As we continue with a new blog series, “One-Named Detectives,” we find ourselves in New York City on the search for a bald man with a lollipop in each pocket on Kojak.
From 1973-78, Lt. Theo Kojak (Telly Savalas) fought crime in the city with an amazingly upbeat personality. The first choice to play Kojak was Marlon Brando; he was willing to do it, but I never could find out why the network would not approve him. Kojak is known for his catch phrase, “Who loves ya baby.” And that lollipop fetish? Kojak was trying to cut back on his smoking habit and used suckers as a way to do so.
The show was created by Abby Mann, a television writer. The series had an interesting back story. Universal Television asked Mann to write a story based on a 1963 murder/rape case of Wylie and Hoffert, two women from Manhattan. Because of the attitude of many police about African Americans, after a shoddy investigation, the murders were blamed on George Whitmore Jr. A second investigation proved he was innocent and identified the real killer, Richard Robles who was then sentenced to life in prison. The story Mann created was titled the Marcus-Nelson Murders and Telly Savalas starred in the movie as “Kojack,” and the movie became the pilot for the television show.
There were several other cast members on the show including Telly’s real-life brother George who played Detective Stavros. Other regulars were Captain Frank McNeil (Dan Frazer), Detective Bobby Crocker (Kevin Dobson), Detective Saperstein (Mark Russell), and Detective Rizzo (Vince Conti).
It has a little bit of 1940s noirish feel mixed with seventies details. Plots frequently deal with the Mob. There were also several jewel heists, bad cops who were murderers, and serial killers.
A lot of guest stars appeared on the show and so did many of Telly’s friends including Tige Andrews, Jackie Cooper, Michael Constantine, Vincent Gardenia, Daniel J. Travanti, Bernie Kopell, Shelley Winters and Danny Thomas.
Two different theme songs were used for the show. Seasons one through four used “We’ll Make It This Time” composed by Billy Goldenberg with lyrics written by Bill Dyer. The last season’s theme was composed by John Cacavas.
In season one, Kojak was in the top ten. The show aired Wednesday nights on CBS following Cannon, the show we learned about last week. In season two, the show moved to Sunday nights after Cher and before Mannix (which we’ll discover next week). Seasons two and three the show was in the top twenty. The show had decent ratings the fourth season, but it declined for the fifth season which is when it was canceled.
Two CBS movies were made later–Kojak: The Belarus File in 1985 and Kojak: The Price of Justice in 1987. In 1989 ABC tried to revive the series again with five more movies.
Savalas was won an Emmy in 1974. The show was nominated for best drama series that year as well but lost to Upstairs Downstairs. That exact scenario also occurred in 1975.
I learned a few fun facts researching the show. One was that Savalas was typically cast as the villain before getting the role of Kojak. Savalas was also a singer who had released five albums between 1972-1980.
For all you vintage automobile fans, Kojak drove two cars during the series: a 1970 Ambassador and a 1972 Alfa Romeo.
One fact that really surprised me was that Queen Elizabeth was said to be an avid fan of the show.
Telly Savalas seemed destined to play Kojak. Film producer Howard Koch said, “Telly was great in everything. But he was born for ‘Kojak’—those snappy remarks, they were really him.”
At his memorial service, friends remembered how kind he was. A “little old lady” wanted an autograph from him at the exact moment he needed to pay attention to a blackjack game in Vegas. She got the autograph, and he didn’t get the hundreds of dollars he lost that round. They also told a story about one cold day in New York while they were filming and the only thing available for warmth was a lady’s mink coat which Telly proudly wore.
So, when you hear Kojak ask, “Who loves ya baby?,” you can confidently answer “We all love you.”
This month we have a new series, “One-Name Detectives.” Today we are looking at a show that was on for five years in the early seventies: Cannon.
Cannon was produced by Quinn Martin and aired from 1971-1976 on CBS. Edward Hume developed the show and was also known for his creation of Barnaby Jones, The Streets of San Francisco, and Toma. Unlike most detective shows, Frank Cannon (William Conrad) was the only member of the cast. There were a few recurring characters including policeman Jerry Warton (Martin Sheen), Lt Paul Tarcher (Charles Bateman), and Officer Bill Murray (Arthur Adams).
Cannon is a detective in Los Angeles. His backstory is that he was a veteran of the Korean War and a former policeman for the Los Angeles Police Department. He quit the force after his wife and young son were killed in a bomb attack meant for him. He was a man of many talents. Not only was he street-smart, but he had at least one other college degree, knew several languages and studied science, art, and history.
Cannon was overweight and often made jokes about his size, but when he couldn’t get out of a bad situation with his quick wit, he could hold his own fighting the bad guys. Cannon was also a gourmet cook and wine expert and often entertained friends.
Most of the plots involved Cannon solving crimes for private clients, insurance companies or former police colleagues. Cannon was known for his mobile phone in his Lincoln Continental. Car phones were not very common then, but I do remember an episode of That Girl from the early seventies that also featured a Motorola car phone. Cannon usually asked an operator to dial his call while he was driving.
The show debuted in a two-hour movie. The series was picked up and placed on the Tuesday night schedule, following Hawaii Five-0. Season two found the show on Wednesday nights at 10 ET and then at 9 ET for season three where it remained. The first three seasons the show was in the top 20 but in season five, it came in at 39 and was canceled.
Season one featured a short scene before the opening credits giving a preview of the show. For the remaining seasons, the preview was not included.
A lot of famous people stopped by Cannon’s office during this five-year people. Guest stars included Willie Aames, Whitney Blake, Johnny Cash, Micky Dolenz, Shelley Duvall, Mike Farrell, Joan Fontaine, Dabbs Greer, Mark Hamill, Kim Hunter, David Janssen, Tina Louise, Robert Mandan, Vera Miles, Donna Mills, Leslie Nielsen, Nick Nolte, Stefanie Powers, Denver Pyle, Wayne Rogers, Roy Scheider, Peter Strauss, Vic Tayback, Jessica Walter, Cindy Williams, and William Windom.
