Good Times Doesn’t Always Mean Good Show

Last week we looked at shows that debuted in 1973, fifty years ago in our “Potpourri” blog series. Today we are concentrating on one of the successful shows of that 1973 class (and there were not a lot of them): Good Times and I’m am considering this blog “Flopourri” for Florida Evans.

Cast of Good Times Photo:

For those of you who have been with me for the past six and a half years. You may be surprised to find me featuring a Norman Lear show. I readily admit that I have a Norman Lear bias. It’s nothing personal with Norman, but I just did not enjoy most of his shows: All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude, Diff’rent Strokes, Sanford and Son, and Carter Country, among others. I did think that Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was an interesting concept, just too hard to sustain, and I admit that I liked Fernwood Tonight. I still bypass these shows on MeTV and Antenna TV when they are on the schedule. However, I will be the first to say that they were important historical shows in the evolution of television. They were relevant shows that changed the way sitcoms were written and presented a lot of important topics for people to debate.

So, whether I enjoyed watching Good Times or not, and it was not, it was an important show that gained a devoted following and was on for six seasons, producing 133 episodes. The show was produced by Lear and created by Eric Monte and Mike Evans. Evans played Lionel Jefferson on The Jeffersons. He left the show to work on this series and when Good Times was canceled, he returned to The Jeffersons.

Florida Evans (Esther Rolle) was Maude’s maid. Maude was a spinoff from All in the Family and Good Times was a spinoff from Maude, so this was the first show to be created from a spinoff.


The Evans family lives in the Chicago projects. The area is not named but the opening and closing credits show photos of Cabrini-Green. The family consisted of Florida, her husband James (John Amos), their kids JJ, 17 (Jimmie Walker), Thelma, 16 (BerNadette Stanis), and Michael, 13 (Ralph Carter). The show also featured Florida’s best friend Willona (Ja’Net DuBois) and Nathan Bookman (Johnny Brown), the building superintendent. The family never has enough money. James is often out of work, but he also works two jobs when he gets a chance to bring in money for their family. He is a proud man and does not believe in handouts.

Many of the shows deal with gang warfare, financial issues, muggings, unemployment, rent parties, racism, and evictions. It was one of the first shows to have an almost all-black cast. Florida and James are good parents who try to teach their children values and ethical behavior. Michael was an especially interesting character who was intelligent, an advocate who loved African American history, and tried his best to make the world a better and more fair place to live.


Other recurring characters include Ned the Wino (Raymond Allen), who often can be seen in their building. In one episode, JJ, an artist, paints Ned as Jesus and, in another, well-meaning Michael tries to reform him by letting him stay at their house but it does not work out. Carl Dixon (Moses Gunn) is a shop owner in the area. After James’ death, Florida begins dating him and eventually they marry and move to Arizona. Esther tells Willona in a later season that Carl died from lung cancer. Pimp Marion Williams (Theodore Wilson) is a neighbor who is known for his flashy clothing and jewelry. Lenny (Dap Sugar Willie) is the neighborhood hustler who sells stolen items. Wanda (Helen Martin) runs a women’s support group in their building. Alderman Fred C. Davis (Albert Reed Jr.) is a politician with a shady past.

A lot of celebrities appeared on the show during its run including Debbie Allen, Sorrell Booke, Rosalind Cash, William Christopher, Gary Coleman, Alice Ghostley, Ron Glass, Robert Guillaume, Gordon Jump, Jay Leno, Charlotte Rae, Philip Michael Thomas, and Carl Weathers.

The theme, a gospel-sounding song with a choir in the background, was composed by Dave Grusin and the lyrics were written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. It talked about the hard living conditions the family had to endure which was not thought of as “Good Times.” Performed by Jim Gilstrap and Blinky Williams, the lyrics were:

Good Times.
Any time you meet a payment. – Good Times.
Any time you need a friend. – Good Times.
Any time you’re out from under.
Not getting hassled, not getting hustled.
Keepin’ your head above water,
Making a wave when you can.

Temporary lay offs. – Good Times.
Easy credit rip offs. – Good Times.
Scratchin’ and surviving. – Good Times.
Hangin in a chow line – Good Times.
Ain’t we lucky we got ’em – Good Times.


One of my favorite things about the show was the use of nicknames, maybe because my family is fond of nicknames as well. James called Thelma “Baby Girl” and referred to Michael as the “Militant Midget” for his activism. Willona’s name for Michael was “Gramps,” while JJ called him “Miguel.” The other residents also got their own monikers including Willona as “The Rona Barrett of the Projects” and Wanda as “Weeping Wanda.”

Good Times was created as a show that focused on Rolle and Amos. Both stars expected the show to deal with serious topics even though it was a comedy. They also wanted the characters to be positive role models.

JJ began to be featured in more of the episodes. “Dynomite” became his catchphrase and he said it at least once in every episode. As the writers focused more on his character and the way he behaved, important topics were put on the back burner sometimes.

Both Rolle and Amos felt that the character of JJ and the way he was being developed as more of a foolish and unintelligent person was creating a negative role model. Both stars became disillusioned with the direction of the show and voiced their criticism, Amos more often. They thought the uneducated, slacker type of behavior that JJ expressed was harmful to young viewers. Lear finally fired Amos at the end of the third season because of his negative opinions. The cast had no idea that he had been fired until they read the script where he passed away. Rolle quit at the end of season four.

