In the 1950s, one of the most popular sitcoms was December Bride starring Spring Byington. For five seasons, Henry Morgan, insurance salesman, played her next-door neighbor Pete Porter.
The show was cancelled in 1959, and in 1960 Pete showed up on the air again in a spin-off show titled “Pete and Gladys. He had often referred to his wife on December Bride, but we never got to meet her in person. Cara Williams took on the role of scatterbrained, but beautiful, Gladys. Like December Bride, this show was created by Parke Levy. Harry Morgan said Parke Levy was a very kind and knowledgeable man; he was one of the pioneers of sitcoms.
Verna Felton as Hilda Crocker also moved to the new show. Frances Rafferty who had played Ruth on December Bride also shows up on Pete and Gladys, but she is Nancy on the new show. For some reason, producers think we won’t notice missing characters but on December Bride, Pete had a baby daughter named Linda. However, she does not exist in the spinoff. We also get to know Pete’s uncle played by Gale Gordon and Gladys’s best friend Alice (Barbara Stuart). Morgan said not only was Gordon a great actor, but he was a very funny man.
Pete who worked for Springer, Slocum, and Klever which sounded more like a shoddy law firm than an insurance company. He and Gladys Hooper had eloped nine years earlier. Pete told Gladys he had single-handedly capture a Japanese patrol, although it later came to light that he spent his military career as a clerk in the PX. Gladys was a housewife and kept busy as entertainment chair of the Junior Matron’s League of the Children’s Hospital and a member of the Westwood Bowling League.
While December Bride was in the top ten for four of its five years, Pete and Gladys never reached those numbers. Williams was nominated for an Emmy for Leading Actress in a Comedy although she lost to Shirley Booth from Hazel. The show only lasted two years. Whether a blessing or a curse, the show took over I Love Lucy’s spot on Monday nights and viewers probably could not help comparing the two shows. Director James V. Kern moved from Lucy to this show along with writers Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf.
However, for a two-year show, the number of guest stars was pretty impressive. Watching the show you can catch Jack Albertson, Morey Amsterdam, Bea Benaderet, Whitney Blake, Frank Cady, Richard Deacon, Donna Douglas, Sterling Holloway, Ron Howard, Ted Night, Nancy Kulp, Charles Lane, Howard McNear, Cesar Romero, and Reta Shaw. Morgan said that the guest stars got an exorbitant amount of money compared to the regular cast.
Morgan said Cara Williams was very talented, but she was not easy to work with. Often, they had different ideas about how a scene should go. She had a strong personality and was sometimes described as self-centered. Morgan said he admired her even though filming wasn’t always done smoothly. He recalled one time that she was demanding something and director Jack Arnold was tired of arguing, so he laid on the floor on his back, yelled, “Roll ‘em”, and when the scene sounded done, yelled “Cut.” Then he got up and left which was his way of answering her.
Not surprisingly, Morgan said he enjoyed his time on December Bride more than on Pete and Gladys, and he thought the former was the better show. However, if you take some time to watch December Bride, you might want to check out a few episodes of Pete and Gladys just to meet the woman Pete was always complaining about. Unfortunately, both were listed on Amazon, but neither one was currently available. I did see a December Bride DVD on etsy for a whopping $170. I do remember Pete and Gladys in syndication when I was younger, but I have never seen December Bride on a network schedule. YouTube does have a number of episodes for both series, but be warned, some of the December Bride episodes have been colorized.
Continuing my “We Salute You!” blog series, today we look at one of the most-loved television characters, Gomer Pyle.
In the late 1950s Make Room for Daddy was one of the most popular sitcoms. On one episode in February of 1960, Danny found himself in Mayberry, picked up for going through a stop sign. Although Sheriff Taylor came off a bit of a country bumpkin, viewers enjoyed the episode and the following fall, The Andy Griffith Show (TAGS) aired on CBS. When the series debuted, Andy was portrayed more of a wise sage and the folks of Mayberry were a quirky but lovable bunch. The show was in the top ten every year it was on the air. In fact, it seemed to get better as it went, making #3 in 1966-1967 and #1 in 1967-68. Andy left the show the following year, and it turned into Mayberry RFD which continued for three more seasons. The first two it was also in the top 10 and the third year it slipped a bit into the top 15. Although it was one of the most successful shows on CBS’s schedule, it was eliminated with a lot of other popular shows in the famous rural purging in the early seventies.
One night, Andy Griffith saw Jim Nabors performing at The Horn in Santa Monica and decided he would be a perfect fit for Mayberry. He offered him a job, and Gomer Pyle began working at Wally’s gas station.
Two writers, Everett Greenbaum and Jim Fritzell were said to have created the character. Greenbaum had dealt with an incompetent gas station attendant. He stopped by a station with motor trouble. The man could not think of any way to fix it except to keep adding gas to the tank, so Greenbaum thought a character based on him should be part of an episode on TAGS. He derived the name from Gomer Cool, a writer and Denver Pyle, the actor. Everett and Greenbaum (along with many TAGS writers) would continue to write for TAGS as well as Pyle episodes.
