Al Molinaro: Just a Guy From Kenosha

We are in the midst of our “Men of August” series and today we to learn about another Wisconsin resident, Al Molinaro. Last week we delved into the career of Tom Bosley; Molinaro and Bosley were castmates on Happy Days but made their way there on very different paths.

Photo: itvhub.com

Al’s parents immigrated from Italy. His father had a true success story. He began his life in America at age 15 working as a water boy with a railroad crew heading west. He met and married his wife in Kenosha, Wisconsin where they settled down to raise their family of ten children. Al was born in 1919.

Al’s father, Raffaele, owned a restaurant/hotel and sponsored hundreds of Italians so they could make their way to the United States. Al’s brother Joseph became the district attorney for Kenosha County, and his brother George served thirty years in the Wisconsin State Assembly.  

After high school, Al became a union leader at the Vincent-McCall Furniture Spring Factory. A year later, he later took a position with the City of Kenosha as assistant to the city manager. A friend of his had relocated to California to work in the aircraft industry and encouraged Al to give it a try.

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Where Al watched movies in Kenosha dreaming of being an actor–Photo:cinematreasures.com

In 1940, Al left Wisconsin for a career in California. Although Al would never live in Kenosha again, it held a special place in his heart and later in his life, he said that “I love that town; I love it. If it wasn’t that I left it for show business, I’d still be there today.”

His first job in Los Angeles was with Reginald Denny’s Hobby Shop. He began working odd jobs in the television industry such as a live action animator at George Pal’s studios.  He then worked for a bill collecting company until he had saved enough money to open his own collection agency. Although he moved on to another career, he held onto the collection agency until he retired. During this time, he also got involved in real estate. One of his properties was purchased for a huge retail mall which gave Molinaro the funds he needed to pursue an acting career.

During this time, he met his wife, Helen Martin, and they married in 1948, eventually divorcing in 1980.

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On Bewitched–Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Al began receiving television roles in 1969. He first appearance was on Green Acres. Lisa opens a box of cereal only to find real gemstones in her box of Crickly Wickly. It turns out jewel thieves hid their stolen goods in the box in a Chicago factory. You know this will be a fun episode right from the beginning when the credits show up graffitied on a wall behind the crooks. Al was one of those crooks, and he would show up in two other Green Acres episodes. He also appeared on Bewitched, Get Smart, That Girl, and Love American Style.

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He took an improv class where he met Penny Marshall. In 1970, Penny introduced Al to her brother Garry which would change his acting journey. When The Odd Couple was casting for roles, Al wanted an audition for the role of Murray Greshler, the police officer who played poker with Oscar and Felix. Garry didn’t think he was right for the role, so he resisted, but Al was so persistent, he finally brought him in and ended up offering him the job.

After the show ended, Garry offered Al the role of Al Delvecchio, replacing Pat Morita who was leaving Happy Days as the owner of Arnold’s. Happy Days was set in Milwaukee, a city Al was very familiar with. While on the show, Molinaro suggested that Robin Williams be cast in a role John Byner declined which led to a new career for Williams.

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In 1981, Al married Betty Farrell. About this same time, he was one of the cast members who made the transition from Happy Days to the show’s spinoff, Joanie Loves Chachi.

After portraying a restaurant owner on the air for many years, Al became one in real life when he and Anson Williams (Potsie on Happy Days) opened a chain of diners called Big Al’s.

Molinaro continued to receive acting offers from Garry for some of his movies, but he felt he had to turn them down. He couldn’t reconcile his role with the language in movies that he felt was offensive. As he said, “I can’t work in movies with Garry because I’m so square that I won’t be in a movie that has four-letter words in it. . . . You gotta live with yourself.”

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Molinaro retired from acting in the early nineties but continued to appear in commercials for another decade. His commercial career included being the spokesperson for Cortaid Hydrocortisone Cream, Mr. Big Paper Products, and 42 spots for On-Cor Frozen Foods.

Al was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the mid-90s. He died from complications from an infected gallbladder in 2015.

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Considering Al was only an actor for 22 years or so, he created several of our favorite characters. He seemed to have a full life and stayed very humble. Happy Days would not be the same without Al, and he added a lot of humor to The Odd Couple’s weekly poker nights. A true success story; I’m glad he provided us with so many memorable moments without sacrificing his personal moral standards.

Any Time Spent with the Cunninghams Are Happy Days

Continuing the theme “Living in the Past: Timeless Comedies,” we find ourselves transported to Milwaukee, WI in the 1950s getting to know the Cunninghams. Beginning September of 1984, Happy Days entertained fans for more than a decade, producing 255 episodes. When the show began, it was set in 1955, and when it went off the air eleven seasons later, it was 1965.

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Garry Marshall developed the pilot which first aired on Love American Style in 1972 as “Love and the Television Set.” The network wasn’t interested in turning the pilot into a show when it first came up. However, once George Lucas released American Graffiti in 1973, also starring Ron Howard, ABC took another look at the period show. The first two seasons, the show focused more on Richie Cunningham as he interacted with his friends and family. Jerry Paris (Jerry Helper on The Dick Van Dyke Show) directed 237 of the episodes. Happy Days was described as relentlessly ordinary. The plots revolved around the same types of problems most teens experienced in the fifties: dating, wanting to be popular, peer pressure, and similar experiences.

Richie’s family includes his father Howard (Tom Bosley) who owns a hardware store, and his mother Marion (Marion Ross). Howard is a family man and is also loyal to his lodge. Marion is content to stay at home, except for a brief stint when she gets a job as a waitress at Arnold’s. The cast also includes his younger sister Joanie (Erin Moran) and an older brother Chuck.

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Chuck would not be around long. At the end of the series, Tom Bosley says “he had the joy of raising two wonderful kids and watching them and their friends grow up into wonderful adults.” Poor Chuck. His existence wasn’t even acknowledged in the finale. When a character just disappears without an explanation, it is often referred to as the “Chuck Cunningham Syndrome.”