Walker didn’t see it the same way. He said in an interview that he does not remember saying one word to Amos or Rolle that was not part of the script. He defended his character saying that he didn’t commit overly criminal acts on the show and compared his character to the Fonz on Happy Days. He does have a point. He was deeply hurt that Amos and Rolle, along with many black community members, considered his character a “perpetuation of negative stereotypes.”


Perhaps part of the controversy came from Walker’s own personality. He considered himself a comedian, not an actor. He said he was never comfortable with the dramatic storylines. Lear wanted Jimmie to take acting classes but he refused. Rolle, Amos, and Carter were dramatic actors and took their roles more seriously. When Rolle died in 1998, Walker was the only cast member who did not attend her funeral.

In season five, Janet Jackson joined the cast as Penny, an abused girl abandoned by her mother, adopted by Willona. Ratings began to decline. With Rolle’s absence, the essence of the show was gone.

Producers asked Rolle to come back even as a guest role. Rolle rejoined the cast for season six after she was promised higher-quality scripts. She also wanted the character of Carl Dixon written out of the show. She felt Florida would not have remarried so quickly, but that was how writers depicted her absence from the show when she left.

However, it was too late and the show continued to decline in ratings. The continual moving of the show on the schedule also didn’t help things. The show began on Friday nights for season one; moved to Tuesdays for seasons two and three; had two different time slots on Wednesdays for seasons four and five; and ended up moving three different times for season six: Saturday at 8 for episode one, Saturday at 8:30 for episodes 2-10, and Wednesdays at 8:30 for episodes 11-22.


The series finale in 1979 gave each character a happy-ever-after. JJ becomes a comic book artist. Michael begins college and moves into the dorms. Thelma and her husband move to the Gold Coast when he gets an offer from the Chicago Bears. Thelma is pregnant and they ask Florida to move with them to help care for the baby. Coincidentally, Willona becomes head buyer for her boutique and moves into the same luxury apartments with Penny.

Unfortunately, the show is remembered now more for its controversy than anything else. Amos talked about his “early departure from the show, I felt that with two younger children—one of whom aspired to become a Supreme Court Justice . . . and the other a surgeon . . . there was too much emphasis being put on J.J. and his chicken hat saying ‘Dynomite!” every third page when just as much emphasis and mileage could have been gotten out of my other two children and the concomitant jokes and humor that could have come out of that.” He later said in an interview with VladTV that the scripts on the show led to “an inaccurate portrayal of African-Americans. Their perception or their idea of what a Black family would be and what a Black father would be was totally different from mine, and mine was steeped in reality.”

He did have good things to say about Rolle and her character: “Florida was the glue that kept the family together. It showed a Black family that had the same trials and tribulations as the rest of America, especially those who were financially challenged . . . it told the story of who we were on a comedic basis. And I’ve always contended, as some of my mentors taught me, the best way to get a message across to people is through humor.”


Rolle concurred as she told Ebony in 1975 about JJ: “He’s eighteen and he doesn’t work. . . He can’t read or write. He doesn’t think. The show didn’t start out to be that. Michael’s role of a bright, thinking child has been reduced.”

Walker was interviewed at age 70 by Rebeka Knott and still disagrees with his costars. In that interview, he said that his co-stars, “killed the goose that laid the golden egg. These people, anytime you said anything, they get crazy, they get upset. They don’t get it man.”

So, what are we to make of the show and its success or failure? It still remains an important program in television history. It featured a black cast and focused on a family that struggles with many issues both white and black low-income families could identify with. If Michael had appeared in a reality show as an adult, perhaps it would have been The Cosby Show. A lot of families, black and white, could identify with the issues of that show as well. And, hopefully, they understood where the success of that second generation came from–parents who worked hard and taught their children important values and emphasized hard work and goals that allowed the next generation to have more success than the previous one.

Norman Lear Photo:

It’s actually what any good television show does. Regardless of the setting and the characters, it teaches us about how other people live and provides plots many of us can identify with or teaches us about other characters whom we can appreciate and learn more about their individual struggles and journeys whether they follow the same path we do or take a different fork in the road.

It would be interesting to talk with Rolle and Amos today to get their perspective. They were right to ask for better scripts and to showcase their other children who had bigger dreams and hopes. But perhaps Walker is also not that far off. He did portray a different type of character– one that obviously many people identified with or enjoyed spending time with. Don’t most families have a combination of good and not-so-good role models? Hopefully, we learn as much from the characters in our lives who make poorer decisions as we do from those who choose wisely. I’ll leave it up to you whether you think the tv show is worth watching today or not.

Shows That Debuted in Fall of 1973: Don’t Get Too Attached

This month our blog series is “Potpourri,” and today specifically is “Showpourri.” I thought it would be fun to look at the shows that debuted in 1973, fifty years ago. There were a lot of them. More than 30 shows were new in the fall of 1973; however, only about ten of them were still around the next fall.

