Mary Ann vs Ginger: Dawn Wells and Tina Louise

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

Dawn Wells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tina Louise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Millionaire and His Wife: Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer

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

 

Jim Backus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Natalie Schafer

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Gilligan's Island (US TV Series)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the opening credits, the song was:

Just sit right back

And you’ll hear a tale

A tale of a fateful trip

That started from this tropic port

Aboard this tiny ship

The mate was a mighty sailing man

The skipper brave and sure

Five passengers set sail that day

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

The weather started getting rough

The tiny ship was tossed

If not for the courage of the fearless crew

The Minnow would be lost, the Minnow would be lost

The ship set ground on the shore of this

Uncharted desert isle

With Gilligaaan

The Skipper too

A millionaire, and his wife

A movie star

The Proffessor and Mary Ann

Here on Gilligan’s Isle

 

For closing credits, the lyrics were:

So, this is the tale of our castaways

They’re here for a long long time

They’ll have to make the best of things

It’s an uphill climb

The first mate and his skipper too

Will do their very best

To make the others comfortable

In the tropic island nest

No phone, no lights, no motor cars

Not a single luxury

Like Robinson Crusoe

It’s primitive as can be

So, join us here each week my friends

You’ll sure to get a smile

From 7 stranded castaways

Here on Gilligan’s Isle!

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

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

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

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

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

My Heroes: Hogan and Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The regular cast included the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the sunrise smiles on everything around.

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

For eight is enough to fill our lives with love.

 

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

So many find the world an empty place.

Anyone who asks to stand alone is always standing still,

And eight is enough to fill our lives with love.

 

Oh, love makes all the difference now,

And one that really shows.

Just look at every one of us —

See how it overflows!

 

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

If we’re ever puzzled by the changing times,

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

And eight is enough to fill our lives with love.

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

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

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

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

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

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She Was Maid For TV: Hazel

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.

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The show debuted in the fall of 1961. The sitcom was based on Ted Key’s cartoons which appeared in the Saturday Evening Post.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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!