Gomer was one of the most popular characters on the show. Surprisingly he was only in 23 episodes in the two years he was with the show. Traveling around the country, you would be able to hear people repeating his “gawwwleee,” “surprise, surprise, surprise,” or “shazzam” which all became part of our language at the time.
Because Gomer Pyle was so popular, Andy, Aaron Ruben, and Sheldon Leonard decided to give him his own show and Gomer Pyle USMC was created. In this show, Gomer who is naïve, kind-hearted and morally upright has to deal with life in the marine corps and his gruff Sergeant Carter (Frank Sutton). Although Carter gets driven to distraction by Pyle and his “do-gooding,” we all realize he has a soft spot for Pyle and his main concern is protecting him.
The show was on the air from 1964-69 and had a solid supporting cast. Like TAGS, Gomer Pyle USMC was in the top ten for its entire run.
The show was on Friday nights, except for season three when it moved to Wednesdays. I was a bit surprised it stayed in the top ten, because it had some competition at times. Season one it was opposite Jack Benny and Twelve O’Clock High. Season two it went up against Honey West on one network and a variety of music shows on the other. Season three it was at the same time as Peyton Place and season four it was on opposite Star Trek.
Although the show depicted military life on base, war was never discussed. The series began at Camp Wilson in North Carolina and was moved to the fictional Camp Henderson in California. The actual show was filmed at Camp Pendleton and, along with TAGS, at Desilu’s Cahuenga studio and the RKO Forty Acres backlot. Unlike TAGS, Pyle used a single-camera setup because much of the shooting was outside.
The US Marine Corps worked with Leonard, giving the show unlimited access to their equipment because they felt the series was good for their image. The opening scene of the show was that of marching recruits from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. Nabors commented that it was very difficult for him to see that footage because so many of those service men were killed in Vietnam. In real life, Frank Sutton could not pass the Marine Corps physical for WWII but was able to serve in the US Army, taking part in 14 assault landings including Luzon and Bataan.
I had heard of universities bestowing honorary degrees to actors even if they did not attend the school, but I did not realize the military could do something similar. During the show, Gomer’s highest rank was Private First Class. In 2001, the US Marine Corps gave Nabors an honorary promotion to Lance Corporal, and in 2007 he was raised to Corporal.
Obviously, there were a lot of military vehicles used in the filming of the show. Chrysler Corporation provided them. Jeeps were also prominent in the show, but Jeep did not become part of Chrysler until 1987. As an aside, the vehicles for TAGS were provided by Ford.
Pyle’s loyalty and good-natured attitude made him a favorite of both his platoon members and many of the women whom he came in contact with. One of Pyle’s friends was Duke Slater played by Ronnie Schell. Schell was written off after the third season when he left to star in Good Morning World. When that sitcom did not get renewed, he returned to Pyle. Some of the other platoon members included Roy Stuart as Corporal Boyle, Forrest Compton as Colonel Edward Gray, Ted Bessell as Frankie, and William Christopher as Lester.
Gomer gets to meet a lot of people when he goes to town. He especially loves movies and one of his favorite all-time pictures was Godzilla.
As mentioned, Sergeant Carter eventually becomes a father figure to Gomer. Carter’s girlfriend Bunny (Barbara Stuart) also tried to help Gomer (I could not find anything to indicate that Roy and Barbara Stuart are related). Gomer often causes trouble between Carter and Bunny by trying to “help” Carter. In season three, Gomer also got a girlfriend in Lou-Ann Poovie (Elizabeth MacRae). She is a singer in a local nightclub, but eventually Gomer talks her into returning to Turtle Creek, NC to marry her old beau Monroe. She leaves but returns, informing Gomer she wants him for her boyfriend, and she gets a new job as a clerk at a record store.
Several TAGS alumni made appearances on the show. Allan Melvin was part of the cast as Staff Sergeant Hacker for four years, Carter’s rival on the show. Denver Pyle who was Briscoe Darling on TAGS showed up on Gomer Pyle as a farmer. Andy, Aunt Bee, Goober and Opie all were seen at the base at one time or another, including when Opie ran away from home.
With a show on the air so long, many well-known guest stars showed up at Camp Henderson as well, including Carol Burnett, Ted Knight, Rob Reiner, Don Rickles, and Jerry Van Dyke.
After the fifth season, Nabors expressed an interest to do a variety show, so Gomer Pyle was not renewed. He brought Ronnie Schell and Frank Sutton along for his new show which was on the air for two seasons. Carol Burnett called Nabors her good luck charm. He was one of her best friends and he was always on her season opener each year.