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Richie’s friends include Potsie Weber (Anson Williams) and Ralph Malph (Donny Most). Potsie, whose real name is Warren, was a singer. When Richie went into the Army so did Ralph. A famous catchphrase from the show was Ralph’s uttering “I still got it!” after he told a joke. Richie’s girlfriend is Lori Beth Allen (Lynda Goodfriend). She and Richie marry later in the series. The friends hung out at Arnold’s and got to know Arnold (Pat Morita) well. They listen to a lot of music at the restaurant; Richie’s favorite song was “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino. One fun fact about the drive-in was that the restrooms were labeled “Guys and Dolls.” Eventually, Arnold sells the restaurant to Al (Al Molinaro).

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The pilot included Ross, Howard, and Williams in their later roles. Harold Gould played the part of Howard and Susan Neher was Joanie. When the show got the go-ahead, Gould was involved in a play abroad and declined, so the role was given to Bosley.

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Robby Benson and Donny Most were both under consideration for the role of Richie. They had appeared in a commercial for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups together. When Howard was given the role, the role of Ralph was created for Most.

There are several references during the show made about Ron Howard’s past acting roles. One of these occurred when the family is leaving a theater where they watched The Music Man in 1962. Marion comments that she thought the little boy in the movie looked just like Richie when he was little. Howard did in fact play the role of Winthrop Paroo in The Music Man in 1962 when he was eight years old.

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There were two primary sets for the show: The Cunningham residence and Arnold’s Drive-In. The real exterior of the house was in Los Angeles. However, Arnold’s found its inspiration in The Milky Way Drive-In located on Port Washington Road in Glendale, WI, more recently Kopp’s Frozen Custard.

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The ratings began to decline during the second season, so Garry Marshall made Fonzie (Henry Winkler) more involved in the show. Fonzie moved into the apartment above the Cunninghams’ garage. Eventually he and Richie become best friends, and Fonzie is a basically a member of the family. Marion is the only person who is allowed to call him Arthur. Fonzie was also fond of Joanie and nicknamed her “Shortcake.” His best-known catchphrase was “Heyyyy!” By 1976 the show was number one.

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In season four, Arnold sells his restaurant to Al (Al Molinaro). That same year, Fonzie’s cousin Chachi (Scott Baio) comes to town. He would eventually fall in love with Joanie. After season nine, Ron Howard left the show, and Howard’s nephew Roger (Ted McGinley) joins the cast as the new phy-ed teacher at the high school.

In season ten, Joanie and Chachi also leave the show; Moran and Baio starred in the spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi, but when the new show failed, both characters returned to Happy Days. Richie’s leaving was explained by him joining the Army. In season 11 he returns briefly to learn his parents have obtained an interview for him with the Milwaukee Journal. Not wanting to hurt their feelings, he eventually admits his wish is to go to California and try his hand at screenwriting.

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Some of the best-known guest stars include sports star Hank Aaron, singer Frankie Avalon, western star Lorne Greene, Brady kids Maureen McCormick and Christopher Knight, legends Tom Hanks and Danny Thomas, and blonde beauties Morgan Fairchild, Charlene Tilton, and Cheryl Ladd.

The show’s theme song was a new version of an old standard, “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets. The theme was so popular it reached #39 in 1974; in real life, in 1955, the song had been a number one hit.  Beginning in season three, a newer song, “Happy Days” was featured at the beginning of the show.

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Amazingly, the show would be the source for a variety of spinoffs including Laverne & Shirley, Mork and Mindy, Joanie Loves Chachi, Blansky’s Beauties, and Out of the Blue.

Once so many of the main characters began leaving the show, the writing was on the wall. “Jumping the shark” is an expression that was coined when The Fonz actually jumped a shark. It’s a symbol for when a show grasps at straws to increase the ratings. Rarely is that type of exaggeration successful and it was not for Happy Days.

The show was so popular it never left its Tuesday night line-up. It aired at 8 pm EST for the first ten seasons and switched to 8:30 for its final season. However, the show had lost its magic, and the cancellation was inevitable. In fact, the show probably should have ended a season earlier. In addition to actors wanting to move on to new projects, the sixties were a very different time period than the fifties. The warm and fuzzy family themes that carried the show through the fifties and early sixties could not continue as the series had to survive the hippy era and the Vietnam War.

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Although the show was a team effort, there is no denying that Winkler’s portrayal of the Fonz was the most popular character of the decade and one of the most iconic in television history. After the show was cancelled, his leather jacket was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution for the National Museum of American History. A bronze statue of the Fonz was erected in Milwaukee in 2008 along the Milwaukee Riverwalk.

This character warrants a closer look. One of the people who auditioned for the role of Fonzie was Micky Dolenz from The Monkees. He was a lot taller than the other cast members, so he was bypassed while they looked for a shorter actor which ended in Winkler’s hiring. Fonzie’s real name is Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli. His grandmother raised him and his nickname was Skippy. His hero is The Lone Ranger, and he carries a picture of him in his wallet.

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Winkler said he based some of Fonzie’s movements and speech after Sylvester Stallone whom he had worked with in The Lords of Flatbush. The Fonz loved motorcycles, but Winkler decidedly did not, so most scenes were shot with the bike attached to a platform which was pulled by a truck, so Winkler never had to ride it. The cycle was the same model Steve McQueen rode in The Great Escape in 1963.

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This show had a slew of catchphrases, and one of them came from The Fonz whenever he was trying to get someone to answer a question correctly.  When they said the right answer, his response was “correctamundo.”

Fonzie was adored by many kids, especially kids who needed some extra help or attention. Marshall was asked if the show could do something to help kids realize how important reading was. On one of the episodes, The Fonz went to the library and checked out a book, saying “Everybody is allowed to read.” That week, library card registrations increased by 500%. During one day of filming, a call came to Paramount Studios. It was from a teenage boy who was contemplating suicide. He wanted to talk to Fonzie. Winkler picked up the call and gave the boy hope, convincing him not to take his life.

