Survey Says . . . Pick Richard Dawson to Win

We end our series about getting to know Match Game regular panelists with Richard Dawson.

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Richard was born in England in 1932. His birth name was Colin Lionel Emm, but he legally changed his name to Richard Dawson as an adult. His mother worked in a munitions plant, and his father drove a moving van. His home life must not have been too happy because he joined the Merchant Marine at age 14. He served for three years moving from the laundry room to a waiter. To keep others from learning his real age and to make some money, he began boxing on board the ship and apparently earned $5000.

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After his stint with the Marines, he began performing stand-up comedy under the name Dickie Dawson. He began playing clubs in London’s West End. One of those was the Stork Room where he met Diana Dors, England’s blonde bombshell version of Marilyn Monroe. The couple married in 1959. They had two boys, Mark born in 1960, and Gary born in 1962.

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When Diana was booked on a talk show in Los Angeles, Richard lied, saying he was a talk show host in England, and told them what he thought was not working on the show. They then hired him, and he hosted the local show for 13 months. In 1964, Diana walked out on Richard and the boys. Richard obtained full custody and the couple officially divorced in 1967. Richard remained in love with her for quite a while. He continued to send her flowers for every birthday and defended her to his friends.

While living in Los Angeles, Richard began auditioning for television.  His first acting job was on The Jack Benny Show in 1963. He continued to receive roles throughout the 1960s and was seen on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Outer Limits, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Mr. Terrific, and McCloud.

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In 1965, Dawson was offered the role of Captain Robert Hogan on a new show called Hogan’s Heroes. The show was set in a POW camp during World War II where the prisoners run the camp without the German commanders realizing it. He declined the offer because he thought his voice was too British to be realistic. Bob Crane took the part of Hogan, and Dawson accepted the role of Englishman Corporal Peter Newkirk. The show entered the top ten its first year and remained on the air for six seasons, generating 168 episodes for Richard.

Dawson loved to sing and in the early 1970s he released a 45-rpm record. The A side was a psychedelic tune, “His Children’s Parade” and the B side was titled “Apples and Oranges.” During the run of Hogan’s Heroes, Dawson, along with Robert Clary, Ivan Dixon, and Larry Hovis put out an album, “Hogan’s Heroes Sing the Best of World War II,” all songs from the 1940s.

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When Hogan’s Heroes was cancelled, he joined the cast of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. He continued to appear on television during the 1970s, showing up on Love American Style, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, McMillan and Wife, Fantasy Island, and The Love Boat.

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After the demise of Laugh-In, producer Mark Goodson offered Richard a regular spot on Match Game with Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly. He would be seen on 1397 episodes, the celebrity almost always chosen for the Head-to-Head Match. He was very popular with the fans, displaying a boyish charm, a bit flippant but always a gentleman.

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While still participating on Match Game, Richard took on the role of emcee for a new game show, Family Feud that debuted in 1976. His quick wit and ability to put people at ease made him a popular celebrity. His trademarks were saying “Survey says . . .” and kissing all the female contestants. He was nicknamed “The Kissing Bandit” and smooched with about 20,000 women. He said he “kissed them for luck and love,” but the producers did not like it and tried to pressure him to stop. He asked his viewers for their opinion. Fans responded with 704 voting to stop and 14,600 to continue.

In 1978, Richard asked to be released from Match Game, but that request was denied.  He was not happy about it, feeling like he was working too much. He apparently became quiet and sullen on the show, refused to interact with the other celebrities and contestants, and stopped joking and flirting. He was then let go. That same year he won the Emmy for Best Game Show Host. He was so popular that he was considered as a replacement for Johnny Carson when he thought about leaving The Tonight Show.

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ABC cancelled Family Feud in 1985 and CBS relaunched it in 1988 where it aired till 1993. Dawson would film 2335 Family Feud episodes. The show is still on air having been hosted by Louie Anderson from 1999-2002, Richard Karn from 2002-2006, John O’Hurley from 2006-2010, and Steve Harvey from 2010 to the present.

