showcase in 1952. In addition, he was listed as producer and director for several of these episodes. He appeared in I Love Lucy in 1953 as vacuum salesman Harry Martin and several I Married Joan episodes in 1952-53. One of my favorites was his role as Johnny Velvet on Burns and Allen when he kidnaps Gracie but takes her back because she drives him crazy. In 1954 he co-starred in The Duke which lasted 13 episodes.  This show featured an artistic boxer who leaves the ring to open a nightclub. Sheldon also directed the pilot as well as some early episodes of Lassie and The Real McCoys.

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However, the show that made him a household name was his director/producer role on Make Room for Daddy, Danny Thomas’s hit sitcom. The show was in the top ten, and Sheldon even found time to appear on the show 19 times. The show continued from 1953-1964. Leonard had found his sweet spot. During his career, he would direct and produce shows such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle USMC, I Spy.

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Sheldon convinced Carl Reiner to step back from acting as Rob Petrie and produce The Dick Van Dyke Show. That conversation resulted in Dick Van Dyke accepting the role and 158 episodes. If you watch carefully, you will notice Sheldon appearing twice on the show in minor roles. The show was nominated for 25 Emmys and won 15.

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Sheldon also is credited with creating the spinoff. One of Danny Thomas’s episodes was set in North Carolina where he gets picked up for speeding in a rural town and has a run-in with Sheriff Andy Taylor. This episode turned into the long-running The Andy Griffith Show which was on the air from 1960-1968 netting 249 episodes. The show won 6 of the 9 Emmys it was nominated for.

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The spinoff was so successful he did it again, moving Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle from the gas station attendant on The Andy Griffith Show to his own show, Gomer Pyle USMC. That show was on the air for five years (150 episodes), and Sheldon would also make an appearance there as Norman Miles.

Thomas and Leonard (L&T Productions) were also behind the The Joey Bishop Show and The Bill Dana Show. Thomas and Leonard’s shows were notable for emphasizing the characters and relationships over slapstick or situation comedy. You cared about the characters even when they were a little kooky like Gomer Pyle or Barney Fife. They were committed to high-quality scripts. Many of the writers they employed went on to successful shows of their own including Danny Arnold for Barney Miller; Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson for The Odd Couple, Happy Days, and Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy; and Bill Persky and Sam Denoff for That Girl and Kate and Allie. L&T Productions ended in 1965.

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In the mid-1960s Sheldon produced I Spy. He cast Bill Cosby and Robert Culp as secret agents.  This was the first series to star a black actor in a lead role. In a March 7, 2016 Modern Times article, David Fantle and Tom Johnson discussed Sheldon Leonard and I Spy. Leonard said he knew what he was doing. “Race was very much an issue at that time,” he said. “I was intellectually conscious of it, but emotionally unaware of it. When I say emotionally unaware, I mean I was free to think of Cosby as the man to fill the slot I needed. Intellectually I knew the problems I’d have to face to get him on the air.” I Spy was a humorous suspense show and was known for its exotic locations, filming in countries such as Hong Kong, England, Morocco, France, and Greece among others. The critics rewarded Leonard. The show was nominated for Outstanding Dramatic Series Emmy every year of its three-year run and earned Leonard an Emmy nomination for directing in 1965.

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Sheldon was also the producer behind Accidental Family and Good Morning World, both shows debuting in 1967 and ending in 1968 and My World and Welcome to It in 1969. Accidental Family was about a widower  who is a stand-up comedian. He buys a California farm which is managed by Sue Kramer who is also his son’s governess and his love interest. Good Morning World was about morning disc jockeys in LA. One is happily married, and one is a ladies’ man. Goldie Hawn was the next-door neighbor and Billy De Wolfe was their boss. On My World and Welcome To It, John Monroe is a married man with a daughter. He frequently daydreams and fantasizes about life. This show was unusual in that it included some animation along with the live action.

 

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In the Fantle and Johnson article referenced above, Leonard also talked about his favorite sitcom. He said his favorite might be the one that needed the most attention. “My favorite show was cancelled after the first year. My World and Welcome to It, based on the writings of James Thurber and starring William Windom. It won every award, and they cancelled . . . It was satire and above their (the network bosses’) heads. That show and I Spy are my favorites.”

In the early 1970s Sheldon would produce From a Bird’s Eye View and Shirley’s World. From a Bird’s Eye View was a sitcom about two stewardesses, Millie from England and Maggie from America. Millie was always getting into mischief and Maggie bailed her out. Shirley’s World starred Shirley MacLaine as a photographer who travels the world for her London-based magazine. The locales were similar to I Spy.

 

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In 1975 Sheldon starred in a new sitcom, Big Eddy which only lasted for ten episodes. He was Eddie Smith was the owner of the Big E Sports Arena in New York. He was an ex-gambler fighting the impulse to get back into it. He has a bunch of eccentric people in his life including his ex-stripper wife Honey and their granddaughter Ginger.

In the 1980s, Sheldon would continue to show up on various television shows, appearing in Sanford and Son, The Cosby Show, Matlock, Murder She Wrote, and Cheers.

Along with author Mickey Spillane, Leonard was one of the first two people to become a Miller Lite spokesman. In his New York accent, he tells the audience, “I was at first reluctant to try Miller Lite, but then I was persuaded to do so by my friend, Large Louis.”

Sheldon Leonard passed away at the age of 89 in 1997. His wife Frances passed away in 1999.

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Sheldon Leonard is undoubtedly one of the greatest television producers. Most of his shows were consistently in the top ten. They are classic shows still seen today on Me TV and Antenna TV.  Sheldon required scripts that brought characters to life. He created spinoffs when he believed in the characters. He was not afraid to take risks. Besides casting Bill Cosby, he cast Lois Nettleton as divorced Sue Kramer on Accidental Family. This was in the mid-1960s and yet when Mary Tyler Moore’s show aired in 1970, the network refused to allow her to be a divorced character.