The show received three Emmy nominations. The show was nominated in 1973 and Conrad was nominated in 1973 and 1974 (losing to Richard Thomas for The Waltons in 1973 and Telly Savala for Kojak in 1974).
Nine novels were published based on the show in the 1970s, the first being Murder by Gemini by Richard Gallagher and the last one being Shoot-Out! by Douglas Enefe.
The show is out on DVD and very reasonable. The entire five-season set can be bought for $32 on amazon. Definitely worth the time to watch a season or two on a week-end.
We are winding down our blog series, “What A Character.” If you watched television between 1959 and 1989, you will definitely recognize this week’s character actor: Allan Melvin.
Melvin was born in 1923 in Kansas City, Missouri, but he always said he grew up in New York City where his parents moved to not long after his birth. After high school, he attended Columbia University, studying journalism before joining the US Navy in WWII.
He married Amalia Sestero in 1944 and they were together for his entire life and had two children. Amalia was also an actress and Melvin met her when he attended an actor’s group that she helped start.
After being discharged from the Navy, Allan worked in the sound effects department of NBC Radio. He also had a nightclub act. He was on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts radio show which he won. His first television role was that of Corporal Steve Henshaw on The Phil Silvers Show. Melvin’s wife remembered that time fondly: “I think the camaraderie of all those guys made it such a pleasant way to work. They were so relaxed.”
After the show ended, Melvin was often typecast as a military character or the abrasive, but happy-go-lucky guy. Even when he was not a recurring character, he often had multiple appearances on a series.
Allan and Amalia moved their family to California, hoping for more television roles in the early sixties.
Throughout the sixties, Melvin was kept busy with television work, appearing on The Danny Thomas Show, The Bill Dana Show, Perry Mason, Lost in Space, Love American Style, and The Andy Griffith Show. He had two recurring roles: Art Miller on The Joey Bishop Show and Sol Pomerantz on the Dick Van Dyke Show.
He was often cast as the tough guy on The Andy Griffith Show, with eight appearances in all. Melvin discussed his time on the show and said “I always enjoyed doing the show. We had a lot of fun doing it, and they were a great bunch.”
From 1965-1969 you could find him on Gomer Pyle USMC as Sergeant Charlie Hacker.
As early as 1963, Melvin was doing voice work on The Flintstones. His animation work would continue throughout his career and after about 1974, cartoon voices were his only gigs. One of his best-known roles is Magilla Gorilla.
I’m not sure why, but Melvin only appeared in one movie, although it was a good one. He was the desk sergeant at the end of the Doris Day-Brian Keith film, With Six You Get Eggroll. A couple of Andy Griffith writers wrote the screenplay, and Howard Morris, known as Ernest T Bass, directed the film.
In the 1970s he was cast in his two most memorable roles.
He was Sam Franklin, Alice’s boyfriend on The Brady Bunch. Sam owned a butcher shop and was an avid bowler. In a later movie, we learned that he finally made an honest woman of Alice. Ann B Davis said “Allan Melvin, neat guy, very tall. He was just a nice, open, big guy, and it was fun to play with him.”
He was also neighbor and friend of Archie Bunker as Barney Hefner on All in the Family and Archie Bunker’s Place. Allan said it was a good experience and everyone’s input was welcome. Jason Wingreen, who played Harry the bartender on the show talked about Melvin in anther wordpress blog, classictvhistory (https://classictvhistory.wordpress.com/tag/allan-melvin/). When asked if he was the same in person as he was in character, Wingreen said, “He was more intelligent than that. Allan wrote little poems, little couplets of sorts, and they were very funny. Like limericks, but not quite limericks. Some of them were very intelligent and very, very funny. Never published. Allan and I became very close friends.”
Melvin also did a lot of commercial work. You could see him pitching products from Sugar Frosted Flakes to Remington razors to Liquid Plumr. He was the plumber for Liquid Plumr for fifteen years.
In 2008, Melvin died from cancer.
Melvin certainly had a career to be proud of. One thing I never learned was when he decided that acting was the career he wanted. He became one of the most beloved and most-recognized character actors in the sixties and seventies–definitely a character worth celebrating.
In October we are having fun with the “What a Character” series. Although this actress spent less than two decades on television, she had a memorable career. Today let’s learn more about Mary Jane Croft.
Mary Jane Croft was born in 1916 in Muncie, Indiana. She described herself as a “stage-struck 17-year-old just out of high school,” when she began working at the Muncie Civic Theatre. Moving on to the Guild Theatre Company in Cincinnati led her to radio station work at WLW.
In the thirties, she received a lot of experience and she described her work there: “from 1935-1939, I played parts with every kind of voice and accent: children, babies, old women, society belles, main street floozies—everything.” She appeared in Life with Luigi, Blondie, The Adventures of Sam Spade, The Mel Blanc Show, and Our Miss Brooks, among other shows. She was a frequent guest star on My Favorite Husband, Lucille Ball’s radio show which would become very important to her television career.
Croft had married Jack Zoller, another actor earlier in her life. The marriage did not last long but produced a son, Eric. After her divorce, she moved to Hollywood in 1939.
While Croft appeared in three big-screen films, most of her professional career was spent on television. Her first role was in Eve Arden’s show, Our Miss Brooks from 1953-1955 once it moved from radio to television. She portrayed Daisy Enright whom she had also voiced on the radio show. Daisy and Connie Brooks competed for the head English teacher position and for the attention of Mr. Boynton. During that time, she also was cast in The Lineup, The Life of Riley, I Married Joan, and Dragnet.