In April of 1981, the Johnson family appeared on the program. Richard, 49, met Gretchen Johnson, 27.  After being together for nine years, they had a daughter Shannon and the couple married in 1991. Richard became a US citizen during their relationship as well.

Dawson was offered the host position on the revival of Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life, but the pilot wasn’t picked up. He also was passed over as host for a game called Trump Card.

In 1994, Family Feud was back on the air in its third version, but it only lasted a short time. Dawson said he promised his young daughter he wouldn’t kiss anyone but her mother, so he did not kiss contestants in the revival.

During the 1960s, Richard appeared in seven big-screen movies, but his most critically acclaimed role was in 1987 when he costarred in Running Man with Arnold Schwartzeneggar, a science fiction movie. He portrayed Damon Killian, an egotistical emcee of a game show. Several people described this character as Richard’s mirror image at various times in his career. Rumors of his dark side emerged from time to time. It was said he was temperamental and that he drank too much. He wanted to be known as more than a game show host.

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Unfortunately, he never appeared in another television show or movie, so a game show host and panelist is how most people remember him.

Early in his career, Dawson participated in politics. He marched for civil rights in Alabama with Dr. King, and he campaigned for McGovern. He was described as a “far-out liberal,” but he said he made known he was against Communism.

Richard liked to golf and play pool.  He converted one of his bedrooms into an antique pool room.

He was a night person and stayed up late to read and write.  He said he read about five books a week.

Richard Dawson passed away in 2012 at 79 from esophageal cancer complications.

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Obviously, Dawson had the capacity to become a great actor based on his roles on Hogan’s Heroes and in Running Man.  Unfortunately, whether it was being in the right place or being offered the right role, he never got the chance to prove it. While he gave many viewers a lot of pleasure during his thousands of game show episodes, it must have been bittersweet to realize that was his main claim to fame. Hogan’s Heroes can be seen week nights on Me TV.  The shows have kept their charm and humor and are fun to watch.

 

A Man of Many Talents: Charles Nelson Reilly

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We continue our series getting to know some of the Match Game regulars. Today Charles Nelson Reilly is on my celebrity panel. Little did Charles Joseph Reilly, an Irish-American, and Signe Elvera Nelson, a Swedish-American, know when they gave birth to Charles in 1931, they were creating one of the country’s best-known celebrities. From details he later shared, his home life was not a particularly happy one.

At 13, he had a traumatic experience that he would refer to often. He was at the circus in Hartford, Connecticut when a fire broke out, killing 167 people and injuring another 700. It left him with a fear of being in public-filled areas, and he avoided being a member of the audience anywhere, including theaters.

However, he did not fear performing in these spaces. He studied at the Hartt School of Music, with the goal of becoming an opera singer, but realized he did not have the voice skills he needed and turned to the theater and acting. He paid his dues working as a mail clerk at the Waldorf Astoria, an orderly, and an usher. He received a small role in A Face in the Crowd in 1957. He then went on to become a regular comedy performer in Off-Broadway shows. Opera continued to be a passion of Charles, and he would later guest star on many opera radio broadcasts and become close friends with many opera singers.

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In 1960, he transitioned to Broadway with a part in Bye Bye Birdie, where he was also Dick Van Dyke’s understudy. This led to his being a member of the cast of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 1962 for which he won a Tony for the role of Bud Frump. The rest of the 1960s found him on Broadway performing in various shows, including Hello Dolly with Carol Channing, for which he earned another Tony nomination.

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He also began appearing on television in the 1960s, showing up in Car 54, Where Are You?; The Farmer’s Daughter; The Patty Duke Show, and became a cast member of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir from 1968-70. Charles played the nephew of Captain Gregg, the ghost who befriends Mrs. Muir and her family. As the bumbling Claymore he was fussy and sarcastic, traits attributed to Charles from then on.