In the Mercurie Blogspot from November 10, 2013, Carl Reiner discusses Leonard: “Sheldon has mentored more people in our business than anyone else I know. He knew how to teach what he knew, and what he knew was situation comedy with the three-camera technique. Sheldon was a producing genius who understood comedy. He had four or five shows going, but he would walk in and give his intelligence and his time to every script that was being read for the week. And we always came away with a better script because we would discuss and argue and come to a better situation.”

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Garry Marshall was also quoted in this same article: “Sheldon was a sort of man’s man, yet he had all the creative sensitivity of the artist. No matter what story you were working on, he could help you fix it. He would never put down your idea. If I had to describe Sheldon in one word, it would be gentleman. He was a Renaissance man with a New York accent—and possibly a gun!”

 

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As a salute to Leonard, the writers of The Big Bang Theory, named their main characters Sheldon and Leonard in honor of Sheldon Leonard.

 

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Sheldon himself seems to explain his success best. After working on his memoir in 1995, And the Show Goes On: Broadway and Holiday Adventures, he said “I was driven by an urge to survive and being very self-indulgent. I never did anything for very long that I didn’t like or enjoy. I would survive only on my own terms. I had to enjoy what I was doing, and I would have done what I did even if nobody paid me. That’s the secret of success in any business: do it well and enjoy doing it.”

 

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He did it all well, and we all enjoyed it.

Meet Sam Drucker: The Heart of Hooterville

Today we get to meet Sam Drucker, the jack of all trades in Hooterville.

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Frank Cady began his career in radio. He then moved on to stage and film. Frank would appear in 53 films during his life, including Young Man with a Horn, Father of the Bride, and Rear Window. In the mid-1950s, he started appearing in television series. He showed up in many shows for the next decade, including 78 episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet as Doc Williams.

 

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In 1963, he accepted the role that would make him a household name, Sam Drucker. From 1963-1971 he would appear as Drucker in three separate sitcoms: Petticoat Junction, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Green Acres, 320 episodes in all.

 

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Sam is the heart, and brains, of the Hooterville society. He owns Drucker’s General Store. All the townspeople gather at the store to share gossip, read the news, pick up their mail, and buy their necessities. He gets some weird requests. How about nail polish that doubles as a bathtub sealant? Sam gives credit because he’s a nice guy and dislikes reminding his regulars that they are accumulating a large tab. Joe Carson can be seen playing checkers with some of the local men from time to time. We know Joe is probably hiding out from Kate, so she doesn’t put him to work. Charley and Floyd would never consider making a Cannonball run without a stop at Drucker’s store.

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Sam is part of the group, but he is not only intelligent but wise. He understands the Hooterville folks, but he also understands how sophisticated people view Hooterville folks. Sam is content to live there, making a modest living. He sleeps in the back room of the store. In a review in the New York Times, Sam was described as “a bit of a straight man to the colorfully zany folk of Hooterville.”

 

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Sam is a busy guy: he’s the postmaster; the constable, the Justice of the Peace; the Superintendent of Schools; the editor and publisher of the World Guardian, the town’s weekly newspaper; the town water commissioner; owns a “bank,” which is a cashbox under the counter; a fireman in the volunteer fire department; and leads the band while playing drums in the Hooterville band.  Where else would Hooterville residents vote than at Drucker’s store? When Sam switches from grocer to postman, he dons his official postal worker’s hat. Sam claimed to fish and camp in his free time, but I have no idea when he might have had any free time. No wonder the guy never got married.

 

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It’s no secret to us that he and Kate Bradley are in love with each other. They have a very strong and special friendship. We know they are just waiting for the girls to grow up before they marry and enjoy the rest of their life together.

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When asked about the secret to playing Sam Drucker, Cady replied that he just played himself. Like many of the stars I’ve profiled in my blog, Frank understood the advantages and disadvantages of playing Sam Drucker. He explained it this way: “You get typecast. I’m remembered for those shows and not some pretty good acting jobs I did other times. I suppose I ought to be grateful for that, because otherwise I wouldn’t be remembered at all. I’ve got to be one of the luckiest guys in the world.”

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Though Frank retired in 1977, he did come out of retirement to film Return to Green Acres in 1990. In discussing the movie on the CBS News, Frank defended Green Acres. He said, “The only thing I resent is people calling it a corny show. It’s highly sophisticated, and it’s timeless, as I think all the reruns are establishing.

 

Sam Drucker is an all-around good guy. Who wouldn’t want to spend some time hanging out in his store. He can discuss politics with Oliver Douglas, how to treat cows with Fred Ziffel, or the latest fashions with the Bradley girls. In one article he was criticized for being smart, yet not finding it odd that Arnold Ziffel was a pig he talked to. I don’t think that’s surprising; if you watch most of the episodes, you realize that Sam and Arnold are probably the smartest guys in Hooterville. That is not a negative reference to most of the population; it’s a compliment to Arnold and Sam.

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I did not enjoy The Beverly Hillbillies. I did like Petticoat Junction a lot, but I think Green Acres was one of the best-written shows on television. I never get tired of watching the reruns because I find something new in them every time. Like Sam, they appear simple at first look, but have great depth when you spend time in Hooterville. Sam Drucker, it’s a pleasure to know you.

Just A Girl From the Bronx: Penny Marshall

Today we look at the career of Penny Marshall. She comes across in most of her interviews as a “what you see is what you get” type of girl.

Penny Marshall was born Carole Penny Marshall in the Bronx in October of 1943. Her mother was a tap dancer and, according to Penny and her brother Garry, was quite a character. Her father was a film director for industrial films. Garry says Penny caused their mother the most problems of all the children. They knew it would be so when she walked on the ledge of the apartment building they lived in.

While attending the University of New Mexico, Penny became pregnant. She and her boyfriend, Michael Henry married in 1961 but divorced by 1963. Penny says she ended up there because her mother didn’t know geography and assumed New Mexico was close to New York, New Jersey, and New Hampshire.