From 1954-1957, she was on I Love Lucy seven times. She and Lucy continued both their professional and personal relationships. In the final season of Lucy’s show, she played Betty Ramsey, a neighbor of the Ricardos and Mertzs when they moved to Connecticut.
In the mid-fifties, she showed up on A Date with Angels, The Eve Arden Show, and The Court of Last Resort.
In 1959, she married Elliott Lewis and they were married until he died in 1990. She met Lewis while appearing on Lucy’s show; he was the producer. Sadly, her son Eric was killed in action in Vietnam.
From 1955-1958 she was the voice of Cleo on The People’s Choice for 99 episodes. This is another one of those quirky shows from the fifties. The premise is that Socrates Miller, known as “Sock,” joins the city council and clashes with the mayor, John Peoples. Sock then dates and marries John’s daughter Mandy. Sock has a basset hound named Cleo, and Cleo shares her thoughts with the audience about what is going on.
From 1955-1966 she appeared as Clara Randolph on the Ozzie and Harriet Show for a total of 75 episodes. Joe and Clara Randolph were the Nelsons’ neighbors and good friends.
Although Croft did accept roles on Vacation Playhouse in 1966 and The Mothers-in-Law (another Arden show) in 1969, her career from 1962-1974 was with Lucille Ball. She was on The Lucy Show from 1962-1968 as Mary Jane Lewis when Lucy’s original sidekick Vivian Vance left the show. She continued that same role into Here’s Lucy from 1969-1974 for an additional 34 episodes.
Her last acting credit was a TV Movie with Lucille Ball titled Lucy Calls the President.
Croft died of natural causes in 1999.
Geoffrey Mark who wrote The Lucy Book: A Complete Guide to Her Five Decades on Television, got to spend time with Croft. He said she was “nothing like the characters she played,” in an exclusive interview with Closer Weekly. “She was intelligent, thoughtful in her speech and prettier than you would think. I found her to be very honest in that there was no nonsense about what she said. If she said it, she meant it. She was aware that she had become this icon mostly because of her association with Lucille Ball, but also because of other things that she did.”
When he asked her how she was able to assume so many character voices, she said that she thought about what the backstory of the character might be and invented a voice that would serve that character. It was something she learned when she worked in radio.
Although Croft only appeared on 26 different shows, she had a busy and lucrative career. She is remembered for three major roles: Daisy Enright on Our Miss Brooks, Clara Randolph on Ozzie and Harriet, and Mary Jane Lewis on The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy. And even if her television career was not long, she was in the entertainment business for her entire life after graduation. She created many memorable radio voices as well. With her numerous roles, she truly was quite a character.
We are part way through our October blog series, “What a Character.” Today we look at someone we all remember from the golden days of television: Leon Ames.
Ames was born Harry Wycoff in Portland, Indiana and was raised on a farm. He said he changed his name because it was often misspelled which I can understand because some sources say “Wykoff,” and some say “Waycoff” in addition to “Wycoff.” Ames was his mother’s maiden name.
After graduation, he enrolled in Indiana University at Bloomington. He then served in the field artillery for WWI and later transferred to the flying corps.
After his discharge, at some point, he began working as the stage manager for the Charles K. Champlin Theatre Company. He had always wanted to be an actor and soon began acting with the group, eventually gettng the lead in a Los Angeles production of “Tomorrow and Tomorrow.” For three years he was with the Stuart Walker Stock Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. Broadway would be a big part of his early career as he debuted in 1933 in “It Pays to Sin” and went on to perform in another eleven shows.
In 1937, Ames decided to make the move to Hollywood. At that time, he met Christine Gossett, and the couple married in 1938. Leon and Christine appeared in several films together including Eighth Wife and Suez, but after having two children, Christine retired from acting to raise the children. The couple was together for the rest of Ames’ life.
Ames accumulated 158 acting credits; 125 of those were on the big screen. His debut came in 1931 in Quick Millions and his last role was as the grandfather in Peggy Sue Got Married in 1986.
Even though 5/6 of his career was spent in films, I am including him in our television character series because the 1/6 of his career in television made quite an impact. From 1951 until 1979, he would appear in 29 different shows, and five of those would be as a regular cast member.
Not surprisingly, given his depth of film work, he began his television career in a variety of drama shows such as Screen Directors Playhouse and Studio One. In 1953 he was cast as Clarence Day in Life with Father, adapted from the film. Unfortunately, the show only lasted for a limited number of episodes. I’m not sure how this show fit into the television schedule because it was on for three seasons; a few sources listed 8 episodes, imdb.com lists 10 episodes, and tvseriesfinale.com mentions 27 episodes; even then, it would mean 9/year which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Fun fact, this was the first show in Hollywood to be filmed in color.
After the cancellation of Life with Father, he continued to guest in dramas, but was once again offered a recurring role in a comedy on Father of the Bride in 1950, another television show that was adapted from the big screen.
In the sixties, he gravitated toward sitcoms, showing up in The Lucy Show, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, The Beverly Hillbillies, and The Andy Griffith Show.
It was during this time, that Leon probably became best known to television fans. From 1963-1965, he portrayed Gordon Kirkwood on Mister Ed. During the early seasons of the show Roger (Larry Keating) and Kay Addison (Edna Skinner) lived next to Wilbur Post (Alan Young) who owns Mister Ed. They become good friends with Wilber and his wife Carol (Connie Hines). Keating died in 1963 and Ames and his wife Winnie (Florence MacMichael) buy the Addison home. We also learn that Kirkwood was Wilbur’s former commanding officer when they were in the US Air Force.
