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.

Marion Lorne: Everyone’s Favorite Aunt

As we begin 2022, we are getting to know some of our favorite actresses from the golden age of television. Last week we learned more about Aunt Bee and today we look at another one of our favorite aunts: Aunt Clara on Bewitched played by the lovable Marion Lorne.

Marion Lorne: How to Call an Electrician — Aunt Clara / Ben Franklin on  Bewitched - YouTube
Photo: youtube.com

Like Frances Bavier, Lorne also had successful careers in Broadway, films, and television. She was born in 1883 in Pennsylvania, the daughter of a doctor. And also, like Bavier, Lorne attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.

Old hollywood stars, Tv shows funny, Bewitched tv show
Photo: pinterest.com

Although Lorne had her first Broadway debut in 1905, she also had a successful stage career in London. She and her husband Walter C. Hackett had their own theater, the Whitehall. He wrote the plays and she acted in them. One source I read said none of their plays lasted less than 125 nights. She and Walter married in 1911 and were together until his death in 1944. Like Bavier, she also had no children.

Shortly before her husband died, the couple returned to the United States, but it wasn’t until 1951 that she dipped her toe into the silver screen pool. She appeared in Strangers on a Train, the Alfred Hitchcock mystery.  She would appear in several other big-screen films including The Graduate.

Streaming Time Capsule: Mister Peepers - The TV Professor
With the cast of Mister Peepers Photo:thetvprofessor.com

The following year she was offered a role as Mrs. Gurney the English teacher on Mister Peepers. She would continue in the role until the show went off the air in 1955. In 1957 she appeared with Joan Caulfield in the sitcom Sally. Lorne played a widow who owns a department store. Before and after these two shows she appeared on several series including Philco Theater, Suspicion, and The DuPont Show of the Month.

In 1964, she took on the role Aunt Clara, Samantha’s aunt on Bewitched. Clara was a witch who was losing her powers due to old age, and her spells often resulted in very different outcomes than she planned. Clara was known for her doorknob collection on the show and, in real life, Lorne also had a collection of doorknobs. She appeared in 27 episodes of the show from 1964-1968. Lorne died of a heart attack in 1968 at age 84.

Aunt Clara- Marion Lorne | Favorite tv shows, Bewitching, Comedy tv shows
Clara and her doorknobs

Lorne was nominated for an Emmy for her role as Clara ten days before she died. When she won, Elizabeth Montgomery accepted the award on her behalf. Lorne had also been nominated for her Bewitched role in 1967 (beat out by Frances Bavier for The Andy Griffith Show). In addition, she was nominated for an Emmy in 1954 and 1955 for Mister Peepers (won by Vivian Vance for I Love Lucy and Audrey Meadows for The Honeymooners) and in 1958 for Sally (won by Ann B Davis for Love That Bob).

From 1958-1964 she also made 147 appearances on The Garry Moore Show. That was an amazing cast including Carol Burnett. Carol said that it was a happy, happy show. When she got her own variety show, she took everything she learned and ran her own show the same way.

The Garry Moore Show (TV Series 1958–1967) - Photo Gallery - IMDb
The Garry Moore Show cast

I think Marion was born to play Aunt Clara.  She and Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur were two of my very favorite characters on almost any 1960s sitcom. When she discussed her career, she said that “In my long, long career, I have played everything, but comedy has always been my favorite.” Fans may have loved her delightful but zany roles, but that does not take anything away from her acting skills. Hitchcock said it was hard to compare Marion to an American actress in her younger days. He said “Miss Lorne might have been compared during her London days to Tallulah Bankhead, Helen Hayes, Katharine Cornell . . . all of them put together—and more. She was more than an actress in England; she was an institution.”

Her Bewitched costars also adored her. Bill Asher, Montgomery’s husband and show producer, said “I try to arrange it so we always have a script for her to do. She’s a big, big part of our show.” Montgomery complimented her saying, “The contribution she makes to the show is incredible. When the character of Aunt Clara came into being, she was the only one we even thought of.” The director, Paul Davis, succinctly said, “I love her.” When she passed away, her character was never played by anyone else. That’s high praise considering Gladys Kravitz, Louise Tate, and Darrin all had several people play their role during the show’s run.