The only negative thing about Fonzie was the result he had on Winkler’s future acting career.  It took a long time before he could shake that image and be considered for other types of acting roles.

Photo: happydays.wikia.com

In 2019, the cast reunited to celebrate the life of Garry Marshall who passed away in 2016. In an article by Gina Vivinetto in Today on November 14, 2019, Donny Most discussed the cast. “We were so good at what we did because we respected each other and loved each other.” He went on to say “we made it look easy and it wasn’t.”

In another article during that same event written by Zach Seemayer November 17, 2019], Williams and Howard both talked about the mentoring they received from Marshall. Williams said, “He really cared about us. More than as actors. He really inspired us to learn because he said [we might] wanna wear many hats.” Howard also learned from his mentor, saying “Garry was a natural teacher and he loved collecting theories and axioms about life but also making a show. They were all hilarious but they all rang true and they were great lessons.”

Both Howard and Winkler told writer Stephanie Nolasco of Fox News how they felt about each other and their time on Happy Days. Winkler had a hard time dealing with his sudden fame, and Howard was able to provide some grounding for him. Winkler described this time, “It’s unnatural—the human condition does not prepare you for stardom. That’s just the way it is. So, you have to hold on to yourself and then you’ve got friends like Ron who doesn’t take it all seriously. I learned from him; he was my teacher. And Garry Marshall never took bad behavior from anybody. He was a father figure. He was very funny and very idiosyncratic, and then he was very strict.”

UNITED STATES – JULY 10: HAPPY DAYS – Gallery – Season Two – 7/10/75 Fonzie (Henry Winkler) Richie (Ron Howard) Potsie (Anson WIlliams) and Ralph (Donny Most) (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

Winkler also discussed his friendship with Howard. “I think people gravitate to the Fonzie/Richie relationship because Ron and I are ten years apart. He was 19 and I was 27. We had a connection that you cannot describe in real life, and it was similar off-camera. He gave me my first mitt; I’d never played baseball before. He’s my brother.”

Howard echoed the sentiments. “We were fast friends from the beginning. It continues all these years later. It was exciting for me to work with Henry because he was really a trained actor who attended Yale Drama School; just a trained New York actor. And, I’d grown up sort of through the Hollywood television system, so for me to work with this guy who was so thoughtful, so creative, and yet so hilarious, was really an opportunity for me to learn and grow and we just clicked, you know.”

UNITED STATES – AUGUST 11: HAPPY DAYS – “Get a Job” 2/25/75 Ron Howard, Henry Winkler (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

The entire cast spent a lot of time together and participated in softball events. Marshall put the league together with casts from other television shows partly to help keep actors out of trouble and away from drugs. Winkler described the cast being “very much like a family. I love them, I talk to them, I email them, and I see them.”

Photo: thenewyorktimes.com

For eleven years Happy Days provided all of us with lovely memories of the Cunningham family and their friends. It is one of the best sitcoms of the 1970s and has held up beautifully in syndication. Life in the fifties was a fun and heart-warming time (at least on television), but all good things must come to an end, and Happy Days was no exception. The good news is we can get immersed back into the Cunninghams’ lives whenever we want to. Eleven seasons provides for a lot of binge watching. Better make some extra popcorn.

“I’m a neurotic nut, but you’re crazy!”

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Today we learn about the story behind The Odd Couple.  I think that this show is one of the most under-appreciated shows out there. It came at a time when shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and M*A*S*H were being acclaimed for their sophisticated writing and depth of characters.  The Odd Couple achieved these same credentials. Garry Marshall learned the importance of character-driven scripts during his time writing for The Dick Van Dyke Show. Ironically, Marshall wrote 18 scripts for The Dick Van Dyke Show and Jerry Paris (Jerry Helper on The Dick Van Dyke Show) directed 18 episodes for The Odd Couple.

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In March of 1965, the play debuted. Written by Neil Simon, The Odd Couple was based on the real-life experiences of his brother Danny. The play ran for 966 performances and was nominated for a Tony that year. In 1968, a movie was made starring Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison and Jack Lemmon as Felix Unger. Simon signed away his television rights. When Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson developed the series, it was listed as “Neil Simon’s Odd Couple. Simon objected to his name being associated with the show, because he said he did not know what the writing would be like. His name was removed, but he did come to appreciate the series, and he had a cameo role in the episode “Two on the Aisle” in 1974.

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The show was on the air for five years from 1970-1975, producing 114 episodes. Tony Randall was hired first.  Both Dean Martin and Art Carney were considered for the part of Felix. Randall was pushing for Mickey Rooney to get the role of Oscar.  Martin Balsam was also under consideration. Garry Marshall fought hard for Jack Klugman, and eventually Klugman received the part. Both Randall and Klugman had starred in different versions of the play.

The show was on the verge of cancellation every year, but the summer ratings were always so high that the show continued to be renewed. Jack Klugman had high hopes for the syndication of the show, and he convinced Tony Randall to give up part of his salary for syndication rights. Klugman was right; in the 1980s, the show was on the air on several channels. Although the show never cracked the top 30, critics liked the show and it was nominated for an Emmy three times for Outstanding Comedy Series. Both Klugman and Randall were nominated for Emmys every year the show was on the air for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Performance; Klugman won in 1971 and 1973 while Randall took home the award in 1975.

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This was the memorable introduction to the show each week:

“On November 13, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. (A door slams shut, only to reopen and we see someone angrily hand Felix his saucepan) That request came from his wife. Deep down, he knew she was right, but he also knew that someday, he would return to her. With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his childhood friend, Oscar Madison. Sometime earlier, Madison’s wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return. Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?”

Bill Woodson narrated the opening. The actions of the two leads during the credits changed a bit from year to year but centered around Oscar being a slob and Felix being a neat freak.

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There were several variations about how Felix and Oscar met.  As you can see in the opening, they were mentioned as being childhood friends. However, in the first season, one of the episodes recalled a murder trial where Felix and Oscar were jurors, claiming they met then.  Later several episodes mentioned them meeting in the Army. In Season 3, the word “childhood” was removed from the opening segment.