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After working as a secretary, she dabbled in acting. One of her first jobs was a Head and Shoulders commercial with Farrah Fawcett.

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Her brother Garry cast her in the movie How Sweet It Is in 1968 with Debbie Reynolds and James Garner. Penny began getting roles on television shows including Love American Style, That Girl, and The Bob Newhart Show.

In 1971 she married Rob Reiner. That same year she began a recurring role on The Odd Couple as Myrna Turner, Oscar’s secretary. She appeared in 27 shows. penny3odd

 

Marshall had been considered for the role of Gloria Stivic on All in the Family, the television wife of her husband Rob.

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In 1974 Garry was looking for a couple of girls to appear on an episode of Happy Days. Cindy Williams had previously dated Henry Winkler, and Garry cast Cindy and Penny as the “fast girls” dating the Fonz and innocent Richie Cunningham. The girls appeared in five different episodes.

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They were such a hit that a spinoff was created for them in Laverne and Shirley. The show ran from 1976-1983, producing 178 episodes. Laverne and Shirley were best friends and roommates. They worked at the Shotz Brewery Company in Milwaukee and had a wacky group of friends. After several seasons, the girls move to California when automatic bottle cappers replaced them at the brewery. Laverne could be a bit rash and spontaneous, but she had a heart of gold, and Shirley tried her best to keep her in line.

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One of my favorite books is My Happy Days in Hollywood by Garry Marshall. In a chapter about Laverne and Shirley he wrote that one of the producers on the show asked him to switch shows for a while because he had an urge to run Penny and Cindy over with his car. Garry said he switched but had to change back quickly because he understood that urge. He said they were terrible to work with. Rumors spread that they both had inflated egos and did not get along. Penny later admitted that she had not behaved the best and apologized to her brother. During the run of the series, Marshall and Reiner went through a rough divorce.

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Penny had directed four Laverne and Shirley episodes. In the 1980s and 90s, Penny began directing movies as well. Her most famous movies were Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986), Big (1988), Awakenings (1990), and A League of Their Own (1992). She was the first female director to get more than $100 million when she directed Big. Marshall also appeared in a variety of movies and television shows during this time.

 

In 2013 she accepted a role on Murder Police, playing Sylvia Goldenberg. This was an animation comedy about two policemen, one a good cop and his partner a tough, rule-breaking officer. The show was set to air on Fox, but the network didn’t like the show. The 13 episodes taped have never been seen in the US.

In 2012, Marshall published a memoir, My Mother Was Nuts. She talked into a tape recorder and had someone type it up. She had many memories of her childhood and the sarcastic one-liners her mother was famous for.

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Marshall enjoys needlepoint, putting together jigsaw puzzles and shopping for antiques. Though I don’t do needlepoint, I’d be happy to join her to work on a puzzle or shop for treasures.

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She is an avid sports fan, especially baseball and basketball, and has a well-respected collection of sports memorabilia. A few years ago, announcements were made about a documentary Penny would be the executive producer of. It’s the true story of Effa Manley who managed the Negro League’s Newark Eagles during the 1930s and 1940s. I have not been able to find any current information about whether the film was made or not.

While Garry was instrumental in getting Penny her first roles, she proved that she was a great actress and a highly accomplished director. She has had an interesting and meaningful career and it will be fun to see what direction she decides to go as she  journeys into her seventies.

 

Webster: A Forgotten Sitcom

During my research for one of my blogs, I encountered a reference about Webster. I was surprised to learn that Webster was on the air for six years. It was a show I had watched a bit in the 1980s but have rarely seen since then.

Webster chronicles how life changes for three people when a young boy is adopted by his godfather, a former NFL player, and his new wife. Webster has lost his parents, and George was his father’s best friend. The show ran for 6 seasons, resulting in 150 episodes.

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Set in Chicago, Webster’s (Emmanuel Lewis) parents are killed in a car accident. George Papadopolis (Alex Karras) is retired and recently married to Katherine (Susan Clark), who comes from a wealthy family and has few domestic skills. Katherine is a consumer advocate in the first season but later works as a family psychologist. George is now a sportscaster at a local television station. Karras and Clark were married in real life also. Both of them had acting roles in movie and television series before they starred in Webster. Karras was also a favorite Tonight Show guest. Everyone seemed to like him. Former teammate Greg Barton described his humor: “He is one of the funniest men I have ever been around.”

After living in a high-rise apartment that was burned down during one of Webster’s science experiments, the family moved to a large Victorian house which is on Chicago’s Gold Coast. In 2016 the Chicago home was for sale for 9.5 million dollars.

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Webster called his “dad” George and his “mom” Ma’am. When she asked Webster why he was so formal with her, he explained that the name was as close as he could get to Mom without replacing his birth mother.

In addition to these three characters, the show featured Katherine’s secretary and confidante Jerry (Henry Polic II) and Webster’s uncle Phillip (Ben Vereen), who doesn’t approve of Webster’s adoption by a white couple.

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We also got to know many of Webster’s classmates. During the second season, George’s father, George Sr. (Jack Kruschn) appears. He would make more regular appearances in 1985.

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After Karras and Clark married, they started a production company called Georgian Bay Ltd. ABC wanted to create a romantic comedy series for them. After signing the couple, ABC’s programming chief Lew Erlicht saw a Burger King commercial featuring Emmanuel Lewis and wanted to develop a show for him as well.

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With the fall schedule quickly filling up, it was decided to combine the two shows into a new one, Then Came You. In September 1983 when the show premiered, the title had become Webster. After much infighting among the creators, the show focused both on the romantic angle of George and Katherine as well as Webster’s plots.

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The show was often compared to Diff’rent Strokes, where a white family adopted two black brothers. Personally, I found Diff’rent Strokes grating and predictable. I did not enjoy many of the shows or the spinoffs developed during this time, including All in The Family, The Jeffersons, Maude, Good Times, and Facts of Life. I think Webster was well written and the dialogue was more sophisticated. Webster was a little boy, but he was very intelligent, and the writers gave him credit for that.