A 'Bewitching' actress | Arts & Living | citizensvoice.com
Photo: citizensvoice.com

Considering the fact that she spent 63 years in show business and only 17 of them were on television, she certainly made her mark.  She was only in six television shows ever but in three of them she was a regular cast member, and she was nominated for an Emmy for each one of them.  That is a pretty impressive record. So, did Lorne have any regrets?  Just one. She said “My favorite programs are westerns, and I have never been in one.” I like to think she has starred in a few westerns during her time in Heaven.  I wish I was able to see one of her stage performances from London or the skits from Garry Moore’s show. I had a lot of fun learning a little more about Marion Lorne, one of my all-time favorite actresses from the classical age of television.

Frances Bavier

We are kicking off the new year learning about some of our favorite women from the golden age of television. Today we learn about an actress who was often described as difficult to work with personally but a consummate actress. Today let’s meet Frances Bavier, everyone’s favorite aunt.

Photo: mayberryfandom.com

Born in a traditional brownstone in New York City in 1902, Frances planned on becoming a teacher and attended Columbia University. However, she felt drawn to the stage and found herself enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Graduating in 1925, she received her first Broadway role the same year, appearing in “The Poor Nut.” Her big break came in the production of “On Borrowed Time.” Her last Broadway appearance was in 1951 with Henry Fonda in “Point of No Return.”

A Young Frances Photo: pinterest.com

Bavier would be part of the Broadway scene for a few decades before moving into films. Perhaps her best-known silver screen role was Mrs. Barley in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Bavier would continue to appear in movies throughout her career including her last performance which was in Benji in 1974.

In 1928 Frances married Russell Carpenter, a military man, and they divorced in 1933. During WWII Frances toured with the USO to entertain the troops. Frances reflected on her marriage later in life and said that he was a very charming man but did not understand her need to be an actress. She said as much as she loved him, she loved acting more.

Her first television roles were in drama series such as Ford Television Theater, Chevron Theater, and Pepsi Cola Playhouse among others in the early fifties. The mid-fifties found her in a variety of series, including Duffy’s Tavern, The Lone Ranger, Dragnet, The Ann Sothern Show, Perry Mason, and Wagon Train.

The Lone Ranger (TV Series 1949–1957) - Photo Gallery - IMDb
On The Lone Ranger Photo: imdb.com

Frances would be offered two recurring roles in sitcoms during this time. From 1954-56, she was one of the cast members of It’s a Great Life as Amy Morgan who ran a boarding house. When that show ended, she was cast on The Eve Arden Show as Nora, Eve’s mother and housekeeper.

In 1960 she happened to be cast as Henrietta Perkins in an episode of Make Room for Daddy with Danny Thomas. That particular show featured a little town called Mayberry where Danny and his boys were pulled over for speeding and met Sheriff Andy Taylor. When that episode became its own show, Henrietta Perkins transitioned to Aunt Bee.

Aunt Bee was a major character in The Andy Griffith Show, and Bavier continued with the show when it became Mayberry R.F.D. with Ken Berry as the star. Bavier was nominated and won the Emmy for her role in 1967.

Early Cast of The Andy Griffith Show 5X7 8X10 | Etsy
An early season with Ellie Walker Photo: etsy.com

Fans loved the relationship Andy and Aunt Bee had, although in real life Andy and Frances were not close. The entire staff was cautious in their approach when working with her because she was easily offended. Ron Howard, always tactful, was pressed on his relationship with her and just replied that “I just don’t think she enjoyed being around children that much.” Producer Sheldon Leonard commented, “[She] was a rather remote lady. Highly professional and a fine comedienne, fine actress with very individual character. She was rather self-contained and was not part of the general hi-jinks that centered upon Andy on the set.”

