Bob Newhart: Laughing Through Life

This month I wanted to honor one of our most beloved television comedians: Bob Newhart. Next week we’ll spend some time learning more about The Bob Newhart Show.

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Newhart was born George Robert Newhart in 1929 in Oak Park, IL. He grew up in a typical midwestern family where his father was part owner of a plumbing and heating supply company, and his mom was a housewife. As a young boy, he always wanted to be called Bob. He had a Catholic education and went on to Loyola University of Chicago in 1947. Graduating in 1952 with a business degree, he was soon drafted into the US Army in the Korean war where he stayed until 1954. He considered getting a law degree and went back to Loyola. He decided not to pursue that; some sources site that he was asked to behave unethically during an internship which led him down a different career path.

He worked as an accountant and as an unemployment office clerk. In 1958 he was hired as a copywriter for Fred Niles who was a television producer in Chicago. It was while working here that Newhart and a colleague began entertaining each other by making telephone calls about absurd scenarios. They sent these to radio stations as audition tapes. A radio station disc jockey Dan Sorkin introduced Newhart to a Warner Brothers Records executive who signed him in 1959 based on those recordings. Bob then began creating stand-up routines which he performed at nightclubs.

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He released an album in 1960 which changed his life. Titled, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, the comedy album made number one on the Billboard charts, and he won a Grammy for best new artist. A follow-up album, The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back was released soon thereafter. He would continue releasing comedy albums in 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1971, and 1973.

During a 2005 interview for American Masters on public television, Bob stated that his favorite routine was Abe Lincoln vs Madison Avenue which was on his first album. A promoter for Abraham Lincoln has to deal with his reluctance to boost his image. A tv director named Bill Daily suggested the routine to him. Daily would be known later as Howard Borden on The Bob Newhart Show (as well as Roger Healey on I Dream of Jeannie).

The success of that first album led to a variety show titled The Bob Newhart Show. It only lasted a year, but it did receive both an Emmy nomination and a Peabody award. Apparently, he didn’t enjoy his time during the show so much. Halfway through the season he wanted to quit, but his agent explained that being under contract meant that was not possible. At a later date, he referred to his first show, saying “It won an Emmy, a Peabody Award, and a pink slip from NBC. All in the same year.”

He began making the rounds on television shows, appearing on The Dean Martin Show 24 times and The Ed Sullivan Show 8 times. He guest hosted The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 87 times. When discussing his appearances on Johnny’s show, he stated “I remember once when I emceed The Tonight Show in New York, I arrived with my manager’s son. After a while, they asked, ‘When are the rest of your people coming?’ I had to say, ‘This is it.’”

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In 1962 Newhart accepted his first movie role, Hell is for Heroes, starring Steve McQueen. He would continue to do movie roles throughout his career including the Christmas classic Elf, but the small screen would make him famous.

In 1963 Buddy Hackett introduced Bob to Virginia Quinn, whose father was character actor Bill Quinn. They wed in January of 1963 and 57 years later are still happily married.

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For the next decade, he continued to accept movie and television roles. In 1972, television history was made when The Bob Newhart Show debuted. Until 1978, Newhart played Bob Hartley, psychologist, and we got to know his unusual patients, quirky co-workers, and eccentric friends, including neighbor Howard Borden. Bob chose a psychologist based partly on his old telephone routines. As he said, “Much of my humor comes out of reaction to what other people are saying. A psychologist is a man who listens, who is sympathetic.”

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In 1982, Bob gave television another go for another eight years. Simply titled Newhart, the show featured Bob as Dick Loudon, an innkeeper and author from Vermont. He still had quirky co-workers and eccentric friends.

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On cue a decade later in 1992, Bob showed up in a new show even more simply titled, Bob as Bob McKay a comic book writer and artist who had retired long ago and was trying to get back into the workplace. Unfortunately, after 33 episodes the show was canceled due to low ratings.

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In 1997, Newhart starred in his last sitcom, George and Leo. As George Stoody, a bookstore owner, Newhart offers a temporary home to a full-time magician and part-time criminal who recently robbed a Mafia-owned casino. The series failed to catch on with viewers, and it was canceled after a season as well.

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Though he never took on another sitcom, Newhart has made appearances with recurring characters in several shows. In 2003, he showed up on ER as Ben Hollander. In 2005, he was Morty on Desperate Housewives. As Judson, he guest starred on The Librarians.

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Perhaps, younger audiences know him best as Arthur Jeffries or Professor Proton on The Big Bang Theory. He had been Sheldon’s boyhood hero who played the professor on television. Sheldon idolized the professor while the professor tolerated Sheldon.

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It’s hard to believe with all of his years being a successful television comedian, but Newhart won his first Emmy in 2013 for his role of Professor Proton. I can’t argue with the nominees for most of the 1970s during the airing of The Bob Newhart Show–names like Tony Randall, Jack Klugman, Alan Alda, and Hal Linden. Even with my bias of Norman Lear shows, I get nominating Carroll O’Connor every single one of those years. I understand the tough competition. What I don’t understand is the fact that he was never nominated during that eight-year period. When Jack Albertson wins, and Bob Newhart is not even nominated that is wrong. During the Newhart years, he was at least nominated three times. But I don’t understand it when John Ritter wins for Three’s Company or Richard Mulligan for Soap and no nomination for Bob Newhart. What especially appalls me is the fact that The Bob Newhart Show was only nominated one year; I can accept the fact that it got beat out by The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I cannot accept is that during this same time, Three’s Company, Mork and Mindy, and Welcome Back Kotter received nominations, and The Bob Newhart Show did not. Anyway, this blog is not about the television academy and its procedures, so let’s move on.

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Even though he was never awarded with an Emmy for his time as Bob Hartley, TV Land placed a life-sized statue of Newhart in front of Navy Pier, complete with an empty couch. He was best friends with Suzanne Pleshette, his wife from the show, and spoke at her funeral. He remembered their time together, “Her laugh. Her laugh. We just laughed. We just had a great time. We all loved each other and respected each other and we got paid for it.” Bob also remains close friends with Marcia Wallace who played his receptionist Carol on the show.

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While Bob has appeared as different characters throughout his career, he has also remained the same character. With his deadpan delivery and slight stammer, he perfected the straight-man role, surrounding himself with wacky castmates. He has often cited George Gobel and Bob and Ray as influences in his comedy career. When discussing his career choice, he explained “I like the humor to come out of character. When you’re going for a joke, you’re stuck out there if it doesn’t work. There’s nowhere to go. You’ve done the drum role and the cymbal clash and you’re out on the end of the plank.”

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In 2006, he released a book I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This. It’s a memoir with some of his classic comedy routines. Actor David Hyde Pierce reported that “the only difference between Bob Newhart on stage and Bob Newhart offstage is that there is no stage.”

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I am so appreciative of those stars who agree to entertain us for our entire life, such as Betty White, Carol Burnett, and Bob Newhart. They are classic comedians who can make us laugh no matter what. Bob’s view on comedy was that “laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.” What an amazing career and what an amazing man. With all its negatives and sometimes destructive tendencies, television can be a harmful place, but a comedian like Bob Newhart demonstrates what a positive and uplifting experience television can be when done right. Thanks for doing it right for sixty years.

The Phil Silvers Show: You May Never Get Rich, but You’ll Receive a Wealth of Humor

This month, we begin a new series, “We Salute You” and we will look at shows about the military. Our first series is The Phil Silvers Show a/k/a You’ll Never Get Rich.

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The sitcom debuted on CBS in 1955. The pilot was never aired, but the show was part of the television schedule until 1959, producing 143 episodes.

Nat Hiken created the series which ended up being nominated for Best Comedy Series every year it was on and winning that category in 1956, 1957, and 1958. In addition, Silvers won an Emmy for his performance, and Hiken won an Emmy for Best Director.

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Nat Hiken in the bowtie with Phil Silvers

In 1955, television was transitioning from New York to California. However, Hiken insisted on filming the series in New York. The earlier seasons were filmed at Dumont and later seasons moved to CBS studios in Chelsea, Manhattan.