In a frightening experience, in February of 1964, an intruder entered the Ames household and held Leon and Christine hostage, demanding $50,000. Ames phoned his business manager and asked him to go to the bank and then bring the money to the house. Once he got the money, the intruder left Ames tied up in the house and forced Christine to drive him in their car. Before leaving, he forced both the business manager and a guest at the home into the car trunk. Luckily, before Ames’ manager brought the money to the house, he had called police who eventually caught up with the car, surrounded it, and freed the hostages.
His next regular role was that of Dr. Roy Osborne on My Three Sons. I enjoyed his performances on this show. At first, Robbie thinks he is too old-fashioned to be Katie’s Ob/Gyn because he delivered her, but Robbie soon learns his caring ways and wealth of experience is invaluable.
The remainder of his television career was spent in a variety of genres including Bewitched, The Virginian.Apple’s Way, and Emergency, among others.
Ames was one of the founders of the Screen Actors Guild in 1933 and became president of SAG in 1957. In 1980, Ames was the recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award.
In addition to his acting duties, in the sixties, Ames opened several Ford dealerships in California.
Leon died in October of 1993 after having a stroke.
One of my favorite roles of Ames was as the father in Meet Me in St. Louis. He had that perfect gruffness for a paternalistic role but made it obvious that there was a giant teddy bear just below the surface. What a character he was.
October is “What a Character,” blog series month, and we are taking a look at some of our favorite character actors. This blog features the wonderful Isabel Randolph.
Randolph was born in Chicago in 1889. After high school, Isabel began performing in regional theater throughout the Midwest until the mid-1930s. She married J.C. Ryan, a Chicago newspaperman, in 1917. Unfortunately, he passed away at a young age and she raised their two girls. She was the leading lady at the Princess Theater in Des Moines, Iowa. In a 2012 article, Ryan Ellett quoted Conrad Nagel as saying the Princess Theater “was recognized as one of the outstanding stock companies of the entire country, and is still referred to by some of the old timers as the best of them all.” Ralph Bellamy also spent time with the theater.
In the thirties, Randolph decided to try out radio. She was on the air on Fibber McGee and Molly from 1935-1943. She played a variety of roles but was best known for Mrs. Abigail Uppington, a society matron. During this time, she also was in several other soap opera-type shows. When the McGees moved their show to Hollywood, Isabel went to California with them where she took a chance at motion pictures.
Isabel specialized in the “grand dame” roles which continued into her film career. Of her 110 acting credits, 69 of them were for movies on the big screen, her first being in 1939 in The Women.
In 1953, she made the foray into television. Her first role was on The Dick Tracy Show in 1951, based on the popular comic strip.
In 1952, she got her second role, and her first recurring role in a sitcom, when she was offered the part of neighbor Mrs. Boone in Meet Millie. Meet Millie was about Millie Bronson (Elena Verdugo), a secretary who lives with her mother (Florence Halop) in Queens. Her boss is JR Boone (Roland Winters) and she sometimes dates his son Johnnie (Ross Ford). Family friend and poet Alfred Prinzmetal (Marvin Kaplan) often drops by. We don’t hear about this show very often but it was on for four years and produced 124 episodes.
Randolph did a variety of work in television throughout the rest of the fifties. She did a lot of theater programs, westerns, and also comedies including Burns and Allen, The Ann SothernShow, December Bride, and The Bob Cummings Show.
She had another recurring role during the last season of Our Miss Brooks when she played Ruth Nestor who ran a private boarding school. John Rich was the director on the show. He loved the cast and said especially Eve Arden was a joy to work with, very nice and very funny. He described the entire cast as “adorable.”
Although she didn’t have a recurring role on Ozzie and Harriet, she was on the show five times between 1956-61. My favorite of her roles on that show was “Busy Christmas” when she played Mrs. Brewster and was heading the Christmas caroling group.
During the sixties, Isabel kept busy. She appeared on Perry Mason three times, twice on The Andy Griffith Show, The Joey Bishop Show, Ben Jarrod, Arrest and Trial, and Many Happy Returns.
Her last recurring role was that of Mrs. Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show. In last week’s blog, we looked at one of the best Dick Van Dyke episodes, “Pink Pills and Purple Parents.” When Sally considers taking one of Buddy’s pain pills for her headache, Rob relates a time when Millie gave Laura some of her relaxation pills. Laura takes her first one when Rob’s parents arrive and as she becomes more nervous, she continues to take pills. Eventually, she is a bit loopy making strange comments, forgetting to put ice cream in the sundaes, and dancing to music before passing out. Rob’s parents are sure she has a drinking problem but later find out what happened. Randolph is a gem in this episode.
Randolph passed away in 1973 of undisclosed reasons.
Sadly, like so many of our great character actors, there is not as much information about Isabel’s life. Character actors deserve to have more websites or books of their own. Isabel played the snobby rich woman in many of her roles, but I always think of her as an elegant, gracious mother type. Thank you, Isabel, for so many decades of entertainment and memorable characters. She was a character, indeed.
This blog series is “It’s My Show,” about actors who featured their names in the titles of shows. I’ve definitely saved the best for last: The Dick Van Dyke Show. During the past five plus years of writing my blog, I have realized that my favorite shows are those that feature amazing writing and concentrate on relationships. This show is no exception.
From 1961 till 1966, this show aired on CBS, resulting in 158 episodes. Created by Carl Reiner, it was produced by Calvada Productions. Calvada was named for Carl Reiner, Sheldon Leonard, Dick Van Dyke, and Danny Thomas. The show was filmed at Desilu Studios in front of a live audience. Bill Persky and Sam Denoff wrote 29 of the episodes.
The theme song was written by the great Earle Hagen. (For more on Hagen, you can see my blog from December 10, 2018; Hagen wrote many great theme songs including The Danny Thomas Show, Gomer Pyle, I Spy, The Mod Squad, and most memorably, The Andy Griffith Show.)