Producer Richard Linke commented that “She was very touchy and moody due to her age, and you had to be very careful how you treated her and what you said around her. I think Andy offended her a few times, but they became very close friends.”

“I think Frances thought I was a gentleman,” mused actor Jack Dodson, who played Howard Sprague on the show. “I’m not, really, not any more so than anybody else. Since I had fewer scenes to do with her, I had fewer opportunities to swear in front of her, which is why we never had any difficulties. Frances was temperamental and moody, but she kept 99 percent of that to herself. Once in a while, she would get mad at someone. She was the only person in the whole company whose feelings you had to be careful not to hurt.”

Pop culture historian Geoffrey Mark, wrote, “She was a very talented lady, but she was very difficult to work with, and nobody could really figure it out. Eve Arden had trouble with her on The Eve Arden Show. That’s the earliest I can point to where Frances was already getting to be persnickety. I can only repeat what I was told, but on The Andy Griffith Show, Howard Morris, who played Ernest T. Bass on the show and directed episodes of it, said that directing Frances was like stepping on a landmine. If you would ask her to move three inches to the right to get in the proper frame, or, ‘Could you stand up when you say that line?’, she’d blow a fuse and refuse. It was, like, ‘I’m an actress and I know what I’m doing. How dare you try to tell me when to walk and where?’ It’s like yes, you are an actress, but an actress takes direction from the director. Why in the world would you make what is already a stressful situation more stressful?”

Emmy with Don Knotts Photo: 99.9 kekb

However, Andy mentioned during a Larry King interview that Frances phoned him four months before her death and apologized to him for being difficult to work with. Perhaps being alone and reflecting on her past behavior gave her some perspective on the situation, because she told a reporter with the Times Record in Troy, NY that “I don’t have a lot of friends. I don’t see how anyone my age working as hard as I do can have a big social life. I get very annoyed with people and the older I get, the crankier I am. This work has had an effect on my personality. I’m impatient with people and oriented to action.”

In 1972, Bavier retired. She bought a home in Siler City, North Carolina. The stately house is a three-story brick home with stone accents and located at 503 West Elk St. The house was built in 1951 by a local doctor. When asked about her choice of retirement, she said that she “fell in love with North Carolina, all the pretty roads and trees.”

Photo: newsobserver.com

It must have been a bit of a lonely life though. She was pretty much a recluse and lived with 14 house cats. She had no children, and there was no family living nearby. She promoted both Easter Seals and Christmas Seals and often wrote letters to her fans. In an interview with the San Bernardino County Sun, she talked about one of her hobbies: launching imaginary expeditions to remote corners of the world via her collection of maps. During the production of The Andy Griffith Show, Frances mentioned in an interview in the Charlotte News that when she felt lonely, she went to a supermarket and somebody would always look at her and smile and say “Why, hello, Aunt Bee.”

Aunt Bee and Clara My Hometown.mpg - YouTube
With Hope Summers in Mayberry Photo: youtube.com

Frances realized the 3700 residents of Siler City had a difficult job relating to her as well. As she put it during a local TV interview, she was “a 70-year-old lady that probably wants to be alone and they’re having a problem with trying to be friendly and show their friendliness, and at the same time not intrude. That makes it very difficult for them. Living here has been a difficult adjustment for me. I have a great deal to learn from Siler City and North Carolina. It’s an entirely different and new way of life.”

Some Credit, Please, for Aunt Bee | Classic Movie Hub Blog
Photo: classicmoviehub.com

When she passed away in 1989, she left a trust fund of $100,000 to the police department in Siler City that would provide an annual bonus to all police personnel. Most of her $700,000 estate was left to the hospital foundation. She was buried in her adopted hometown, and her tombstone reads “Aunt Bee. To live in the hearts of those left behind is not to die.”

Frances mentioned in several interviews that she loved the character of Bee, but it was hard to be stereotyped in one role. She told The Charlotte News that “Once in a while I get a hankering to play a really bad woman. . . I was really vicious in a Lone Ranger episode, but so many people wrote in outraged at what I was doing, I guess it was a mistake. Sometimes it gets me down to think I’ve lost my own identity as an actress. But other times I get a lift when I realize that I’m really doing quite well.