The show was filmed like a play in front of a live audience. The cast members had to memorize the entire script. When Mike Todd guest starred in season two, he insisted that the show be filmed more like a movie. Takes were filmed out of sequence and multiple takes were allowed because there was no audience. The crew realized that this process was faster, cheaper, and easier for the actors, so the change was put in place permanently. The show was screened for the military though, and servicemen made responses that were used to make the show more realistic.

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Sergeant Ernie Bilko (Phil Silvers) is a con man. He runs a motor pool at a small US Army Camp, Fort Baxter in Roseville, Kansas. Colonel Hall (Paul Ford), who doesn’t trust Bilko, tries to stay on top of his schemes. Bilko tries to make money any way he can and is not above using the landing craft for midnight cruises, “borrowing” tanks, setting up poker games, and conniving with a local service station for spare parts for Jeep tires for his get-rich quick scams. Bilko has pulled the wool over Col Hall’s wife’s (Hope Sansberry) eyes and flatters her every chance he gets. Silvers said Bilko was so successful because “inside everyone is a con man wiggling to sneak out.”

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Although his men knew he could not be truly trusted, they were usually loyal to him and while he occasionally used them in a scheme, he typically made sure they were taken care of. Some of the situations Bilko found himself in included starting a mink farm, entering his platoon in a singing contest, investing in an ailing race horse, stealing a French chef’s family recipe, buying swampland, thinking there was uranium beneath Hall’s living room, and getting a hot racing tip but not being able to get his bet in on time.

For the fourth season, the camp moved from Kansas to Camp Fremont in California. The move was explained that Bilko orchestrated the new location because he learned there was a gold deposit near the abandoned army post. The primary reason for the geographical change was so stars could guest on the show because the camp was now said to be close to Hollywood. Some of these celebrities included Dean Martin, Mickey Rooney, Bing Crosby, Dorothy McGuire, and Lucille Ball.

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Bing Crosby visits the base

In addition to the stars who were said to come from Hollywood, guest stars on the show included Charlotte Rae, Fred Gwynne, Dick Van Dyke, Paul Lynde, Tom Poston, Dina Merrill, Alan Alda, Bea Arthur, and Tina Louise.

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I was surprised by the large cast that was featured on this show as opposed to Gomer Pyle, Hogan’s Heroes, or McHale’s Navy. Bilko’s comrades were Corporal Barbella (Harvey Lembeck) and Corporal Henshaw (Allan Melvin).

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Bilko with Barbella and Henshaw

The rest of the men included Corporal Sam Fender (Herbie Faye), Sergeant Grover (Jimmy Little), Privates Doberman (Maurice Gosfield), Zimmerman (Mickey Freeman), Kadowski (Karl Lukas), Gomez (Bernard Fein), Paparelli (Billy Sands), Mullen (Jack Healy), Fleischman (Maurice Brenner), Sugarman (Terry Carter) and Dillingham (Walter Cartier), as well as quartermaster Sergeant Pendelton (Ned Glass). Bilko even had a romantic interest in Sergeant Joan Hogan (Elisabeth Fraser).

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Because the series had so many secondary cast members, it became too expensive to maintain, and that was the primary reason it was canceled. I was surprised it did not affect the ratings because there were a lot of cast members to follow from week to week.

The show started out on Tuesday nights the first season. Its competition was The Legend of Wyatt Earp and Milton Berle.  The ratings at first were not good and Camel Cigarettes, the sponsor, considering withdrawing. The network moved the show so it didn’t need to compete with Berle’s second-half hour. The ratings skyrocketed. The second and third seasons, it continued on Tuesday nights but was up against Cheyenne both years and against The Big Surprise on the second season and The Eddie Fisher Show the third season. The Phil Silvers Show continued to be in the top 30 for season two but fell below those rankings in season three. Season four found the show on Friday nights up against Man with a Camera and M Squad.  I would have thought that season might have the weakest competition but the show never recovered its higher ratings. However, Friday nights many people were out, not home watching television.

Another downfall with such a large cast is the personality conflicts that might occur. Apparently, Phil Silvers did not get along with Maurice Gosfield. Gosfield had trouble remembering his lines which frustrated the other actors; however, he got the most fan mail which Silvers resented. In his memoir, Silvers discussed this issue and wrote that Gosfield “thought of himself as Cary Grant playing a short, plump man.”

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Gosfield as Doberman

Phil Silvers would play the same type of con man on many sitcoms later including The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan’s Island, The Lucy Show, and the movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

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After its cancellation, CBS sold the show to NBC which was a great move on NBC’s part. The network made a ton of money on the show’s syndication because reruns were run for decades.

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DC Comics published comic books based on the show as well. From 1957-1960 there were 16 issues of a Sergeant Bilko comic book and 11 issues of a Private Doberman comic book.

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In 2009, the US Postal Service issued a set of stamps honoring early television programs. This show was commemorated with an image of Sergeant Bilko.

I remember the show being on the air a lot while I was growing up, but I rarely see it now. I am going to rely on a fellow blogger to sum up the show. In a recent blog on neatorama.com from February 14, 2019, the show was described as follows:

It is my opinion that THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW (aka YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH) remains the single most underrated sitcom in television history and that Phil Silvers remains the most underrated comedian in that medium. This is really saying something because the series has indeed received great acclaim over the years. Even so, Silvers is just not given his proper due for creating the Bilko character. But it is Phil Silvers, his facial expressions, his bugle-call barking of orders, his complete manipulation of everyone on the base, and his wild schemes to make money that never seem to get old no matter how much you watch the episodes on video. The show is a great testament to the talents of Phil Silvers. With its complex plotlines and quickfire dialogue it’s still a treat to watch Silvers’s monumental character. The most oft-said line in the series must be “but, Sarge! as Bilko launches into another diabolical and, ultimately, flawed scheme to make money and dodge work.”

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Bilko isn’t a bad guy; he’s just not trustworthy. As he himself likes to say, “All I ever wanted was an honest week’s pay for an honest day’s work.” Maybe in this politically correct world we live in, making fun of the military is a taboo. It’s too bad because all the critics loved this show. If you want to check it out for yourself, the series is on DVD, so it is available for a week-end of binge watching; you can purchase individual seasons or the complete series.

The Alliterative Harry Morgan (Famous for saying Horse Hockey and Beaver Biscuits as Colonel Potter)

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When it comes to prolific actors in television and film, few people can equal Harry Morgan’s career. Known for his deadpan delivery, he was in more than 100 films. He also starred in 11 television series and appeared on 6 TV Guide covers.

 

Born Harry Bratsberg in 1915, he grew up in Muskegon, Michigan. His parents came from Norway and Sweden.  Harry went to the University of Chicago, planning on becoming an attorney but got interested in acting instead. In 1937, he began appearing with stock companies, followed by Broadway roles.

Harry Morgan From 'December Bride'

 

His first wife was Eileen Detchon who he was married to from 1940 until her death in 1985. Her photo appears on Colonel Potter’s desk on M*A*S*H. They had four sons: Christopher, Charley, Paul and Daniel. Morgan remarried in 1986 and was married to Barbara Bushman until his death.

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He was signed by Twentieth Century Fox in 1942. His screen debut was The Shores of Tripoli under the name Henry Morgan. Later that year he appeared in Orchestra Wives and a few years later was in The Glenn Miller Story with Jimmy Stewart. In 1943, he starred with Henry Fonda in the highly acclaimed The Ox-Bow Incident.

 

In 1954, he was offered the role of Pete Porter in December Bride which ran until 1959. In the show, he complained about his wife Gladys a lot, but we never meet her. When the show ended, he starred in a spin-off Pete and Gladys from 1960-1962. Pete Porter is an insurance salesman. His scatter-brained, but beautiful, wife is played by Cara Williams.

 

The next year he was cast in The Richard Boone Show from 1963-1964. This was an anthology series which Richard Boone hosted.  A cast of 15 actors appeared in different roles each episode. Morgan appeared in all 25 episodes. The show never captured viewers, probably because it was on against Petticoat Junction.

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Almost immediately upon its ending, he was again cast in a television show with a role on Kentucky Jones during 1964 and 1965. Kentucky Jones is a veterinarian and former horse trainer.  He and his wife adopted a Chinese boy named Dwight Eisenhower “Ike” Wong. After his wife’s death, the local Asian community and handyman Seldom played by Morgan helps him raise Ike.