Quite a few of these shows were variety shows: Dick Clark, The Dean Martin Comedy Show, Bobby Gentry, The Hudson Brothers, Tony Orlando and Dawn, Mac Davis, and Music Country. We also had several Movies of the Week.

Let’s take a closer look at the other shows that debuted in 1973.

Adam’s Rib Photo:

Adam’s Rib: In this half-hour sitcom, assistant district attorney Adam Bonner (Ken Howard) is married to Amanda (Blythe Danner) who is a partner in a law firm. They often face each other in the courtroom which sometimes extends to their personal life. Amanda is also an advocate for women’s rights.

Apple’s Way: Created by The Waltons writer Earl Hamner Jr., this show has a family relocating from Los Angeles to a small town in Iowa where dad grew up. It captures the issues faced from moving from the past-faced city to the rural place where their ancestors grew up.

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice: Definitely a seventies sitcom. Bob (Robert Urich) and Carol (Anne Archer) are a young couple who are part of the swinging seventies; they are good friends with an older couple, Ted (David Spielberg) and Alice (Anita Gillette), who definitely are not.

Calucci’s Department: Joe Calucci (James Coco) is an office supervisor at the New York State Unemployment Department. He has to deal with red tape, unemployed people truly in need or trying to bilk the system and keep his girlfriend (Candice Azzara) happy.

Chopper One Photo:

Chopper One: This one was a bit like CHiPs in the air. Two California policemen (Jim McMullan and Dirk Benedict) fight crime from their helicopter.

The Cowboys: An unusual concept for this decade. The series focuses on a group of seven boys who work on a cattle ranch in the Old West.

Diana: Diana Smythe (Diana Rigg), recently divorced, leaves London and moves to New York City to become a fashion coordinator at a Fifth Avenue Department Store. She learns about life in America from her new friends, copywriter Howard (Richard B. Schull), neighbor Holly (Carole Androsky), window decorator Marshall (Robert Moore), and friend Jeff (Richard Mulligan).

Dirty Sally: imdb’s description of this show was that “crotchety old lady Sally Fergus (Jeanette Nolan) roams the Old West with young companion Cyrus (Dack Rambo).” The major character looks more like she should be on The Addams Family than in the old west.

Doc Elliot Photo:

Doc Elliot: Dr. Benjamin Elliot (James Franciscus) leaves Bellevue Hospital in New York to retreat to Colorado. He made house calls by plane and truck and is the only doctor in the area so he deals with a variety of cases.

Faraday & Co: Frank Faraday has been jailed 25 years for murdering his partner, but he did not do it. When he gets to go home, he learns his secretary gave birth to his son Steve who is also a private eye and the two men go into business together and solve mysteries.

Good Times: In this spinoff from Maude, the focus is Florida Evans, Maude’s housekeeper and her family who live in the Chicago housing projects.

Happy Days: Almost everyone knows about this show and the Cunninghams. The focus of the show is on Richie and Joanie growing up in the fifties with the help of The Fonz.

Hawkins: After his first show was canceled, Jimmy Stewart takes on the role of West Virginia attorney Billy Jim Hawkins.

Kojak: Telly Savalas becomes Theo Kojak a bald, lollipop loving police detective who is tough on criminals but a bit of a teddy bear off I job.

Lotsa Luck Photo:

Lotsa Luck: Dom DeLuise stars as Stanley, the manager for a lost and found department at the bus company. He lives with his mother, his sister Olive and brother-in-law Arthur. His best friend is a bus driver he works with and they try to work out Stanley’s life problems. One issue they could not resolve was the fact that the viewers did not like the show.

NBC Follies: I’m not sure who came up with this concept. Vaudeville was dead, but this show resurrected it. It was based on vaudeville with a mixture of comedic skits and musical performances and no host. And no viewers.

Needles and Pins: This show had a great cast including Louis Nye, Norman Fell, and Bernie Kopell. Nye was Nathan Davidson, a women’s clothing manufacturer and this show centered on the employees who work there including new designer Wendy, who was a bit naïve, jumping from Nebraska to New York City.

Toma Photo:

Roll Out: This sitcom was based on the movie Red Ball Express; an African American staff at the Red Ball Express in WWII deal with being far from friends and family who bond with each other. The Red Ball Express was a real trucking convoy that supplied Allied forces in Europe after D-Day. The trucks were allowed to travel on routes closed to civilian traffic and had priority on other roads. It just never found the balance of humor and heartbreak of M*A*S*H or the wacky entanglements of Bilko. This show probably would have made a great drama if it had been done right.

Toma: Toma was a real New Jersey Detective David Toma (Tony Musante). He was a master of disguise and did undercover work. Like Alfred Hitchcock, you can glimpse the real David Toma in many episodes.

The Girl with Something Extra: John Davidson and Sally Field team up as newlyweds beginning their married life together with all the problems typical couples have and one extra, she had ESP and that causes no end of problems for them. Too bad she didn’t tell the network this show would not survive an entire season.

The New Perry Mason Show Photo:

The New Perry Mason Show: Monte Markham and Sharon Acker became Perry Mason and Della Street. Impossible roles to fill with anyone but Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale.