I can’t imagine having to become another person for so much of my life and always having to be that person to so many people that you would feel like people didn’t really know you as you. The Andy Griffith Show is one of those shows that you read about where the cast truly had a special bond and formed close ties, and Frances must have felt bad that she was not part of that group even if it was her own choice to be excluded. She must have developed a love for Mayberry since she decided to find a small town similar to it where she could live out the rest of her life. Even though she says she never got over her homesickness for New York, she chose to be buried in Siler City as well. I’d like to think she finally found her own Mayberry where she could live and bond with the community as Frances instead of Bee, but it sounds like that continued to be a struggle for her.  I hope she realizes how many people loved her character and the joy she has brought to so many fans in the past six decades.

https://reelrundown.com/animation/A-Psyche-Analysis-of-Charlie-Brown-and-his-Friends  2021-04-05T15:32:42.000Z weekly  https://images.saymedia-content.com/.image/t_share/MTc0MDU3Njg5NDgyMDEyMjI2/a-psyche-analysis-of-charlie-brown-and-his  ...
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In Tribute: Life with Elizabeth and Date with the Angels: Betty White’s Pioneer Projects

With the passing of Betty White, I wanted to provide some information about Betty’s earlier career. We hear so much about The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Golden Girls, and Hot in Cleveland, with good reason. However, White was a pioneer in the early days of television and was a great role model for women working in the field in the 1950s.

Photo: wikipedia.org

Life with Elizabeth debuted in 1952, one of the first sitcoms. It was on for three years, two of them in syndication. Like many early sitcoms, it revolved around a couple, newly married. Each episode was composed of three, independent sketches. In this same era, George Burns often talks directly to the audience but he is the only character who can do so; on White’s show, different characters broke the “fourth wall.”

White played Elizabeth and Del Moore played her husband Alvin. Jack Narz was the on-camera announcer. Dick Garton showed up as Richard on many episodes. One of my favorites, Frank De Vol, was also part of the cast as were Loie Bridge and Ray Frienborn.

Life with Elizabeth" Shutterbug Alvin/Honeymoon's Over/Sickbay (TV Episode  1953) - IMDb
Photo: youtube.com

Elizabeth was a character Betty White had created on the variety show Hollywood on Television which she co-starred on with Al Jarvis. The talk show was on the air from 1949-53. The show was on six days a week. White would sing songs on the show. Betty would sing a popular song and then she and Al would go into improvisations and a variety of sketches like Alvin and Elizabeth.

George Tibbles had been the piano player for the orchestra on Hollywood on Television. He had a lot of time to sit and watch what was happening on the stage and thought of ways to make it better. Al Jarvis left the show and was replaced by Eddie Albert. Albert quicky realized the hectic pace and long hours was nothing he wanted to do and left the show after six months. White then became the only host. Tibbles began to offer suggestions and scripts. George had liked the Elizabeth and Alvin sketches and began to write new ones, eventually making the couple a regular feature which he continued to write.

Young Betty White: See 30 pictures of the actress at the start of her long  career - Click Americana
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However, Betty reminded him that the reason “it was funny is that it’s just little short skits like you would tell an anecdote, in an evening if people were over visiting, but it would never hold up for a half hour.” When she was asked how she learned comedic timing in front of a TV camera for the sitcom, she reminded the interviewer that when she and Al Jarvis did the variety show, they were on for about five hours a day, six days a week. Her timing came from that work.

Don Fedderson suggested that White and Tibbles expand the sketch into a half-hour sitcom. Don was the station manager and he had three stars he was promoting: Betty White, Liberace, and Johnny Carson. Don, George, and Betty formed Bandy Productions, each a one-third owner. The company was named for White’s dog, Bandit. She thought Bandit Productions sounded like they were stealing material, so Bandy it became.