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The 1970s continued his television acting career, and we saw him on Here’s Lucy, The Doris Day Show, McMillan and Wife, and Love American Style among others. He had a recurring role on Arnie in 1971-2 and starred in a show, Uncle Croc’s Block. When you see characters named Witchy Goo-Goo, Uncle Croc, Mr. Rabbit Ears, and Basil Bitterbottom, you know it’s not your normal show. This spoof on kid’s shows only lasted for 16 episodes.

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Charles also appeared on game shows, talk shows, and was a favorite on The Tonight Show, appearing about 100 times. Nelson Reilly shared a story about one of his Tonight Show appearances.  A pretentious fellow guest asked Reilly, “What do you know about Shakespeare?” Charles stood and performed a long Shakespearean monologue, concluding with, “That’s what I know about Shakespeare!”

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He also did commercials for Excedrin, Purina Kibbles, and Bic Banana Crayons which he promoted in a banana costume.

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Beginning in 1976, Charles transitioned to directing both Broadway and television shows, although he continued to show up on series during the 1980s and 1990s, including The Love Boat, Madame’s Place, Evening Shade, and The Drew Carey Show. He won his third Tony nomination for directing Julie Harris in The Bell of Amherst.

Charles also continued making movies over the years, including the musical Two Tickets to Paris in 1962, the comedy The Tiger Makes Out in 1967, and the star-filled Cannonball Run II in 1984.

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CANNONBALL RUN II, Telly Savalas, Charles Nelson Reilly, Frank Sinatra, 1984. ©Warner Bros.

In addition to all of his other talents, Reilly was a well-respected teacher. Burt Reynolds was a close friend of his, and Charles moved to Florida in 1979 to teach at the Burt Reynolds Institute. He also taught at the HB Studio of Herbert Berghof and Uta Hagen. Some of his students were Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli, Lily Tomlin, Gary Burghoff, and Christine Lahti.

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Charles may not have had the voice skills for opera, but he was perfect for animation and was kept busy during the 1980s and 1990s voicing characters for Wind in the Willows, Rugrats, Goof Troop, The Pink Panther, SpongeBob, Tom and Jerry, and as Hunch in the big-screen film, Rock-A-Doodle.

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With his vast array of acting and directing fame, it seems ironic that he is best remembered for Match Game where he and his friend Brett Somers became a feature of the show.

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The original Match Game can be seen on The Game Show Network. The concept of the show was easy and fun. Two contestants were each given two questions with a blank in them, such as “The surgeon said, ‘The man I’m operating on must be a magician. When I reached in to pull out his appendix, I got a ___________ instead!’” Six celebrity panelists wrote down their answer to the question and then the contestant got a point for each person who matched their answer.

Brett and pal Charles Nelson Reilly, who often referred to her as “Susan,” kept each other in stitches and provided entertainment for the other panelists. In a September 12, 2012, Whitney McIntosh (in the blog ”This was Television”) referred to them as “rambunctious school children left to their own devices” which captures their relationship on the show perfectly. Their banter and quick quips kept viewers tuning in. For example, on one show, someone had mentioned that one of the younger panelists had a nice body. Charles turned to Brett remarking that her body was just as beautiful as the other woman’s.  The audience clapped, and Brett had just finished saying thank-you, when Charles added, “But you should take yours back because you’re putting a lot of wrinkles on it.” No one laughed harder than Brett.

I mentioned in my blog last week that Somers toured the US with an autobiographical performance. She was diagnosed with cancer while doing the show and passed away in 2007.

Reilly had a similar show, “Save It for the Stage: The Life of Reilly” which also became a film. Like good friend Brett, Reilly became ill during his show as well. He retired due to respiratory problems; unfortunately, the illness got worse and he died of pneumonia in 2007 also.

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Reilly was one of the few performers who never hid his gay lifestyle. An NBC network executive once told him, “They don’t let queers on television.” He proved him wrong, becoming a television star.

Despite his extroverted television personality, Charles was a very private person. One of the most surprising things I learned about Charles was that he was bald and wore a toupee during the 1970s and 1980s. If you watch Match Game often, you will notice he went through a period where he wore a variety of hats; this was because his toupee was being adjusted. In the late 1990s, he accepted his baldness and quit wearing hats.

