Arthur: Entertaining All of Us for 25 Years

Photo: arthur wiki-fandom.com

In 1996, one of my all-time favorite kids’ shows debuted. I admit I could only take so much Sesame Street, Caillou made me want to cover my ears with a blanket after 10 minutes, and don’t get me started on Teletubbies; I could not even make it through the theme song. However, one show I never get tired of is Arthur. I may or may not have been known to watch it even when I am the only one home.

Arthur was a 30-minute show, which consisted of two 11-minute stories with a live-action segment in between. The series was based on the books authored by Marc Brown. The series was developed by Kathy Waugh for PBS, and it’s produced by WGBH. Each show began with Arthur talking to the audience about a situation which is then explored in the story. We get to know Arthur, his family, and his friends intimately.

In a Scholastic interview, Brown said the character Arthur was born when his son Tolon asked for a bedtime story about a weird animal. He started going through the alphabet and an aardvark was the first animal that popped into his head. Tolon is now a producer on the show.

Photo: pinterest.com

The themes are the same ones that kids have to deal with in real life, some big and some small. During the 25 years that it has been on television, the show has covered bed wetting, dyslexia, cancer, autism, sibling rivalry, cheating in school, watching scary movies, divorce, fear of the dark, getting sick, and so many others. In a 2019 episode, Mr. Ratburn, Arthur’s teacher, marries a same-sex partner and Alabama Public Television declined to show the episode.

The series is fun to watch and presents issues kids deal with in a realistic, yet humorous light. Kids and parents can relate to the stories and characters. When Marc Brown described Arthur, he elaborated that “He is an eight-year-old aardvark who is navigating the mud puddles of life. You know, as we all are really. We all have obstacles and it’s how we handle them, and if Arthur can show kids that you can get through problems, solve problems, that’s really a good message for kids, it gives them confidence.” He added, “It’s a good message Arthur has, right, believe in yourself.”

What animal is Arthur? - How To Discuss
Photo: howtodiscuss.com

Arthur Read, age 8, lives with his mother Jane, father David, younger sister DW (Doris Winifred), and his baby sister Kate. His Grandma Thora is also around a lot as is his dog Pal. (Except for one episode, DW always wears a pink dress.)

His best friend is Buster. Some of his other friends include Francine, Muffy, Binky Barnes, Prunella, Sue Ellen, and The Brain. Even though the characters are all animals, they live in human homes and live life like most humans do. They live in Elmwood, which is a suburb of Pittsburgh. Brown grew up in Erie, PA and based many of the stories on his grade school life.

Arthur: PBS children's show to come to an end after 25 years
Photo: usatoday.com

I won’t get into the actors who provide voices for the various characters because there were many; some characters had more than five people playing them over the years. One interesting fact about that though is that DW was always voiced by a male.

I am not sure why but the first season of Arthur cost $12 million to create which is astounding to me. I tried to find more details about the reasons behind the big price tag, but I came up empty.

Photo: medium.com

One of the most memorable things about the show is the catchy theme song. Written by Judy Henderson and Jerry de Villiers Jr., “Believe In Yourself” was originally recorded by Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers for the show.

The show featured a lot of guest stars over the years. Some of the more fun episodes included Fred Rogers as himself visiting Elwood City, Art Garfunkel as a singing moose, Yo-Yo Ma as a music rival, Alex Trebek as Alex Lebek, game show host, Michelle Kwan teaching Francine to skate, Larry King interviewing Arthur, and The Backstreet Boys in concert.

Photo: imdb.com

I truly just picked four of my favorite PBS kids’ shows to learn about this month, but it turns out they were all the longest-running shows on the network. Arthur is the longest-running animated series for kids and is second in animation overall to The Simpsons. The show received a Peabody Award and four Emmy Awards for Outstanding Children’s Animated Program.

Photo: theguardian.com

Last month the last episode of Arthur aired. While I’m sad to see it end, it surely had a great run. My boys read Arthur books and watched the show, my grandkids are reading the books and watching the show, and I’m hoping that my great-grandkids will enjoy the books and reruns of the show.

One of my favorite Arthur books and episodes was aired during Season 1 and is “Arthur’s Chicken Pox.” I think it’s one of my favorites because it is truly an ordinary but delightful look at an everyday event. I remember getting chicken pox at about Arthur’s age.

Thank you Marc Brown for creating such an eclectic group of characters and so many enjoyable stories and moments, and thank you PBS for recognizing what a great series it could be and funding it for two and a half decades.

 

 

 

Add Some Color to Your Life with Reading Rainbow

Reading Rainbow was an American 30-minute children’s series that was broadcast on PBS. The show began in 1983. Producing 155 episodes, the series aired new episodes until 2006 and then showed reruns until 2009.

How Reading Rainbow Inspired Me
Photo: bookriot.com

The show was developed to encourage children to read. Twila Liggett created the show with Cecily Truett Lancit and Larry Lancit of Lancit Media Productions. Lynne Ganek, Tony Buttino, and host LeVar Burton were also part of the creative team. The group met with Fred Rogers, Joan Ganz Cooney, and The Electric Company crew to explore ways to make television more engaging to fans. During an interview in 2003, Burton said “I think reading is part of the birthright of the human being. It’s just such an integral part of the human experience—that connection with the written word.”

Many educators found that during the summer, children lost a lot of their reading abilities because they were watching “uneducational” television and not reading. The producers of the show wanted to air a new program during the summer months that would keep kids excited about reading even when they weren’t in school. It was a great goal, but the show was often threatened with cancellation due to a lack of funding.

The show received more than 200 awards including a Peabody Award. Ten of its twenty-six Emmys were for Outstanding Children’s Series. It was the third-longest children’s show on the air right after, you guessed it, Mister Rogers and Sesame St.

LeVar Burton Asks Fans to Help Bring Back 'Reading Rainbow' | The Takeaway  | WNYC Studios
Photo: WNYC Studio.com

A topic was introduced in each episode and then a featured children’s book was read, often narrated by a celebrity. After the story, Burton visited places relating to the theme of the day. The show ended with book suggestions for kids to read. In an Esquire interview in 2019, Burton discussed why listening to books is so important: “It gives you the opportunity to, without the mechanism of reading, engage immediately in your imagination. When you’re reading, you’re multitasking. You’re reading and making the movie in your head. When you’re listening to storytelling, there’s no activity, there’s no multitasking—you’re indeed in your imagination as you’re engaged with the content of the story. It’s a shortcut for visualization.”

Steve Horelick was the composer of the theme song with Dennis Neil Kleinman and Janet Weir writing lyrics. The show had three versions of the song with the third version sung by Chaka Khan.

There are a lot of great stars who showed up to read to kids, including Ruth Buzzy, Julia Child, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Kermit the Frog, Peter Falk, Jane Goodall, and Run D-M-C.

Margret Aldrich in wrote an article in 2014, and she chose the top ten books from the series. It’s a great place to start if you want to find a couple of books to read to your child.