 

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Karras became a surrogate father to Lewis. The relationships between the major cast members were very close. When Karras passed away, Lewis said “He was a giant of a man with a big heart, a great sense of humor, and very grounded outlook on life. He might have towered over you . . . but he had a knack of being able to get down to your level without being small about it.”

 

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The show sustained high ratings the first three years, but in season four, they dropped significantly. After landing in the top 30, it plummeted to 46. ABC made the decision to drop the show. Webster would continue two more years in syndication but never achieved the ratings of those first three years. In 1989, Emmanuel was outgrowing the show and he was beginning to get bored playing a younger child while in real life he had already graduated from high school.

One fun fact about Webster is that Jerry Seinfeld was employed as a writer for exactly one week. None of his material made it to the air.

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Webster seems to be one of those forgotten shows from the 1980s. While it appeared in reruns for a short time, I don’t hear much about the show anymore. It was heart-warming and tackled both social issues occurring at the time and private family issues that adoptive parents would face. George and Katherine had a great relationship, but it was different from most parents on television. They were equals in every way. Webster assumed an equal footing with them, even though he was their child. George was a nurturing and caring father, while Katherine often provided the practicality that Webster needed to learn life lessons. You can currently watch Webster Sunday mornings on Antenna TV.

Everyone’s Favorite Mother: Rosemary DeCamp

Rosemary DeCamp played the American mother in a variety of films and television series. I remember her as both Ann Marie and Shirley Partridge’s mother. She was born in November of 1910 in Arizona. Her father was a mining engineer and the family relocated often for his job. Her younger brother was 14 years younger than her, so they were both raised almost like only children.

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Rosemary began her radio career in 1937 playing the role of Judy Price, a nurse to Dr. Christian on the long-running show, Dr. Christian. From 1939-1941, she appeared a syndicated soap opera, The Career of Alice Blair.

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1941 was a memorable year for her for several reasons. It was also the year she married John Ashton Shidler, a local judge. The couple were married until his death in 1998, and they raised four daughters.

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When that soap ended, she accepted her first film role in Cheers for Miss Bishop. She worked for a variety of studios. Many of her pictures were made by Warner Brothers. In 1942 she played the mother of George Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy. In 1943, she took the role of Ronald Reagan’s mother in This is the Army. In the early 1950s, she portrayed Doris Day’s mother in On Moonlight Bay and its sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon.

 

In July of 1946, she and her husband had a close call. They were in their Beverly Hills home when an aircraft crashed into the house next door. The wing cut into their roof and landed in their bedroom. The plane just happened to be an experimental one piloted by Howard Hughes. Hughes was rescued by a bystander before the plane exploded. He was very lucky, receiving only a few broken bones and cuts and abrasions. He paid for the repairs for all the homes involved, and luckily, no one else was hurt.

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She appeared in 38 films during her career, including The Life of Riley with William Bendix as her spouse. In 1949, she again played Peg Riley, this time in a television show with Jackie Gleason. Her husband worked in an aircraft plant and they had two children. Of course, Riley was a bit of a bumbling father and husband, but she loved him and put up with his ineptness. His catchphrase was “What a revoltin’ development this is.”

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She continued with her film work, mixed in with a few television show roles until 1955 when she played widow Margaret MacDonald on Love That Bob/The Bob Cummings Show. Her brother Bob was a photographer and play boy and she lived with him, raising her son Chuck and trying to get her brother to settle down.

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After her role as mother Peg in the 1940s and Margaret in the 1950s, from 1966-1970, she had a recurring role on That Girl as Ann Marie’s mother Helen. She was the voice of reason when her husband got upset about something, typically having to do with Ann’s boyfriend Donald or her living alone in New York.

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Coincidentally, in 1968 she also played the role of Helen on Petticoat Junction. She was not Helen Marie though, she was Kate’s sister who came to help take care of the girls when Bea Benardaret who played Kate was ill in real life.

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It was also in the 1960s that she was the spokesperson for 20 Mule Team Borax, a laundry detergent.

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She continued accepting roles on a variety of television shows from crime dramas to westerns to Love American Style. Continuing her mother-a-decade role, in the 1970s, she showed up as Shirley Partridge’s mother on The Partridge Family. Again, she had to deal with a husband who usually needed some mediation with the family.

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DeCamp continued to take on miscellaneous television roles. In 1989, she filmed an episode of Murder She Wrote. After the taping, she suffered a stroke, and decided to retire from acting.

In 2000, she published her memoir, Tigers in My Lap. The following year she died after contracting pneumonia at the age of 90. I could not find any information about any of her hobbies or interests, but she was an active Democrat all her life.

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She will always be remembered as a caring mother. The Institute of Family Relations granted her its “Mother of Distinction Award,” because they felt she did “more to glorify American motherhood through her film portrayals than any other woman.”

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A Cut Above the Rest: Television Hairstyle Awards

Happy National Hair Day.  I’m not sure why we need a National Hair Day, but it gives me a good reason to discuss hair styles on my blog.

Hair is pretty amazing. Black is the most common color, and red is the most rare color. About 90% of the hairs on your scalp are growing and 10% are resting. Each of these hairs has a lifespan of five years or so. And, if you decide to grow this hair out, it takes three years to reach your shoulders and seven to reach your waist.

Hairstyles are easy things to change compared to eye color, nose shape, or cheekbone structure. We also have a very personal feeling about our hair style. A bad hairstyle can make or break our day. Most of us can relate that if we think our hair looks sloppy, it can make us feel dowdy no matter how well dressed.

Hair, along with clothing styles, can easily date a look. Take a glance at the photos below. Most of us will be able to immediately recognize the time period they represent.

