June 4 is Old Maid Day, and what better way to celebrate than with Hazel, the show that Shirley Booth played an unmarried maid on.
The show debuted in the fall of 1961. The sitcom was based on Ted Key’s cartoons which appeared in the Saturday Evening Post.
Hazel Burke is a live-in maid for the Baxter family who consists of Dorothy (Whitney Blake), who Hazel calls Missy; George (Don Defore), who Hazel calls Mr. B; and their son Harold (Bobby Buntrock), who Hazel refers to as “Sport.” Hazel worked for Missy’s family and helped raise her, so they are very close. As an aside, Whitney Blake had previously been married to a Baxter and her real daughter was Meredith Baxter.
Hazel was on the air for five seasons, producing 154 episodes. Hazel was 4th in the Nielsen ratings for its first year. By the end of Season 4, the show had fallen out of the top 30. Season 1 was black and white except for one episode. Hazel purchases a color television set. RCA owned NBC, which aired the show for the first four years, and this show seemed to be a blatant commercial for colored televisions. Beginning in Season 2, all the shows were filmed in color. The show moved to CBS for its final year. Shirley Booth won an Emmy Award for Best Actress in both 1962 and 1963 and was nominated again in 1964 when she lost to Mary Tyler Moore for The Dick Van Dyke Show.
In 1963, the NAACP threatened to boycott the show’s sponsor if a black member was not added to the cast and, two months later, the network announced a black production executive had joined the show.
Hazel is more than a maid for the Baxters; she is family. We also get to know several of Hazel’s friends: the postman Barney Hatfield (Robert Williams), taxi driver Mitch Brady (Dub Taylor), and her best friend, Rosie Hammaker (Maude Prickett) who is also a maid. Apparently, there were a lot of maids in the city because Hazel was president of The Sunshine Girls, a club for maids.
Hazel often stuck her nose into issues where it didn’t belong, but she “fixed” the situation in the end. She constantly frustrated George, who would try to put down his foot about an issue. She often would restrict his desserts to get her way or his wife would defend her cause, and he usually gave in.
George had more control at work where he was a successful lawyer at Butterworth, Noll, Hatch, and Baxter. However, Hazel often got involved in issues regarding his clients as well. She pre-empted his authority at work like she did at home, especially when the case involved Harvey Griffin (Howard Smith), one of George’s clients who spent a lot of time at the Baxter house.
When the house and George’s work life were running smoothly, Hazel found issues to battle around the community.
The series was filmed at Columbia Studios in Hollywood. The house façade for the Baxter home was used in several Three Stooges films and was the Lawrence home on Gidget. The house next door was Darrin and Samantha Stephens home on Morning Glory Dr featured on Bewitched.
Sammy Cahn and James Van Huesen wrote the instrumental theme song that played during opening of the show; and The Modernaires sang it at the closing for the first eight episodes in Season 1. Beginning with episode 9, the instrumental was the only version played in both the opening and closing credits. The lyrics were:
People love you everywhere you go Hazel.
Children cross the street to say hello, Hazel.
You charm every Romeo and Casanova,
It’s your personality that wins them over.
You may never be a millionaire Hazel.
Count your friends and you don’t have a care, Hazel.
You’ve got more than wealth untold,
You’ve got a heart of solid gold.
We love you, Hazel,
Just because you’re you.
When NBC ended the show after Season 4, CBS picked it up. They changed most of the cast, keeping only Hazel and Harold. The premise is that Dorothy and George are sent to Saudi Arabia for George’s career, so Hazel and Harold move in with George’s younger brother Steve (Ray Fulmer), his wife Barbara (Lynn Borden), and their daughter Susie (Julia Benjamin). A minor character was also added with Ann Jillian as Steve’s receptionist. The ratings were not high but were acceptable. However, Shirley was ill and required a nurse on set. She decided she could not continue with the show, so Season 5 was its last.
During its first four seasons, Hazel was sponsored by Ford Motor Company. Ford cars were often featured in the shows. The episode was the first show to display the Ford Mustang on television. Bristol-Myers came in as a cosponsor for Season 4, and when the show moved to CBS, Procter & Gamble and Philip Morris were the co-sponsors.
Unfortunately, most of the cast has passed away.
Bobby Buntrock, the youngest member, was the first to die. Only 21, he was in a tragic automobile accident involving a bridge in South Dakota in 1974. That same year, Booth retired to her Massachusetts home. She passed away at age 94 in 1992 after suffering several health problems including blindness and a broken hip. The next year, Don DeFore died from a cardiac arrest at age 80. Whitney Blake died from esophageal cancer in 2002 at age 76, also living in Massachusetts. Lynn Borden passed away in 2015 after an extended illness. Julia Benjamin and Ray Fulmer are still alive.
Hazel gained a younger audience fan base in the 1970s and 1980s when it was seen in syndication. It currently can be seen on Antenna TV. The first season was released on DVD in 2006 and the last season was released in 2014.
Hazel seems to be one of those shows that people love or hate. I enjoyed watching Hazel in reruns, although I didn’t really care for the final year—it seemed to be working too hard to be fun. TV. Although, this show is not one of those that I watch with fond nostalgia, it is not as syrupy as some shows and better than many shows still on the air. I occasionally catch an episode on Antenna TV. If you want to check it out, Hazel is on daily at 11 EST. It also airs Saturday evening at 6:30 EST and at 8 am both Saturday and Sunday mornings.