To Be A Drum read by James Earl Jones - YouTube
James Earl Jones Photo: youtube.com
  1. All the Colors of the Race by Arnold Adoff, read by Maya Angelou.
  2. Sunken Treasure by Gail Gibbons, read by Robert Morse
  3. On the Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier, read by Patrick Stewart.
  4. Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, read by Tyne Daly.
  5. Animal Café by John Stadler, read by Martin Short.
  6. The Magic Schoolbus Inside the Earth by Joanna Cole, read by Keshia Knight Pulliam.
  7. Paul Bunyan by Steven Kellogg, read by Buddy Ebsen
  8. Arthur’s Eyes by Marc Brown, read by Bill Cosby.
  9. Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema, read by James Earl Jones.
  10. Abiyoyo by Pete Seeger and Michael Hays, read by Pete Seeger.

So, why was the show canceled? According to John Grant, who is in charge of content at WNED Buffalo, the show’s home station, “The show’s run is ending because no one—not the station, not PBS, not the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—will put up the several hundred thousand dollars needed to renew the show’s broadcast rights.” And, just like that, the last chapter was closed for good.

Burton Calls On 'Star Trek' Fans To Bring 'Reading Rainbow' To The Next  Generation | KRWG
Photo: npr.org

Reading Rainbow was an essential motivation for kids to read. However, adults have to realize that they also have to make time for reading. Let’s allow Levar to have the last word. In that Esquire interview, he also talked about why all of us need to read:

“You need to make the time. You have time to eat; you have time to sleep; you have time to love. I think reading for pleasure is an act of self-care, genuinely. I really do, especially in today’s world. You’ve gotta turn off the news; you’ve got to create some escape time in your imagination. You have to feed yourself, people! Otherwise, we have a tendency to get locked into the circumstances of life, and less engaged in the solution aspect of ourselves. It’s really critical for us to read for pleasure. One of the miracles of the modern era is that on my iPad, and consequently, because of the Cloud, on my phone, I carry a library of reading material. I mean, literally a library. It’s so available. We just have to shift our awareness a degree in that direction.”

I Can Tell You How to Get to Sesame Street

In 1966 Joan Ganz Cooney and Carnegie VP Lloyd Morrisett had a goal to create a new television show for kids. Apparently, they were at a dinner party when Morrisett was telling Cooney that one morning he found his three-year-old sitting in front of the television watching the test pattern. He wondered if the “boob tube” could ever actually teach kids anything. After a couple of years of research, they created the Children’s Television Workshop. An $8 million grant from funding from several corporations (Carnegie Foundation, Ford Foundation, for Corporation Public Broadcasting and the US federal government) was given to the Workshop to develop the show.

Sesame Street announces new special tackling racism | EW.com
Photo: entertainmentweekly.com

The show debuted in November of 1969. I don’t remember much about the show, but I can tell you as a third grader I was incensed that we were forced to watch a show for toddlers. However, the show received high ratings and was lauded a success. (By 2019 there were more than 150 versions of the show produced in 70 different languages.)

Jim Henson - The Muppet Master — Carol Burnett with Gonzo and Kermit, The  Muppet...
Carol as asparagus Photo: tumblr.com

Carol Burnett appeared on the first episode. She said, “I didn’t know anything about it when they asked me to be on. All I knew was that Jim Henson was involved and I thought he was a genius—I’d have gone skydiving with him if he’d asked. But it was a marvelous show. I kept going back for more. I think one time I was an asparagus.”

The show adopted a fast-moving style that incorporated action, humor, color, and music. They tried to match preschoolers’ attention spans. Humans often interacted with puppets in the style of Fred Rogers.

Sesame Street dealt with a lot of controversial issues and life situations that affected kids. In 1982, Will Lee who played Mr. Hooper passed away, and the show had to deal with his absence. The episode discussed death and avoided saying Mr. Hooper died in a hospital, so kids did not equate hospitals with death. Fans consistently rate this episode as one of the most moving and memorable ones that they watched.

The Late Movies: Saying Goodbye to Mr. Hooper | Mental Floss
Mr. Hooper Photo: mentalfloss.com

The show was always sensitive to ensuring they had a variety of ethnicities and genders represented in the series. In 1970 the show was banned in Mississippi by the State Commission for Educational Television. An anonymous committee member said that it was because of the diverse and integrated cast. After a statewide protest, they finally reversed their decision three weeks later.

In 1981 the federal government withdrew its funding from the show. Sesame St. developed new revenue resources from books, product licensing, and magazine production.

The show began to struggle a bit in the 1990s, competing with a variety of shows for ratings. In 1999, Elmo was given his own segment, “Elmo’s World.”

The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo | Sesame Workshop
Elmo Photo: sesameworkshop.com

In 2009, the show received an Outstanding Achievement Emmy for its four decades on the air. As of 2018 the show had won 189 Emmys overall (and 11 Grammy awards), more than any other children’s show.

In 2019, the series celebrated fifty years on television, having produced more than 4500 episodes, 2 movies (Follow that Bird and The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland), 200 videos, and 180 albums.

Cooney credited the show’s high quality to Harvard professors Gerald Lesser and Edward L. Palmer. Lesser designed the educational objectives for the show while Palmer did the formative research and bridged the gap between producers and researchers.

Of course, the show would not be what it was without Jim Henson. Cooney met Henson in Boston; he was reluctant to join the show but agreed to bypass his performance fees for full ownership of the Muppets, splitting revenue from them 50/50 with CTW.

It seems like some fun facts would be in order:

In 2004 the Cookie Monster said his name had previously been Sid.

Kermit retired in 2001.

Big Bird Has 4,000 Feathers: 21 Fun Facts About Sesame Street That Will  Blow Your Mind
With Jimmy Fallon Photo: parade.com

Big Bird is 8’2” tall.

Oscar the Grouch was inspired by a combination of a two men Henson interacted with. One was a mean waiter and the other was a restaurant director at Oscar’s Tavern in Manhattan.

Carol Spinney who played Bird took his voice from a cab driver who used to transport him to the set.

The stripes on Bert and Ernie’s shirts are deliberate: Ernie’s horizontal ones appear more relaxed while Bert’s vertical ones make him appear uptight.

Sesame Street | History, Characters, & Facts | Britannica
Photo: Briticannica.com

Big Bird’s teddy bear is named Radar, for Radar on M*A*S*H who slept with a teddy bear.

The 847th episode, which was broadcast in 1976, featured Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West. Kids were so scared that the episode never aired again.

And of course, the answer to the question everyone wants to know. How do you get to Sesame Street? Take the R or V train to Steinway St. Stay on the back of the train and then walk west on 34th Ave. three blocks to 36th St. Turn left. The entrance to Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens is half way between 34th and 35th Aves.

It’s hard to measure the impact the show has had on decades of children. A 1996 survey found that 95% of American preschoolers had watched the show by the time that they were 3 years old. In 2018, 86 million Americans reported watching the show as a child. As of 2001, more than 1000 research studies had been conducted regarding the effect of the show on American culture.

Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch... - The Walton Freeze | Facebook
Photo: facebook.com

While I was not thrilled to watch the show as a third grader, I did spend many hours watching the show with my children and appreciated the quality that went into every script. And, in answer to Lloyd Morrisett, can television ever teach kids anything worthwhile? Absolutely!