 

 

I thought it would be fun to give out some hair style awards to deserving tv celebrities. There are a ton of television stars who inspired us to change our looks. Before we get to the awards, I wanted to recognize some honorable mentions.  These people are stars, but they are not necessarily television stars; however, they have all appeared regularly on television.

Honorable Mention 1: Tiny Tim.  If you grew up in the 1960s, you probably remember Tiny Tim marrying Miss Vicki on the Tonight Show, playing his ukulele and singing “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”

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Honorable Mention 2: Dorothy Hamill. When Dorothy Hamill appeared in her new wedge haircut, it created a national sensation. I can’t tell you how many people rushed to their salon to mimic the look.

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Honorable Mention 3: Fabio.  Parents were appalled when their sons grew their hair long in the 1960s, but by the 1990s when Fabio came along, it was considered sexy.

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Honorable Mention 4: Clay Matthews. After Fabio, long hair began showing up on sports stars. One of the athletes who commanded a lot of attention for his hair was our own Green Bay Packers’ Clay Matthews.

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So, let’s get on with the awards.

Award 1: The Elegant But Fun Look – Carol Burnett. Carol always kept her red hair, and her style typically featured a shorter cut. I’m sure this worked well for her show, so she could easily don a wig to appear as different characters in skits. However, she always managed to look elegant no matter what type of pratfall she was taking to get a laugh.

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Award 2: The Natural Look – Keri Russell. Keri inspired many copycats on her show, Felicity, with her curly locks.

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Award 3: The Most Recognized Cartoon Hairstyle – Marge Simpson. Her look truly is unique. I don’t know of anyone else sporting a bright blue beehive hairdo.

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Award 4: Best Bad Boy Haircut – John Travolta. During his time as a sweathog, John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino looked exceptionally handsome  . . . until he opened his mouth. Looks aren’t everything, but apparently, they are something, because he sold a lot of posters.

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Award 5: Most Unique Hairdo Worn With Confidence – Katey Sagal. Ok, I admit, this one did not inspire a lot of look-a-likes, but Peg carried off her style with flair.

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Award 6: Best Short Male Style – George Clooney.  There is a reason that George Clooney was chosen Sexiest Man of the Year numerous times. His haircut helped in that choice.

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Most Recognizable Female Star’s Hairstyle: Whoopi Goldberg. Whether her hair was long or short, whether she was appearing in a movie, a television series, a talk show, or a commercial, Whoopi was always recognized by her hairdo. She varied it a bit, but was pretty loyal to her look.

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The Character Whose Hair Continued to Evolve with the Role: Marlo Thomas. As That Girl, Marlo changed her hair style each season. You can see just by looking at the two photos, she started life on her sitcom a little naïve and expectant of great things and ended the show more sophisticated and wiser. She still expected great things, but she now understood she had to work hard to get them.

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The Television Character Whose Hair Was the Talk of the Water Cooler: Jennifer Aniston. Jen, as Rachel Green on Friends, had a lot of cute hairstyles, but the famous “Jennifer cut” in this photo was discussed ad nauseum and copied by thousands.

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The Television Character Whose Hair Created the Biggest “Buzz”: Kaley Cuoco. When Penny in The Big Bang Theory cut her long hair, everyone had an opinion. Some loved it; some hated it.

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The Television Cast With the Best Haircuts for Everyone: The Partridge Family. Yes, people loved Marcia Brady’s hair and lots of people wanted Laura Petrie’s style, but the entire Partridge family  had a cool haircut.

 

The Star Who Had the Most Different Styles: Oprah Winfrey. During the decades her talk show was on the air, Oprah featured many different looks. Here are a few of them.

 

The Cast With the Most Beautiful Hair of All Time: Charlie’s Angels. While Jaclyn Smith, Kate Jackson, and Cheryl Ladd all had beautiful hair, the addition of Farrah Fawcett to this cast, meant it is the runaway for best hair on any show. John Travolta may have sold a lot of posters, but his are not in the Smithsonian. Farrah had the best hair of anyone featured on television, no comparison.

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I realize there were a lot of stars left out of this blog, but I only have so much room. Share your thoughts on your favorites who did not make the “cut.”

One thing I realized putting this topic together was the lack of style occurring on television currently. I could not really find a star whose haircut stood out the way a Rachel Green or Jill Munroe did. Most decades seem to have that look that parents abhorred and kids loved, but I don’t see that style in the 2010s. Everyone seems to have similar hair. I’m still trying to decide if that is good or bad, but it is fun to look back at television history to see what was popular at different times.

ME on TV: A New Network for Your Viewing Pleasure

There is no shortage of television to watch these days. Apart from hundreds of channels on cable networks or satellite dishes, Netflix can provide you with even more options. With so much to choose from, it’s surprising that the classic TV networks are increasing in numbers. Even though most of these shows are available on DVD, viewers are still choosing to watch them during prime time. According to an Indie Wire article, “Most Watched Television Networks: Ranking 2017’s Winners and Losers” by Michael Schneider from December 28, 2017, “Me TV grew 4 percent last year.” That’s good news for those of us who love watching the shows we grew up with.

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While I appreciate Antenna TV and Me TV, I decided to kick it up a notch. I’m debating starting my own network called Me on TV. Not only can I watch my all-time favorite shows, but I can star in them as well. My pitch is that I will write myself into the shows I love. Here are a few ideas I have ready and waiting when the writers or producers call me.

Burns and Allen. Gracie has hired me, Duree Benedict, as her interior designer. She has a plan that we meet at Blanche’s to draw up the design. Once Gracie approves it, she wants me to stop by each morning, replacing an old item with a new one. Her philosophy is that things will change so slowly, George will never realize everything in the living room has been replaced. George realizes what is happening and says nothing. After two weeks, things are entirely new, and Gracie is happy. However, after another two weeks goes by, she realizes all the old items are back in place. George admits he was having fun with her and hired the designer to bring back their old items one by one. Then he calls me and has me set up the room according to Gracie’s new plan. I think this would work right Gracie? George?