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Fedderson purchased advertising space across America, offering the then-regional show to individual stations. He created the syndication of the show which led to a national audience. However, the show could no longer be done live, so the studio audience was out and a canned laugh track was in. Eventually it would be on 104 channels with 75 different sponsors. Betty White said that the way they did the filming caused problems. They would show the already-filmed show to the audience and get the laugh track from them watching the show. Unfortunately, the actors didn’t anticipate laughter, so the laughter at one joke would be so loud, it would cover up the next line or two of dialogue.

Most of the episodes were written by Milt Kahn and George Tibbles. Betty said George would pick her up and on the way to the studio they would ad-lib skits in the car for future shows. A beautiful harp song would precede the episode. A typical script occurred in episode 19: Elizabeth and Alvin read mystery books at night and then are frightened by every sound they hear; in the second sketch, Alvin makes a slingshot while Elizabeth tries to make him jealous by flirting with their neighbor; and in the third part, they take their car to Elmer’s Garage to have the horn fixed and Alvin is hypnotized. You can tell what the shows are about based on their title descriptions: Balance Checkbook, Late for a Party, and Piano Tuner; Ping Pong, Leaking Roof, Vacuum Cleaner Salesman; or Black Eye, Momma for Breakfast, Missing Receptionist. Betty White recalled an episode where Elizabeth decides to make lobster for Alvin. She went to buy it and only when she got home, realized that it was live. She just could not kill it, so she kept it as a pet and it became a kitchen pet which the couple never ate.

Betty White: First Lady of Television' Review - WSJ
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Elizabeth is smarter of the two newlyweds, but she’s patient with her loving, sometimes slow-witted husband, played by Del Moore. The announcer also talked to the cast. For example, when Alvin would get frustrated and say, “I shall leave you at this point Elizabeth,” the announcer would say, “Elizabeth aren’t you ashamed?” Then Betty would nod yes but with a mischievous grin, shake her head no at the audience. Betty said because things were so new and the audience was not used to any specific processes, they could throw double entendres into the scripts and if the viewers got them, it was great and if they didn’t, there was no harm offending anyone.

The show is unlike modern sitcoms in that this couple doesn’t make snide or mean-spirited remarks to one another; they love one another. But, like any marriage, life presents problems, and even simple problems can become complex. It is these situations between the couple that present Betty with an opportunity to teach her audience, especially her female audience, ways to handle marriage, patriarchal attitudes, and how to survive the fifties as a woman in America.

Tralfaz: Betty White
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In Life with Elizabeth, Elizabeth, when faced with a problem, relies less on playing dumb, and more on her ability to think things through analytically, get ahead of a situation, and simply get things done. The simple act of watching a woman really think through a situation was a feminist act in the early 1950s. Betty White also has an uncanny ability to use facial expressions to convey her female subjectivity, or that of her characters.

While the show and other shows of this era are often criticized for their gender stereotyping, things were beginning to change. After the war, many women were happy to be back home with their husband as the breadwinner again. However, many women enjoyed the chance to work and earn money and wanted to explore new opportunities.

The show was not loved by all the critics at the time either. John Crosby from The New York Herald reviewed the show in 1954. He said “newcomer who has mushroomed almost overnight into national prominence. Miss White is now the star of a filmed show called ‘Life With Elizabeth,’ which is syndicated to 87 stations and can hardly be avoided in any major city short of Chongking [sic] … Miss White plays the wholesome side of the street for all it’s worth. While I rather hesitate to come out against wholesomeness, I think there are limits and I think Miss White transgresses beyond – well, we won’t pursue that thought any further. Miss White is dimpled, fully dressed and well-upholstered. She lives with her mother, loves dogs, has a nickname of Betz, and does her own hair which looks like – well we won’t pursue that thought any further either. ‘Life With Elizabeth,’ is promulgated by Guild Films, which also conducts The Affairs of Liberace, (that outfit is certainly going to have a lot answer for in the hereafter) … ‘Life With Elizabeth’ revolves – to quote a press release ‘around the spontaneous antics of a typical young American family … They are the kind of persons one welcomes into the home as delightful neighbors.’ Well, maybe. On this one, Miss White exhibits her dimples, winks at the camera, and outwits her husband – a stupid played by Del Moore – three times on every half hour in what is almost a comic strip technique of TV comedy. As for the jokes: ‘She married an X-ray specialist.’ ‘I wonder what he sees in her.’ But it’s all, as I remarked earlier, terribly wholesome. In fact, I suspect that if I took a bite out of Miss White, I’d absorb enough Vitamin B to last all winter. And she has great warmth and charm, so much that she has been described as ‘TV darling of 2,000,00 [sic] fans on the West Coast.’ And now, if you’ll pardon me, I’m off to stare at Jane Russell and see if some of this wholesomeness will wash off.”