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: PBS: Purposefully Brilliant Programming, Part 1

We are taking a look at some of the classic kids’ shows on PBS (or Purposefully Brilliant Programming as I am referring to it) in March. It seemed fitting to start with one of the shows that many of us grew up with:  Mister Rogers.

Mr. Rogers and the importance of social and emotional learning | TheHill
Photo: thehill.com

Fred Rogers was born in Pennsylvania in 1928. Fred’s youth was far from ideal. He was shy and overweight, which he was bullied about. He also spent much of his time alone because he had asthma which kept him out of school a lot of the time. He turned to his stuffed animals to create a more friendly world for himself.

In high school, he blossomed. He was president of the student council, editor of the yearbook, in the National Honor Society, and made a variety of friends including several football players.

Live and lively, early days of 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood' began with a  'Corner' | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Childrens Corner with Joanne Photo: pittsburghpostgazette.com

He enrolled in Rollins College and graduated in 1951 with a music degree. He started his television career in New York but returned to Pittsburgh in 1953 to be the program developer for NET, now PBS, at WQED. While pursuing his television career, he also attended Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, graduating with a degree in divinity in 1962. He became a Presbyterian minister the following year and also attended the University of Pittsburgh graduate school for child development.

He met his wife Joanne in college, and they were married in 1952 and made a great team for life, raising two boys.

One of the shows he worked on at WQED was Children’s Corner.  Many of the puppets who showed up later on his show were created for this series. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto offered Rogers his own show, a 15-minute black and white children’s program. He moved to Canada and appeared on the show from 1963-1967. When the show was cancelled, he acquired the rights to the show.

Places | Mister Rogers' Neighborhood
Photo: misterrogers.org

In 1968 he returned to Pittsburgh, and the show became part of WQED’s schedule. The program focused on children’s emotional and physical concerns and covered a lot of important topics including dealing with death, sibling rivalry, the effects of divorce, prejudice, and other life issues.

Mr. Rogers Red Cardigan Sweater - Iconic on Mr. Fred Rogers 
© 2019 McFeely-Rogers Foundation All Rights Reserved.
Photo: expressnews.com

In 1970, NET became PBS, and the show was retitled Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and broadcast nationally. Fred began each episode by changing into one of his iconic cardigans while singing the ever-popular theme song, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” He then did a small monologue about the day’s topic.  His website, misterrogers.org explains this daily ritual: “That seemingly simple routine is part of a larger message and an invitation. The message: I care about you, no matter who you are and no matter what you can or cannot do. The invitation: Let’s spend this time together. We’ll build a relationship and talk and imagine and sing about things that matter to you.”

Fred produced the show, wrote the scripts, hosted the show, and composed the music. Between 1968 and 2001, more than 1000 episodes were created.

On the website misterrogers.org, we are introduced to the characters who live in the neighborhood of Make Believe.

Daniel the Striped Tiger: This shy, gentle tiger is equal parts timid and brave.

King Friday XIII: The rule of the Neighborhood of Make Believe can be demanding, but he cares deeply for his subjects.

5 behind-the-scenes secrets of 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood' | Pittsburgh  is Kidsburgh
Photo: kidsburgh.org

Lady Elaine Fairchilde: She’s mischievous and a bit of a troublemaker, but she’s also brave, sassy, and ready to speak up.

Henrietta the Pussycat: A lovable pussycat all dressed up in fancy dresses and hats.

X the Owl: A fun-loving, easygoing relaxed sort of owl who loves to learn.

Fred described his puppets by saying, “The authority of the king, the shyness of Daniel Tiger, the adolescence of X the Owl, the mischievousness of Lady Elaine Fairchilde, we all have lots of facets to who we are, and it’s fun to be able to express them.”

I found a fitting story about why this show was so exceptional. Robert Bianco stopped by the set to do an article for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. He wrote: “Years ago, I spent a day on the set of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The scene they were shooting was simple. Fred Rogers was supposed to sit at a table, drink a glass of juice and then move on to another part of the set. When he finished shooting the scene, however, Rogers realized he couldn’t finish the juice in the time allotted. So, he asked for another, non-see-through glass, so children wouldn’t see him leaving a half-filled glass on the table.

The director objected, saying kids would never notice, and it wouldn’t make any difference if they did. But Rogers said wasting juice sent the wrong message to his audience, and then simply repeated his request, patiently but firmly, and in a tone that made it clear he would not change his mind. He got his glass.

There’s a lot of Fred Rogers boiled down in that story: his attention to detail, his dedication to the work, his sense of responsibility for its effects, his moral authority, his willingness to exercise power, and his skill at doing so graciously.”

Mister Rogers gave children the possibilities of who they could become. He opened up new worlds they might not have encountered. He wanted to inspire kids to think big.

Two years after ending the show, Fred died from stomach cancer in 2003.

8 things to know about Mister Rogers from the story that inspired the Tom  Hanks movie | CNN
Photo: cnn.com

Rogers became known for his optimistic and caring attitude. He was one of the most-requested commencement speakers in the country, visiting more than 150 schools. Most of his lectures were about television programming, education, his view of the world, how to make the world a better place, and how children were affected by issues, as well as his continual quest for more knowledge.

Fred received more than 40 major awards, including a Peabody in 1992, a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in 1997, induction into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002, and was featured on the Forever stamp in 2018.

Many museums have featured a Fred Rogers temporary or permanent exhibit. The Smithsonian Institution contains a collection of Rogers items from the show, including one of his red sweaters.

A 7000-pound, 11-foot high, Mister Rogers oversees the North Shore Neighborhood in Pittsburgh.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood' Trailer: Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers - The  New York Times
Tom Hanks Version Photo: NYtimes.com

In 2019, Fred’s life moved to the big screen with the debut of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, with Tom Hanks portraying Rogers.

Tom captured the essence of Fred perfectly, but he knew he was under a lot of pressure to do so. There were thousands of kids who knew Fred intimately because they spent time with him every afternoon. Tom told the following story:

“I was on an elevator and a man got on and said, ‘Mr. Hanks, how is filming going? Are you enjoying your time here in Pittsburgh?’ I said ‘Very much, and I must say, Pittsburgh is a great city.’ He said ‘Thank you, I have to agree.’ And then before I got off at my floor, he said ‘You know, we take Mister Rogers very seriously in Pittsburgh.’ I said, ‘I am aware of that.’ The entire town knew we were filming a movie about Mister Rogers . I think we got a proper amount of props from the people of the city—as well as some expectations.”

Fred’s wife was brought into the movie production for her blessing which she gave. She had two important things she wanted to come through in the movie. One was how funny Fred was. If you read his speeches, you can hear his wit and humor. She also wanted to make sure that he was not treated as a saint. Her theory was that he had been put on a pedestal above everyone else. She said people might tell her, “I can’t do that but I admire him. I would love to do it.” Her response to them and to us is “Well you can do it. I’m convinced that there are lots of Fred Rogerses out there.”  And of course, that was Fred’s goal; he wanted us to all believe we could make a difference.

