1917 Was A Very Good Year

This week I was inspired by the blog “Once upon a screen . . .” to take a look at television pioneers who were born in 1917. (For some great articles on pop culture, movies, and television, check out her blog at aurorasginjoint.com.) Let’s get to know 17 of the stars who helped shape the direction of television during the golden age.

Herbert Anderson. Best known for his role as Henry Mitchell on Dennis the Menace, Anderson began his career making movies.  He transitioned to television in 1953, appearing on 61 shows over the years.  He appeared in episodes on such shows as Gunsmoke, Petticoat Junction, Batman, I Dream of Jeannie, Man from U.N.C.L.E., My Three Sons, Bewitched, and The Waltons.  One of my favorites is the first season of The Brady Bunch.  The kids are sick and both parents call a doctor.  The girls were used to a woman played by Marion Ross while the boys always had a man, Anderson.  After weighing factors to pick one of them, the family decides to keep both doctors. He died from a heart attack in 1994.

Carl Ballantine. Ballantine began his career as a magician and inspired many famous magicians since.  He began working in Las Vegas and on television as a magician.  Eventually he transferred to movie roles and after appearing in McHale’s Navy on the big screen, took on the same role of Lester Gruber on the television series. He went on to appear on 33 additional tv shows including That Girl, Laverne and Shirley, Trapper John MD, and Night Court. He passed away at his home in 2009.

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Earl Bellamy. Earl Bellamy directed episodes for 101 different television shows.  He is best known for The Lone Ranger and The Tales of Wells Fargo.  He directed 82 episodes for Bachelor Father, one of my all-time favorite sitcoms.  In the 1960s he specialized in sitcoms including That Girl, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and My Three Sons while the 1970s saw him transition to dramas including Marcus Welby MD, The FBI, Medical Center, and Eight is Enough. In 2003 he passed away from a heart attack.

Ernest Borgnine.  Best known of his Oscar-winning role of Marty in 1955, Ernest enlisted in the Navy in 1935 until 1941.  In 1942 he re-enlisted and served until 1945.  After doing some factory work, he decided to go to school to study acting and began his career on Broadway.  He was also in the movie McHale’s Navy and went on to tackle the role in the television series.  He loved working with Tim Conway and in later years they did the voices for Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy in SpongeBob SquarePants. He appeared in 47 different shows over the years, including the series Airwolf which he starred in. Borgnine appeared in the final episode of ER which he won an Emmy for. He was married five times, including a 32-day marriage to Ethel Merman.  His last marriage to Tova lasted 39 years. He died of kidney failure in 2012.

Raymond Burr. Best known as Perry Mason, Burr started his career on Broadway in the 1940s and then appeared in 50 films from 1946-1957. In 1956 he auditioned for the role of Hamilton Burger, the DA in Perry Mason.  He was told he could have the starring role if he lost about 60 pounds which he accomplished. He later starred in Ironside, another crime drama and appeared on a variety of other shows.  Burr had many interests including raising and cross-breeding orchids; collecting wine, art, stamps and sea shells; reading; and breeding dogs.  He was extremely generous, giving away much of his money over the years.  He passed away from cancer in 1993.

Phyllis Diller. Known for her wild hair and clothing, Diller was one of the pioneering stand-up female comedians.  She appeared in films in the 1940s, worked in radio in the 1950s, and began her stand-up career in 1955. Her first television appearance was in You Bet Your Life.  She appeared in 40 shows including Batman, CHIPs, Full House, and The Drew Carey Show.  She had her own show titled The Pruitts of Southampton, and in reruns The Phyllis Diller Show that ran from 1966-67.  She recorded comedy albums in the 1960s, wrote several books during her career, was an accomplished pianist, performing with symphony orchestras across the US and taught herself painting which she continued throughout the 1960s and 70s. Her husband Fang was not real, but she used him in her comedy routines.  She died of natural causes in 2012. My first memory of Diller was in the movie Boy Did I Dial a Wrong Number with Bob Hope which my parents took me to at the drive in.

Ross Elliott. A prolific actor on stage, film, and television, Elliott appeared in 184 different shows from sitcoms to westerns to medial dramas, all between 1951 and 1983. He passed away from cancer in 1999.

June Foray.  One of the greatest voice actors ever, Foray has been active in the industry since she had her own radio show.  She did off-air voices for many sitcoms including I Love Lucy, Father Knows Best, Jack Benny, Rawhide, Get Smart, Lost In Space, and Bewitched.  She also appeared in more than 76 animated series.  She is perhaps best known as Rocky in Rocky and Bullwinkle and as Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Karen and other voices in Frosty the Snowman. Foray is still alive today.