In an interview with Jim for American Profile, writer Paulette Cohn (Jim Nabors Lives Happily in Hawaii, January 13, 2008) quoted Carol Burnett’s perspective of Nabors vs Pyle: “ ‘The one thing Jim has in common with Gomer is his kindness,’ says actress and comedienne Carol Burnett, Nabors’ long-time friend, who named him godfather to her daughter Jody. ‘He loves people and is very gregarious. But he is also very smart. Not that Gomer wasn’t, but Jim isn’t naïve. He keeps his eye on things.’ ”
Considering how popular Gomer Pyle USMC has been in reruns, I was surprised to learn it wasn’t until 2006 that CBS Home Entertainment released the show on DVD. By 2008, all the seasons were available.
Let’s end with a few quotes that captures the essence of the show’s characters.
Carter: I don’t get it Pyle, how come you can knock that Phillips flat, yet you can’t handle that little Lombardi guy?
Gomer: Well sir, you see the big feller needed a lesson, the little feller didn’t.
Although Gomer Pyle USMC might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it was a well-done and popular show. I think its success, like TAGS and many of the other shows considered classics, comes from the fact that it’s a character-driven show. We start to consider the characters our friends and enjoy spending time with them. The show can currently be seen on MeTV nightly at 9 pm EST.
It’s that time of year when the nice weather plays hide and seek, but winter is over, sort of. Many of us, craving warm weather, tropical flowers, and white beaches, travel to get away, hoping to return home to summer weather. If you can’t get away this year, come along with me as we set sail to learn about sitcoms set on ships.
Oh Susanna! (1956). Gale Storm stars in this show as Susanna Pomery, the social director of the SS Ocean Queen. Her best friend is Elvira Nugent (Zasu Pitts), operator of the beauty salon. Roy Roberts plays her boss Captain Huxley. Gale fulfilled her romantic life with the young men she met on the ship. She also was quite the singer and dancer, performing on many of the episodes. The first year, the show beat its formidable competition of Lawrence Welk and the Sid Caesar Show. The series aired on CBS for three years and then moved to ABC for a year before being cancelled.
Baileys of Balboa (1964). Set in Bailey’s Landing, Balboa Beach, California, this series featured the Bailey family who live at a beach resort. Sam (Paul Ford) operates an old and somewhat decrepit charter boat, The Island Princess, as well as a bed and breakfast, Bailey’s Landing. The other residents were wealthy boat owners from the ritzy Balboa Yachting Club, including Commodore Wyntoon. He was head of the yacht club and wanted the Baileys’ land to expand the club. The only other Island Princess crew member was Buck Singleton (Sterling Holloway). He lived in a van and did the cooking and other odd jobs at the bed and breakfast. The rivals’ children were Jim Bailey (Les Brown Jr.) and Barbara Wyntoon (Judy Carne) who had fallen in love.
One interesting behind-the-scenes story involved the setting for the filming. CBS was going to lease an island in Newport Harbor, California near Balboa to film on. Due to the cost, CBS revised its plans. Six weeks were spent at the CBS studio filming interiors followed by one week on Balboa Island filming exteriors. Every time they switched to Balboa, the sets had to be rebuilt and torn down to capture the realism of the setting.
The show lasted one season. The show competed for air time with Peyton Place, a very popular night-time soap opera, making it hard to gain viewers.
“The Queen and I” Larry Storch, Carl Ballantine, Barbara Stuart 1969 Photo by Gabi Rona
The Queen and I (1968). Larry Storch and Billy DeWolfe were Charles Duffy and Oliver Nelson. An aging ocean liner, The Amsterdam Queen, is to be sold for scrap. The crew looks for several “get-rich-quick” schemes to get enough money to save the ship without Officer Nelson knowing. Other cast members included Pat Morita, Carl Ballantine, Liam Dunn, Dave Willock, Reginald Owen, and Barbara Stuart. After 11 episodes, the series was apparently scrapped.
Love Boat (1977). Of course, no list would be complete without The Love Boat which sailed the seas for ten years. The cast remained the same, but the passengers and their romantic tales changed from week to week. We’ll visit this show in more detail in July.
Suite Life on Deck (2008). Disney’s Suite Life of Zach and Cody set in the Tipton Hotel ran from 2005-2008. The twins lived in the hotel because their mother was the lounge singer. Somewhat like Eloise at the Plaza, the boys got into mischief and interacted with other employees including the wealthy heiress London Tipton, the candy counter salesgirl Maddie Fitzpatrick, and the manger Marion Moseby. In 2008 the show sailed off, literally, and became Suite Life on Deck running until 2011.
Zack and Cody, along with London Tipton, are in a semester-at-sea school with Moseby in charge of the ship. It cruises the world. Along with the school, the kids hung out in the lobby, their cabins, the Sky Deck, and the Aqua Lounge. On the show, the ship visited a lot of destinations including Antarctica, Belgium, India, Morocco, and Thailand, along with many more. Of course, Zack and Cody continue to get into trouble along the way.
So, if you’re stuck at home this week, check out one or two of these shows on DVD or YouTube and take a mini vacation.