Why Mr. Rogers Is Having A Big Moment In Education : NPR Ed : NPR
Photo: npr.org

One of my favorite Fred Rogers stories was about his car. The “story” says Fred’s Chevy Impala was parked near the TV station in Pittsburgh when a thief took it and drove off. Fred filed a police report and it got out on the news. Within two days the vehicle was returned to the exact spot with a note left on the dashboard that said, “If I’d known it was yours, I never would have taken it.” There are some questions about whether this is a true story or not.  In 1980, the New York Times did in fact report the story. In reality, Fred was babysitting for his grandson when it was stolen. The thief realized whose car it was because he found some papers in the car and he did return the car and left it parked in front of Fred’s home. As writers, details get embellished, so I like the inaccurate version better, but either way, the point is the same.  We should all try to be the type of people that would make thieves feel bad about stealing our cars.

During one of his interviews, Fred was asked about productive people he had been exposed to and he said “The thing I remember best about successful people I’ve met all through the years is their obvious delight in what they’re doing . . . and it seems to have very little to do with worldy success. They just love what they’re doing, and they love it in front of others.” We need a few more successful people in this world, and more Fred Rogers to inspire the next generation. So put on your sweater, go talk to some kids, and show others you care.

Howard Morris: The Hamlet of Animation

After learning about Your Show of Shows and the stars of the show, I turned my attention to the cast members. Carl Reiner and Howard Morris were the two actors who were most involved with the skits. Reiner had a long and successful career, and we’ll look at his life in more detail later, but today I would like to concentrate on Howard Morris. 

Howard Morris Theatre Credits and Profile
Photo: abouttheartist.com

Most people recognize Morris as Ernest T Bass from The Andy Griffith Show. While I have a great appreciation for the series and the well-written scripts and delightful characters of Mayberry, I was never a big fan of Ernest T or the Darling family. They seemed to be a bit too over the top for me and diminished the reality of Mayberry.

J. Mark Powell on Twitter: "Howard Morris, better known as Mayberry's  rock-throwing Ernest T. Bass on @AndyGriffithShw, was born 101 years ago  today.… https://t.co/AwvE2WMBvR"
Ernest T Bass Photo: twitter.com

So, when I began to learn more about Morris who first became known to television fans for his work on Your Show of Shows, I was amazed at how versatile an actor he was and how much he accomplished during his career. 

Howard Morris was born in The Bronx in 1919. He later received a scholarship to attend New York University as a drama major, planning to work as a classically trained Shakespeare actor. During WWII he became first sergeant in the US Army Special Services unit. The group was based in Honolulu and entertained troops throughout the Pacific. Maurice Evans (who played Samantha’s father on Bewitched among other roles); Carl Reiner (whom we all know and love); and Werner Klemperer (Col Klink on Hogan’s Heroes) were all part of this unit.

In 1945 he married Mary Helen McGowan. While they were married until 1958; he had four other marriages during his life.

When Morris got the offer to appear in Sid Caesar’s new show, he was able to work with Reiner again. This was his first television or movie appearance, but it would not be his last.

Howard Morris - Net Worth, Bio, Wife, Children, Death, Biography - Famous  People Today
With Reiner and Caeser Photo: famouspeopletoday.com

One of the sketches from the show was a take on This is Your Life, the Ralph Edwards show. Morris said it was his favorite skit from the series. David Margolick wrote in the New Yorker in 2014 that “Though the competition is stiff, many feel that this sketch is the funniest that Your Show of Shows ever did . . . that night nearly sixty years ago, the show produced what is probably the longest and loudest burst of laughter—genuine laughter, neither piped in nor prompted—in the history of television.”

Morris moved to Hollywood in 1961. In the 1960s he began his multi-talented career of television actor, movie actor, director, and animation voice-over star. Unbelievably, he would rely on the quartet of skills the rest of his professional life, excelling in all of them.

Howard Morris (Ernest T. Bass) on The Lucy Show - Sitcoms Online Photo  Galleries
On The Lucy Show Photo: sitcomsonline.com

As a television actor, he appeared in a variety of series including The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Twilight Zone, The Lucy Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Love American Style, The Bob Newhart Show, Fantasy Island, Trapper John MD, The Love Boat, and Murder She Wrote.

Although he is known for his role of Ernest T Bass on The Andy Griffith Show, he was only made five appearances as that character on the show. Aaron Rubens sent him the script that introduced Ernest to Morris to look over and “fix.” Morris fell in love with the character. He said the show had a terrific cast, and they were wonderful people to work with. He said fans loved Ernest because he did whatever he felt like doing including spontaneously bad behavior choices that everyone wanted to make.

As a movie star, he appeared in several films throughout the sixties, seventies, and eighties. Some of the highlights were The Nutty Professor; With Six You Get Eggroll; High Anxiety; The History of the World, Part I; and Splash.

On The Many Faces (and Voices) of Howard Morris – (Travalanche)
Photo: travalanche.com

Not content with just acting in films, Morris became interested in directing early in his career. He began his directing career in the sixties and continued through the eighties. His first directing job was on The Bill Dana Show. He was very busy in the sixties and seventies, directing episodes of Gomer Pyle, USMC; The Dick Van Dyke Show; The Andy Griffith Show; The Patty Duke Show; the pilot of Get Smart; Bewitched; Love American Style; Hogan’s Heroes, and The Love Boat among others. He also directed for the big screen. You’ll see directing credits in his name for Who’s Minding the Mint?, With Six You Get Eggroll, and Don’t Drink the Water.

During an interview with the television academy, he said he loved directing Hogan’s Heroes. Robert Clary became one of his best friends for life. He also loved Klemperer. He said working on With Six You Get Eggroll was a wonderful experience. He said Doris Day just had a natural talent, and Brian Keith was a great guy. He felt being an actor allowed him to be a better director. He understood what the process was for the cast and was able to help them. He knew he could not teach them to act.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for a classically trained Shakespeare actor is that he had the most success in the animation world. I could not begin to list all his credits here, or you would still be reading next week when the new blog comes out. Beginning with Krazy Kat in 1962, he would go on to provide voices for more than fifty series. You will hear his voice in The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Mr. Magoo, The Magilla Gorilla Show, The Atom Ant Show, Duck Tales, a variety of Archie series, and Garfield and Friends.

Howard Morris voiced more than 100 characters on The Flintstones
Photo: metv.com

In a Television Academy interview, he admitted that he accepted voice-over work because he needed the money. It also appealed to him because you did not have to worry about wardrobe or make-up. He said the actors sat in the room together recording the show at the same time which allowed them to relate to each other better than today when everyone records by himself.

In 1962, he married Dolores Wylie and they were together until 1977. I read several sources that listed him being married five times but could not find confirmation of the other marriages, although one cite mentioned two other spouses, Judith and Kathleen and noted that he was married to one of his spouses twice. They all ended in divorce.

In 2005 Morris died from congestive heart failure. Carl Reiner was one of the people who gave a eulogy at his funeral.