When the fall schedule came out in 1975, the only shows remaining on the air were Good Times, Happy Days, and Kojak. Since I have already done extensive blogs on Happy Days and Kojak, next week, we’ll take a closer look at Good Times.

Not Anyone Can Pull a Stunt Like This

Since this month is a Potpourri Month, I thought it might be fun to look at the career of stuntmen on television. I’m calling this one “Propourri” because you have to be well trained to do these types of stunts.

Left to right: stuntmen Bob Miles, Bob Herron, Whitey Hughes, actor Michael Dunn, stuntman John Hudkins, Bill Shannon, and actor Quintin Sondergaard. Photo:

A stuntman or stuntwoman is a person who performs dangerous action sequences in a movie or television show. They have usually had extensive training to do these perilous moves safely. Sometimes they are hired as a team with a stunt crew, rigging coordinator, and special effects coordinator.

Stuntmen like Evel Knievel are daredevils who perform for a live audience. If someone fills in for a specific actor all the time, they are stunt doubles. So, what type of stunts do these professionals perform? Sometimes it’s car crashes, explosions, fights, or falls.

The first stuntmen to entertain audiences were performers who traveled around, often in circuses. Later these types of performers worked with Buffalo Bill and in shows that celebrated the Old West.

Today we are going to concentrate on television performers. Currently, stunt professionals must be certified to obtain the insurance producers need to obtain.

The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences now awards Emmys for stunt coordinators but there is no Oscar for this work.

Life-threatening injuries are not uncommon in this work and sadly, deaths do still occur. While most of my research found stuntmen killed in movies, I only found one relating to television. In 1985, Reid Rondell was killed in a helicopter explosion filming Airwolf.

I thought it would be fun to look at the careers of a few stuntmen from the golden age of television. Most of these men made their money in films, but all three of them had  successful careers working on television shows as well.

Whitey Hughes


Whitey Hughes was born in 1920 in Arkoma, Oklahoma. He grew up on a farm, so in addition to working with plows and horse teams, he learned to break horses with his father. When he was sixteen, the family moved to Los Angeles. After graduating from high school, Whitey became a Screen Actors Guild member in 1947.

Whitey began his movie career in 1946. During the fifties, he worked on a lot of western films. Hughes said that in the early part of his career, he often had to be a double for the leading lady. (We’ll come back to this subject later in the blog.) He did stunt work for a variety of actresses including Anne Baxter, Rita Hayworth, Barbara Hershey, Virginia Mayo, Stephanie Powers, and Lana Turner.


Speaking of women, one of the roles, Whitey loved best was being the husband of Dotti; they were married for seventy years.

During the fifties, Whitey worked on a lot of westerns including Cheyenne. In the sixties, you would see him on Rawhide or as Kurt Russell’s double on The Magical World of Disney. If you want to see him in action, the best show to watch would be The Wild Wild West; his crew did some amazing things on that show and Whitey coordinated the stunt work for 1965-1968.

The eighties found him in Fantasy Island, Wonder Woman, and BJ and the Bear while in the nineties he was part of Little House on the Prairie and The Fall Guy. His last work was in a movie in 1998. In 2009, Whitey died in his sleep. It is good he died peacefully; I can’t imagine the toll that this type of work took on his body for fifty years.

Hal Needham


Hal Needham was born in 1931 in Memphis, Tennessee. He served as a paratrooper in the US Army during the Korean War. After the war, he worked as an arborist doing tree-topping services. He was also the billboard model for Viceroy Cigarettes while he was trying to establish his career in Hollywood.

Hal’s first big job was the stunt double for Richard Boone on Have Gun, Will Travel. From 1957-63 he was in 225 episodes. During the sixties, he would show up in many television series including Laramie, Wagon Train, Laredo, The Wild, Wild West, Star Trek, Gunsmoke, Big Valley, and Mannix.

Hal was the highest-paid stuntman in the world. That seems fitting because during his career he broke 56 bones, broke his back twice, punctured a lung, and lost a few teeth.

Needham was responsible for wrecking hundreds of cars, fell from many buildings, was dragged by horses, perfected boat stunts and was the first human to test the car airbag.

He revolutionized the work of stuntmen and worked to get his craft recognized and appreciated. He mentored up-and-coming professionals.

With Burt Reynolds Photo:

His career transitioned from a stuntman to a stunt coordinator to a second unit director to a director. In all, he would work on 4500 television episodes and in 310 films, according to He made his directing debut on a movie he wrote called Smokey and the Bandit with Burt Reynolds and would go on to direct Hooper and The Cannonball Run for Reynolds among other series and films.

In 1977 Gabriel Toys debuted the Hal Needham Western Movie Stunt Set with a cardboard saloon movie set, lights, props, a movie camera, and an action figure that could break through a balcony railing, break a table and crash through the window. They have become highly collectible.


Needham owned a NASCAR race team. He also set a Guinness World Record as the financier and owner of the Budweiser Rocket Car which is now on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

He also managed to win both an Emmy and an Oscar. Reynolds and Needham were close friends; Needham lived in Reynold’s guest house for 12 years and their relationship was used as the basis for the plot in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Bob Herron

Bob Herron was born in 1924 in California. When his parents divorced, he moved to Hawaii with his father. The swimming and high diving he did there was a boost to his stunt career. His mother married Ace Hudkins who was a supplier of horses to the movie industry. Herron helped his stepfather in this business before enlisting in the Navy.