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One of the best descriptions I read about Reilly came from Danny Miller on his blog dated May 28, 2007. He said “As anyone who met him knows, from his celebrity friends to the fans on the street to his nurses in the hospital, being in Charles’ presence was like being a willing victim of a high energy tsunami. Hearing him tell anecdotes about his crazy life was irresistible and you never wanted him to stop, he was so much fun to be around. He seemed to know everyone in showbiz, from the sublime to the ridiculous, and he spoke reverentially of many of his talented friends, including Uta Hagen and Julie Harris.”

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Paul Linke, his director for his one-man show, wrote after his death: “The world is a slightly less funny place now.” I have to agree.

 

 

This Panelist Gets My “Blank” Endorsement: Brett Somers

I had so much fun learning about Fannie Flagg, that I decided to tackle getting to know some of the other regular Match Game panelists. Today we meet Brett Somers.  For someone who has fewer than ten acting credits for any given decade, Brett Somers became a well-known star. She became a household name after appearing on Match Game. Let’s learn a bit more about her life.

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Brett was born in July of 1924, and her real name was Audrey Dawn Johnston. While she was born in Canada, she was raised in Maine and spent much of her life in New England. She left home at 18 to pursue an acting career. She chose her stage name for the character “Brett” in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and her mother’s maiden name of “Somers.” She settled in Greenwich Village, married Robert Klein, and had a daughter. She was not married long before they divorced.

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Brett joined the Actors Studio in 1952. She married Jack Klugman in 1953; they would have two sons. In the 1950s, Brett’s television appearances  were all on drama series such as Robert Montgomery Presents and The Kraft Theatre. In the 1960s she appeared primarily on westerns and legal dramas, including The New Breed, Have Gun Will Travel, and The Defenders. In the 1970s, she showed up on a lot of sitcoms. She was in Love American Style, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Odd Couple with her husband Klugman to name a few. On The Odd Couple, she played the role of Blanche, Oscar’s ex-wife.

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In addition to The Odd Couple, Brett had recurring roles on The New Perry Mason Show and Battlestar Gallactica.

Brett had her Broadway debut in Maybe Tuesday in 1957, which closed after five performances. She would appear onstage in Happy Ending, The Seven Year Itch, and The County Girl. She also appeared in three movies: Bus Riley’s Back in Town and A Rage to Live, both from 1965 and in Bone from 1972.

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Despite her many television series appearancs, she is best known for her role as a panelist on the various versions of Match Game, amassing 1591 episodes overall. Some viewers compared the show to a cocktail party with money given away. What’s surprising, given her popularity on the show, is that she was not originally part of the cast. Klugman appeared on the first week of the show in 1973, and he suggested they try Somers. They did, and she never left. Her dry sense of humor and great wit provided her a job for nine years.

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Match Game can be seen on The Game Show Network. The concept of the show was easy and fun. Two contestants were each given two questions with a blank in them, such as “The surgeon said, ‘The man I’m operating on must be a magician. When I reached in to pull out his appendix, I got a ___________ instead!’” Six celebrity panelists wrote down their answer to the question and then the contestant got a point for each person who matched their answer.

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Brett and pal Charles Nelson Reilly, who often referred to her as “Susan,” kept each other in stitches and provided entertainment for the other panelists. In a September 12,  2012, Whitney McIntosh (in the blog ”This was Television”) referred to them as “rambunctious school children left to their own devices” which captures their relationship on the show perfectly. Their banter and quick quips kept viewers tuning in. For example, on one show, someone had mentioned that one of the younger panelists had a nice body. Charles turned to Brett remarking that her body was just as beautiful as the other woman’s.  The audience clapped, and Brett had just finished saying thank-you, when Charles added, “But you should take yours back because you’re putting a lot of wrinkles in it.” No one laughed harder than Brett.