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Morgan had a couple of years of guest starring in shows such as The Wackiest Ship in the Army and Dr. Kildare, and then he was cast in Dragnet from 1967-1970. He and Jack Webb were friends before the show and continued to be best friends throughout Harry’s life. Webb had directed the previous Dragnet show in the 1950s and revived the show in 1967, convincing his friend to play the role of Officer Joe Gannon who helped Sergeant Joe Friday (Webb) solve crimes in Los Angeles.

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Between 1970 and 1972 he would show up in The Partridge Family in two different roles and Love American Style among other shows. 1972 would find him starring in another show, Hec Ramsey, until 1974. This show reunited Morgan with Richard Boone who starred in it and Jack Webb who produced it. Ramsey was a western detective who preferred to solve crimes with his brain rather than his gun. The show only lasted for ten episodes.

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From 1974-1983, he was cast in his most famous role, that of Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H. A military hospital staff treating soldiers during the Korean war rely on laughter to get through the gruesome work. The show combined heartache and joy to tell the story of the 4077th. When the show was cancelled, Harry continued the role in the spin-off, After M*A*S*H from 1983-1985.

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On M*A*S*H Morgan painted the portraits attributed to Colonel Potter. He won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in 1980, receiving 11 nominations overall during the run of the show.

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His description of Colonel Potter was: He was firm. He was a good officer, and he had a good sense of humor. I think it’s the best part I ever had. I loved playing Colonel Potter.”

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When asked if he was a better actor after working with the show’s talented cast, Morgan responded, “I don’t know about that, but it’s made me a better human being.

 

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Morgan also appeared in several Disney movies during the 1970s, including The Barefoot Executive, Snowball Express, Charley and the Angel, The Apple Dumpling Gang, The Cat from Outer Space, and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again.

In 1986 he was cast in Blacke’s Magic. The show featured a magician and his father, a con man, who solve crimes. Unfortunately, like many of the shows he was a part of, this one only lasted 15 episodes. When it ended in 1987, Harry was immediately given a role in You Can’t Take It with You where he appeared on three episodes during 1987 and 1988. Morgan starred as Martin; the show was based on the original play, but the television series was set in the 1980s.  Although Morgan was only in three episodes, he was in the majority of them, because the entire show consisted of four episodes.

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In the 1980s, he appeared in commercials for ERA realty and Toyota.

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During the late 1980s and early 1990s, he appeared in six different shows, with recurring roles on The Simpsons and Third Rock from the Sun. In 1996 he retired.

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In 2006, Morgan was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

 

Many of his western films were done with James Stewart. They did five films together, and Morgan says Stewart was one of the nicest men he ever met and extremely professional.

 

In addition to Jack Webb, he was good friends with Tim Conway and Don Knotts.

A very interesting man, in his spare time, he enjoyed golfing, fishing, travel, spending time with his family, reading, raising horses, horse riding, painting, and poetry.

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He died in 2011 from pneumonia.

Following Morgan’s death, Mike Farrell, who played B.J. Hunnicutt, starring with Morgan in M*A*S*H, released the following statement:

“He was a wonderful man, a fabulous actor and a dear and close friend since the first day we worked together. As Alan [Alda] said, he did not have an unadorable bone in his body . . . He was a treasure as a person, an imp at times, and always a true professional. He had worked with the greats and never saw himself as one of them. But he was . . . He was the rock everyone depended on and yet he could cut up like a kid when the situation warranted it. He was the apotheosis, the finest example of what people call a ‘character actor’. What he brought to the work made everyone better. He made those who are thought of as ‘stars’ shine even more brightly . . . The love and admiration we all felt for him were returned tenfold in many, many ways. And the greatest and most selfless tribute to the experience we enjoyed was paid by Harry at the press conference when our show ended. He remarked that someone had asked him if working on M*A*S*H had made him a better actor. He responded by saying, ‘I don’t know about that, but it made me a better human being.’ It’s hard to imagine a better one.”

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When She Tugged on Her Ear, She Tugged At Our Hearts

Today’s topic had me thinking about how much better things are in a group.  Roses are beautiful on their own but pair them with some complementary-colored blooms and everything comes alive.  Juicy watermelon is perfect on a hot, summer day, but combine it with berries, kiwi, and peaches, and all the tastes meld together. One book is a treasure on its own, but put ten together, and you have a library. There’s never a bad choice when deciding between vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry ice cream, but someone invented Neapolitan so you could get all three.

This works for our show this week as well.  Look at the work of Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner and you will find gems, but put them together and you have a sparkling jewelry box full of wonderful things.

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These performers came together between 1967 and 1978 working on The Carol Burnett Show. Let’s see how that came to be.

Carol Burnett – Carol is a truly versatile performer; she acts, sings, does comedy, dances, has been on the stage, and has appeared on the big screen as well as the small screen. America has always had a love affair with her.

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She was born in Texas and moved to Hollywood with her grandmother. One of her first jobs was working as an usherette.  She received an anonymous gift of money that covered a year at UCLA where she majored in journalism. At one point she decided to switch her major to theater arts and English and planned to be a playwright. She gained some experience performing in several college productions. Her good luck continued when she received another gift – a $100 interest-free loan to move to New York City to try her hand at musical comedy.  She worked as a hat girl and began her acting career.  She married Don Saroyan in 1955. In 1959 she got her first big break, appearing in the Broadway show, Once Upon a Mattress for which she received a Tony nomination. Around this time, she became friends with Jim Nabors; he would be a life-long friend and her daughter’s godfather. When the Carol Burnett Show started, he became the first guest every season and was her good luck charm.

Soon after she began appearing on television and won her first Emmy in 1962 for her work on The Paul Winchell Show. This was also the year she and Don divorced. In 1963, she married Joe Hamilton, and they had three children. Lucille Ball had become a mentor to her, and they also remained friends for life.  Lucy sent her flowers every birthday.  On her birthday in 1989, Carol awoke to the news that Lucy had died.  She received her flowers later that day.

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She did several specials with Julie Andrews, Dolly Parton, and Beverly Sills. Carol had a clause that she could decide to do a permanent variety show which would expire in 1967. Carol decided to take advantage of the clause and do the variety show.  The network tried to talk her out of it because they said variety shows tended to be men’s territory.  They offered her a sitcom of her own, but luckily for us, she stuck to her guns.

In 1974, she went back to the stage to star with Rock Hudson in I Do I Do. In 1984 she and Joe divorced.  She would win her second Emmy for her work on Mad About You.

In 1995, she returned to Broadway to appear in Moon Over Buffalo which gained her a second Tony nomination.

Carol was the Grand Marshal for the 109th Rose Bowl Parade. She has written five books. She has remained close friends with many of her costars including her show cast, Jim Nabors, Betty White, Beverly Sills, Julie Andrews.

Not only did she help a young Vicki Lawrence, but other stars looked to her for help as well. Jim Carrey sent her his resume at age 10.

In 2001, Carol married again. Her current husband Brian Miller is a drummer for the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Most recently she guest starred on several episodes of Hawaii Five-0.

Harvey Korman – Born in Chicago, Korman served in the US Navy during World War II. After the war, he studied at the Goodman School of Drama.  He attended classes at DePaul University and the Chicago Art Institute. During 1950, 1957, and 1958 he was part of the Peninsula Players in Fish Creek, Door County, Wisconsin.

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His first television role was on the Donna Reed Show in 1960. He also married that year and they had two children. He continued to act on television on such shows as Dr. Kildare, Perry Mason, Route 66, Jack Benny, Hazel, Here’s Lucy, and Gidget – 30 shows in all; he also appeared in many movies. You might recognize his voice if you watch The Flintstones; he played the role of the Great Gazoo. His first big break was on The Danny Kaye Show in 1963. With his expressive voice, he played a wide assortment of characters. In was due to his work on Danny Kaye, that Carol recruited him for her show in 1967.

In 1977, he made the tough decision to leave The Carol Burnett Show and star in his own vehicle, The Harvey Korman Show.  The show was about an out-of-work actor Harvey Kavanaugh who lived with his daughter. The critics thought Korman was wonderful in the show, but the show got very low ratings and was cancelled after six episodes. Then he was an out-of-work actor in real life. Dick Van Dyke had taken his place on the Carol Burnett Show so he could not return.