The opening of the show had Rob walking into the living room. In one version, he trips over an ottoman, falling on the floor. In the another, he steps around the ottoman. You never knew which opening you would see, a fun element of the show.
I love that this show realized our professional lives are equally important to our personal and family life, and this show not only featured both, but often they meshed together just like all our lives do.
Not only was Rob Petrie’s (Dick Van Dyke) work life part of the show, but he was a television writer, which provided even more insights into what we were watching. Rob writes “The Alan Brady Show” with cowriters Sally (Rose Marie) and Buddy (Morey Amsterdam). Mel (Richard Deacon) is star Alan Brady’s (Carl Reiner) producer. Buddy and Mel have an ongoing feud, insulting each other on a daily basis. (In real life, Deacon and Amsterdam were good friends and often came up with new insults when they had drinks together after work.) Reiner originally planned on starring in the show and played Petrie in the pilot, but he was persuaded to give the role to another actor by Leonard.
Rob’s home life consisted of wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore), son Ritchie (Larry Mathews), and neighbors/best friends Jerry and Millie Helper (Jerry Paris and Ann Morgan Guilbert). Paris directed 84 of the show’s episodes and would go on to a career as a director later.
In the pilot, titled “Head of the Family,” Barbara Britton played Laura, Gary Morgan played Ritchie, Morty Gunty played Buddy, and Sylvia Miles played Sally. Jack Wakefield played Alan Sturdy who was the star of the tv show.
The characters are very much like people we all know, except maybe a bit funnier. Rob loved his wife and son. He was a big fan of cowboy movies and Laurel and Hardy. He met Laura, a USO dancer, when he was in the Army as a Special Services Sergeant in Camp Crowder, Missouri. His brother Stacey appeared on the show a few times (played by real life brother Jerry Van Dyke). Richie is a typical kid who gets in trouble sometimes but is a good kid, just curious and looking to test his boundaries. Their neighbors Millie and Jerry have a son about Richie’s age, and they are their best friends; Jerry is also their dentist.
The only thing not realistic about his home life is that Rob and Laura have twin beds. Reiner asked the network to allow the couple to sleep in the same bed, but they would not approve it, so like most sitcom married couples, they had separate beds. About the only couples who were able to get around the challenge were the Stephens on Bewitched and Katie and Robbie on My Three Sons. The network also didn’t love that Moore wore capri pants but they did end up allowing her to do so.
Rob’s coworkers are also endearing characters. Buddy is energetic and sarcastic. He is married to Pickles and shares a lot of jokes about some of the scatterbrained things she does. We know he is in love with Sally, but they never take their relationship anywhere other than friendship. She is often making fun of herself for looking for a man, but we realize she is very lonely. Mel is an excellent producer who puts up with a lot from both Buddy and Alan.
Van Dyke had to give up Bye, Bye Birdie to star in the show but definitely made the right choice. The role of Laura was a hard one to cast. Sixty actresses auditioned for the character. Moore almost chose not to go, and when she did, she lied about her age, making herself older than she was. Sally Rogers was based on Lucille Kallen who wrote for Your Show of Shows and Selma Diamond who wrote for Caesar’s Hour.
After the first season, CBS said they were cancelling the show. Procter & Gamble threatened to remove all its advertising and viewers complained loudly. The network didn’t need to worry about ratings in season two; the show was in the top ten by episode three and was popular for the rest of its time on air.
To color or not was a big question during the sixties. Reiner actually considered filming the show in color in the third season until he found out it would add $7000 per episode (the equivalent of about $59,000 today).
I’m not the only one who thought this was an amazing show. The series was nominated for 25 Emmy awards and won 15 of them. Reiner won three times for writing, Van Dyke three times for acting, and Moore twice for leading actress in a comedy role.
Some of my favorite episodes are “Pink Pills and Purple Parents” (season 4) a flashback to when Laura meets Rob’s parents. She takes some anti-anxiety medicine Millie gives her. She gets a bit loopy and Rob’s mother thinks she has a drinking problem; “The Ghost of a Chantz” (season four) where Rob, Laura, Buddy, and Sally spend the night in what’s said to be a haunted cabin. Characters disappear one by one and finally we learn that Mel pranked them to test out a concept for a show called Sneaky Camera; “Coast to Coast Big Mouth” (season five) when Laura reveals on a TV game show that Alan is bald and wears a toupee. Laura bravely goes to the office to apologize; another one about Laura, “The Curious Thing About Women” (season one) when Rob writes a comedy skit about Laura’s bad habit of reading his mail. All her friends tease her after it airs, and she tries to deny it, but when a package comes to the house, she opens it and an inflatable raft opens up which she cannot put back; and finally, “That’s My Boy” (season 3) when Rob is convinced that the hospital switched their son with another boy born that day. He has to resolve this, and invites the other couple over to discuss the situation. When Rob opens the door, he sees an African American couple, and it gets one of the longest audience laughs than any other sitcom episode.
CBS may have wanted to end the show after season one, but they did not want to end it after season five. However, the cast made the decision to quit while they were still producing high-quality shows. I appreciate that they did this. One of the saddest things for me as a viewer is when a show goes on a year or two longer than it should and the quality diminishes greatly.
I just can’t think of anything about this show that needed improving. It had a great cast, great writers, likable characters, and a timeless quality. Sixty years after the show began, it is just as funny and easy to watch as it was then. Thank you, Carl Reiner and cast, for knowing how to make a memorable show and when to end it to keep it that way.
We are in the middle of the “It’s My Show” blog series, and today we are looking at a show that debuted in the mid-nineties. Although it feels like it was yesterday, we are looking back 25 years to The Drew Carey Show.
Carey created the show from his stand-up comic and writing background, along with Bruce Helford who wrote for the television series, Roseanne.