In 1950 he began doing stunt work. His first job was on Rocky Mountain with Errol Flynn and he was shot off horses. This would be a piece of cake compared to his role in Oklahoma Crude where he fell 55 feet from the top of an oil derrick into a stack of boxes.

In the sixties, he began his stunt work on television. He was in Gunsmoke, I Spy, I Dream of Jeannie, The Man from UNCLE, The Girl from UNCLE, Star Trek, Mission Impossible, Get Smart, and Bonanza. He doubled for Ross Martin in The Wild, Wild West. During the seventies, he appeared on Petrocelli, Little House on the Prairie, Marcus Welby, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Rockford Files, Kojak, and Charlie’s Angels among other shows. He was still going in the eighties doing his stunts on Hart to Hart, Magnum PI, Remington Steele, the Dukes of Hazzard, Matt Houston, Airwolf, The A-Team, and MacGyver. Despite being almost seventy, he continued in the nineties on shows like Father Dowling’s Murder Mysteries, The Wonder Years, and Murder She Wrote.

I did smile a bit to see shows like I Dream of Jeannie and The Mary Tyler Moore Show on this list. The Jeannie episode is one where she brings her great-grandfather to Cocoa Beach to show Tony how to desalinate water and the Mary episode is one where Sue Anne falls in love with someone who doesn’t return the feelings. I guess it proves you never know where a stunt person will show up.

I don’t know how he managed to survive sixty years performing dangerous stunts but he must have been in amazing physical shape.

I did promise to come back to men having to double for women in the forties and fifties. Thankfully, that is no longer the case, and women’s numbers are increasing among the 3400 stunt performers in SAG.

Former gymnast Shauna Duggins did the hard fighting work in Jennifer Garner’s show Alias. Because pay is determined by union contracts, stuntwomen do not suffer from the pay discrimination that sometimes shows up in the industry. Stunt performers are paid a minimum of $1005 for one day of work and they can negotiate higher pay based on their experience.

Shauna Duggins and Jennifer Garner

Duggins was at the University of California Davis when she first thought about being a stuntwoman. She learned more about martial arts and spent hours working out in gyms after graduation. In 2000 she auditioned for stunt work in The X Files as Krista Allen’s double and got the job. Then she was in Charlie’s Angels for Kelly Lynch and Cameron Diaz.

It was after that movie that she got the role on Alias where she worked for five years. To protect these women, SAG has a 24/7 hotline for performers to phone if they feel they have been the victim of sexual abuse.

In 2018 Duggins won an Emmy after twenty years in the business. Her advice to young women who decide to make this their career: “train as much as you can in various skills. Go to different gyms with stunt performers, train with all of them and just learn from each other.”

I’m glad we took some time to learn about the tough and dangerous job these performers do. It was so interesting to learn a little bit about some of these industry stars.

If We Were the Prop Master: Our Favorite Items On TV

    This month is our blog series is “Potpourri Month” and we have a sub-theme every day; today’s is Propourri” for the pro who handles props. When you think of your favorite shows, there are props included in those great memories: the couch at Central Perk, Fonzie’s leather jacket, or the cereal boxes on Seinfeld’s refrigerator. First let’s learn a little about the Props Master and then we’ll take a look at some of our most-loved props.

The Fonz’s jacket Photo:

    The Prop Master heads up the Props Department. They are charged with acquiring, organizing, and safely handling the props for the shows.

    Each episode has a list of props that will be needed for the show. The props master reviews the scripts and has meetings with various department heads to ensure everything that is needed is on the list.

    Sometimes the props master does research to see what would be appropriate for a specific era or place. Cars were quite different in the fifties than the eighties. A grocery store does not look the same in China as it does in Atlanta.

    During filming, the props master has to keep track of props and make sure everything is put back in its place.

    So, what are some of the props that have become synonymous with our favorite series? Let’s put together a prop list that includes props from our favorite shows.

    Living rooms have a lot of cool furniture. When you think of comfortable places to sit, you have to think of Modern Family’s couch, Archie’s chair from All in the Family, Chandler and Joey’s Barcaloungers from Friends, and Martin Crane’s duct-taped, worn chair on Frasier.

The Bunkers’ Chairs Photo:

Many of the Modern Family characters are interviewed on their couch which sits in front of their stairs to the second floor right as you enter the front door. The walls are Benjamin Moore’s Labrador Blue. The couch itself is from Sofu-U-Love and the primary-colored striped pillows are from Pottery Barn just in case you want an interview sofa of your own.

Archie Bunker’s chair is from the 1940s. It’s covered in an orange and yellow woven fabric. The props master purchased the chair from a thrift store in Southern California. Whenever anyone but Archie sits in the chair, it is made obvious to them that they need to find another seat.

The barcaloungers Joey and Chandler use were originally made in Buffalo New York, named after the company that made them. They have moving parts to allow for footrests and reclining. Joey’s Barcalounger is brown leather and he calls it “Rosita.”