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Bachelor Father. As Giselle Lincoln, I hire Bentley Gregg to draw up a corporation for me. I am a documentary filmmaker. Bentley and I go on a couple of dates, knowing this is not going to turn into a relationship, because I am traveling all the time. On one of those dates, Kelly comes to dinner with us and is fascinated by the places I’ve been and where I am filming in the future. I offer her a job as an assistant producer. Bentley wants her to go to college first, but I say she can learn from experiences. After an argument or two, Bentley relents and says she can join my company. Later that night, Peter has an impromptu conversation with Kelly, and she realizes her uncle has her best interests at heart and turns down the offer. I think we could make this work don’t you two? Peter could you talk to them?

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The Dick Van Dyke Show. As Olive Harte, I play Buddy’s sister-in-law. After hearing about Pickles for so long, Rob and Sally expect the worst when I stop in the office saying I have written a skit for the Alan Brady Show. However, I am the total opposite of Pickles. Sally and I hit it off and while I’m in town, we spend a lot of time together. Buddy is moping because Sally is too busy to hang out with him. The skit is a hit. Rob offers me a job, but I say I’m leaving in two days. I’ve been offered a contract to write screenplays. After I leave, Buddy and Rob notice Sally is lonely, and they realize having two guy co-workers is not the same as a best friend and they’re nicer to her than usual. It would be a heart-warming episode. Can you two stop laughing long enough to seriously consider the idea?

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My Three Sons. My role is that of a bookstore owner, Daphne Marvel. The entire episode is filmed in my store. Each member of the Douglas family comes in throughout the day looking for an item that is related to an issue they are having. Charlie is looking for a cookbook from Singapore because he has a friend he met in the war coming for dinner and wants to surprise him with some of the dishes they enjoyed when stationed there. Steve wants a how-to book for dealing with teenagers. Robbie is looking for a book about car maintenance. He is planning on buying a car that needs a lot of work and wants to be prepared for how much time it will take before he tells his dad. Chip sneaks in to look for a book about orchids. His girlfriend’s dad loves them but doesn’t like boys much. Chip wants to learn about them, so he has something to discuss with Mr. Boyle. Ernie is looking for a magazine on model airplanes. He broke one of Chip’s and wants to fix it before he sees it’s missing. Later that night, they all end up in the kitchen looking for a snack. While talking, they realize they all were at the store and share their reasons for going and help each other out with their “problems.” Don’t you think that sounds good guys?  Steve, you haven’t said much.

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That Girl. I play Veronica Jenkins, an author. My best seller was just bought for a movie by Columbia. I have decided Ann is the perfect star to take the lead role. The problem is that she would have to be in Europe for three months to film and she promised her mother she would move home for a month to help her recover from a back surgery. Her mother has put off the surgery for some time, so it could be planned around Ann’s schedule for shooting two commercials. Does she turn down a perfect opportunity or keep her promise to her mom? What do you think Marlo? It may need a bit of tweaking but it would work.

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Hogan’s Heroes. As Yvonne Coudret, I have been brought in to Stalag 13 to help intercept an art shipment. As an expert on European art, I need Colonel Hogan’s help to stop a shipment of masterpieces stolen from Belgium. I have been smuggled into the camp as a domestic servant, but I know nothing about cleaning and cooking, and  Hogan needs to get me out before the staff realizes I am a spy. I think this would be a fun episode. What about you Col Hogan?  Le Beau?  Any of you?

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Green Acres.  As Leslie Wilson, I am in Hooterville to see my uncle, Hank Kimble. I am traveling to Greece, Italy, and Mozambique to write a book about different cultures. As I spend the day with my uncle visiting the Lisa and Oliver Douglas; the Ziffels, especially Arnold; and Sam Drucker’s store, I realize that this should be the first chapter in my book because the culture is like nothing I have seen anywhere else in the United States. Lisa thinks this is a good idea; Oliver how about you?

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The Wild, Wild West. President Grant has sent me to Jim and Artemis. I am a  artist by the name of Emily Adams. My paintings are being used as clues in a case where citizens in Omaha are being murdered. Jim and Artemis need to find the next clue and keep anyone else from being killed. They approach the sheriff with information about the next crime scene only to learn he is the killer when he puts them in a cement room under the jail. You two like culture don’t you. Why are you looking so uncertain?

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The Carol Burnett Show. I would love to star in an episode of this show, working with the gang. My idea is a parody of Pillow Talk called “Brillo Talk.” A young man tries to romance a woman, but all she is interested in is cleaning and continues to tidy up his apartment when she finds dust, dirty dishes, etc. Carol, Vicky, it’s not “Went with the Wind,” but it could be pretty funny.

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The Partridge Family. As Shirley’s best friend from grade school, Amy Harding, I visit the Partridges for a few days. Shirley and I have a lot of fun catching up. Spending a few days together, we are both jealous of the other person. Shirley briefly envies my freedom to come and go and my life as an architect designing buildings all over the world. When I tell her I would give up everything in a heartbeat to have a family, she realizes what she has is irreplaceable. After a few days of craziness with the kids, I realize we are both doing just what we were designed to do. We part, both appreciating our lifestyles. This sounds like a typical Partridge episode I think, right?

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The Odd Couple. As Suzanne Rogers, I am a female sportswriter. When Oscar reads my articles with the byline S. Rogers, he assumes I am a male. When he invites me to appear on his show, he is surprised to learn I am a woman. He finally gets beyond his stereotype of me as a sports writer and invites me home for dinner. He is then surprised when I bond more with Felix, and the two of us become friends. You two don’t look convinced. I think women would love this one.