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After his show fizzled out, he went back to movies. In 1977 he divorced his first wife. In 1982 he remarried and had two more children.  Korman continued to make tv appearances on a variety of shows such as the Love Boat, Ellen, and ER. He also made movies. He is probably best known for two of his movies: Blazing Saddles and High Anxiety.  In 1983-84, he appeared in Mama’s Family with Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence. In 2008, he passed away from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm that was diagnosed four months prior.

Tim Conway – Conway was born in Ohio and joined the Army, serving at a radio station. After the war, he studied at Bowling Green State University, majoring in tv and radio. He married in 1961 and they had 6 children.

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He was discovered by Rose Marie and became a regular on The Steve Allen Show. He earned even more fame when he joined the cast of McHale’s Navy in 1962. McHale’s Navy had two different formats.  I was surprised to learn that Joseph Heller (author of Catch-22) wrote one episode but removed himself from the credits when he had an argument with the producer. Conway became very close to Ernest Borgnine and considered him his mentor. Later the two of them would work together in SpongeBob Square Pants as old superheroes.

After McHale’s Navy, he was cast in Rango. A comedy/western, Conway played Rango. He was an inept Ranger, but his father was the head of the Texas Rangers, so he was moved to a very quiet post.  Unfortunately, a crime wave broke out after his arrival. The show lasted for 17 episodes.

Conway got his own show in 1970, but it never really worked and was cancelled after 12 episodes. He played an airline pilot who was not very good at flying. He and his partner owned a decrepit airplane and they were always fighting creditors, barely making a living.

He was on Carol Burnett throughout the years of her show, and in 1975 he became a regular. When the show ended, he kept busy with television shows, appearing in more than 50 shows including Newhart, Larry Sanders, Drew Carey, Ellen, Yes Dear, Hot in Cleveland, Laverne and Shirley, The Love Boat, Roseanne, and Ally McBeal. He also performed around the country with Harvey Korman and began making his Dorf videos. In 1984 he married his current wife.

 

Vicki Lawrence –  Vicki grew up in California. When Vicki Lawrence was 17, she wrote Carol a fan letter.  She was entered in a Miss Fireball contest, and someone told her she resembled Carol. She asked for some advice about her performance. Carol not only gave her advice – she drove all the way to watch the contest.  She told her they would talk about her career. A short time later, while Vicki was singing with the Young Americans, Carol offered the inexperienced girl a regular role on her show.

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Vicki was mentored by both Harvey Korman and Carol Burnett, and her talent blossomed during her years on the variety show. In 1974, she recorded the hit song “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.”

In 1983, she was offered her own show based on one of the Carol Burnett skits, Mama’s Family.

She hosted Win, Lose, or Draw and has appeared in stage performances. She spends most of her time now giving speeches for women’s groups and charities.

Lyle Waggoner – Born in Kansas City, Kansas, Waggoner was the heart throb of the show. He sold encyclopedias door to door. To jump start his career, he appeared in summer stock. He received roles in a lot of bad sci fi and beach party films. His career might have been different because he was in consideration for Batman, but the part went to Adam West. He was hired as the emcee of Carol’s show but progressed to being a part of the ensemble playing in a variety of skits. He left The Carol Burnett Show in 1973. He was offered a role in Wonder Woman in 1975. His career never picked up after that. He now runs a rental trailer company which is the largest one in Hollywood. He has been married more than fifty years, and he and his wife have two sons.

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The Carol Burnett Show

The show was the best and the last variety show to be on television. Carol wanted to develop her own cast. She handpicked her costars. She hired The Ernie Flatt Dancers to do all the choreography. The head male dancer for the run was Don Crichton.

Artie Malvin was the musical writer. Carol used a live 28-piece orchestra conducted by Harry Zimmerman for the first three years and Peter Matz for the final eight years. She had a guest star on every week, often a singer.  Some of the performers included Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Mel Torme, Perry Como, Lena Horne, The Carpenters, Sammy Davis Jr., and Ray Charles.  Steve Lawrence was on 25 times and Eydie Gorme performed 13. Unfortunately, when the show went into syndication, it became a half-hour show, and the musical numbers were cut.

Sonny and Cher taped next door and Carol often popped in on their taping and Sonny and Cher visited her show.

Some of Carol’s favorite guests included Bernadette Peters, Alan Alda, Roddy McDowell, Paul Lynde, Bob Newhart, Rita Hayworth, James Stewart, Gloria Swanson, Vincent Price, the Smothers Brothers, Donald O’Connor, Lucille Ball, Rock Hudson, Mickey Rooney, Betty White, and Nanette Fabray. The only guest star Carol was not able to book was Bette Davis.  She demanded too much money.

The Carol Burnett Show received 22 Emmy Awards during the 11 seasons it was on the air. Harvey Korman was nominated for six of those and won four. Lawrence also received five Emmy nominations and one win.

Bob Mackie was her favorite designer, and he designed all the costumes for The Carol Burnett Show. Typically, he had to design 60-70 outfits per week, adding up to 18,000 over the course of the show.

For the first 3-4 minutes of each show, Carol appeared in a Bob Mackie creation and took questions from the audience. Some of these are the funniest parts of the show.

The cast would rehearse every day, and they did two tapings on Friday.  If the first taping went fine and they got what they needed, they would let Tim Conway improvise on the second taping and many of his unrehearsed moments made it into the show.

The show aired on Monday nights up against Big Valley and I Spy. In Season 5, they were moved to Wednesday nights up against Adam-12 on one network and Bewitched and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father on the other. In 1972, they made their final move to Saturday nights. The final year they faced some stiff competition against The Love Boat.

Some of her favorite regular skits were Stella Toddler where Burnett played an older character who always seemed to get tripped, whacked by something, or knocked down; Mrs. Wiggins who was an inappropriately dressed and incompetent secretary to Mr. Tudball; a woman who watched commercials on tv —  a cast member showed an item each week that drove the woman crazy; Marion from Canoga Falls in “As the Stomach Turns”; Chiquita, Burnett’s imitation of Charo; Nora Desmond, a has-been silent film star and her butler Max; The Old Folks where Burnett and Korman talked on the porch reminiscing; and Shirley Dimple, based on Shirley Temple.

Carol loved the parodies they did of old movies.  Some of the original stars loved them, and some were quite unhappy with the comedies. Her favorite was “Went with the Wind” with Starlett O’Hara, Rat Butler, and Mr. Brashley. The curtain rod in the dress was conceived by Bob Mackie. Coming down the stairs, Starlett replies to Rat’s compliment on the dress, “Thank you.  I saw it in the window and couldn’t resist.” The dress is now at the Smithsonian Museum. She also liked “Pillow Squawk”, a Doris Day parody.

She was always complimentary about her entire cast. One of her quotes was “When you play tennis, it’s important to play with a better player because it makes your game better.  Well, Harvey made my game better. I miss him dreadfully. And Tim Conway, God bless him, is just genius when it comes to improvising, coming up with stuff that we never rehearsed.”

These compliments were returned by her costars. Harvey Korman was quoted as saying, “We were an ensemble, and Carol had the most incredible attitude. I’ve never worked with a star of that magnitude who was willing to give so much away.”

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Of course, everyone watches to see how Tim Conway makes Harvey Korman laugh during their skits.  Apparently, Tim had a knack for improving the scripts and throwing in lines and action that Korman didn’t anticipate. Here’s Tim Conway on Harvey Korman: “He was one of the brightest people I’ve ever met, but the man could not tie his own shoes . . .  I would put him on constantly . . . We were on an airplane and we refueled in Arizona. Taxing on the next runway, I said, ‘Harvey, I don’t know if the guy put the gas cap back on. It was on the wing and now it’s not.’ Harvey got worried. So, he got up and went to the pilot and said, ‘Your gas cap’s not on.’ The pilot just looked at him.  There is no gas cap.”

One of the memorable parts of the show is the opening and closing theme song.  She always ended the show with “I’m so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh or sing a song. Seems we just get started, and before you know it, comes the time we have to say so long.” Then she tugged her ear. She would tug on her left ear which was a message to her grandmother that things were going well, and she missed her.