Martin Crane’s chair is in the same color family as Archie Bunker’s. The prop department made it, so it’s a one-of-a-kind piece. It’s striped and quite unattractive looking especially with Frasier’s expensive tastes echoing in the rest of the room, but Martin loves it and Frasier loves Martin so it stays. In the first episode, a guy carries in the chair when Martin and his dog Eddie move in with Frasier. On the last episode, the same guy carries the chair out when Martin gets married and moves out. The chair is really almost a character during the run of the series.

Jeannie in her bottle Photo:

There are a lot of fun accessories from our favorite living rooms. Just a couple include Jeanne’s bottle from I Dream of Jeanne, the “M” that was on the wall in Mary Richard’s apartment on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and the Chihuly sculpture from Frasier. Who can remember The Dick Van Dyke Show without thinking about the ottoman Rob Petrie might trip over?

Jeannie uses her Arabian glass bottle to sleep in and to hide in when someone other than Tony and Roger is in the house. The bottle has a long, purple couch with her blankets and pillows. She also has an Arabian candle, a photo of Tony, a mirror, and her book about genies.

Mary’s “M” stood for so much more than her first name. We knew that an independent, smart woman lived in that apartment. Everyone wanted to grow up and be able to put their own initial on the wall just like the brass one Mary had. When she moved to her newer, more modern apartment, the M went with her.

Martin’s chair on Frasier Photo:

In contrast to Martin’s puke-colored chair on Fraiser, Frasier had so many expensive items scattered around his home. One of them was Dale Chiuly’s Macchia. This blown-glass vase was green and brown. It was worth $30,000 at the time, and the props master locked it up after filming each episode.

We all recall the opening of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Will he or won’t he? I think most of us remember him falling over the ottoman, but do you know sometimes he walked around it? Reiner wanted a clever opening for the show and while talking with John Rich, the director, they decide Rob will fall. But then Reiner suggested a variation, so they filmed him not tripping. No one ever knew from episode to episode if he would fall or not.

Burns and Allen have their closet adjoining the living room. While Fibber McGee and Molly have a ton of items in their closet, whenever Gracie opens hers, we see a collection of hats that men have left when they are in a hurry to get out of the Burns house after dealing with Gracie’s logic.

When I think of some of my favorite kitchen items, I think about Jerry Seinfeld’s refrigerator with its revolving display of cereals. I know if I visited My Three Sons, I would get to sit around the kitchen table where all the action happens on the show. And Gracie would definitely take me into her kitchen to have some coffee from the pot she almost always kept full for her and Blanche to talk over.

Jerry always has cereal in his cupboard. Some sources say he had up to seventeen at a time. Knowing that cereal doesn’t last all that long, he ate a lot of cereal. I’m hoping Fruit Loops was one of those choices.

My Three Sons’ table Photo:

While as viewers we love that the kitchen was the heart of the Douglas home. From the first episode when Steve got Chip to help him with the dishes to talk to him about “love,” to the grown boys gulping down orange juice at the table to leave early for their busy day, we spent a lot of time in that room. Uncle Charlie’s bedroom was just off the area, so he could come and talk with someone getting warm milk in the middle of the night. The actors might not have had the same warm, fuzzy feelings. Barry Livingston discussed their filming schedule because Fred MacMurray did all his filming in two short groups of days. He said sometimes, “you would sit at the kitchen table all day long and they would do close-ups. You would be sitting in the same place at the same table and you would do a close-up from 12-15 different episodes. All you would do was change your shirt because they couldn’t see anything below.”

Burns and Allen Photo:

Gracie and Blanche always made time to have coffee to talk over things. Whether it was 7 am, 1 pm, or 7 pm, the coffee pot was always on. Burns and Allen also did coffee ads for Maxwell House, so I am assuming that it was Maxwell House the friends drank daily on Burns and Allen.

I know if I explained every item to you in detail, we would still be on this blog next week, so I’ll just some up the rest of the categories.

Bedrooms: Beds are definitely the focal point. We have the Petries’ twin beds that are not convenient for a married couple. Lisa and Oliver Douglas had a very large bed on Green Acres; unfortunately, it was open to the outside where anyone could come in or out. Oscar Madison had a bed on The Odd Couple, but no one knew it because his room was so messy. We definitely remember Bob and Emily Hartley’s bed because not only was it important in The Bob Newhart Show but it was in the finale of Newhart. It is also hard not to recall Alex Keaton’s Ronald Regan poster that took up one of his bedroom walls on Family Ties.

Batman with bust and phone Photo:

Libraries and Dens.  Three specific rooms come to mind. On Batman, we had the Shakespeare bust that hid the bat phone in their library. We had George Burn’s television on Burns and Allen where he could watch was going on during the show without the other characters knowing he was listening in. Finally, we think back to The Brady Bunch where the six kids fought over what to watch on television and did their homework after school.

Garages: The Jetsons they kept their flying car in the garage, Last Man Standing where Tim kept his antique car, and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, where they kept everything but the car. Ozzie was always out there looking for something.