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During the first season, the show was filmed in the same apartment as the movie version. It was done with one camera and a laugh track.  For the second and subsequent years, three cameras were used, and the laugh track was replaced by a live audience.

Oscar and Felix lived at 1049 Park Avenue, an existing address in New York. The actual building was used for the opening credits and exterior shots. Almost all the exterior shots feature two cars: a 1966 Ford 4-door station wagon and a red VW Beatle. Fans still visit the building, and occasionally mail is delivered for Oscar or Felix.

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Many of the show’s details were adapted from real life. Brett Somers played Oscar’s ex-wife and just happened to be his ex-wife in real life. Oscar and Klugman both followed horse racing. Oscar wrote for the New York Herald.  The Herald did exist from 1835-1924 when it merged with the Tribune.

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Felix’s kids were named Edna and Leonard. Tony Randall’s middle name was Leonard, and his sister’s name was Edna. Felix moved out of the house November 13, Garry Marshall’s birthday. Randall and Felix both had an appreciation for opera and classical music.

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Oscar was a hot dog and beer guy while Felix was a filet mignon and red wine person.

ABC was always worried about the issue of homosexuality. As a prank, Klugman and Randall would occasionally provide improvised dialogue to send to the network just to get them worked up.

As mentioned earlier, Brett Somers played Oscar’s ex-wife. Randall’s ex-wife Gloria was played by Janis Hansen. Pamela Ferdin had the role of Edna, while the role of Leonard was played by two different actors who would both go on to become teen idols: Willy Aames and Leif Garrett.

Al Molinaro played Murray the cop, the guys’ friend and one of the regular poker players. Penny Marshall played Oscar’s secretary Myrna Turner. Elinor Donahue played Miriam Welby who was Felix’s girlfriend until the last season. The last episode of the series reunites Felix and Gloria who remarry.

There were many celebrity guest stars on the show for the five-year run, and many of them played themselves. Some of the famous faces to appear on the show include Martina Arroyo, Roone Arledge, Dick Clark, Roy Clark, Howard Cosell, Richard Dawson, Richard Fredricks, Monty Hall, Hugh Hefner, Billy Jean King, Allen Ludden, Jaye P. Morgan, Bobby Riggs, Bubba Smith, Betty White, Paul Williams, and Wolfman Jack. Garry Marshall shows up four different times on the show–as a drummer, as Werner Turner, and as Man 1 and Man 2.

Two of the best-loved episodes were “Password” and “Fat Farm.”

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In “Password,” Oscar Madison  is invited to be a celebrity guest on Password after he runs into the show’s host, Allen Ludden, and his wife, Betty White, at a restaurant. Because  Felix loves Password, he begs Oscar to accept the invitation, and to bring Felix along as his partner. During the taping, Felix overthinks every clue. When Oscar says “meat,” Felix says “Lincoln” (because “Lincoln loved mayonnaise”). When the password is “bird,” Felix gives Oscar the clue “Aristophanes” (because Aristophanes wrote The Birds). “If Charlie Chan had these clues, he’d be running a laundry,” Oscar grumbles. But the game isn’t a total disaster. When Oscar gets the password “ridiculous,” he gives Felix the clue “Aristophanes” right back, and Felix responds correctly. The friends lose the game but not their friendship.

In “Fat Farm,” proving he’s in top shape, Felix stands on his head and jumps onto a desk (earning Randall applause from the audience), while Oscar can barely make it through a couple of push-ups. Oscar rationalizes why he should not go on Felix’s annual two-week visit to a health camp–“I like my blubber! It keeps me warm, it keeps me company, it keeps my pants up!.” Felix wears him down, so Oscar goes along. It makes him crazy that the camp serves imaginary desserts and bans food from the bedrooms. Soon Oscar discovers a delicatessen just down the road and undertakes a smuggling operation.

Jack Klugman and Tony Randall developed a very close and life-lasting friendship during the years they appeared together as Oscar and Felix. After the show was cancelled, they continued to see each other often. They performed in regional productions of The Odd Couple from the late 1980s through the mid 1990s. They appeared in commercials as Felix and Oscar for Yoplait yogurt, Yahtzee, and Eagle snacks. They even recorded an album “The Odd Couple Sings” for London Records.

On March 23, 2001, Larry King Live featured Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. This clip from the show gives us a good idea of what their friendship meant to them.

KING: Was it as much fun doing it, Tony, as it appeared there?

RANDALL: Yes, yeah. Especially working with Jack. It sounds as if I’m saying the right thing, but it’s true. But acting has always been fun for me. I’d rather act than do almost anything else.

KING: Did you — Jack, was this a natural simpatico between the two of you? It just happened?

KLUGMAN: Oh yeah, it happened so beautifully. Like, we had maybe five pages that would remain — from Monday when we read the script — five pages would remain by Friday by the time we did it.

If for instance, he had to teach me manners, it would be Tony teaches Jack manners, and it would be four blank pages, and then we’d improvise. And he’s the best improviser in the world. He taught me how to improvise. People when they improvise, they talk, talk, trying to fill time. He would provoke — I had to teach him football, right? He knows it, he watches sports all the time. But instead of — I said, all right, now get down, so he came next to me. So, I said we’re not the Rockettes, come over here. And then he put his face right here, and I said, I don’t want to dance with you. So, he would provoke you into saying something funny. That’s true improvisation. It was wonderful. I had a great time. I learned a lot.

KING: Was it natural for you too, you and him?

RANDALL: It just clicked.

KING: It just clicked?

RANDALL: That doesn’t always happen.

KING: No.

RANDALL: It doesn’t even happen always with good actors.

KING: You could put two good actors and put them together, and it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work, right?

RANDALL: That’s right, that’s right.

KING: So, there has to be a natural chemistry?

RANDALL: A spark. You can’t explain, you can’t predict it.