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Rizzoli and Isles. As Erin Reid, I play an old friend of Maura’s. When I was a witness to a murder, Jane and Frankie decide to hide me at Vince’s tavern where their mom Angela works. Maura vetoes the idea and tries to convince them to send me to a safe house. Maura is afraid I will share some stories about her in middle school when she did some embarrassing things. She was so smart she didn’t have a lot of common sense. She keeps popping in the tavern to keep me busy, so I don’t blab to Jane or Angela. Jane is frustrated because Maura is not in the lab when she needs information. Finally, Maura confesses what she is worried about. Jane reminds her she’s an amazing person and she should quit worrying about her past. Maura agrees. That night when they all go to the tavern to eat and let me know the killer is in jail, Maura talks about some of her embarrassing situations. I am surprised because I didn’t know her well till high school and hadn’t connected those stories to her. Maura, this is an episode that helps you mentally grow because you can rise above your view of yourself as an inept teen. I think it would be fun, don’t you?

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I think this new network is a great idea, but based on the uncertain and unenthusiastic looks from my future coworkers, I may have some work to do.

I’m not sure why you two look so worried; I haven’t even mentioned the idea I have for my appearance on M*A*S*H yet.

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Celebrating the Single Life: From Ann Sothern to Mary Tyler Moore

Today marks the beginning of National Singles Week. So, we’re taking a closer look at two women who were single and okay with it.

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In the 1950s, Ann Sothern starred in two sitcoms that were almost one and the same. From 1953-57, we watched her in Private Secretary. Susie McNamara was the assistant to Peter Sands at his theatrical agency. When it went off the air due to contract disputes, Susie moved to a New York hotel, and in 1958, she morphed into Katy O’Connor. The show ran until 1961, and Sothern brought three of her former cast members to the hotel with her with new identities.

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In 1970, we met Mary Richards. Mary is an independent career woman. She’d like to meet the right guy, but till he shows up, she’d rather be alone than in an unfulfilling relationship. Like Susie and Katy, Mary’s workmates become part of her extended family.

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Ann Sothern was one of the first, if not the first, single working woman to appear on a sitcom. Susie previously worked as an actress and was a WAC in World War II. Her best friend Vi (Ann Tyrrell) is the receptionist at the agency. Susie often meddled in her boss’s private affairs, especially his female relationships. She could be described as a bit ditzy, but she also ran the office and was very bright.

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Sothern was praised for her acting ability. She was nominated for Emmys three years in a row, but lost to Loretta Young in 1955, Lucille Ball in 1956, and Nanette Fabray in 1957. Lucille Ball, one of her closest friends, called Ann “the best comedian in this business, bar none.”

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To ensure she came across as a serious career woman, great care was taken with the set. It was a state-of-the-art office with the most up-to-date equipment. Connie Brooks, on Our Miss Brooks, was praised by teachers for her realistic portrayal of an educator. Similarly, Ann Sothern was a heroine to secretaries throughout the country. In real life, Sothern was a smart business woman. She invested her money well, owned a variety of companies and a large ranch. She produced Private Secretary and insisted it be preserved on film. As a result, it went into syndication where it was titled “Susie.” From 1987-1990, it aired on Nick at Nite, creating a new fan base for the show.

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The show holds up well. The scripts are a bit predictable and stereotyped, but it reflected the time. Susie McNamara gave young women hope that there was more to life than getting married and raising a family, although that was still an important role for women.

When Sothern was helping to run a posh hotel, Laura Petrie was at home, running her household. She gave up her dancing career to do so, but she was much more than a wife and mom. She and her husband were co-parenting at that time, and they were friends. She and Rob entertained a lot. Laura supported Rob’s friendship with Sally Rogers, one of his co-writers on this television show. She was a career woman who was very funny and smart, albeit lonely.

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Nine years later, The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted. Laura Petrie had become Mary Richards, a single career woman making her way to Minneapolis. Mary lived alone, dated infrequently, and spent a lot of her time at work or with her new best friend who lived in the apartment above her.

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While we got to know Susie at work, we just got to know Mary. We saw her at her best and her worst. We saw her joyful, depressed, frustrated, angry, and saw her uncertainty as she navigated life alone.

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Mary’s coworkers became her family. Mary wasn’t ditzy, although she occasionally did a ditzy thing or two. She didn’t try to fix her boss’s problems; she had problems of her own, but she was always there for her WJM family.

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Mary would have liked to find the right guy, but until he came along she was satisfied with her life the way it was. She spent her money any way she wanted. She could wear her pajamas all day on Saturday. She had a fun, modern wardrobe. Work gave her great delight, and it also could be extremely stressful.

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Murray was her best friend at work. He and Mary shared a lot of life. We knew part of Murray was in love with Mary, but we also knew neither of them would ever act on any of those possible feelings since he was married.

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Mary was smart and funny. She was an assistant producer for the daily news. Her office space was not as elaborate as Susie’s. There was never enough money at work or at home.

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The times had allowed Mary to move to the city by herself and set up a home. However, even Mary Richards was not allowed to be a divorcé. The network vetoed the original script and converted Mary to a formerly engaged girl whose relationship fell apart. During the run of the show, her boss’s wife asked for a divorce, so the show still ended up featuring a divorced character.

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The Mary Tyler Moore Show was one of the best-written shows in television history. Like M*A*S*H and The Bob Newhart Show, the ensemble of characters drove the show and they were realistic and likeable. The show received 29 Emmys, including three years in a row for Best Comedy (1975-1977). The series tackled a lot of social issues during its run, including equal pay for women, marital infidelity, ethical behavior when Mary goes to jail to protect a news source,  dealing with death of a friend, and Mary’s sleeping pill addiction–real issues facing women at that time.

This was a sophisticated show. It was not predictable. Mary was nice, sometimes too nice for her own good. When everyone else called Mr. Grant Lou, Mary couldn’t bring herself to do it. We were always rooting for her. She had hopes, dreams, and ambitions, and a realistic attitude about life.

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It seems like a big leap between Susie McNamara and Mary Richards, but there were a lot of smaller steps in between. Marlo Thomas’s That Girl provided another smart, funny woman who chose to give up her teaching job to pursue an acting career in New York. Ann Marie was another link in the chain that helped move women forward. While she did have a boyfriend and became engaged during the run of the show, Marlo Thomas ended the show with their marriage up in the air.