The Andy Griffith Show" My Fair Ernest T. Bass (TV Episode 1964) - IMDb
Photo: imdb.com

Howard Morris had a very long and prolific career. About the only genre he did not act in was Shakespearean drama, which is what he trained for. I was curious about whether he enjoyed his comedic career, or if he was disappointed that he did not work more in drama.

During his Television Academy interview, when asked what advice he would give someone thinking about entering the acting or directing profession, he replied “to avoid it and shun every opportunity because it was too hard.” He certainly deserves to be remembered for more than being Ernest T Bass even though he is a much-loved character. Morris said he would like to be remembered as a guy that was able to reveal certain things of humor and reality to the public and for his great gratitude for the fans who have always been there.” Well said. And, well done.

Sid Caesar: The Ultimate Comedian

This month’s blogs are dedicated to Your Show of Shows and the stars who made the show such a success. Last week we learned about the career of Imogene Coca, and today it’s Sid Caesar’s turn.

Sid Caesar - Wikipedia
Photo: wikipedia.com

Sid Caesar was born in Yonkers, New York, the youngest of three boys. His parents ran a 24-hour luncheonette. Sid grew up waiting on tables which allowed him to study the accents and mannerisms of a wide range of people and ethnicities. His brother David loved comedy sketches, and the brothers worked on comedy routines together.

At the young age of 14, Caesar traveled to the Catskill Mountains, playing saxophone with the Swingtime Six. Occasionally he performed sketches with his collected accents.

After graduating from high school in 1939, Caesar struck out on his own, pursuing a career in music. He landed in Manhattan where he worked as an usher and a doorman at the Capitol Theater. He played sax at the Vacationland Hotel, a resort also in the Catskills. He was able to audit clarinet and saxophone classes at Julliard.

After a few months, he decided to enlist in the US Coast Guard. He was stationed in Brooklyn, and he played in military revues and shows.

In 1942 Caesar met Florence Levy at the Avon Lodge in the Catskills. They were married the following year and had three children. In November of 2009, Greg Crosby wrote about an interview with the Caesars in the Tolucan Times. He quoted Florence, “I thought he would be just a nice boyfriend for the summer. He was cute looking and tall, over six feet . . . I was in my last year at Hunter College; we were still dating when Sid went into the service, the Coast Guard. Luckily, he was stationed in New York, so we were able to continue seeing each other, even though my parents weren’t too happy about it. They never thought he would amount to anything, that he’d never have a real career or make any money. But we were married one year after we met, in July of 1943.” They would remain married until her death in 2010.

After joining the musicians’ union, Sid played with several well-known bands, including Benny Goodman.

Sid Caesar Wiki, Wife, Career, Net worth and Death children, House,
With wife Florence Levy
Photo: hollywoodmagazine.com

While in the Coast Guard, he was able to collaborate with Vernon Duke, the composer of “Autumn in New York,” “April in Paris,” and “Taking a Chance on Love.” He and Duke put together a show called “Tars and Spars.” Max Liebman, future director of Your Show of Shows, was also part of the show, although not part of the military. Liebman asked Sid to do a few stand-up bits between songs and when the show toured nationally, Sid continued these routines.

Caesar left the service in 1945. He and his wife moved to Hollywood. In 1946, Sid was able to reprise his role in the film version Tars and Spars with Columbia Pictures.

Eventually, he returned to New York and accepted the offer of opening act for Joe E. Lewis at the Copacabana. He also received a contract with the William Morris Agency. He was able to perform in a Broadway show, “Make Mine Manhattan.”

In the fall of 1948, Sid made an appearance on Milton Berle’s popular show, Texaco Star Theater. The following year, he and Liebman met with Pat Weaver, VP of television at NBC. The meeting resulted in the Admiral Broadway Revue with Imogene Coca. It was very successful but Admiral could not keep up with the demand for new television sets so it pulled the sponsorship and the show was canceled after 26 weeks.

Sid Caesar's “Your Show of Shows,” the Best TV Has Ever Offered – Once upon  a screen…
Photo: onceuponascreen.com

In 1950, Weaver, Liebman, and Company created Your Show of Shows. It started life as a second half of the Saturday Night Review but became its own 90-minute program in 1951. In 1954, a 160 episodes later, it ended so Coca and Caesar could both have their own shows.

Sid’s show was called Caesar’s Hour, a one-hour show with Howard Morris and Carl Reiner from Your Show of Shows as well as Bea Arthur and Nanette Fabray. The show was not a success. In 1958, Sid tried again with Sid Caesar Invites You.

In the sixties, Caesar took stage roles, as well as big and small-screen parts. He had several specials on television, starred on Broadway in “Little Me,” which got him a Tony award nomination. He also was part of the ensemble of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, a huge success that earned six Academy award nominations.

Sid appeared in a few television shows during his career but only a handful. A couple of those include That Girl, Love American Style, Laugh In, Vega$, and The Love Boat.

THAT GIRL - TV SHOW PHOTO #E-13 - MARLO THOMAS + SID CAESAR | eBay
That Girl Photo: ebay.com

Caesar didn’t write his own material. He often performed long sketches, 10-15 minutes. He relied on body language, accents, and facial expressions. Larry Gelbart called him a “pure TV comedian.” Fabray said he always stayed in character, “he was so totally in the scene he never lost it.” He was able to pantomime many different types of characters: a tire, a gumball machine, a lion, a punching bag, a telephone, an infant, a piano, even a bottle of seltzer. Neil Simon said that “Sid would make it [a sketch] ten times funnier than what we wrote.”

Many of his favorite comic sketches were parodies of films including gangster, western, and spy movies. Gerald Nachman wrote Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s. He said, “the Caesar shows were the crème de la crème of fifties television, studded with satire and their sketches sharper, edgier, more sophisticated than the other variety shows.” Historian Susan Murphy agreed, describing Sid as “best known as one of the most intelligent and provocative innovators of television comedy.”

Unfortunately, like many comedians, Caesar had some demons of his own. His stardom ended quickly. He had no interest in the movies. He was using pills and alcohol to help relieve the pressures of headlining and producing a weekly show. In 1977, Caesar blacked out during a stage performance of “The Last of the Red-Hot Lovers” in Canada and gave up alcohol immediately. He discussed his substance abuse to alcohol and sleeping pills in his two autobiographies, Where Have I Been? And Caesar’s Hours. He said at his worst, he “had been downing eight Tuinals and a quart of Scotch a day.”

Later in his career, Sid came back to the movies. He was in Silent Movie and History of the World, Part I with Mel Brooks; Airport 1975, and Grease and Grease 2, playing Coach Calhoun.

Grease (1978) starring John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard  Channing, Jeff Conaway, Barry Pearl, Michael Tucci, Kelly Ward, Didi Conn,  Jamie Donnelly, Di… | John travolta, Grease john travolta, John lennon  beatles
From Grease with John Travolta Photo: pinterest.com

In 1983, Caesar hosted Saturday Night Live and received a standing ovation. In 1996, The Writers Guild of America, West gathered Sid and his writers from Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour for a two-hour panel discussion which was broadcast on PBS.