KLUGMAN: But you also, if I may say, you both got to want the same thing, which is the best show you can put on. See, I mean, we were not interested in billing or in stardom. We wanted this to be the best show we could. And we never had any of that, I should get more, he should get more. We never, ever had that kind of argument, never. We may have discussed what’s funny to him, what’s funny to me, and we’d work it out. But it was wonderful that way. There was no jealousy.

. . .

CALLER: And I was very touched by that, and I was wondering if you could tell us how much your friendship has played a part in your life and your careers and forgive me if you’ve already talked about that.

KING: Good question. Tony?

RANDALL: Well, perhaps this is an odd thing to say. I’ve had almost no friends in my life. Very few. You count them on this many fingers, so the friendship with Jack is pretty important.

KING: Why?

RANDALL: I don’t know. I was married for 54 years. And we didn’t have children, and we were sufficient to each other. And we didn’t have friends. We were just a little world. And we were happy. And we had almost no social life. And my friendship with Jack just grew and it was about the only friendship I had.

KING: Do you agree The Odd Couple is about friendship?

RANDALL: It’s about male bonding, absolutely. That’s what the play’s about.

KING: Jack, what kind of friend is Tony Randall to you?

KLUGMAN: He’s the best.

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Tony Randall passed away in 2004 at age 84 from pneumonia following heart surgery. Following Randall’s death, Jack Klugman authored a book with Burton Rocks titled Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship which was published in August of 2005. He wanted to pay a tribute to his friend and hoped to raise money through royalties which would enable a theater to be named in honor of Randall. Klugman talks about the Broadway that existed when they were young and how it influenced each of them. He said Randall founded the National Actors Theater with $8,000,000. He worked diligently to promote it from 1991 when it opened until his death in 2004. And he paid $35,000 a week to bring local students in to expose them to good theater. After his death, it disbanded.

I could not find a Tony Randall Theater, but I was able to locate the Tony Randall Theatrical Fund which supports “nonprofit theater companies, innovative productions, initiatives in art education, and arts-based community outreach programs.”

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In commenting on Randall’s death, Klugman said “My favorite episode of The Odd Couple was one where we were on Password. They were throwing Tony off the show, and he had a great adlib. He said, ‘Oh, boy, what a gyp!’ And that’s the way I feel now. What a gyp.”

Jack Klugman died in 2012 from prostrate cancer at the age of 90.

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It’s nice to learn that Felix and Oscar were truly the friends we thought them to be in real life. With all the articles currently being written about the lack of male friendships and how detrimental that is on men’s health, these two were good role models.

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In 2005, the American Booksellers Association posted an interview with Klugman on November 3, written by Tom Nolan. Jack was discussing some of the book events he attended and what it meant to him to talk with viewers who watched and enjoyed The Odd Couple. He received intimate feedback from strangers about why the show was important to them. He said “You know you do a show, and you do the best you can. We used to work until eleven o’clock every night on The Odd Couple, to make it good. Now it’s 30 years since it’s been off the air, and I go around, and people say: ‘I grew up with you. I sat on the couch with my mother or my father, and we laughed with you.’ And suddenly the people have faces, and names, and feelings. It’s been invigorating! You know, you don’t count on that; you don’t know that you’re really entertaining people or having an effect on people’s lives. I had a guy from Sports Illustrated who did an interview with me say he became a sportswriter because I was a sportswriter on The Odd Couple. Yeah, it’s like wow, you’re kidding. Now I’m getting this in person, and I really love it.”

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We all thank you Jack Klugman and Tony Randall for the entertainment you provided and the friendship you created!

Go Green, Green Acres That Is

In the 1950s, a lot of the top shows were set in residential or suburban areas:  Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet, the Donna Reed Show, and December Bride to name a few.  In the early 1960s, the rural sitcom became the hottest genre.  In 1963 The Beverly Hillbillies was #1, Petticoat Junction was #4, and The Andy Griffith Show was #5. Filmways offered Paul Henning the chance to produce a new rural show with no pilot necessary.  Filmways was created in 1952, and the company was behind many successful shows including The Debbie Reynolds Show, The Pruitts of Southampton, Mr. Ed, The Addams Family, and Cagney and Lacey.

Paul Henning approached Jay Sommers to create the new rural comedy. Sommers based the series on a radio show he had written in 1950 —  Granby’s Green Acres.  Granby was based on a book, Acres and Pains by S.J. Perelman. The radio show only lasted for 13 episodes and starred Gale Gordon and Bea Benaderet. Granby was a former banker who moved to the country to run a farm.  He also had a daughter, and the general store owner was a major character, Will Kimble, played in the first episode by Howard McNear. A couple of titles proposed were Country Cousins and The Eddie Albert Show, but the final decision was Green Acres.

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Green Acres ran on CBS from 1965-1971 with solid ratings. It produced 170 episodes, all filmed in color.  Richard Bare directed most of the shows. At the end of each episode, Eva Gabor would say “This has been a Filmways presentation dahling.”

While the Beverly Hillbillies took a family out of the mountains and put them in Beverly Hills, Green Acres went with the opposite scenario.

The premise of the show was that Oliver Douglas  who had been a busy attorney in New York City decides he wants to move to the country to run his own farm. His wife Lisa  does not agree. He buys a farm unseen in Hooterville. We are never told where Hooterville is, and I think everyone has their own idea of which state it might be in. The house and farm are more run-down and dilapidated than Lisa ever imagined in her worst nightmare.  The citizens of Hooterville are a quirky set of characters.

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The debut show was done as a documentary narrated by John Daly, a former newscaster and the host then of What’s My Line.  Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor appeared on What’s My Line later in the fall as a thank you to Daly. As you can see below, Oliver’s mother is horrified by his choice.

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The theme song is memorable and tells the backstory of the Douglases:

Oliver: Green Acres is the place to be – Farm living is the life for me –Land spreading out so far and wide – Keep Manhattan, just give me the countryside.