The show aired on ABC from September of 1995 until September of 2004. When Drew tried to explain his character, he described him as “what the actor would have been if he had not become an actor.” The show centers around Drew and his friends: unambitious Lewis (Ryan Stiles), not-so-bright Oswald (Diedrich Bader), and on-and-off again girlfriend Kate (Christa Miller).
Set in Cleveland, Drew works for the department store Winfred-Louder as Assistant Director of Personnel for the first seven seasons. His coworker, Mimi (Kathy Kinney), who always looks like the before photo in “how to apply your make-up correctly,” is also featured in the show. When the show begins, she and Drew strongly dislike each other, but they become closer over the run of the series. Drew also moonlights with his group of friends, making and selling Buzz Beer, a caffeinated alcoholic beverage, out of his garage. The beverage gains a following and is served around the city including at Drew’s hang-out, The Warsaw Tavern.
The theme song bounced around a bit. In season one, the song “Moon Over Parma” was used with a few lyric changes to reference Cleveland. The second season ushered in “Five O’ Clock World.” The fourth season replaced this theme with “Cleveland Rocks.” In the eighth season, the previous three themes were all used but in a different genre each week.
One unusual aspect of Drew’s show was his frequent “event” episodes. For example, one episode featured the theme “What’s Wrong with This Episode?” and invited viewers to find errors to win a prize. There were three live productions when they actually did the show twice, one for each coast. There was also a prolonged story when Drew is in a coma.
The show received praise from critics and viewers. It spent its entire life on Wednesday nights. Seasons two through four it was in the top twenty but Season five started to decline and the ratings dropped drastically during the final two seasons.
I have to admit I never watched this show when it was on in prime time. When I look at the opposing shows, they weren’t anything I tended to watch either except for West Wing a couple years, so I’m not sure why I missed it in its first life.
It was on about the same time as Friends with a similar theme but Friends has had an incredible after life and Drew Carey’s show has not. A lot of people describe the show as “mean.” With the popularity of Whose Line Is It Anyway? which I do enjoy, you would think that would spark a rerun of the show.
The show seems similar to Seinfeld as well. It is about a guy and his close-knit group of friends. However, where Seinfeld was always described as being about “nothing,” Drew Carey’s show seems to be about “everyman.” I got the impression from some viewers that they were so much like everyman they were extremely boring.
Apparently, only season one is available to watch. There are several places including Amazon and Apple TV where you can purchase an episode. That is also the only season available on DVD, but I could not find out why. Apparently, it aired as a rerun on the CW for a bit but since that time it has never been in rerun syndication, and only two seasons were ever on Hulu; none of the show has been available on Netflix as far as I can find. One source did mention that there is so much copyrighted material in the shows that would need to be edited out, it would not be possible to do a DVD set.
Since I don’t have a lot of personal knowledge about this show, and most of the seasons are not available to view, I will leave the final word to a few of those fans who did write reviews of the show.
U know, before Drew Carey got his own show, I didn’t even know who he was. This show truly capitalizes his talents as a comedian and actor.
“The Drew Carey Show” is by far one of the funniest sitcoms on television in recent years. It also happens to be my third favorite show. Our bespectacled hero, Drew, works in a Winfried-Louder Department Store’s offices, run by a dorky Scot, Nigel Wick (Craig Ferguson). His arch-nemesis, Mimi Bobeck-Carey (Kathy Kinney) wears tons of make-up and tacky clothes, much in the same sense that Peggy Bundy on “Married with Children” was the queen of tacky. Of course, Drew has his girlfriend, Kate (Christa Miller) and his dopey buddies, Lewis Kiniski (Ryan Stiles, who upstages Carey) and Oswald Lee Harvey (Deidrich Bader).
This show is very funny. The plotlines are always interesting, and of course, Lewis and Oswald have to accomplish some stupid feat in the 1/2 hour (ie: they used $8000 to record an album using classic songs, with them–“Tequila” or Lewis saying “Wipeout!”) Of course, everyone gets into a big mess, Mimi insults Drew, Drew plots revenge, and everything is said and done in the half hour.
I love this show, and highly recommend it to everyone who has a good sense of humor. Drew Carey’s standup is excellent, and this show just adds another good credit to a very talented man!
I do remember the show. There were some funny interactions among the characters (e.g., Oswald and Lewis) and Craig Ferguson was a funny foil/boss of Drew’s. However, it’s not a show I’d be clamoring to see again. If I ever caught it while flipping through, I might watch a little of it before moving on. I’m 35 but I think only a handful of shows from the 80’s and 90’s would get frequent viewing from me now (e.g., “Cheers”, “Frasier”, “Married with Children” and “Seinfeld”).
This is one funny sitcom! Drew Carey and his co-stars (especially Kathy Kinney as Mimi Bobeck) each have an ingenious sense of comic timing! In addition, the show itself fairly accurately portrays the plight of the normal, everyday guy who’s trying to find both love and success in today’s world. Plus, the show sometimes has some highly loony episode storylines and crazy sight-gags that are normally only seen in movies! I would highly recommend this TV series to any serious comedy buff!
I do vaguely remember it, although I was never a big fan. My suspicion for why it has mostly disappeared is that while its audience was loyal, it was pretty narrow. In most shows, you can have a group of sad sacks or outcasts, but you also need someone relatable to ground the show. I don’t think the show had that. Drew Carey might have been the central character, but not a terribly strong one. Then that narrow audience grows up.
A great sitcom comedy show! The show is about Drew Carey and he works at a department store where he is the assistant personal director in Cleveland and he has been stuck at his job for ten more years. Other than fighting with co-worker Mimi, his hobbies include drinking beer and not being able to get dates. To make a few extra bucks he has a micro-brewery going in his garage with his buddies Lewis and Oswald. This show is so funny and I also like the intro to this show entitled “Cleveland Rocks” in the opening we see Drew and the others running out of the building and then tail-gating at a Cleveland Indians baseball game and then you see Drew and the crew dancing and at the end of the intro Drew yells “OHIO”! My favorite characters from this show were Lewis and Oswald. They have got to put this show out on DVD. Another great 90’s ABC sitcom!