No matter how many years go by, the show remains a timeless comedy.  It has a balance of silliness and savvy. It’s hard to believe that the generations growing up in the 1980s and 1990s have never seen a variety show.  I love to catch reruns of this show.  I laugh out loud through the show.  Thank you, Carol for spending time with us. The show currently can be shown on Me TV at 10:00 pm with Mama’s Family airing at 8:00 pm.

Do You Hear What I See?

As viewers transitioned from radio to television, there was a lot of conflict as advertisers volleyed between the two mediums. Many critics predicted an early death for radio which never came about.  Radio found its new niche, relying more on news and music. Now, you can actually watch radio on television shows like Mike & Mike on ESPN.

Television has also featured several shows about radio stations over the years.  Today we tune in to five of those.

Good Morning World (1967)

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David Lewis (Joby Baker) and Larry Clarke (Ronnie Schell) are early morning DJs in LA with the Lewis and Clarke Show. Dave is happily married, while Larry considers himself a ladies’ man. Billy De Wolfe garnered a lot of attention as the best part of the show  portraying station manager Roland Hutton, a stuffy and humorless boss. Rounding out the cast are Dave’s wife Linda played by Julie Parrish and the debut of Goldie Hawn as their next-door-neighbor.

American actors Goldie Hawn (as Sandy Kramer) and Charlie Brill (as Milton Pervis) appear in an episode of the television show 'Good Morning Wold' called 'Knits To You, Sir,' June 20, 1967.

The show was created by an unbelievable group: Carl Reiner, Sheldon Leonard, Bill Persky, and Sam Denoff. They all were part of the creative force of the Dick Van Dyke Show.  Persky and Denoff were also the producers for That Girl. They based this show on their work as writers at WNEW-New York in the 1950s.

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This photo made me laugh.  They could actually be stand-ins for Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. It might even be the same kitchen!

Filmed before a live audience at Desilu, the show was created to showcase Schell.  Ronnie had been a private on Gomer Pyle and this was to be his break-out show. Procter and Gamble sponsored the series which aired Tuesday nights. It should have done well during its slot, being up against NYPD and the Tuesday Night at the Movies.

The ratings were not great, and the network debated whether to cancel the show or bring it back for a second season.  The two deciding factors might have been that Baker had a lot of trouble memorizing his lines and Parrish was dealing with some health issues.  The network considered recasting both roles but ended up cancelling the series after 26 episodes.  Surprisingly, it was released on DVD.

Schell went back to Gomer Pyle, USMC where he was promoted to corporal.

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The best episode is “No News Like Nude News.” The stars are invited to a Nude Ranch and go thinking they are on their way to a dude ranch.

 

WKRP in Cincinnati (1978)

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I consider WKRP the second-best radio sitcom. The premise for the show was that a new producer is brought in to help a struggling radio station in Cincinnati.  Changing the format from easy listening to rock brings new life to the station and a lot of chaos to the staff. Hugh Wilson created the format.  He can be seen as a police officer in the episode “Hold Up.”

Along with The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Barney Miller, and The Office, this was one of the best ensemble casts in television. The characters included:

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Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) is the producer who has a successful history of turning stations around.

Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump) is the station manager whose mother owns the station. The Big Guy’s management style is a big part of why the station is not doing well.  Art is more interested in fishing than radio. Jump was a DJ in Dalton in his former life.

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Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson) is the smart receptionist who is the highest-paid staff member. Anderson refused to be cast as a dumb blonde.  Jennifer has a journalism degree and although she is only receptionist, she has the skills that keep Art Carlson out of the loop and everything running smoothly at the station. She is gorgeous and kind-hearted, but she refuses to type letters or make coffee.

Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) is the incompetent news reporter. He always wears bow ties and is best friends with Herb. Richard has a bandage on his head from a real-life injury in the pilot and he made that one of his trademarks.  He often shows up with bandages on various parts of his body and we later learn that he has a large dog.

Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) is a tasteless boor. He is married but is always coming on to Jennifer. Herb’s suits are even louder than he is.  In one episode, Venus says “Somewhere out there there’s a VW with no seats.” One of his suits actually was made from VW covers. Bonner grew up in Arkansas, and Herb always has a Razorback mug on his desk.

Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) originally took care of billing but is also a journalism major and shows she is a more competent on-air reporter than Les. She and Fever date off and on.

Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid) is the soulful, smooth-talking DJ.  Although he is on the air at night and Fever has the morning shift, they become best friends. His real name was Gordon Sims and he was a school teacher before his DJ career took off.

Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) is the burned-out DJ from LA.  He was fired for saying “booger” on the air at his last job.  He’s an insomniac and addicted to coffee.  His hippie lifestyle and cynicism do not mesh with Herb and Les. Originally Hesseman was asked to read for the part of Les Nessman but would only audition for Fever. David Cassidy turned down the role of Johnny Fever. The character of Fever was based on Atlanta’s Bobby Harper who was on the morning show on WQXL 790 AM.  The creator of the show, Hugh Wilson, had previously worked there.

In many of the scenes there were bulletin boards with bumper stickers plastered all over that had been sent in from radio DJs all over the country. As a tribute to John Lennon, his photo was displayed in the background after his assassination.

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The show was videotaped because rock song rights were cheaper for taped shows than filmed shows. When the show went into syndication, almost all of the music had to be replaced.  When the DVD set was being created, the original music was put back in.  An agreement could not be reached until 2014.

Although it’s hard to believe, in 1980 Hugh Wilson collaborated with Hanna-Barbera to create an animated version of WKRP where all the characters are played by dogs.  The show never actually happened.

WKRP was on Monday nights against Welcome Back Kotter and Little House on the Prairie. After the first season, it was moved repeatedly. The show was cancelled after four seasons. It accumulated ten Emmy nominations including three for outstanding series. The show was much more successful in syndication.

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The show was filmed in Los Angeles, but the opening and closing scenes as well as several episode scenes were filmed at the Enquirer Building in Cincinnati.  That building is currently a Hampton Inn/Homewood Suites at 615 Vine St. near Fountain Square.  The radio station said they were housed in the Osgood R. Flimm Building.

One of the most memorable parts of the show was the theme song:

“Baby, if you’ve ever wondered, wondered whatever became of me.  I’m living on the air in Cincinnati, Cincinnati WKRP. Got kind of tired of packin’ and unpackin’, town to town, up and down the dial. Maybe you and me were never meant to be, just maybe think of me once in a while. I’m at WKRP in Cincinnati.”

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In 2015, a non-profit radio station in Raleigh, 101.9 was given the WKRP call letters. An independent television station, channel 25, in Cincinnati also received the WKRP designation in 1990.

The clever writing and memorable characters have gained this sitcom a great reputation in television history.

Hello Larry (1979)

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McLean Stevenson was hoping to be the star of M*A*S*H.  Once he realized Alan Alda was firmly entrenched in that position, he opted out of his contract to star in his own show.

The result was Hello Larry about a man, Larry Alder, who is divorced and moves with his two teenage daughters to Portland to star in a call-in psychiatric radio show. Kim Richards played his daughter Ruthie and Krista Erickson played Diane. Lisa Whelchel auditioned for the role of Ruthie but lost out to Richards and ended up on Facts of Life which she was grateful for.

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The other cast members included Joanna Gleason (Monty Hall’s daughter) as the radio producer, George Memmoli as Earl the engineer, and John Femia as Tommy Roscini. Larry also hung out with a familiar face – -Meadowlark Lemon, former Globetrotter, who owned a Portland sporting goods store.

The show was owned by the same company who created One Day at A Time and this was a mirror image of that show focusing on a single mom with two daughters.

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The ratings were not good. The show was up against Charlie’s Angels and the Wednesday Night Movie. Several months into the season, to bolster ratings, the writers brought in the cast of Diff’rent Strokes which was a popular show that aired right before Hello Larry.  It was scripted that Larry and Phil Drummond had served together in Korea.  It did not help the ratings. The show went through a variety of scheduling changes all with the same result.  An issue that certainly didn’t help the show was the Iranian hostage crisis.  The show was often interrupted with special news breaks.

After 38 episodes, the show died a quiet death.  A TV Guide poll in 2002 listed Hello Larry as the 12th worse show of all time.  It was probably best remembered as the show that continually got made fun of by Johnny Carson for being so bad.