Lisa: No, New York is where I’d rather stay – I get allergic smelling hay – I just adore a penthouse view – Darling, I love you but give me Park Avenue

Oliver: The chores

Lisa: The stores

Oliver: Fresh air

Lisa: Times Square

Oliver: You are my wife

Lisa: Goodbye city life

Both: Green Acres, we are there

Snippets of country and New York city were shown while the stars sing, and ends with both of them in the same pose as “American Gothic” by Grant Wood.

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Like the Andy Griffith Show, the series worked because of the interaction between these Hooterville citizens who become believable for us. Let’s meet the cast of characters.

Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert) – Oliver is intelligent, hard-working, and practical to a fault.  He has to deal with a kooky wife, a disapproving mother (played by Eleanor Audley who was only 5 months older than Albert), and the quirky neighbors that surrounded him. However, Oliver has a respect for the wisdom these people have about farming and rural life.  Despite the fact that he seems to be the only sane person in the valley, it’s obvious he truly has an affection for the folks he lives with.

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Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor) – Lisa grew up in a wealthy Hungarian family. Her misuse of the English language is one of her endearing qualities. She has a hard time adjusting to farm life.  In one episode she is using a stapler to fix Oliver’s socks.  While Oliver is telling her how woman for centuries have sewn socks, Fred Ziffel, the most experienced farmer in Hooterville enters the room and tells her he notices she is mending socks; his wife does it the same way. Despite the fact that Lisa did not want to leave the city, she adapts to living in the country quickly and develops an understanding with the neighbors Oliver never attains.

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Eb Dawson (Tom Lester) – Eb is the farmhand who lives with the Douglases.  He comes off as naïve, but we understand Eb is much smarter than he lets on.  He is always trying to get less work for more money.  He calls them Mom and Dad which Lisa loves but drives Oliver crazy.

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Mr. Eustace Haney (Pat Buttram)- Mr. Haney is the unethical and dishonest salesman who originally sold Oliver the farm, which belonged to his family. He is always showing up to sell them something they need at outrageous prices. [Pat Buttram was Gene Autrey’s sidekick in the movies and tv; Smiley Burnette, Charley, who runs the Cannonball, the local train on Green Acres and Petticoat Junction, was Autrey’s sidekick in radio and movies and  Buttram replaced him when he moved on.]

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Sam Drucker (Frank Cady) – Sam was a busy guy; he ran the general store, he was the newspaper editor, was the only printer in town, he was part of the volunteer fire department, he was the justice of the peace, and he’s the postman. Apart from Oliver, he was the smartest and most sane person in the valley, and he and Oliver often commiserated about the crazy life going on around them.

Hank Kimball (Alvy Moore) – Mr. Kimball was the county agricultural agent who was supposed to help Oliver adjust to farming. He often loses his train of thought and rarely follows through on the news or information he is supposed to relay.

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The Monroe Brothers – Alf (Sid Melton) and Ralph (Mary Grace Canfield) are a brother and sister team that Alf portrays as brother and brother in order get work. Their projects are never finished on time, and rarely finished the right way.

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Fred and Doris Ziffel (Hank Patterson and Barbara Pepper/Fran Ryan) – the Ziffels were successful farmers.  They had no children, but they had a pet pig that they considered a son.

 

Arnold Ziffel – Arnold Ziffel was their pet pig and one of the most intelligent people in Hooterville. He understands English, attends the local grade school, lives inside in his own bedroom, can sign his name, and is a bit addicted to television watching, especially westerns. A new pig was used each season because they grew so fast. The Union demanded the pigs be payed $250 a day and were trained by Frank Inn. In 1967 Arnold won a Patsy award.

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Some of the other animals featured on the show included Eleanor the Cow; Bertram the rooster; Alice the hen; and Mr. Haney’s dog, Cynthia, a basset hound who had a huge crush on Arnold.

Green Acres had its fair share of guest stars including Parley Baer, Robert Cummings, June Foray, Alan Hale Jr., Elaine Joyce, Gordon Jump, Bernie Kopell, Al Lewis, Rich Little, Al Molinaro, Pat Morita, Jerry Van Dyke, and Jesse White.

The show was 25% surrealism, 25% satire, and 50% just plain fun.

Some of the running gags on the show were the fact that people, except Oliver, could see the credits running, and Lisa often commented on them. A lot of the jokes were at Oliver’s expense.  He was the only one in town who could not understand Arnold’s grunts. Also, whenever Oliver got passionate about something, he went into a monologue, usually patriotic, and everyone but him could hear fifes playing.

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Lisa’s hotcakes were good for many projects, just not eating. The Douglases had a feud with the phone company because they were supposed to move their phone inside.  Whenever they had to use the phone, Oliver had to climb up a phone pole to talk. Oliver had a Hoyt-Clagwell tractor which was usually breaking down, catching on fire, or falling apart.

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We also had the stark extremes of sophisticated New York living and rural life.  Lisa continued to dress in beautiful gowns and furs.  They slept in a huge, expensive bed, with an elaborate chandelier over their heads, but their closet had no back so neighbors walked in on and off. The fire department marching band often practices at Sam Drucker’s store but for all five years whenever they practice, they only know one song, There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.

Although Lisa continues to threaten to move back to New York City, aided and abetted by Oliver’s mother, we know she loves him and will never leave without him.  Despite their arguments, Lisa and Oliver are frequently seen kissing and hints are given about them retiring to their room together. In real life, Albert and Gabor were dear friends and they are both buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. Tom Lester, Eb, credited Albert with helping him as an actor and being a surrogate father to him; the two remained close friends until Albert passed away.

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There are many cross-overs with Petticoat Junction and the Beverly Hillbillies. Sam Drucker was featured in both Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. Some of the characters visited each other on various episodes. It is funny that Bea Benaderet starred in Petticoat Junction as well as the radio show Granby’s Green Acres which means Green Acres was based on her radio show and was a spin-off of her television show. In 1968, a Beverly Hillbillies Thanksgiving Show united cast members from all three shows.