Zsa Zsa Gabor.  Unlike her sister Eva who became known as Lisa Douglas on Green Acres, Zsa Zsa seemed to make a career out of playing herself.  Of the 80 appearances she made in film and television, 20 of them were as herself. She was a true celebrity.  Crowned Miss Hungary in 1936, she came to the US in 1941 and began her career.  She was known for her extravagant lifestyle and many marriages: 9 with 7 divorces (including one to Conrad Hilton) and 1 annulment.

Sid Melton.  Known to most viewers today as handyman Alf Monroe on Green Acres, Melton began as a film star and went on to appear in 71 shows including Topper, Bachelor Father, Make Room for Daddy, That Girl, Petticoat Junction, I Dream of Jeannie, and Empty Nest. He died from pneumonia in 2011.

Alice Pearce. Although her career was cut short due to illness, I included Alice Pearce because her role as Gladys Kravitz in so memorable.  After spending her childhood in Europe, Pearce started on Broadway and after appearing in On the Town, she was brought to Hollywood to reprise her role in the movie version. She began specializing in comedy in the 1940s. In 1964 she turned down the role of Grandmama in The Addams Family and shortly after was offered the role of Gladys in Bewitched. She was already diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she began her role but didn’t tell anyone and was able to act for two seasons before she passed away from the disease. She received an Emmy for her work on Bewitched.

Gene Rayburn. One of the kings of game shows, Rayburn began his career as an actor, taking over for Dick Van Dyke in Bye Bye Birdie when Van Dyke began his television show. While he was on numerous game shows as a panelist or host over the years, Rayburn is best known for Match Game which first ran from 1962-69. It was revived again in 1973 and took several formats in the following years.  He died from heart failure in 1999.

Isabel Sanford. Best known as Louise Jefferson, she grew up in Harlem and performed in amateur nights at the Apollo Theatre. Her Broadway debut was in 1965.  After appearing as a maid in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, she was cast by Norman Lear in All in the Family which led to the series The Jeffersons.  When the show ended in 1985, she appeared in a variety of other shows until 2002.  She passed away from natural causes in 2004.

Sidney Sheldon.  A writer and producer, Sheldon created The Patty Duke Show, I Dream of Jeannie, and Hart to Hart, writing many of the scripts for all three series. After he turned 50, he began a career writing romantic suspense novels.  He died from pneumonia in 2007.

Robert Sterling. A clothing salesman before getting into acting, Sterling was best known for his role as George Kerby in Topper from 1953-55.  His wife, Anne Jeffreys played his wife in the show. From 1943-49 he was married to Ann Sothern. He appeared in 36 shows between 1951 and 1986. He passed away from natural causes in 2006.

Jesse White.  While White was a hard-working character actor, he is best known for his commercials as the Maytag repairman from 1967-88. After appearing in films for many years, he transitioned to television in the 1950s.  His daughter Carole Ita White also became an actress best known for Laverne and Shirley. White appeared in 113 shows, never receiving a regular series.

Jane Wyman. Wyman began working at Warner Brothers at age 16, claiming to be 19. Although she was a successful film star and began in television in 1955 with her own show, Jane Wyman Presents Fireside Theater, she is probably best known for her role on Falcon’s Crest from 1981-90 and her marriage to Ronald Reagan. She died in her sleep from natural causes in 2007.

These are just a handful of television mavericks that influenced television as we know it today.  I was amazed at the variety of different talents each of these stars displayed.  In comparing their television appearances, it’s surprising how many of them overlap and worked on the same shows.  What I found most surprising was that Ballantine, Diller, Melton, Sanford, Sterling, White and White’s daughter all appeared on Love American Style while Bellamy, Borgnine, Burr, Diller, Gabor, Rayburn, Sanford, White, and Wyman all guest starred on The Love Boat.  During my research, I ran across many shows that will become future blog topics.

Another fun fact about celebrating stars born in 1917 is that this week we are traveling to Pennsylvania to celebrate my grandmother’s 100th birthday who was also born in 1917.  Happy Birthday Mamie.

Trick or Treat? The Halloween Episodes of Bewitched

Happy Halloween! It doesn’t seem right to discuss Halloween episodes without considering the series that made witches fun—Bewitched. During its eight years from 1964-1972, Bewitched produced five Halloween episodes.  Let’s discuss each of these shows in more depth.