Sid passed away in 2014 after an illness. He left behind an amazing career and a legacy of actors and comedians he inspired. I’ll let his friends have the last word since they knew him so well. Carl Reiner commented at the time that “he was the ultimate, he was the very best sketch artist and comedian that ever existed.” Mel Brooks agreed and said “Sid Caesar was a giant, maybe the best comedian who ever practiced the trade. And I was privileged to be one of his writers and one of his friends.”

We were all privileged to watch a master at work. Thank you for the many memorable moments and teaching us what funny honestly looks like.

Imogene Coca: Born to Perform

After learning about Your Show of Shows last week, we are going to take a closer look at some of the forces behind the award-winning show. We begin with Imogene Coca.

Imogene Coca - IMDb
Photo: imdb.com

Imogene Coca was born Emogeane Coca in 1908. Her father was a violinist and vaudeville orchestra conductor, and her mother was a dancer and magician’s assistant.

Emogeane Fernández Coca (1908 - 2001) - Genealogy
Photo: geni.com

She began appearing in vaudeville as a child acrobat. She also took piano, dance, and voice lessons as a child. She was drawn to dance and studied ballet and moved from Philadelphia to New York to become a dancer while still a teenager. Her first job was in the chorus of a Broadway musical, “When You Smile.” For a few decades, she appeared in stage musical revues, cabaret, summer stock, and movies.

In 1935, Coca married Bob Burton. They were married until 1955 when he passed away.

Coca discussed her early career: “I never thought of myself in comedy at all. I loved going to the theater and seeing people wearing beautiful clothes come down the staircase and start to dance. I wanted to play St. Joan.”

In her forties, Coca decided to add comedian to her slate of talents, and she was a natural. In 1948 she appeared on Buzzy Wuzzy on television. If you have never heard of it, don’t feel bad. I thought it might be a kid’s show. ABC was trying to develop its network, with all of its five stations. Jerry Bergen a comedian wanted to try a variety series. This 15-minute-long show lasted only four weeks.

She might not have had an illustrious beginning, but tv was good to Imogene. For fifty years, she would appear on tv, including six shows as a regular cast member.

The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special (TV  Special 1967) - IMDb
Photo: imdb.com with Caesar, Reiner and Morris

In 1950 she joined the cast of Your Show of Shows, becoming a household name. She was nominated for five Emmys on the show. She won the award in 1952 and lost the other years to Gertrude Berg, Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, and Eve Arden. When discussing the chemistry that she and Caesar had, Imogene said “Two people couldn’t be less alike than Sid and myself. But we kind of know what the other one’s going to do. We pick up each other’s vibes.”

A born comedian, Life magazine described her as taking “people or situations suspended in their own precarious balance between dignity and absurdity, and pushing them over the cliff with one single, pointed gesture.” A critic at the time, said she was not the typical, loud, brash comedian and was “a timid woman who, when aroused, can beat a tiger to death with a feather.”

Pin on Imogene
Photo: imdb.com Cast members

Your Show of Shows was a great success and everyone tuned in Saturday nights to catch the latest show. Fans loved the ongoing skits such as Coca and Caesar playing the bickering couple, the Hickenloopers or a Bavarian town clock that had real life figures and broke down whenever it chimed the hour.

Many viewers mentioned the parodies the show did of movies. These were similar to the ones the Carol Burnett Show also did so well. Two of the scenes that came up often in viewers’ memories were the scene spoofing On the Waterfront when Marlon Brando tells his brother “I could have been a contender” and the parody of From Here to Eternity when Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster have a romantic moment on the beach. In Your Show of Shows version, the couple is continually hit with waves until they almost drown.

Comedy Legend Imogene Coca: I'm Cuckoo for Coca | The Scott Rollins Film  and TV Trivia Blog
From Here to Obscurity parody Photo: scottrollinsfilmandtvtriviablog

When the network chose to break up the Caesar-Coca team and give them their own shows, Coca had her own show, but it only lasted a year. For the rest of the fifties, she appeared primarily on drama shows which often aired plays.

In 1960, Imogene tried marriage a second time. She wed King Donovan and they would be together until his death in 1987.

From 1963-64, she joined the cast of Grindl which also lasted only one season. Coca played Grindl. She was an employee of the Foster Temporary Service, and she worked for Anson Foster (Jim Millhollin). Grindl accepts and completes a variety of jobs including babysitter, bank teller, and theater ticket taker. Most of the assignments get her involved in some type of crime or mystery. The show was on Sunday nights between Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and Bonanza which was a great spot, but it also competed with the popular Ed Sullivan Show.

Grindl - DVD PLANET STORE
Grindl Photo: dvdplanetstore.com

In 1966-1967, she jumped into another new sitcom, It’s About Time. This wacky show was created by Sherwood Schwartz and also starred Jim Millhollin. The premise is that two astronauts who were traveling faster than light end up in prehistoric Earth time and when they are unable to return, make friends with the locals living there. This show preceded The Ed Sullivan Show but then ended up competing with Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.

1966-67 Television Season 50th Anniversary: It's About Time (part 3 of 3) -  YouTube
It’s About Time Photo: youtube.com

During the seventies, she appeared on many shows, including Bewitched, Night Gallery, The Brady Bunch, and Love American Style.

Her busy career didn’t flounder in the eighties. She continued to guest star on shows including Trapper John, MD and Mama’s Family. She appeared in an episode of Moonlighting which produced her sixth Emmy nomination. She would lose to Shirley Knight for thirtysomething.

She was in movies off and on through the decades and perhaps is best known for her role of Aunt Edna in National Lampoon’s Vacation.

National Lampoon's Vacation – IFC Center
Aunt Edna in National Lampoon’s Vacation Photo: ifccenter.com

Of course, during these decades she also continued to appear on many variety and game shows. You will spot her in reruns of The Carol Burnett Show, The George Gobel Show, and Bob Hope and Dean Martin specials among other shows. She also did not ignore her early love of Broadway. She received a Tony Award nomination for “On the Twentieth Century.”

The Brady Bunch: Jan's Aunt Jenny | The Very Special Blog
On the Brady Bunch Photo: theveryspecialblog.com

In 1988 at age 80, Coca received the Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy; her male counterpart receiving the award that year was George Burns. She was also honored in 1995 with the Women in Film Lucy Award, named for Lucille Ball.

Coca finished her career voicing characters for children’s programming. Sadly, she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. She passed away at home in 2001. When he heard of her passing, Sid Caesar said, “All the wonderful times we shared together meant the world to me.”

Greatest Women in Comedy - Legacy.com
Photo: legacy.com

Imogene Coca was truly a special person. She had several different careers rolled into one. It’s hard to imagine that she did not begin comedy until her forties because she was one of the best. I’m sad that at the end of her life she was not able to retain the beautiful memories she gave us during her professional life. Thank you for creating a lifetime of special moments that you left for us.

Your Show of Shows: Still One of the Best Shows Ever Written

This month we take a peek into the past to a show that is still inspiring comedians today: Your Show of Shows.