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With 170 episodes, it’s hard to come up with the best five, but after looking at various polls and tv guide reviews, I will do my best to represent the majority’s votes:

“Music to Milk By” – Eb wants to win a radio contest and he has to listen day and night which cuts into his chores, especially when the cow swallows the radio.

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“I Didn’t Raise My Pig to be a Soldier” – Arnold Ziffel gets a draft notice. Oliver acts as his attorney before the draft board. They are assuming Oliver is making fun of them with the pig and the real Arnold is elsewhere. After a lot of explanations and some time in jail, Oliver convinces them Arnold is really a pig.  The end of the show has Oliver back before the draft board because Ralph Monroe, a woman, who they think is a man, has been drafted.

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“The Hooterville Image” – The town agrees Oliver needs to do chores in overalls. He has been farming in a vest and dress shirt. They finally convince him to become more accepted by switching his attire until they see the overalls Lisa’s dress designer came up with.

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“The Computer Age” – Ralph Monroe joins a computer dating service. Oliver and Lisa disagree on whether that is a good idea. Oliver thinks it is. He also thinks computers are the best way to run a farm. To prove her point, Lisa uses the service to see if she and Oliver would have been paired up.

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“A Star Named Arnold is Born, Parts 1 and 2” – Arnold appears in a play at the local theater. Lisa arranges for an old friend to give him a chance in show business. In the second part, Lisa and Oliver chaperone his trip to Hollywood to star in a motion picture.

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Oddly enough the top four were all from season 2, and “A Star Named Arnold Is Born” is from season 3.

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In Spring of 1971, Green Acres was still pulling in good ratings.  However, the Rural Purge of 1971 got rid of all shows that had country leanings whether they were audience favorites or not.

 

In full disclosure, I loved Petticoat Junction growing up, and I could not stand the Beverly Hillbillies.  I thought Green Acres was okay but if I missed it that was okay too.  As I’ve gotten older, I still love Petticoat Junction, and I still don’t care for the Beverly Hillbillies, but I have developed a much greater appreciation for Green Acres.  If a show was capable of having a sense of humor, this one did.   It never took itself seriously.  Eddie Albert was willing to be the straight guy to the rest of the ensemble. The character interaction worked, and no dialogue came off as too zany.  The citizens might not have always agreed or understood each other’s lifestyles, but they had affection and respect for each other. Lisa’s reading the credits and different characters addressing the audience brought us in on the jokes and made us part of the Green Acres family. Now when I watch the show, I laugh out loud – a lot! I don’t laugh at the characters, I laugh with them. For being a rural sitcom, this show has some sophisticated humor.  If you have not watched the show in a while, you owe it to yourself, as well as the cast and crew who created it, to get to know the folks in Hooterville.

 

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Love is definitely in the air; whether you think it smells rancid or fragrant depends on your current relationship status.  Remember those days when everything hinged on what type of valentine your current crush gave you at the school party?  Love seemed to be the answer to all questions.  We’re going to look at some classic (and not so classic) television shows that promoted that kind of love.  Sorry, I can’t tell you if that pain you’re feeling is cupid’s arrow as it hit you or heartburn, but I can share some information with you as we learn about shows with “Love” in the title.

Love That Bob (1955). Bob Cummings played ladies’ man and photographer Bob Collins.  His widowed sister, Rosemary Decamp, and nephew (Dwayne Hickman) also lived with him. Before she moved in with the Bradys, Ann B. Davis was Schultzy, Charmaine Schultz, Bob’s assistant, who was in love with him.  Every show opened with Bob holding a camera and saying, “Hold it! I think you’re going to like this picture.” The beautiful Joi Lansing was another model who also was in love with Bob, but he was having too much fun playing the field.  When he never accepted Joi, we knew deep down in his heart, he realized that Schultzy was the one for him. While Bob couldn’t decide on only one woman, the networks couldn’t decide on only one channel for the show either.  It was on NBC Jan-May of 1955, moved to CBS for two seasons, moved back to NBC, and then finished up the last year and a half on ABC. I guess no one could remember where the show was supposed to end up after 1959, so it was cancelled. Bob was one of the first stars to play two characters in one show. Bob played himself and his grandfather Josh Collins. A decade later, Fred MacMurray would play Uncle Ferguson in addition to Steve Douglas in My Three Sons.

Love That Jill (1957). Rival managers of modeling agencies are played by real life couple Anne Jeffreys and Robert Sterling who had played the married ghosts on Topper.  I guess they spooked the network because they disappeared after three months.

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Love and Marriage (1959). Now we know what Uncle Charlie really did before he moved in with My Three Sons.  He owned a music publishing company that was close to bankruptcy.  William Demerest plays a business owner who brings his daughter into the company as a partner.  She and her lawyer husband also move into his house.  She loves rock and roll; her father hates it, but it might save his company. The network shut down the agency after four months to promote family harmony.

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959). This show was based on a 1953 book and it was the first television series to feature teenagers as the main characters. I guess when Dwayne Hickman lived with Bob Collins, he picked up a lot of tips for the ladies, and as high schooler Dobie, he spent most of his time trying to find a girl to go out with and some money to pay for the date. Since his family owned a small grocery store, he was on his own for finances. Once he graduated, the show had to come up with new situations, so Dobie was in college for a couple of years as well as the army for a year. Dobie would go to the Rodin’s Thinker in the park and talk to us and himself about his love life. His best friend was beatnik and bongo player Maynard G. Krebs.  Bob Denver played this role before he went on to star in Gilligan’s Island.  He had never acted before this show; he had been a grade school teacher, and his sister, who worked for the casting department, included his name in the auditions. Super smart Zelda Gilroy was in love with Dobie.  We knew he would eventually end up with her, his own Schultzy.  She always wrinkled her nose at him and before he could stop himself he always did it back. In later years when they did two reunion movies, Dobie and Zelda were in fact married.  Sheila James, who played Zelda, became a California senator.