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It’s hard to believe an actor would leave one of the most creative and popular shows of all time to move to one of the worst shows of all time.

Frasier (1993)

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I think that Fraisier was the best radio show on television.  Frasier was on the air 12 years resulting in 263 episodes. The show averaged only 24 episodes a year. The hundredth episode was entirely filmed on the streets of Seattle. Leaving the cast of Cheers, Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) moves back to Seattle to host a show as a radio psychiatrist.

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After an injury, his father, a former policeman, moves in with Frasier. Fraiser provides advice on the airwaves while struggling in his personal relationships, especially with his cranky father and his pretentious brother. The producers did not want the show to resemble WKRP too much, so they came up with the concept of having Frasier live with his father, so family relationships became important.

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John Mahoney plays Martin Crane, a grumpy, uncultured man who cannot understand his sons. Although Martin did not care about high-brow topics, John Mahoney taught Pierce a lot about wine and opera during the Frasier years.

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David Hyde Pierce was Frasier’s brother Niles.  The role of Niles was written just for Pierce.  The brothers were extremely competitive, although they could count on each other when it mattered. Frasier went to Harvard and Oxford while Niles went to Yale and Cambridge. Their mom was a scientist and the boys were named after lab rats she worked with. Both brothers had expensive tastes, intellectual interests, and high opinions of themselves. Niles was married to Maris, but we never see her. In later seasons, after getting a divorce, Niles marries Daphne. The brothers often meet at Café Nervosa.

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On an episode of Cheers, Frasier explained that his father had died in an accident and he had no siblings.  When Sam (Ten Danson) comes to visit on Frasier, the error is explained by having Frasier tell Sam that he made the story up because he was mad at his family. All but two characters from Cheers starred on Frasier.  Coach had passed away and  Kirstie Alley (Rebecca) was a scientologist who did not accept psychology.

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Jane Leeves plays Daphne Moon, who was hired to be Martin’s therapist and caretaker.

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Peri Gilpin (Roz Doyle) is Frasier’s radio producer and becomes one of his best friends. The role of Roz had been narrowed down to Gilpin or Lisa Kudrow. Kudrow was funnier but lacked the forcefulness she needed in the workplace, so Gilpin got the job.

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Another important character was Martin’s dog Eddie.  John Mahoney said Eddie got more fan mail than anyone else on the show. To get Eddie to lick Mahoney’s face, liver pate was placed strategically on his face.

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Bebe Neuwirth was offered a regular role on the show as Frasier’s ex-wife, but she wanted to return to Broadway, so she guest-starred from time to time. She appeared in 12 shows.

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Frasier’s apartment was almost another character on the show.  He lived in an ultra-modern apartment. A Dale Chihuly sculpture is seen near the fireplace. Above the fireplace is another artwork by Laddie John Dill, an LA sculptor.  A Coco Chanel sofa was recovered at a cost of $15,000 to add realism. In contrast, Martin brings his old, tattered recliner which clashes with the rest of the apartment – a symbol of the way he and Frasier clash. On the first episode, a deliveryman played by Cleto Augusto brings the chair in. On the final episode, the same actor came and took the chair away.  Martin explains to Frasier that he spent many important life moments in the chair such as watching the moon landing and specific sports events.  When he came home from work, he often fell asleep in the chair, and his wife would kiss him and send him to bed.  Frasier’s mother had passed away a few years earlier. Frasier finally understands the significance of the chair. On the last episode, Martin is marrying again, and he moves out. Wendie Malick plays his second wife.

Guest stars played callers on the radio show.  Often, they phoned in their lines. Callers included David Duchovny, Phil Donahue, Marlo Thomas, Linda Hamilton, Olympia Dukakis, Daryl Hannah, Chris Reeve, and Estelle Parsons.

Grammer made life a bit anxious for his guest stars. He used an acting method called requisite disrespect where he did not rehearse and learned his lines right before each scene.

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The theme song was “Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs” by Darryl Phinnessee and Bruce Miller. Miller wanted Mel Torme to sing the theme for the show, but the producers wanted Kelsey Grammer who ended up recording it.

Critics had great respect for the show. The series holds the record for most sitcom Emmys – 37.  It had the record for most Emmys of any genre till Game of Thrones won its 38th recently. The five best episodes include “The Ski Lodge,” “The Doctor is Out,” “Wheels of Fortune,” and “Ham Radio.”

Grammer and James Arness are currently tied for the character who was on television the longest – 20 years.  Arness played Marshall Dillon on Gunsmoke for 20 years while Grammer played Frasier on Cheers and Frasier for a total of 20 years. The Simpsons have actually passed both of them if animated characters count.

Not only was Fraiser a great radio sitcom, but it is one of the best sitcoms on my top 15 list.

News Radio (1995)

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News Radio explores the office politics and interpersonal relationships among the staff of WNYX, New York’s #2 news radio station.

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Dave Nelson (Dave Foley) is the boss who tries his best to manage a quirky staff. He was raised in Wisconsin and some of his interests include tap dancing, a cappella singing, knife-throwing, and ventriloquism. He is polite and always in control.  He talks to his mother frequently and keeps a photo of her on his desk. He loves coffee and classic sitcoms, especially Mr. Ed and Green Acres.

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Bill McNeal (Phil Hartman) is an egotistical co-anchor. He is arrogant and insubordinate.  There are many gaps in his knowledge, but he does show flashes of concern for others. Near the end of the show’s run, Hartman was killed; tragitically, Hartman was shot by his wife.

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Catherine Duke (Khandi Alexander) is the other co-anchor. She and McNeal previously had an affair and they are rivals. In the fourth season, she takes a job in London.

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Jimmy James (Stephen Root) is an eccentric owner. He is a billionaire and feels the need to micromanage the station. He is always searching for a wife and loves to air his rivalries with other entrepreneurs such as Ted Turner and Bill Gates. In the finale, he buys a radio station and newspaper in New Hampshire and takes most of the staff with him.

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Lisa Miller (Maura Tierney) is an ambitious producer who is Nelson’s on-and-off-again girlfriend. She’s an overachiever who can do complex math problems and has a detailed life plan. In season five, she marries Jimmy’s archenemy Johnny Johnson (Patrick Warburton).

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Matthew Brock (Andy Dick) is a hapless reporter who is clumsy and always tripping or falling down. He idolizes McNeal.  He has a dental degree, loves sci fi, and has a crush on Lisa.

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Joe Garrelli (Joe Rogan) is a handyman and electrician.  He is infatuated with Catherine and believes conspiracy theories, especially about extraterrestrials. Ray Romano was originally hired for this job, but his verbal comedy did not mesh well with the rest of the cast.

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Beth (Vicki Lewis) is the quirky secretary.  She typically wears inappropriate clothing, chews gum all the time, and likes to complain about her low salary. She was named Beth based on the Kiss song.

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Max Lewis (Jon Lovitz) was McNeal’s replacement after Hartman’s death. He was inept, eccentric, insecure, unprofessional and a former colleague of Bill’s.

The show was on the brink of cancellation every season. It never placed higher than 26th and changed time slots 11 times. It was briefly cancelled in 1998, but the network reversed its decision and ordered 22 more episodes and then it was cancelled for good.

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The show was fast paced and witty.  Sarcasm ruled the dialogue. Physical humor and sight gags also had a place in the humor. The show differed from the casts in The Office or the Mary Tyler Moore Show because they were a dysfunctional family without the affection and empathy of those characters. The cast was banned from SAG awards for bad behavior at the first ceremony.

Shows featuring radio stations seem to be hit or miss.  Good Morning World and Hello Larry did not do well.  I think everyone can agree on WKRP in Cincinnati and Fraiser are well-written shows.  News Radio seems to fall somewhere in the middle.  Some people seem to love it while others thought it missed the mark.  I think the show is well written, but the characters are not endearing.  They don’t grow or change for the better.  We can grow to love a Herb Tarlek and a Ted Baxter, but there is nothing redeeming about the crew here.  I guess I would tune out.  There are too many good shows out there to watch a “maybe, maybe not” show.

Remembering William Christopher

I wanted to pay a tribute to William Christopher, who passed away December 31, 2016, exactly one year after Wayne Rogers, one of his co-workers on the show M*A*S*H.