Workplace: When characters go to work, we get a whole new scene full of fun props. Who would visit Dunder Mifflin without stopping by to see Pam at the front reception desk? Rob Petrie had a couch where the writers worked their magic. Central Perk featured the orange couch everyone remembers from Friends. The sofa was so beloved that replicas of it went on a world tour in 2019 for the shows’s 25th anniversary. The actual sofa used on the set was sold at auction in 2011 and it went for about $5000. Of course, Cheers would not have been the same without the stools for Norm and Cliff. Get Smart had so many fun props, it’s hard to choose; the Cone of Silence was certainly fun for everyone who could hear what was said inside by characters who thought they were speaking where no one could hear them. And Hogan’s Heroes also had a lot of fun items including the coffee pot that could relay anything said in Colonel Klink’s office.

Laverne Photo:

Clothing: While I love almost everything they wore on Burns and Allen, The Brady Bunch, and The Partridge Family, there are a few other pieces that really stand out. Who would not want to wear Fonzie’s leather jacket? Columbo’s coat might be a bit rumpled but it had been around to solve a lot of mysteries. Sally on McMillan and Wife had the San Francisco jersey that she wore to bed. And talk about special clothing, Laverne’s wardrobe with her iconic “L” on everything was a big part of Laverne and Shirley.

Unusual Items: Last, but definitely not least, we have those special objects that belong to specific characters. When you think about Radar on M*A*S*H, don’t you also think about his teddy bear? Barney Fife would never leave the house without his silver bullet. Half the plots would disappear if Gilligan’s Island did not have a radio for the Professor to try to repair and hear about the world outside the island. Buffy’s Mrs. Beasley on Family Affair was very popular; the doll was sold for decades after the show went off the air. Kojak’s lollipops had to be on the list. Also, if you are talking about “things,” how could we not include the “Thing” from The Addams Family?

I hope you enjoyed getting to know something about some of our favorite furniture and recalling special props from well-loved shows. If you want to see a couple of these items, visit The Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. where you can see Archie’s chair and Fonzie’s leather jacket. I’d love to hear your favorites.

George Barris: Kustom Kar King

This month’s blog series is “Potpourri.” We begin the month with “Autopourri.” Take a moment and think about some of your favorite cars from classic television: the Batmobile, the Beverly Hillbillies’ jalopy, the Munsters family car, or Kitt from Knight Rider. There is one thing they have in common: George Barris. Today I thought it would be fun to get to know a bit more about George.


Barris was born in Chicago in 1925 to Greek immigrants and his name was George Salapatas. After his mother’s death in 1928, their father sent George and his brother Sam to California to live with an uncle and aunt. George loved building model planes and eventually model cars. He won several competitions for his design and construction. George was also interested in the fine arts of painting, sculpture, and music. He became a great piano and saxophone player.

The brothers began restoring a 1925 Buick. It became the first Barris Brothers custom car. They straightened the body and added accessories. They gave it an orange paint job with blue stripes. Once they sold it, they used their profit to buy a 1929 Model A.

The brothers started hanging out in some of the local body shops, including Brown’s and Bertolucci’s in Sacramento. Harry Westergard, a tradesman at Brown’s, became George’s mentor. He taught him the skills of layout and paneling. While still in high school, Barris formed a club called Kustoms Car Club. George took classes in shop work, mechanical drawing, and design.

In one of his first cars, he cut the suspension coils, so it would ride lower in the front and be kicked up in the rear. He would “french” the headlights, which basically means molding them into the body to get a smoother look. At one point, it was said to get the right shade of pearl, he grated the scales from a sardine and mixed them up in the paint.


A lot of the Sacramento teens, including George and Sam, showed off their custom cars and drive-in movies and restaurants in Southern California. George gave his 1936 Ford convertible a custom silver paint job (probably the sardine story above) and removed the door handles to make it look more streamlined. He removed the running boards and shaved the fenders for a pointed front end.

After high school, Sam entered WWII, but George was turned down. He moved to Los Angeles. He opened his first shop in Bell, an LA suburb, in 1944. When Sam came home in 1945, he partnered with George. They opened a new shop called Barris Brothers Custom Shop on Compton Ave in 1946. Sam concentrated on metal craftsmanship, while George devoted his time to design, painting, and promoting.

In 1947 George dipped into racing at the Saugus Speedway, but the business was expanding and soon all his time was focused on customizing cars. George and Sam received a request from Robert Petersen, founder of Hot Rod magazine to exhibit at his first Hot Rod Show.

The Munsters’ cars Photo:

Several magazines devoted to customizing cars debuted, and George took on the role of writer and photographer for several of the publications. The business was promoted in his “how to” articles.

From 1949-1950 the brothers were back in Bell before moving to a new shop that they found in Lynwood. Sam bought a two-door Mercury to renovate. Bob Hirohata loved the new style and brought his 1951 Mercury to the business for a full custom job. The car was exhibited at the 1952 Motorama. In August of 1951, George traveled to Europe to study automotive styling there. He visited Italy, Germany, and France. He returned home with plenty of new inspiration.

Sam left the business 1956. He had grown tired of the hectic pace of LA. He went back to Sacramento and married his childhood sweetheart. He worked as a firefighter and was later Fire Commissioner for Carmichael. He passed away from cancer in 1967.