From February 1950 through June 1954, this 90-minute variety show was on NBC weekly. While Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca were the stars, the other cast members also became celebrities: Carl Reiner; Howard Morris; Bill Hayes; Judy Johnson; and singers Jack Russell, Marguerite Piazza, and The Hamilton Trio.

In 2002 the show, rarely seen now, was ranked #30 on the top fifty shows of all time and Entertainment Weekly gave it #10 on the top 100 greatest TV shows of all time in 2013. Saturday Night Live used the format as a rough idea for their new show.

Sid Caesar, legendary comedian, dead at 91 - New York Daily News
Caesar, Liebman, Coca Photo: nydailynews.com

Creator and producer Sylvester “Pat” Weaver and director Max Liebman ran the show and kept the performers in line. In 1949 Sid Caesar and Liebman met with Weaver, VP of television at NBC. The meeting resulted in the Admiral Broadway Revue with Imogene Coca. It was very successful, but Admiral could not keep up with the demand for new television sets, so it pulled the sponsorship and the show was canceled after 26 weeks.

The following year, the show was retooled and returned as Your Show of Shows. Imogene Coca explained why the show was such a success. “There was a special chemistry to Your Show of Shows, I think, because [producer-director] Max [Liebman] wasn’t afraid to throw out material at the last minute. And I think when you do live television — well, we stopped for nothing. We had no cue cards, no teleprompters, no ad-libbing on the air, because Max would have died if anybody had ad-libbed. It would have been utter disgrace, and you would have been drummed right out of the corps. … Nobody ever forgot a line, and that was the amazing part of it.”

The show also featured some amazing writers including Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Danny Simon, Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen, Selma Diamond, Joseph Stein, Michael Stewart, Tony Webster, and Carl Reiner.

The writers Photo: brothersinkproductions.com

The show debuted from NBC’s first television-converted theater, The International, at 5 Columbus Circle. NBC installed a control room and four permanent RCA-TK30 camera chains. There were four cameras in use with one on a Houston Fearless Panoram dolly and one on the newly developed Saner crane. Two sound booms and two pedestal cameras were also part of the equipment. Commercials were only 70 seconds long, so full set changes had to be made quickly.

Author Ted Sennett described the show as a “series of superbly written sketches that poked fun at human foibles and pretensions. Alone onstage, Caesar would depict a befuddled Everyman trying to cope with life, or a blustering Germanic ‘professor’ being interviewed at an airport and vainly trying to conceal his abysmal stupidity. Alone onstage (or with a partner), Imogene Coca would make us laugh at a passion-ridden torch singer, or a daffy ballerina, or a sweet, wistful tramp. Together, Caesar and Coca would take us through the hilarious marital tribulations of Doris and Charlie Hickenlooper, or show us two strangers exchanging cliches when they meet for the first time.”

Your Show of Shows - Wikipedia
Photo: wikipedia.com

Two of viewers’ favorites regular skits were The Hickenloopers who were always fighting and the cast as live members of the Bavarian town Baverhoff’s clock that always broke when the hour was reached.

Your Show of Shows | TIME
Photo: timemagazine.com

Many fans also mention the parodies of films similar to those on The Carol Burnette Show. From “Here to Obscurity” featured Caesar and Coca in the From Here to Eternity Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr roles on the beach but in this case, the tide keeps hitting the pair until they almost drown. Another parody was based on Brando’s On the Waterfront and featured the scene with the brothers that is famous for “I could’ve been a contender.”

There are also a lot of elaborate musical numbers in the show. Specifically designed sets like an Italian wine festival were created for a song.

By 1954 the ratings decreased from #4 to #19, so the network decided to break up the comedy team and give them their own shows.

The shows are hard to find today. Max Liebman kept the kinescopes. In 1973 a film was made Ten From Your Show of Shows. The Paley-Center for Media owns an almost complete set of the series.

Pin on your show of shows
Photo: pinterest.com

In 2000, a group of original scripts was found in a closet in the room Liebman had in the City Center Building in New York. The find includes 137 scripts, with scribbling in the margins.

Despite the fact that these shows are not often on television for fans to view, the show has been lauded as an inspiration for many comedians. Both Coca and Caesar have been praised for their comic skills.

Actor Jamie Farr, best known for playing Klinger on M*A*S*H, said, “If you want good sketches, go pick up Sid Caesar. The best of Your Show of Shows. That’s the greatest sketch comedy you’ll ever see on television.”

Conan O’Brien tweeted in 2014 that he “saw this Sid Caesar sketch when I was a kid. It made me want to make people laugh.”

Actor Billy Crystal who got his start on Saturday Night Live remembered Sid Caesar as “the greatest sketch comedian of all time” and “my first comedy hero and inspiration.”

Sid Caesar, Who Got Laughs Without Politics Or Putdowns, Dies At 91 |  Vermont Public Radio
Photo: vermontpublicradio.com

What more could I add? The show speaks for itself. It had an amazing producer and director, comic geniuses for stars, some of the best writers that ever were in the business, and a supporting team that made everyone better. It’s a show we should not forget. When someone relays “they don’t write them that way anymore,” this is one of the shows that proves they are right.

Reta Shaw: Housekeeper Extraordinaire

I devoted this month to some of our favorite actresses from the golden age of television. This list would not be complete without Reta Shaw who popped up in almost every popular program during the fifties and sixties.

Reta Shaw - IMDb
Photo: imdb.com

Shaw was born in Maine in 1912. She was born into the entertainment business; her father was an orchestra leader and her younger sister Marguerite also became an actress (I could only find one credit for her; it was a 1959 movie titled The Ballad of Louie the Louse.) After graduation, Reta attended the Leland Powers School of the Theater in Boston.

She then headed for the bright lights of Broadway and in 1947 was cast in “It Takes Two.” In 1954 she was Mabel in “The Pajama Game” and later appeared in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, “Picnic”, and “Annie Get Your Gun.”

QUITE A CHARACTER: In Celebration of RETA SHAW | THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!
Photo: jacksonupperco.com

Her motion picture career overlapped with her television career. She had feature roles in several big-screen successes including Picnic; The Pajama Game; Pollyanna; The Ghost and Mr. Chicken; Escape to Witch Mountain; one of my favorites as a kid, Bachelor in Paradise with Bob Hope; and most famously, the cook in Mary Poppins, as well as a maid in Meet Me in St. Louis.

In 1952 she married William Forester, another actor. William appeared in Mister Peepers and The Pajama Game movie with his wife. He was very busy with television appearances during the early sixties. They were married a decade but divorced in 1962; the couple had a daughter.

She appeared in many of the same shows as the other actresses we learned about this month. Her first television role was on Armstrong Circle Theater. Her second role was as a regular cast member of a little-remembered show, Johnny Jupiter in 1953. It was a quirky show about a store clerk named Ernest P. Duckweather who invented an interplanetary television set and developed a friendship with a puppet named Johnny Jupiter.

Papermoon Loves Lucy — RETA SHAW
Photo: papermoon loves lucy

From 1953-1955 she would appear with Marion Lorne on Mister Peepers as Aunt Lil. She continued receiving both movie and television roles throughout the fifties. In 1958 she received another recurring role on The Ann Sothern Show as Flora Macauley.