In a Playbill interview in July of 2003, Andrews Gans asked Brett why she thought Match Game was still so popular. Somers paused and then answered, “Because of the fact that there was no structure to it. It was just six people having a good time and teasing one another. There was never any meanness. And people really sensed when Charles [Nelson Reilly] would jerk his head and go, ‘She seems a little odd today’ — they knew there was no meanness in it. And, Gene was the greatest straight man who ever lived. He would ask you the questions and would set it up for you. He was wonderful. And I think the relaxation of the atmosphere.”

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After Brett died, Marcia Wallace, on of her best friends, discussed Brett’s career on Match Game. “She was my best friend. I made a lot of friends there. She and Charles were the heart and soul of the show. Their relationship just was magic. And then, of course, I think there was no better host in the world ever than Gene Rayburn. He was funny, he was sassy, he was naughty, he kept the game going, he made the contestants feel good, he set up the celebrities. He was perfect.”

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Not long after Somers started with Match Game, she and Klugman separated. Three years later, in 1977, they divorced but remained friends. Although I read in many reports they never divorced, and many sites listed them as separated but never divorced. I believe California documents exist to show they did divorce a few years after their separation.

In 2003, Somers wrote, co-produced, and acted in a critically acclaimed one-woman cabaret show, An Evening with Brett Somers. Somers wrote the show with Mark Cherry, and he accompanied her on the piano and served as the director and arranger.

Brett shared her thoughts on doing a cabaret show–“It never occurred to me in a million years that I’d be doing a cabaret show. I was standing backstage, and I thought, ‘You’re an older person. You should be lying down somewhere in a nice cool bed watching TV!’ And I went out there, and I just had a great time.”

In 2004, Somers was diagnosed with stomach and colon cancer, but she continued to perform in the show. Brett had a period of remission but passed away in 2007 at her home in Connecticut.

In 2005, Somers reunited with Jack Klugman onstage in Danger, People at Large, three short comedies presented at Fairfield University. It was the first time in three decades that the former couple had performed together.

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In my blog on Fannie Flagg a few weeks ago, I found her reflection on her friendship with Brett and Charles:

 Besides being hilarious, Brett and Charles were two of the smartest people I have ever known. On Match Game, they got such a big kick out of each other! They razzed one another and everybody else on the panel mercilessly, and they were particularly relentless on the people they really liked. It was never mean or hurtful, and they loved it when you razzed them back.

One of the happiest times in my life was in 1980 when I was doing “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” on Broadway, and Charles, Brett, and I were staying at the Wyndham Hotel at the same time. Every day at around 4 o’clock in the afternoon they would come to my room for cocktails. Many is the time I would come home from after the show and they would still be sitting there having a good time. The only thing that changed was the position of Charles’ toupee.
In the Gans interview, he asked Brett how she would like to be remembered. Her answer was “I would like them to think that I gave them pleasure and joy.”

I think we can all agree that is how we remember her!

 

The Not-So Odd Couple

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Today we look at a show that never received its due credit post production.  Unless you watched Kate and Allie, you might never have heard of the show. Yet, it had two major female stars in Jane Curtin and Susan St. James. It ran for six seasons. It was in the top 20 until the last season. The series was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed shows of 1984. The show won at least four Emmys and had many nominations.

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Sort of a female Odd Couple, the premise of the show is that Allie Lowell (Curtin) divorces her husband, a doctor, after he was having an affair. They have a son and a daughter. She moves to New York to live with her childhood friend Kate McArdle who is also divorced raising a daughter. Her ex is a part-time actor. Allie’s son Chip is played by Lowell Frederick Koehler and her daughter Jennie by Allison Smith. Kate’s daughter Emma is played by Ari Meyers.

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A lot of stars appeared on the show including Wendie Malick, Dylan Walsh, Andrea Martin, David Groh, Holland Taylor, Patricia Richardson, Barbara Barrie, Ben Stiller Lindsay Wagner, Ricki Lake, and Debra Jo Rupp. Dick Cavett, Dick Butkus, and Joe Namath all played themselves. A fun trivia fact is that Kelsey Grammar had his series acting debut. He played a man who had a blind date with Kate but hit it off with Allie while waiting for Kate to get ready. When he and Kate don’t have a connection, he then asks Allie out, but she spends the entire evening talking about her ex-husband and her divorce.