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The Witches Are Out – 1964  (Episode 7, Season 1)

The show opens with Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) and three of her aunts, including Clara (Marion Lorne), in her living room complaining about humans’ tendency to portray witches as ugly old crones. Endora, (Agnes Morehead) absent, is apparently in France where she is said to spend every Halloween avoiding the holiday. Darrin (Dick York) is designing a campaign for a company that makes Halloween candy.  The client, Brinkman, wants a stereotyped ugly witch for his logo.  When Sam sees the sketches for the new campaign, she and Darrin have a fight. He designs a beautiful witch instead, and when the client does not like it the next day, and Darrin refuses to design a logo with an ugly witch, Larry (David White) fires him. Feeling bad about Darrin losing his job, the aunts and Samantha pay a visit to Brinkman while he is sleeping.  They turn his phone into a snake, “twitch” him to a spot where he is ready to be shot by the Foreign Legion, and finally turn him into an old witch before he begs forgiveness and agrees to show them in a favorable light. The next day he has Darrin rehired and uses the beautiful witch. Things turn out great for everyone because it turns out fathers buy most of the Halloween candy, and they like the beautiful witch so sales skyrocket.

Fun Fact:  This is Aunt Clara’s first appearance in the show.  She mentions her door knob collection and when Brinkman wakes up the next day, all 150 of his door knobs have been taken. In real life, Marion Lorne did have a door knob collection.bewitched-7

Trick or Treat – 1965 (Episode 43, Season 2)

This was my favorite Halloween episode. Endora (Agnes Moorhead) wakes Sam up to tell her to be ready to go to the “sacred volcano” in four hours for Halloween.  Sam refuses because they are having the Tates and a client and his wife for dinner. While they are talking later, Sam gets a box of ugly witch decorations delivered.  Endora is furious thinking that it came from Darrin; actually it was sent by Larry and made by the client’s company. Endora goes to visit Darrin at work. He tells Endora he will not encourage Sam to go the volcano.  Later that night as they are waiting for their company to arrive, Endora turns herself into a little girl in a gypsy costume, played by an adorable Maureen McCormick. When Darrin opens the door to give her candy, she tricks him and turns him into a werewolf.  Sam immediately retrieves her mother as the little girl, and Endora pretends to forget the spell.  Sam makes her sit in the den to think about it.  As they are entertaining their guests, Darrin is in and out of the room, cutting his long nails when they grow, and running upstairs to shave his face and hands.  When he becomes a full-blown werewolf, he goes outside to hide and runs into Larry and the client.  The client loves the “costume”.  When Darrin goes upstairs to “change,” Sam tells her mother that she is behaving just like the stereotype witch humans portray them as and to the one person who believes in them.  Endora changes Darrin back to himself, turns back into herself, and stays for dinner.

Fun Fact:  Maureen McCormick also appeared on I Dream of Jeannie and My Three Sons before becoming a regular on The Brady Bunch.

 

Twitch or Treat – 1966 (Episode 81, Season 3)

Endora creates a house across the street from Sam and Darrin so she can hold a Halloween party there. Darrin forbids it, so she changes the party to Sam and Darrin’s house. Uncle Arthur (Paul Lynde) arrives early and has most of the funniest lines in the show. Mrs. Kravitz (Alice Pearce) goes to spy on the house for Halloween, and Uncle Arthur twitches her back to her own front door.  When she turns around, she sees a man arriving at the Stevens’ home with a cat which he changes to a beautiful woman.  She calls the city councilman running for re-election to tell him there is something fishy in the neighborhood he needs to deal with.  The rest of the show occurs at the party.  When the councilman and his manager come to the door, Uncle Arthur has them walk through it only to be in the backyard.  This happens several times and then they try a window and the same thing happens so they can’t get to the party.  During their predicament, the cat/woman decides she likes Darrin and curls up at her feet and asks him to scratch behind her ears; he of course has no idea she’s a cat.  The councilman finally gives up and goes home.  The girlfriend is turned back into a cat at midnight.  At that point, Endora recites her “The Night Before Halloween,” but Arthur keeps interrupting with funny lines, and she gets so annoyed she puts him in the middle of a fountain and takes her guests to the Riviera.  One of the best moments in this show is when Sam waves and says “Hi Willie,” and we see Willie Mays across the room.  Darrin, surprised and speechless, finally asks if that is indeed Willie Mays.  Sam says of course, and Darrin asks if he is “you know”, and Sam says “with a career as amazing as his, could he be anything else.”