She began the sixties with another permanent job on The Tab Hunter Show. This show as about comic strip author Paul Morgan. His comic strip was “Bachelor at Large” and he wrote about his own amorous adventures.  Shaw, as Thelma his housekeeper, had a very different view of that life than Paul’s best friend Peter did. When that show went off the air, she was given another spot on Oh! Those Bells. The Wiere brothers, well-known comedians, portrayed the Bell Brothers who worked for Henry Slocum in a Hollywood prop shop. The brothers managed to create a disaster out of the most minor matters. The show only lasted two months.

Throughout the sixties she could be seen on a variety of series; although she certainly excelled at comedy she was just as accomplished in dramas such as Wagon Train, I Spy, The Man From UNCLE, and FBI. Reta also made more than a dozen movies during this time.

133 Reta Shaw ideas | the andy griffith show, character actress, don knotts
Photo: pinterest.com

However, her sitcom career flourished, and she was kept very busy during the sixties with roles on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Father of the Bride, Lost in Space, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Cara Williams Show, My Three Sons, The Farmer’s Daughter, The Lucy Show, The Patty Duke Show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Monkees, That Girl, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, and I Dream of Jeannie.  She had a recurring role on Bewitched as Aunt Hagatha/Bertha. She was featured in The Andy Griffith Show twice, but one of them is one of my all-time favorite episodes, “Convicts at Large” when she plays Big Maud Tyler who enjoys dancing with Barney.

The Ten Best THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW Episodes of Season Three | THAT'S  ENTERTAINMENT!
Photo: jacksonupperco.com

The end of the decade brought her another recurring role as housekeeper on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. On May 1, 2014, Madman Entertainment interviewed Kellie Flanagan who played one of the kids on the show. It must have been a fun show to work on.  When she recalled her time with the cast, she said “The set was a very happy set, with parties every Friday night, and I remember that all the ladies were swooning over Mulhare and always disappointed to find out the beard had to be applied every day. His real beard was red, was the reason I remember, and they needed that salt-and-pepper thing. Hope was extremely sweet and kind to us, though I do remember there was a period where we were not supposed to bother her – I think she may have been going through a divorce – I believe she had a daughter about my age. Hope was lovely and her voice is fabulous. Reta Shaw was a delight and Charles Nelson Reilly was hilarious. The dog annoyed me!”

The Scott Rollins Film and TV Trivia Blog: Reta Shaw: Familiar Character  Face of TV's THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR and Films Like MARY POPPINS, THE  PAJAMA GAME, POLLYANNA & PICNIC
Photo: scottrollinsfilmandtvtriviablog.com

Shaw continued to take on roles during the early seventies and could be seen on The New Dick Van Dyke Show, Here’s Lucy, The Odd Couple, Cannon, Happy Days, and The Brian Keith Show. Her career culminated with her role on Escape to Witch Mountain in 1975.

Shaw lived another seven years and died in 1982 from emphysema.

An interesting note is that Shaw grew up in a family who practiced spiritualism and said she had been “brought up on a Ouija board.” However, I’m not sure if she believed in it as well.

Shaw certainly had a very interesting and successful career as an actress. Although she often took on the housekeeper role, she was not stereotyped into just that slot. She appeared in both television and movies and she took on dramas as well as comedy.  It would have been fun to see what she would have been able to do if she had been given a series of her own. 

Whenever I see Reta Shaw in an old show, I know I am in for a treat.

Mary Grace Canfield Nails Her Performance

We are devoting this month to some of our favorite television actresses.  If you ever watched Green Acres, you will have fond memories of Ralph Monroe, played by Mary Grace Canfield.

Vale: Mary Grace Canfield | TV Tonight
Photo: tvtonight.com

Canfield was born in Rochester, NY in 1924. In her late twenties, she began acting with regional theater companies. She appeared in a few Broadway plays, but they were not big successes. In 1950 she married Charles Carey Jr, but they divorced five years later.

While she continued to appear on stage until 1964, she tried her hand on television in 1954 on an episode of Goodyear Playhouse.  

During the fifties, Canfield continued appearing in a variety of televised drama series and several big-screen movies, including Pollyanna.

12+ Mary Grace Canfield Pictures
Pollyanna Photo: femaleartswallpaper.com

From 1961-62 she was part of the cast of The Hathaways. She played Amanda Allison, the housekeeper, on the show. Starring Peggy Cass and Jack Weston, the series was about a couple who were raising three chimps: Candy, Charlie, and Enoch.

During the early sixties, Canfield appeared on many of our favorite shows including Hazel, The Interns, The Andy Griffith Show, The Joey Bishop Show, The Farmer’s Daughter, and General Hospital. Mary Grace showed up on Bewitched as Harriet Kravitz, Abner’s sister.

Andy Griffith Show Cast Members | Mary Grace Canfield/"A Date for Gomer" -  Sitcoms Online Photo ... | The andy griffith show, Funny people, Andy  griffith
Gomer’s date in Mayberry Photo: pinterest.com

From 1965-71, she played Ralph Monroe, handyman to her brother Alf on Green Acres. Canfield appeared in forty of the episodes of the show’s run. Ralph always showed up in bib overalls with her baseball cap on backwards, a somewhat better carpenter than her inept brother. The brother and sister team could not finish a project on time or in an acceptable condition. In one episode, Lisa gave her a makeover. In later shows, Ralph admits she is in love with farm agent Hank Kimble.

In a 2006 interview in the Bangor Daily News, she said she felt a bit bad about being remembered for Ralph, not because she didn’t appreciate the character but “only in the sense that it was so easy and undemanding. It’s being known for something easy to do instead of something you worked hard to achieve.”

The Ten Best GREEN ACRES Episodes of Season Six | THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!
Photo: thatsentertainment.com With Oliver and
Louie The Movie Buff: MARY GRACE CANFIELD
with Lisa Photo: louisthemoviebuff.com

In the seventies and eighties, Mary Grace made a handful of appearances on shows including Love American Style, The Love Boat, Family, and Cagney and Lacey.

About this time, she moved to Sedgwick, Maine which she fell in love with while performing in the area. Surprisingly, after more than three decades of being single, Canfield tried marriage again when she wed John Theodore Bischof; they were together until she passed away from lung cancer at age 89. Canfield had to move back to California when her health became an issue.

New COZI TV Schedule Starts Feb. 24 with Make Room for Daddy; Remembering Mary  Grace Canfield of Green Acres - SitcomsOnline.com News Blog
Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Although I tried, I could not find much information about Mary Grace which made me sad.  I could not learn anything about her personal life other than that she had two children, so I don’t know what her hobbies were, what dreams she did not achieve in her career, or what her favorite role was.  I would have loved to have seen Canfield get a part in another sitcom after life on Green Acres. However, I thoroughly enjoyed Green Acres and part of that enjoyment came from the quirky but lovable characters who inhabited Hooterville.  Ralph Monroe was one of the best.