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Mary’s life was more realistic than Susie’s. When the Ann Sothern Show ended, Katy and her boss (still played by Don Porter) kiss, and you know that they will end up married, and Katy will no longer be running the office.

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When Mary Tyler Moore’s show ended, everyone on the WJM staff was fired except the totally incompetent Ted Baxter. We don’t know what Mary will be doing, but she has choices. Perhaps she found another news job in a new city. I like to think she found a position in management at a local corporation. Maybe she fell in love with one of the employees she was supervising. I think when she retired and turned on the television, she was watching Murphy Brown’s FYI program, celebrating the leaps women were taking in the workforce.

 

 

Give Me Six Minutes, and I’ll Give You Supper: The Story of the TV Dinner

It’s TV Dinner Day so let’s learn a bit about how the tv dinner came about. Nothing brings back memories more than recalling eating TV dinners parked in front of a favorite program. Many of us have vivid memories of the family sitting down together, not at the table, but in front of the set to watch Gilligan’s Island or The Donna Reed Show. There were practical reasons for the invention as well. Women were entering the workplace, and tv dinners made meal preparation quick and easy.

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The definition of a “tv dinner” is a frozen meal that is prepackaged, typically in some type of plastic. Several decades ago it was cooked in the oven, and today it is primarily cooked in the microwave. It requires almost no preparation and usually consists of a cut of meat, a vegetable, and a dessert.

Originally, “TV dinner” was trademarked by C.A. Swanson & Sons in 1953, and it was called “TV Brand Frozen Dinner” and was packaged in an aluminum tray. In 1953, Swanson sold about 5000 dinners.

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The first Swanson dinner was a Thanksgiving meal with turkey, cornbread stuffing, peas, and sweet potatoes. Gerry Thomas, who worked for Swanson, claims he invented the idea, because Swanson was left with so many turkeys after the holiday season, but the Swanson family has challenged that assertion. Gilbert and Clarke Swanson stated they developed the concept and the process of synchronization, so the foods all cooked in the same amount of time.

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While there is still no definitive answer on the Swanson design, there is little controversy that the first frozen meal was developed by Maxson Food Systems, Inc. in 1945. They called their dinners “Strato-Plates” and they were made to reheat and serve on military and civilian airplanes. The food had separate compartments and usually were composed of a meat, vegetable, and potato.

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Jack Fisher’s FridgiDinners were introduced in the late 1940s.  These packages were sold to bars and taverns.

Four years before Swanson’s product came out on the market, Albert and Meyer Bernstein sold packaged frozen dinners in the Pittsburgh area. They were produced under the brand name of “One-Eyed Eskimo.” By 1950, they produced more than 400,000 frozen dinners. In 1952 the brothers formed Quaker State Food Corporation and expanded their distribution to more markets, all east of the Mississippi. In 1954, when Swanson TV dinners were sold nationwide, Quaker State had sold more than two and a half million dinners.

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Selling nationwide and promoted as a meal to eat in front of the television, Swanson tends to get the credit for the new fad. The pewter tray covered in aluminum foil could be heated in, eaten from, and then thrown away. It was cooked for 25 minutes in a 425-degree oven. It sold for $.98 and most people ate it on a “tv tray” in front of the television.

In 1960, Swanson added desserts, often apple cobbler or a brownie. In 1969, the first breakfast meals were marketed. Pancakes and sausage was the big favorite.

“Hungry Man” dinners were introduced in 1973. These tv meals featured larger portions. Mean Joe Greene from the Pittsburgh Steelers was the spokesman for these calorie-laden dinners. A typical Hungry Man meal contains a whopping 860 calories with 39 grams of fat and 1350 milligrams of sodium. In 1986, microwave meals became available, while the 1990s introduced special kid meals.

The production of these meals is highly automated. There are three steps to the process: food prep, tray filling, and freezing. In the first step, fruits and vegetables are washed and placed into a container to be steamed or boiled, or blanching, as we know it in the kitchen. This should destroy enzymes that can cause chemical changes in the flavor and color of some of the foods. Fat is trimmed from the meat and it’s cut into standard sizes. They are seasoned and cooked in an oven. The “filling lines” put the food into container compartments. Liquid nitrogen is used for cryogenic freezing. The nitrogen is actually sprayed on the food which boils when it comes in contact with the frozen food. Called “flash freezing,” the process is supposed to retain a higher quality of the food. Dinners are then covered with paper or foil and vacuum-sealed, so the food does not dry out. The dinners are stored at -18 degrees during shipping and storage.

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The freezing process might be safe, but there is much controversy about how healthy most of these meals are. The dinners are heavily processed with salt and fat to add back in flavor. Since they need a longer shelf life, partially hydrogenated oils are used. These are high in trans fats and are being banned in some areas. The dinners are typically less nutritious than fresh food and sometimes require questionable preservatives.

Today there is a trend to produce healthier versions of these meals. Weight Watchers, Amy’s, and Lean Cuisine are brands that have a better reputation for their ingredients.

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TV dinners have changed drastically since 1953. There is a much wider variety of items to choose from: pasta, Mexican, Thai, you name it. Many grocery delis now produce their own versions, typically made from scratch. They are much healthier, and their hefty price tag proves it. Swanson has retained only 10% of the annual sales.

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I read several statistics that said the average American enjoys, ok that might be a stretch, but the average American consumes 72 prepackaged dinners a year. In 1962, Swanson was afraid that the designation “tv dinner” would discourage customers from using the frozen meals for breakfast and lunch, so they dropped the designation. I thought it was amazing that we still refer to these meals as “tv dinners” almost 60 years later.

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It makes one wonder what our great grandchildren will be eating in another 60 years. Unfortunately, too many of them will be eating in front of the television rather than around a table discussing the day’s events. Perhaps that is the most nostalgic thing about the 1950s.