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Christopher was born in Evanston, Illinois October 20, 1932. Growing up in that area, he attended New Trier High School in Winnetka, the same high school as Rock Hudson.  His family’s genealogy apparently included Paul Revere. Ironically, his grandmother hoped he would go into the ministry like his grandfather who was the founder of the First Methodist Church in Chicago, and in some ways, he did. Christopher went to college at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, graduating with a BA in Drama, focusing on Greek Literature. (In the last episode of M*A*S*H, Father Mulcahy wears a Wesleyan sweatshirt.) He participated in fencing, soccer, and the glee club in college.  Connecticut was also where he met his wife Barbara on a blind date.  They married in 1957 and later adopted twin boys, John and Ned.

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Building on his theater experience which began with him playing a groundhog in the third grade, he moved to New York.  Eventually he made his Broadway debut in Beyond the Fringe where he worked with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Not long after, he moved to California to continue acting.

He began his work in television in 1965 appearing in 12 O’Clock High. For the next seven years, he worked regularly appearing in Hank in 1965, The Patty Duke Show in 1966, 2 appearances in The Andy Griffith Show in 1965 and 1966, Death Valley Days in 1966, four separate episodes of Hogan’s Heroes from 1965-68, Gomer Pyle where he was in 16 episodes from 1965-8, That Girl in two episodes as Chippy Dolan, The Virginian in 1971, Alias Smith and Jones in 1971, Insight in 1972, and 4 shows of Nichols from 1971-2.

Along with his television roles, he appeared on the big screen during this period. His first movie was Fortune Cookie in 1966 where he played an intern, The Perils of Pauline in 1967 as a doctor, The Private Navy of Sargent O’ Farrell in 1968 as Private Jake Schultz, The Shakiest Gun in the West in 1968 as a hotel manager, and With Six You Get Egg Roll in 1968. With Six You Get Egg Roll was Doris Day’s last movie before she moved into television and then retired. After playing so many military and religious roles, this one was out of character as he played a hippie Zip Cloud along with future M*A*S*H member Jamie Farr.wc6

In 1972 he got his big break, being cast as Father Mulcahy in the television version of M*A*S*H. George Morgan, who was cast in the pilot, was replaced and Christopher received the role. Morgan appeared in four series and three movies before the pilot, but only two other series after. M*A*S*H was on the air from 1972-1983, and Christopher was in 213 of the 251 episodes. Fans loved the goodness Father Mulcahy displayed, along with his humanness when the inhumanity of war tried his patience and frustrated him. Some of his best lines from the show included:

“This isn’t one of my sermons; I expect you to listen.”

“Klinger, how’d you like the last rites…and a few lefts!”

“I think the world of Colonel Potter. He’s a good Christian – yet hardly dull at all.”

“Remember what the good book says: Love thy neighbor, or I’ll punch your lights out!”

While he was part of the M*A*S*H cast, he appeared on other series including Columbo and Movin’ On in 1974, Lucas Tanner, Karen, and Good Times in 1975. Like so many of the stars we meet in this blog, he was on The Love Boat in four episodes from 1981-4. He appeared again on the big screen in the movie Hearts of the West in 1975 as a bank teller. He also made a TV movie, For the Love of It in 1980.

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In 1983, the series After MASH debuted, and Christopher reprised his role of Father Mulcahy along with Harry Morgan as Dr. Sherman Potter, Jamie Farr as Klinger and Gary Burghoff as Radar. The show was not a great success and ended after 30 episodes.

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Christopher never had another recurring role in a television show, but he continued to work in the business appearing in Murder She Wrote in 1985, CBS Summer Playhouse in 1987, The Smurfs 6 times from 1984-88, The New WKRP in Cincinnati in 1993, Lois and Clark: Adventures of Superman in 1997, Diagnosis Murder, Team Knight Rider, and Mad About You in 1998. His last television role was in 11 episodes of Days of Our Lives where he played a priest. In 1987 he made his second TV movie, The Little Troll Prince.

During the years of 1975-2011 he also appeared on several game shows, talk shows, and M*A*S*H-related specials and reunions. In 1994 he made his last movie, Heaven Sent.

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He continued his love of theater touring the country with Jamie Farr in The Odd Couple in the mid-1990s. He also toured with the Church Basement Ladies in 2008-9.

Christopher was generous with his time, helping to raise money for the National Autistic Society (NAS).  The organization was near and dear to his heart because his son Ned suffers from autism. He and his wife wrote a book in 1985, Mixed Blessings, about their experience with their son.

 

William Christopher is revealed to be a very nice man liked by everyone who worked with him.  He was married to Barbara for the rest of his life, was a good family man, generous in working with the NAS, and had a full career.

After Christopher died, Alan Alda tweeted “His pals from #MASH miss Bill powerfully. His kind strength, his grace and gentle humor weren’t acted. They were Bill.”

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Jamie Farr summed it up best in his tribute to his friend and co-worker:

We are all devastated by our beloved Bill’s passing. I have known him for over 50 years. During the 1960s we lived in the same neighborhood in Studio City. My Joy and I would see him and his wife Barbara going for walks as we were going for walks. Bill and I did the very last Doris Day movie together, “With Six You Get Egg Roll.” We were both cast in the tv series “M*A*SH” at almost the same time. He was a gentle soul and in my opinion probably the most underrated actor of all of us on the show. He was wonderful. During between set ups for camera angles Bill would read his Homeric book in Homeric Greek. He was a real egg head. He and his Barbara traveled the world and he would try to learn the language of the countries they were going to visit. He went to Egypt one year and tried his Arabic on me. He was better than I was. We used to imitate Bill on the set using his high pitched voice. One time he came down with hepatitis and when he returned to the series we had his actor’s chair painted yellow. Bill and I did a National Tour of the play “The Odd Couple” with Bill portraying Felix and me doing Oscar, Bill was at one time on the Board of the Devereaux Foundation for Autistic Children. It was a real honor to have had him and Barbara as friends and a great honor to have shared the tv screen with this gracious, talented and charming soul. May his memory be eternal. Rest in Peace Father Mulcahy.

“The Ultimate Definition of Success is to Repeat It” says Jeffrey Benjamin

After reading about That Girl and what a tough time Marlo Thomas and Ted Bessell had finding new roles that did not stereotype them as Don and Ann, I thought about actors who were able to transcend that hurdle.  I could think of numerous actors and actresses who were able to have two important television roles.  Mary Tyler Moore began as Laura Petrie but Mary Richards was also a strong character.  Ron Howard grew up from Opie Taylor to Richie Cunningham.  Kristy McNichol lived out her adolescence in Family and then moved to Florida as Barbara in Empty Nest.

I started to do some research and found the following actors who had numerous television series.

Alan Alda – Of course, his iconic role was Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H.  From 1972-83 he kept us laughing or crying in Korea.  Since M*A*S*H he has taken on roles in several television series including ER (1999), West Wing (2004-06), 30 Rock (2009-10), The Big C (2011-13), and The Blacklist (2013-14).

Fun Fact:  He got his start on the Phil Silvers Show in 1957.

 

Meredith Baxter – Most people remember her as Elyse Keaton in Family Ties (1982-89), but for me it was Nancy in Family (1976-80).  Other shows include Bridget Loves Bernie (1972-73), The Faculty (1996), Cold Case (2006-07), The Young and the Restless (2014), and Finding Carter (2014-15).

Fun Fact:  Her mother was Whitney Blake, Missy on Hazel.

 

Sally Field – I think most people will always think of Sally Field as the Flying Nun (1967-70).  Her first show was Gidget (1965-66). As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, she had a role in the forgettable Hey Landlord (1967) and she was The Girl with Something Extra (1973-74).  Like Alan Alda, she also had a recurring role in ER (2000-06), and her most recent show is Brothers and Sisters (2006-11).

Fun  Fact:  She won an Emmy for her appearance on ER.

 

John Forsythe – While younger people only know him as the voice of Charlie on Charlie’s Angels (1976-81) or Blake Carrington from The Colbys (1980-86) which led to Dynasty (1981-89), one of my favorite sitcoms of all is Bachelor Father which John starred as Bentley Greg from 1957-62.  Before Bachelor Father, he starred in Lights Out (1951-2), Suspense (1951-52) and Studio One (1949-55). Before Charlie’s Angels, he was in the John Forsythe Show (1965-66) and To Rome with Love (1969-71). His last show was The Powers That Be (1992-93).