Fun Fact: Mr. and Mrs. Kravitz, played by Alice Pearce and George Tobias, played Mr. and Mrs. Fenimore  in the Doris Day movie, The Glass-Bottom Boat in 1966.  Paul Lynde was also in the movie. The Kravitz house on Bewitched later became the house for The Partridge Family.

 

The Sane and Safe Halloween – 1967 (Episode 115, Season 4)

Samantha reads Tabitha a Halloween story before bed.  The Stevens have decided to raise Tabitha as a human with the same traditions and books other children her age have. When Sam leaves the room, thinking her asleep, Tabitha brings three of the book characters (an elf, a goblin, and a jack o’lantern) to life. Once again, Samantha refers to Endora being in France where she spends every Halloween. Samantha makes Tabitha a leopard costume.  Across the street, Gladys Kravitz (now played by Sandra Gould because Alice Pearce died from cancer) is fixing her nephew’s costume, a jack o’lantern that is identical to the character from Tabitha’s book.  She explains to him why they are not going to the Stevens’ home for candy. While Sam and Tabitha go trick or treating, the three book characters catch up to them.  Thinking they are friends of Tabitha’s, Sam invites them along.  At the first house, the woman handing out candy suddenly has a beard.  Sam reprimands Tabitha, thinking she used her powers to do that. At the next house, someone freezes the man handing out candy and the elf grabs a bunch more.  Now Sam is really mad and tells Tabitha she has to go home and right to bed. When they get home, Sam sees the open book with the characters missing and puts two and two together.  She goes back to look for the characters.  In the meantime, Gladys’s nephew who runs away from her sees the three characters, and they decide to play a joke by sending the other jack o’lantern back with Gladys.  Sam arrives shortly after and makes all three characters go home with her. In the meantime, the jack o’lantern with Gladys throws a pie at a woman handing out dessert and Gladys takes him home.  When they get home and she can’t remove his head, she gets worried.  When he gets a chance he runs off. In the meantime, Sam realizes she has Gladys’s nephew. When she goes to look for the real jack o’lantern, the elf turns the nephew into a goat.  Just in time, Sam gets home, has Tabitha put the three characters back in the book and then turns the goat back into a boy just as Gladys comes looking for him. Luckily, he can’t remember the evening at all.

Fun Fact: Although we never hear them, the Bewitched theme song had lyrics.  Singer Steve Lawrence recorded a version of the song and lyrics.

 

To Trick or Treat or Not To Trick or Treat – 1969 (Episode 177, Season 6)

The show opens with Sam making final fittings to Tabitha’s princess costume.  Endora pops in and gets mad when she sees witches’ costumes.  Sam tells her she is heading up UNICEF in the neighborhood. Endora and Darrin get into an argument about trick or treating.  Neither will give in and Darrin (now played by Dick Sargent) insults Endora.  When he gets the office, he realizes that he is slowly becoming a witch.  He heads home and apologizes, so Endora returns him to normal, but then he insults her again and she turns him back into a witch. Sam agrees not to trick or treat for UNICEF if Endora fixes Darrin.  In the meantime, Larry is upset because their client’s wife is head of UNICEF and is mad Sam quit.  Darrin tells Sam she can’t fight his battles.  After Sam and Tabitha leave to trick or treat, he takes the UNICEF kids out.  Sam and Tabitha see him and help out.  While they are at the school UNICEF party, the client and his wife think Darrin looks so good as a witch, they want that for their new trademark.  They make lotion and the witch is the “before” look. When they get home, Sam tells Endora that she’s given the stereotype witch more publicity than most people. Endora restores Darrin to normal, and Darrin introduces Sam, the “beautiful” witch to the client who likes the idea and uses the good witch as the “after” photo for their lotion. This was the weakest episode of the bunch.  Apparently, the writers could not come up with a new idea because they did an almost identical writing of the first Halloween episode.

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Sad Fact:  Dick York had a seizure on the set on season five.  He had excruciating back pain from an injury he sustained making a movie in the 1950s.  He stepped down from the show, never received royalties from reruns, and died on welfare. When Dick Sargent replaced him, the show never referred to Uncle Arthur, Aunt Clara, or the Kravitzes again.

 

The first four Halloween Bewitched episodes are treats and well worth watching.  The last episode is a trick, and like the series itself the last three years, is tired and lacking interest.  Skip that show and watch The Glass-Bottom Boat instead. If you’re looking for an unusual theme party, play the episodes that feature Uncle Arthur and use the best one-liners as part of your menu and decorations.

See you in November.