Betty was devastated. “I didn’t just get a bad review,” she remembers. “He didn’t like what I wore, he didn’t like my laugh, he didn’t like what I looked like, he certainly didn’t like what I did. And I cried for three solid days. I cut it out and I saved it. I still have the damn thing.”

One critic,  Mr. Vernon, liked the show better than Crosby: “It is refreshing in that the situations are all true to life and could happen in any couple’s wedded years. After seeing Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy get covered in paint, hit with pies, or using costumes for laughs, it is nice to see some realism.” Vernon also liked Del Moore. She said “he keeps his role very true to life; you may even see some of your own foibles exploited capably in experiences you may have had.

Although one reviewer stated that “the shows themselves are corny, forced and not very funny,” it’s not too surprising if the show was not a high-quality show. When I say it had a shoestring budget, I am stressing that might be a literal description: each episode was allotted $1.95, which would be less than $20 today! Betty said they had no fancy graphic department. There was an easel set up with cards on them for the camera to shoot. She said if more than one card was needed, you would often see the hand of the stage crew pulling the card from the easel. One of those stagehands who was working his way through film school was Sam Peckinpah. As a comparison, I Love Lucy got about $200 an episode.

When the show was live, you never knew what might happen. Mike Pingel  relayed a story that there was “a funny moment in Life with Elizabeth where Betty and Del Moore forgot their lines and it was live TV. Del got up and left Betty at the restaurant scene alone, and she filled her time building a little house with forks and knives. Del finally arrived back with a line and the scene continued.

Life with Elizabeth (Betty White)  DVD

In 1952 Betty was nominated and won an Emmy for the regional show. As she tells the story, “I was doing Life with Elizabeth and Zsa Zsa Gabor had a show Bachelor Haven and she was a shoe-in.. . Zsa Zsa was going to win the Emmy. They started saying ‘And now, for the Outstanding Actress,’ Zsa Zsa had her powder puff out . . her lipstick . . . and she put her napkin down and then we heard my name. I don’t think she was too happy with me.”

After 65 episodes, it was canceled because Guild Films, the series production company, thought too many episodes would make the show less profitable in its second-run syndication.

It’s hard to find the show on DVD though some copies do exist. Decades will air it as part of the Lost TV programming.

15 Rare Photos of Betty White When She Was Young - Rare Betty White Photos
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White certainly deserves to be praised for her hard work and determination in the business. According to the documentary, Pioneers of Television, “White was the first woman to produce a national television show, the first woman to star in a sitcom, the first producer to hire a female director, and the first woman to receive an Emmy nomination.” I might argue the point that It’s also hard to remember that while she was doing this pioneering work, she was all of 27 years old.

Date with the Angels (TV Series 1957–1958) - IMDb
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After Life with Elizabeth was canceled, Betty moved on to Date with the Angels. Fedderson wanted to find a new sitcom for Betty. He got the rights to a play called “Dream Girl” by Elmer Rice about a woman who is daydreaming of a better life. The dialogue was more sophisticated and the production quality was better; could it have gotten worse? The show was on the air from May of 1957 to January of 1958.