Eh. Not the greatest show ever. The whole “Buzz Beer” thing is totally overrated, and so is Kate. Some of the shows, however, are very good (like when Drew goes to the Value Date class, or winds up working in the cafeteria, or getting sent to China). Some of the best episodes are from 1997-1998, I seem to remember that was when this show was in it’s prime. After Nicki left, it was all downhill from there.
Thumbs up or thumbs down? I’ll let you decide. I would love to hear your opinion of the show.
For this blog series, “It’s My Show,” we are looking at stars who had shows named for them. This blog takes a look at The Jimmy Stewart Show which aired in 1971.
At the beginning of the golden age of television, several stars decided to plunge into the small screen, but most stars kept their distance, not trusting that television would ever go anywhere. Stars like Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, and Lucille Ball created successful shows that continued for years. Once Hollywood realized that television was here to stay, they were okay with their stars dipping their feet into the series life.
In the 1970s another round of stars decided to try their luck at their own show. Jimmy Stewart was one of those screen stars, and he had a huge fan base. Viewers were greatly anticipating watching his show.
Hal Kanter was the creator, writer, and sometimes director for the series which showed viewers the frequently chaotic home and work life of Professor Jim Howard. Kantor developed the show Julia and would later create Chico and the Man. Howard teaches anthropology at the Josiah Kessel College in Easy Valley, California which happened to be founded by his grandfather. Also living in the house are his wife Martha (Julie Adams), his son Peter (Jonathan Daly), daughter-in-law Wendy (Ellen Geer, daughter of Will Geer) and grandson Jake (Kirby Furlong). Martha and Jim also have a younger son, Teddy (Dennis Larson) who is almost the same age as Jim’s grandson. Peter’s family is living there temporarily after their house burns down. In a twist I didn’t see coming, Jim was babysitting and fell asleep with a cigar which is what caused both the house to burn down and his son to be unhappy with him for the first few episodes.
Howard’s best friend, Luther Quince (John McGiver), a local bachelor and professor, often stops by for meals and to discuss life with Jim.
Rounding out the cast were a few recurring characters including Jo Bullard (Mary Wickes), president of the Women’s Action Group; Agatha Dwiggins (Jeff Donnell), a scatterbrained busybody, Dimitri Karpopolis (Richard Annis), college football hero; local businessman Fred Shimmel (Rickie Layne), chatty milkman Woodrow Yamada (Jack Soo), and students Janice Morton (Kate Jackson), Norman Lansworth (Lou Manor) and Ida Levin (Melissa Newman).
I read that except for Stewart, the casting for the family seemed to be off and never engendered any warmth for viewers. Jimmy wanted his real wife Gloria to play Martha, but after she was tested, the network said they wanted someone more experienced. More than fifty women were considered for the role, and twenty of them were brought in to read with Stewart.
However, John McGiver received a lot of praise for his character. Luther and Jim were quite different. Jim rode his bike to school while Luther drove a Rolls Royce.
The show really didn’t speak to viewers, and ratings, which weren’t great, got worse. The series was cancelled after 24 episodes. Stewart was not sad about the cancellation. Apparently, he was given the option to do the same type of work schedule Fred MacMurray had arranged for My Three Sons where he only filmed a small part of the year and everyone else filmed around him, but he declined. However, Stewart said he later regretted not trying that because he didn’t enjoy the long hours filming this show.
The show debuted in the fall of 1971 on Sunday nights. It was sandwiched between The Wonderful World of Disney and Bonanza, both big hits.
Like George Burns, James Stewart talked directly to the television audience during the opening and closing when he says “And, as always, my family and I wish you peace and love—and laughter.” During some episodes he makes an aside to the camera, and the rest of the cast thinks he’s just mumbling to himself.
This was one of the few shows during this time period that didn’t use a laugh track. Maybe that’s for the best because it doesn’t sound like there was much to laugh about in this show. It definitely shows its age today with Stewart making remarks about student protests, women’s lib, and industrial development. It obviously pandered to an older, conservative audience.
The show was filmed on a few sets and backlots. The building used for the university was known as “Hank’s School” because it first was used on a show from the sixties called Hank. It was also Boatwright University on The Waltons.
Sometimes there is a downside to blog writing about the past and our favorite stars. Jimmy Stewart has always been someone I admired and respected. A couple of his movies like The Philadelphia Story and Harvey are some of my of all-time favorites. When doing research, sometimes you learn things you wish you didn’t know.
Apparently, Stewart had gotten a reputation during the filming of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence as a racist, but no one ever talked about it, and there didn’t seem to be any other controversy in his films. However, during the production of this show, he had actor Hal Williams fired. I read several accounts that all supported that view that Stewart told Kanter that he didn’t think it would be appropriate for a black person to be ordering him around on television. His words, often quoted were, “Blacks are bossing white people all over the country, and now we’re going to have the same damn thing on prime-time television? A black is going to be lecturing me with millions of people watching? No way. I get casting approval and Williams is out.” I never read how Kantor reacted or how it affected their relationship; however, after casting Diahann Carroll as the first black actor to star in a series, it must have been disheartening to hear this from Stewart.
I understand those were different times and many people were raised as racists. We could debate the causes of people being prejudiced for hours. However, this makes me very sad and I can’t look at Jimmy Stewart the way I did before. It doesn’t help to realize that there are still somehow a lot of Jimmy Stewarts out there sixty years later.