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John Loeffler sings the theme song, “Along Comes a Friend” composed by Ralph Schuckett. During the first season, Loeffler appeared as a piano teacher in one of the shows. Bill Persky, well respected in television, was the director for the first five years. Persky directed other shows such as That Girl, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Alice and Who’s the Boss. He was the producer for the entire run of That Girl as well. The last season was directed by Linda Day.

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Sherry Coben created the show. She got the idea after attending a high school reunion.  She noticed that the divorced women seemed to relate to each other and received encouragement from each other, so she thought it would make a great show. The working title for the show was “Two Mommies.”

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Kate is free spirited while Allie is more traditional. When the show first begins, Kate is a travel agent, so Allie decides to stay home and take care of the domestic duties for the three kids. At the beginning of the fifth season when the kids are older, Kate quits her job, and Kate and Allie start their own catering company. They both date off and on; the finale for season 5 shows Allie marrying Bob Barsky (Sam Freed), a sportscaster. They get their own apartment for season 6, but the ratings declined so the writers found Bob a new job that required a lot of travel, so Kate moved in with the couple.  The concept never worked because she seemed to be intruding on the newlyweds’ privacy. By this time Kate’s daughter Emma had left the house. In real life, Meyers left the series to attend Yale, but she was in the opening credits and appeared on the show at least once.

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Kate never marries but she has several serious relationships. She dates plumber Ted Bartelo (Greg Salata) during Season 2 but they break up at the end of the year. He re-enters her life in Season 5, but things just don’t work out.

Allie’s husband Charles (Paul Hecht) marries Claire, played by Wendie Malick during the run of the show.

Each episode began with Allie and Kate having a conversation. It reveals how close they were and introduced the episode. At the end of the show, the theme song played and another discussion between the two brought closure to the issue.

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The week the show debuted, it was number four in the ratings. It was consistently in the top 20 for the first five seasons. Persky left after five seasons once Allie married because he felt that the show had accomplished what it set out to do. Allie has learned more about herself, become confident in taking care of herself and relying on her friends to help her navigate life. She now is able to enter a new relationship as a stronger and more independent person. After the drastic changes of Allie getting married and the kids beginning to leave the nest, the ratings declined during Season 6. At the end of the year it was cancelled.

Two of the funniest shows were a parody of I Love Lucy and the episode when the girls go on the Dick Cavett Show.

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St. James and Curtin were friends. St. James’ husband Bob Ebersol worked on Saturday Night Live, which Curtin left in 1980. The two starred in The High Cost of Living, a movie from 1980.

After the show was over, Curtin had several other series including Working it Out and Crumbs which both lasted an unlucky 13 episodes and Third Rock from the Sun, a huge hit and long-running show. Recently she has appeared on The Good Wife and The Librarians.

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St. James was best known for her roles in The Name of the Game, McMillan and Wife, a variety of movies, and an appearance on M*A*S*H.

In an interview with People in June of 2006, St. James said on the show “Jane ran a serious poker game with the kids and crew like Triple Card Cowboy or Blackjack Over Easy.” It sounded like a fun set to work on.

St. James was happy to take on the show because it allowed her to continue living in Connecticut with Dick and their five children. Her TV kids became friends with her own children. Ari Meyers said “I loved Susan . . . I went to her house many times and hung out with her kids.”

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The series spawned two spin-offs but neither went anywhere. Roxie starred Andrea Martin. It aired in April 1987, but after two episodes it was cancelled. Late Bloomer was a season replacement to star Lindsay Wagner, but the show was scrapped before its debut on the air.

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Kate and Allie’s first two seasons were released on DVD in May of 2006, but I don’t think any other seasons have been packaged. The lack of DVD presence and the fact that reruns never ran on a major station keep the show from being remembered. Take some time to watch an episode or two on YouTube and enjoy the camaraderie of these two stars.