George took on a new partner–his wife Shirley. They produced a couple of creations of their own: Joji and Brett. In addition to supporting George, Shirley spent a lot of her time raising money for Child Help USA, The Boys & Girls Clubs of Pasadena, St. Jude Hospital, and the Jerry Lewis Telethon.

George ramped up his promotion traveling the country, appearing on talk shows, attending car shows, and working with Revell to manufacture car model kits based on his cars.


George’s business continued to expand. He brought in some of the best fabricators and craftsmen in the business: Bill Hines, Lloyd Bakan, Dick Dean, Dean Jeffries (creator of the Monkeemobile and the Black Beauty in The Green Hornet), Von Dutch, Larry Watson, Herschel “Junior” Conway, John and Ralph Manok, Bill De Carr, Richard Korkes, Frank Sonzogni, Jacko Johnson, Lyle Lake, Curley Hurlbert and Tom McMullen.

He moved his business to a larger shop in North Hollywood in the early sixties. It occupied most of an entire block on Riverside Drive. His daughter Joji continues as a partner in Barris Kustom Industries with her husband Barry, son Jared, and brother Brett. The building went up for sale in 2021.

In addition to private customers, the movie studios took notice of the work the Barris brothers were doing. In North by Northwest, Cary Grant’s Mercedes Benz is hit by a police car. Barris made soft aluminum fenders for the police car to prevent serious damage to the Mercedes. Barris made a car for High School Confidential and his work for movies and television only skyrocketed.

In 1966, George was asked by ABC to design a car for the upcoming Batman series. There was not a lot of time to design and build a car, weeks actually. Barris had purchased a Lincoln Futura built in Italy and it was in his collection. He hired Bill Cushenbery to modify the car, and it was ready in three weeks. The parachutes on the back really worked. At one point, George tested them on the Hollywood Freeway and was pulled over. Where was Commissioner Gordon when you needed him? Barris retained ownership of the car which was sold at auction in 2013 for $4,620,000.

Batmobile Photo:

In an interview with the Television Academy, Barris discussed making the car for Batman. He wanted the scoop to be the nose, the grill the mouth, the lights eyes. He incorporated sprinkler heads from his lawn system. He made long, aerodynamic bat fins. He designed rocket tubes coming out the back. He had to build it so quickly so he turned to some of his concept cars. Concept cars were sent to car shows to gauge people’s interest in them for future designs. He decided that the Futura would be a good one to modify. He put Indianapolis speed tires on the car to film it blasting out of the bat cave. The tires didn’t work, so he had to run to the local Goodrich plant to buy tires. He included anti-theft and smoke control to make it 20th-century-crime-fighter worthy. He said they spit nails out to get the Riddler and poured out oil to get Cesar Romero as the Joker. Barris was paid $15,000 to make the car and $150 a day when he was on set to film special effects.

George then went on to build the 18-foot-long Munster Koach, which was built from three Model Ts for The Munsters. He included blood red velvet interior and hand-scrolled details. He also designed the casket-turned-dragster, the Drug-U-La, Grandpa’s car on the show.

He customized two 1920s cars for television. The Beverly Hillbillies had a 1922 Ford. He said that he found it at a feed store near LA. The farmer had cut the back off and made it into a bed to haul hay. Barris decided that would be the perfect place to put Granny’s rocking chair. Barris was also asked to design the 1928 Porter for My Mother the Car. There were only a handful of Porters made, so he used a Model T Touring Car with a Chevy 8 engine.

Hirohata Mercury Photo:

He later updated KITT for later seasons of Knight Rider; Michael Scheffe was responsible for the original design.  George also created the 1914 Stutz Bearcats replicas for Bearcats!

In addition to these well-known automobiles, Barris also designed a car for the Banana Splits in 1968, the Oldsmobile Toronado for the roadster on Mannix, the Torino for Starsky and Hutch in the late seventies, and modified a car for The Dukes of Hazzard in 1979.

George also continued with his private customer work including a Rolls Royce for Zsa Zsa Gabor that included butterflies, roses, and hummingbirds.

The star requests kept coming in, so he worked on cars for Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Ann Margret, Glen Campbell, Redd Foxx, Frank Sinatra, and Elton John. He made a Cadillac for Elvis Presley’s limousine, stations wagons for John Wayne and Dean Martin, and his and her Mustangs for Sonny and Cher.

Fire Bug from The Banana Splits Photo:

Even NASA reached out to him about a Moonscope vehicle he had designed in 1966 which became a model car for collectors. The six-wheel spider suspension and large wedged tires intrigued engineers working on the Martian rovers.

In 1960 during the National Roadster Show, nine pioneers in creative auto building were inducted into a new National Roadster Hall of Fame. The nine members were Joe Bailon, Ezra Ehrhardt, Romeo Palamides, Gordon Vann, Harold Casuaurang, Robert Petersen, George Barris, Wally Parks, and Walt Moron.

In 2005, The New York Times recruited Barris to customize a Toyota Prius for $10,000.

Shirley passed away in 2001, and George died in his sleep in 2015, a couple weeks before turning 90.

I so enjoyed getting to know a bit more about George Barris and his incredible career. Let me know which television car is your favorite; I have to go with the Batmobile.