During the first season, Dobie thought he was in love with Thalia Meninger played by Tuesday Weld.  Thalia only liked Dobie when he had money which was not often. In real life they did not get along, and she left after the first season. Another character who disappeared after the first season was his brother Davey Gillis who was played by Hickman’s real brother, Darryl. Dobie also suffered through Milton Armitage played by Warren Beatty and then Chatsworth Osborne Jr. (Steve Franken) who were his arrogant, wealthy competition. Some of Dobie’s many girlfriends included Marlo Thomas (who became That Girl), Sally Kellerman (who was Hot Lips in the M*A*S*H movie), Ellen Burstyn (starred in many movies), Barbara Bain (who would be in Mission Impossible), and Yvonne Craig (before she was Bat Girl). Two interesting things I learned about this show was that DC Comics created a comic book series of 26 issues about the kids from 1960-1964. Also this show inspired the Scooby Doo Gang in 1969. Fred was based on Dobie, Velma on Zelda, Daphne on Thalia, and Shaggy on Maynard. Garry Marshall also reported that this was one of his main influences for his creation of the show Happy Days. After four years, I guess these kids were too innocent to handle all the crazy situations coming in the sixties and the show ended but has appeared in reruns often since it left the air.

Peter Loves Mary (1960). This couple, played by Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy, were married in real life. They play a show business couple who moved to Connecticut.  Luckily they have a housekeeper played by one of my all-time favorites Bea Benaderet who takes care of the house and children. Opposite the Green Acres viewpoint, Mary wants life in suburbia while Peter loves the city. The network didn’t want to weigh in on the argument so they took the show off the air after the first season.

Love On a Rooftop (1966). Judy Carne (pre Laugh-In days) and Peter Duel are a young married couple, living in San Francisco. He is an apprentice architect and she’s an art student, who gave up her dad’s money for love. Rich Little played their neighbor who designed restaurant menus, among other jobs. It was cancelled after one season.  Oddly, in the summer of 1971 it aired as a rerun show but never aired again.

To Rome with Love (1969). John Forsythe tries his hand in another sitcom.  In this one, he plays a widower who has accepted a job at an international school in Rome, and he heads for Europe with his three daughters.  His sister comes along the first season, mainly to try to talk them into going back home to Iowa.  For the second season, they gave her a one-way ticket home and brought Walter Brennan in as Forsythe’s father-in-law. The family lives in Mama Vitale’s boarding house.  After the second season, they all got air fare home and the show was done. Don Fedderson produced this show, and in the second season they had two cross-over episodes, one with the cast of Family Affair and one with Uncle Charlie, Robbie and Katie from My Three Sons.

Bridget Loves Bernie (1972). Bridget, played by Meredith Baxter, marries Bernie, played by David Birney.  The only problem is that she’s Catholic and he’s Jewish.  This would not even be noticed in today’s world, but in 1972 it caused quite a commotion. Her parents were wealthy and Irish.  His parents owned a deli and the couple lived above it. The ratings were very good–the fifth highest rated show, but they were cancelled after the first season anyway. It was the highest rated show to ever be cancelled, and the network finally caved into the pressure of public protests for having an inter-religious marriage. One fun fact is the Meredith Baxter and David Birney married in real life after this show was over.  However, that was before she came out of the closet, which created another mixed marriage . . .

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Love Thy Neighbor (1973). This show was a summer replacement in the days of All in the Family.  Charlie Wilson, a shop steward at Turner Electronics, lives in LA. When new neighbors move in, not only are they black, but the new guy is hired as an efficiency expert at Turner.  The show explored how two couples of different races become friends.  The white couple was played by Ron Masak and Joyce Bulifant.  The black couple was played by Janet MacLachlan and Harrison Page.  The network didn’t love any of them because they sent them packing after 11 episodes.

Loves Me, Loves Me Not (1976). Jane, played by Susan Dey, fresh from the Partridge Family, is a teacher.  Dick (Kip Gilman) is a reporter.  They have a couple of dates with mixed results and aren’t sure if they like each other or not or should continue dating.  Dick’s boss and his wife are also characters on the show.  Apparently CBS decided it loved them not because they were cancelled after one month.

Love, Sidney (1981). If the network thought they had problems when Bridget loved Bernie, they really stirred up a hornet’s nest with this show.  Based on a movie, Sidney Shore, Tony Randall was the first person to play an openly gay character.  Sidney is an adman and lives with a young woman and her daughter, played by Swoosie Kurtz and Kalena Kiff. There were some heart-warming stories including two different episodes when both Sidney and Kurtz’s character had to make peace with less-than-perfect parents. Once again, the network gave into public dissatisfaction and cancelled the show midway through season 2.

Joanie Loves Chachi (1981). This show was a mid-season replacement.  Chachi (Scott Baio) left Milwaukee and Happy Days and moved with his parents (Ellen Travolta and Al Molinaro who had owned Arnolds’s malt shop) to Chicago.  He sang in a restaurant his family owned.  Because Joanie (Erin Moran) loved Chachi, she convinced her parents to let her go to Northwestern to be a nurse, but she spent more time singing with Chachi. Most of the shows involved one of them being jealous of the other and ending the fight with a song. In the first season this new show followed Happy Days and was a huge success. The second season it moved to Thursday and bombed in the ratings. The network sent both Joanie and Chachi back to Milwaukee after the second season where they continued on Happy Days until it went off the air in 1984.

Everybody Loves Raymond (1996). Ray Romano played sports columnist Ray Barrone.  He lived with his wife (Patricia Heaton) and kids, right across the street from his overbearing mother (Doris Roberts), cynical father (Peter Boyle), and jealous older brother (Brad Garrett). No one had any privacy on this street, but there were a lot of poignant episodes. We all knew everybody loved Raymond, but they also loved each other.  In 2004 after 9 seasons, the network decided not everybody loved Raymond, just most people, and they cancelled their sports subscription.

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If you’re not crazy about love right now, apparently you’re in good company because the majority of these shows were cancelled within a year.  If you’re a hopeless romantic, you’re probably watching Everybody Loves Raymond on Nickelodeon. Happy Valentine’s Day, or not.