As far as his show goes, I think it was just not where fans were at in that time period. Some of the other series on at the time included The Partridge Family, The Doris Day Show, Love American Style, Room 222, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and All in the Family. By comparison, Jimmy’s show seems out of touch and old fashioned. Its competition was the F.B.I and Sunday Night at the Movies, both shows that started during The Wonderful World of Disney. If a show didn’t succeed following Disney and leading into Bonanza, it must have greatly disillusioned viewers. Jimmy was not alone as a star who couldn’t make the successful leap to television. Other stars who bombed with their shows include Jack Lemmon, Celeste Holm, Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, Mickey Rooney, and Henry Fonda.
Although this show is available on DVD, my suggestion is to bypass it and read a good book instead.
This month’s blog series is “It’s My Show.” Today we are beginning with a show I’ve discussed a few times over the years that had the perfect cast and concept, but it was cancelled after only one season: The Phyllis Diller Show which also went by The Pruitts of Southampton.
The show was created by David Levy in 1967 and was loosely based on the book House Party by Patrick Dennis. Levy was also the creator/producer for The Addams Family which aired from 1964-1966. The shows also shared composer Vic Mizzy who wrote the themes for both series. Mizzy also wrote the catchy tune from Green Acres. The opening theme song had Phyllis Diller dancing, skipping, and singing through the mansion, and the lyrics were:
PD: Howcha do howcha do, howcha do my dear What a LOVELY surprise, nice to see you here.
RG: All the bills have been long overdue my dear.
PD: File them under I.O.U… Howcha do, howcha do, Well HELLO, it’s you! Like my beads, like my dress? Aren’t they marvy-poo? They belong to the internal revenue. And they got us eating stew.
CHORUS: The Pruitts of Southampton,
Live like the richest folk, But what the folk don’t know is that The Pruitts are flat broke!
PD: Howcha do, howcha do, howcha do, my dear
RG: We are out of champagne, and I’m stuck, my dear.
PD: Ask the butler to lend you a buck, my dear. Howcha do, howcha do, howcha do…
The Pruitts, an incredibly wealthy family, live in the Hamptons. After going through an IRS audit, the family realizes they owe so much in back taxes, $10,000,000 in fact, that they were now broke. The IRS agrees to let them continue living in their mansion because they think exposing such a wealthy family’s poverty would cause a lot of repercussions.
Phyllis Diller starred as Phyllis Pruitt. Phyllis lives with her uncle Ned (Reginald Gardiner), her brother Harvey (Paul Lynde), her daughter Stephanie (Pam Freeman), brother-in-law (John Astin), and their butler (Grady Sutton). Midseason, the show was revamped and the family brings in boarders to raise money, including Norman Krump (Marty Ingels) and Vernon Bradley (Billy De Wolfe). They should have been able to raise a bit of money with 68 bedrooms in the house. Other characters included Regina Wentworth (Gypsy Rose Lee), their nosy neighbor and Baldwin (Richard Deacon), the IRS agent. The incredible Charles Lane plays Max.
In addition, there were a lot of guest stars during that single season including Ann B Davis, Bob Hope, Arte Johnson, John McGiver, Louie Nye, Hope Summers, and Mary Wickes.
The shots of the family home were filmed at the Vanderbilt mansion, Biltmore.
The show began on Tuesday nights. At the time, The Red Skelton Hour was one of the most popular shows on television and was tough competition. When the show was revamped, it moved to Friday nights where it was up against Friday Night at the Movies and T.H.E. Cat. If you don’t remember that show, don’t feel bad, you probably remembered very few of the new series that debuted that year.
1967 was not a very profitable year for sitcoms specifically. Besides Phyllis Diller’s show, the season aired Run Buddy Run, Mr. Terrific, The Jean Arthur Show, Occasional Wife, and Pistols and Petticoats. That Girl was one of the few shows to return the following season.
Even though it was named as one of the worst sitcoms ever in several TV Guide listings, critics at the time praised the show. Phyllis Diller was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in 1967. Marlo Thomas won, but there was some great competition including Elizabeth Montgomery, Barbara Eden, and Barbara Stanwyck.
One reviewer on imdb.com titled their review “The worst thing I have ever seen in my life” and followed up with a review that said, “Just kidding, this show is amazing and hilarious and that is why I gave it a 10/10.”
When Vic Mizzy discussed the show in a Televison Academy interview, he said the director was not any good, the scripts weren’t as funny as they could have been and sometimes Phyllis didn’t know her part. He thought those were the reasons the show failed. He thought it could have been unbelievabley funny.
One day Vic got a large check from England and it turns out the show was a hit there decades after it was aired in the United States.
I watched a couple of the episodes on youtube for this blog. Phyllis Diller was in rare form. Her hair is crazy like always and slapstick was part of her performance. The laugh track was annoying, but the show was funny at times. Pam Freeman was a breath of fresh air. In one of the episodes, Phyllis and her brother-in-law were trying to finance a pizza-making machine. They had to work around the fact that Baldwin from the IRS put a pay phone in the home to keep them from making so many long-distance calls. One of the funniest scenes was when Phyllis and her brother-in-law climb up one of the phone poles to tap into the line to talk to Baldwin pretending to be other people in order to get Baldwin to approve their financing. Phyllis had to come up with a variety of different voices during the calls. You could definitely hear a bit of Green Acres influence in the background music for this show. This was a show that only could have been produced in the sixties.
One of the best parts of watching the show was seeing the old commercials. I had forgotten the one about Joy dish soap when the dinner guests could see themselves in the plates. It just reminded me it was joyful to see these old shows in their entirety.
It was a fun show to learn about with an outstanding cast and should have been much more successful than it was. Whether the failure came from the director, the scripts, or some other behind-the-scenes issue, I’m not sure. It’s worth watching an episode or two just to see the wackiness that was associated with some sixties shows, but if I have to watch ten episodes of a show, I’ll take That Girl every time.