Fun Fact: Along with Harry Morgan and Meredith Baxter, he was on episodes of The Love Boat.

 

Harry Morgan – Harry Morgan is the king of shows, with 12 series to his credit.  He is probably best remembered for three of them–Pete and Gladys (1960-62), Dragnet (1967), and M*A*S*H (1974-83). His first sitcom was December Bride (1954-59) which spun off Pete and Gladys.  In the 60s before Dragnet he was in Kentucky Jones (1964-65) and Dr. Kildare (1965).  The seventies saw him in Hec Ramsey (1972-74) and Gunsmoke (1970-75).  After M*A*S*H, he literally was in After M*A*S*H (1983-85), Blacke’s Magic (1986), You Can’t Take It With You (1987-88), and Third Rock From the Sun (1996-97).

Fun Fact:  He was in an episode of the Partridge Family in the first season.

 

Bob Newhart – Bob Newhart gets the award for having the most shows with his name it in.  Fans fondly remember The Bob Newhart Show set in Chicago when he played Dr. Hartley (1972-78) or Newhart where he was the inn owner Dick Loudon (1982-90).  His first show was The Bob Newhart Show (1961).  After Newhart, he tried out Bob (1992-93) and George and Leo (1997-98).  Like Alan Alda and Sally Field, he also had a recurring role on ER (2003) and most recently has had a recurring role on The Big Bang Theory (2013-15).

Fun Fact:  The 1982-90 show had the best finale ever when the show ended with Bob in bed with his wife from the 1972-78 series thinking Newhart had been a dream.

 

Ed O’Neill – If any actor should have been stereotyped after a role, Ed O’Neill seemed doomed after Al Bundy in Married. . . With Children (1987-97), yet he now has an even bigger hit in Modern Family as Jay Pritchett (2009-16).  In between he was on the Big Apple (2001), Dragnet (2003-4), a remake of Harry Morgan’s show, and John From Cincinnati (2007).  Like Alan Alda, he took on a role on The West Wing (2004-05).

Fun Fact:  He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969 but was cut in training camp.

 

Dick Van Dyke – Finally, we have Dick Van Dyke.  Before I researched this blog, I thought he and Bob Newhart might have the most sitcoms to their credit.  He comes in with only four starring shows overall.  Like Bob, he never wanted to stray far from his name:  We had the iconic Dick Van Dyke Show as Rob Petrie (1961-66), The New Dick Van Dyke Show (1971-74), The Dick Van Dyke Show (1988), and then Diagnosis: Murder (1993-2001). Like so many of these actors who have something in common with Alan Alda, Dick Van Dyke’s first appearance in a sitcom was also The Phil Silvers Show (1957-8).

Fun Fact:  He can trace his family line back to the Mayflower.

 

Why do some stars get locked into a role that they are never able to separate themselves from?  Think Henry Winkler as the Fonz, Lucille Ball as Lucy, or Don Knotts as Barney.  I think part of it is that we get so attached to these characters we almost want to believe they are real and the actor moving on destroys that image.

The above actors all had different situations that allowed them to move on more easily.  Alan Alda never had that hit show again.  After M*A*S*H, he took on dramatic recurring roles.  Meredith Baxter was in a  mixed genre of shows. Of her two hit shows, one was a drama, Family, and one a sitcom, Family Ties.  Dick Van Dyke had the same formula:  The first Dick Van Dyke Show, a sitcom, and Diagnosis: Murder, an action/mystery series.  John Forsythe and Harry Morgan came into show business during the golden days of television.  They were able to have extremely successful shows and characters and then start over.  Forsythe had 10 series to his credit, Morgan had 12. Sally Field, although starting out in television, was certainly better known as a movie actress.  Audiences were seeing her on the big screen as other characters so they perhaps don’t pigeon hole her into one role so much.  Ed O’Neill actually had success on two sitcoms about families.  Maybe Jay Pritchett is so successful because he shows what Al Bundy may have been like growing up in a more enlightened era where the fathers help parent and run the house.  And Bob Newhart, I think, was successful because he actually plays the same character in most of his shows, and we love that character so we keep looking for him, no matter what the show is actually titled.

Larger-Than-Life Characters

It’s that time of year when I typically get happy and re-energized.  Temperatures are cool enough to turn off the A/C and let in some fresh air, soft sweaters come off the shelf, kick-offs ring in the sounds of autumn, while televisions that have been shut off all summer come on in anticipation of the new fall schedule.  This year, I’m in search of some great books to pick me up.  I reviewed about 80 shows that will start some time between now and June, and not one of them is on my “I can’t wait to watch that” list.

Disappointed at best, I was reminiscing about some of the beloved characters from past decades:  Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce, Marlo Thomas as Ann Marie, and William Demerest as Uncle Charlie.  Thanks to Antenna and Me TV networks and DVD production, we can tune in to these shows whenever we wish.

Some of these beloved characters have transcended the small screen and been immortalized in statues across the country.  So, as you’re traveling throughout the year, here are a dozen detours you could take to view these endearing works of art.

James Garner – Norman, Oklahoma.  Located near the Sooner Theater at the corner of W. Main St. and S. Jones Ave., you’ll find James decked out in his Bret Maverick gear.  I bet you’ll love it.

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Mister Rogers – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Everyone’s favorite sweater guy ties his shoes while smiling at the crowd.  Weighing in at 4 tons, everyone knows whose neighborhood this is.

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Andy Griffith and Ron Howard – Mount Airy, North Carolina.  TV Land donated this statue of Andy and Opie walking to the fishing hole.  Mayberry is based on Mount Airy, but if Mayberry started receiving the 50,000 annual visitors this statue brings in, Andy and Barney would have to hire another deputy.

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Henry Winkler – Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The “Bronze Fonz,” dressed in his iconic jeans and black leather jacket, gives two thumbs up to the crowd.  With the placing of this statue, Happy Days are once again in Milwaukee.

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Bob Newhart – Chicago, Illinois.  Bob Newhart, depicted as Robert Hartley, sits in a chair at Navy Pier.  A couch is next to him so you can sit down and say “Hi Bob.”  Don’t worry, it’s no dream.

Mary Tyler Moore – Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Independent woman Mary Richards keeps watch at the corner of Nicollet Mall and Seventh St.  Hats off to Mary.

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Elizabeth Montgomery – Salem, Massachusetts.  Another TV Land donation, this sculpture is in Lappin Park and features Samantha sitting on her broom.  Don’t miss this bewitching statue, but don’t bother looking for Durwood, Darnell, or whatever his name is; he’s not there.

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Jackie Gleason – Manhattan, New York.  This 8-foot statue of Ralph Kramden greets visitors at Midtown, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, carrying his lunch box.  Maybe he’s waiting for Norton to emerge from the sewers.

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Lucille Ball – Celeron, New York.  Here you get two times the fun.  Lucy grew up here and a statue was donated to the city in 2009.  Located in an amusement park, it’s referred to as “Scary Lucy” and does resemble an evil Mary Poppins-like figure.  A new statue, just unveiled, now graces the city.  This Lucy wears a 1950s polka-dot dress which she accessorizes with pearls and a handbag. Surprisingly, Scary Lucy is staying put because she draws so many visitors to the area.

If you’re traveling out of the United States, you still can check out a few statues on your vacations.

Leonard Nimoy – Vulcan, Alberta, Canada.  Star Trek memorabilia abounds in Vulcan – from murals to film showings to themed hotel rooms.  The post office even cancels mail with an Enterprise icon.  A bust of Nimoy, dedicated in July 2016, honors the man and the visit he made there in 2010.

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Peter Falk – Hungary.  Wearing his rumpled coat and looking confused, Columbo stands in a Budapest street.  No one knows why the statue was erected.  An urban legend is that Miksa Falk, a Hungarian politician who lived from 1828-1908 was a distant relative.  No evidence exists to support this.  Apparently, the only person who could solve this mystery is Columbo, so we’ll forever wonder.

If you’ve ever seen any of these larger-than-life characters, I’d like to know what you thought.  If you haven’t, keep an eye out as you’re traveling.