A Date with the Angels BROWN DERBY - Betty White - YouTube
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Again, she plays a new bride, Vickie Angel, married to Gus, an insurance salesman played by Bill Williams who had starred in The Adventures of Kit Carson. One of the best parts of this show were the great character actors cast on the show. There were a few characters who had a one to four appearances including Natalie Masters and Roy Engel as their neighbors Wilma and George Clemson, Maudie Prickett and Richard Reeves as Mr. and Mrs. Murphy, Burt Mustin as Mr. Finley and Richard Deacon as Roger Finley. Jimmy Boyd as nephew Wheeler, Russell Hicks and Isobel Elsom as Mary and Adam Henshaw, Gus’s boss and his wife; George Neise as Carl Koening, Joan Banks as Dottie, and Nancy Kulp as Dolly.

Also similar to Life with Elizabeth, George Tibbles wrote most of the scripts. The non-dream sequences were the same typical plots on other shows: they are invited to a fancy dinner party and Vickie makes a bunch of faux pas or Vickie goes with a friend for her baby appointment and a friend assumes Vickie is now pregnant. The city decides to remove the oak tree in front of the Angels’ home, so Vickie starts a petition to have the tree stay where it is.

Television Actress BETTY WHITE Glossy 8x10 Photo Date with the Angels Print  | eBay
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There was an announcer on this show also, but this time it was played by Tom Kennedy, someone many of us would get to know in the game show world.

In this sitcom model, half the show was a dream sequence, which allowed the couple to appear in situations most couples never got in. White also sang a song on each show with the lyric “angel” in them. There was a plan for her to record an LP which was later canceled. The theme song was “Got a Date With an Angel” from 1932, a standard played by the Hal Kemp Orchestra.

Betty White posing with a 1958 Plymouth Fury - Plymouth sponsored her  series "Date with the Angels" (1957-1958) : r/OldSchoolCool
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The sponsor, Plymouth, did not like the dream sequences. When the show did not do as well in the ratings against The Thin Man and The Schlitz Playhouse, Plymouth put a lot of pressure on the producers to replace the daydreaming with more typical at-home situations. White said without those dream scenes, the show became just one more run-of-the-mill sitcom. She also thought Williams did not have the same skills as Del Moore had. She said Williams was “a lovely man, but he simply didn’t think funny . . . I can honestly say that was the only time I have ever wanted to get out of a show.”

Photos from Betty White's Best Roles - E! Online
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And another echo from the past show?  John Crosby didn’t like this show either.  He said “Just when I felt reasonably sure that we had all the husband and wife comedies the human system could reasonably stand, ABC-TV comes along with a new one called Date with the Angels which has all the worst qualities of all the other husband and wife comedies without ‘as near as I can find out, any of the virtues.’ . . .their conversation is a series of two-line jokes and pretty bad jokes. She smiles more than any wife since the dawn of time and there is more plot in two minutes than the average couple has in a lifetime. The canned laughter . . is conspicuously misplaced.” However, there was still thirteen weeks of shows to finish in the contract. It then became The Betty White Show; they did sketches and featured guest stars including Boris Karloff, Buster Keaton, and Basil Rathbone.

Front Standard. Betty White: Collector's Set - Life With Elizabeth/Date With the Angels [4 Discs] [DVD].

If you decide to watch an episode or two, you might want to start with the Christmas special. The 1957 episode is summarized on imdb.com as “In this episode, Vickie gets an elderly neighbor to play Santa at a department store. Nancy Kulp also appears in this episode. Things are fine until he believes he’s Santa Claus and starts giving toys away to the children. A sweet, memorable episode. Another viewer mentioned that “the funniest moment arrives at the start of the episode.  The elderly character Mr. Finley, played by the perpetually aged Burt Mustin, sings the popular Christmas carol “The First Noel” with only one lyric: the single word ‘noel.’  I love this moment so much, I frequently find myself at holiday time singing “The First Noel” exactly as Mr. Finley does! I also love this episode because it not only includes veteran TV actor Burt Mustin but character actors Nancy Kulp and Richard Deacon as well.”