Leon Ames: What a Character!

We are part way through our October blog series, “What a Character.” Today we look at someone we all remember from the golden days of television: Leon Ames. 

Leon Ames Photo Print (8 x 10) - Walmart.com - Walmart.com
Photo: walmart.com

Ames was born Harry Wycoff in Portland, Indiana and was raised on a farm. He said he changed his name because it was often misspelled which I can understand because some sources say “Wykoff,” and some say “Waycoff” in addition to “Wycoff.” Ames was his mother’s maiden name.

After graduation, he enrolled in Indiana University at Bloomington. He then served in the field artillery for WWI and later transferred to the flying corps.

After his discharge, at some point, he began working as the stage manager for the Charles K. Champlin Theatre Company. He had always wanted to be an actor and soon began acting with the group, eventually gettng the lead in a Los Angeles production of “Tomorrow and Tomorrow.” For three years he was with the Stuart Walker Stock Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. Broadway would be a big part of his early career as he debuted in 1933 in “It Pays to Sin” and went on to perform in another eleven shows.

In 1937, Ames decided to make the move to Hollywood. At that time, he met Christine Gossett, and the couple married in 1938. Leon and Christine appeared in several films together including Eighth Wife and Suez, but after having two children, Christine retired from acting to raise the children. The couple was together for the rest of Ames’ life.

Ames accumulated 158 acting credits; 125 of those were on the big screen. His debut came in 1931 in Quick Millions and his last role was as the grandfather in Peggy Sue Got Married in 1986.

Even though 5/6 of his career was spent in films, I am including him in our television character series because the 1/6 of his career in television made quite an impact. From 1951 until 1979, he would appear in 29 different shows, and five of those would be as a regular cast member.

Life With Father | Nostalgia Central
Life with Father cast–Photo: nostalgiacentral.com

Not surprisingly, given his depth of film work, he began his television career in a variety of drama shows such as Screen Directors Playhouse and Studio One. In 1953 he was cast as Clarence Day in Life with Father, adapted from the film. Unfortunately, the show only lasted for a limited number of episodes. I’m not sure how this show fit into the television schedule because it was on for three seasons; a few sources listed 8 episodes, imdb.com lists 10 episodes, and tvseriesfinale.com mentions 27 episodes; even then, it would mean 9/year which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Fun fact, this was the first show in Hollywood to be filmed in color.

After the cancellation of Life with Father, he continued to guest in dramas, but was once again offered a recurring role in a comedy on Father of the Bride in 1950, another television show that was adapted from the big screen.

Pin on Mayberry
Ames with Aneta Corsaut on The Andy Griffith Show–Photo: pinterest.com

In the sixties, he gravitated toward sitcoms, showing up in The Lucy Show, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, The Beverly Hillbillies, and The Andy Griffith Show.

DVD Talk
With Alan Young on Mister Ed–Photo: pinterest.com

It was during this time, that Leon probably became best known to television fans.  From 1963-1965, he portrayed Gordon Kirkwood on Mister Ed. During the early seasons of the show Roger (Larry Keating) and Kay Addison (Edna Skinner) lived next to Wilbur Post (Alan Young) who owns Mister Ed. They become good friends with Wilber and his wife Carol (Connie Hines). Keating died in 1963 and Ames and his wife Winnie (Florence MacMichael) buy the Addison home. We also learn that Kirkwood was Wilbur’s former commanding officer when they were in the US Air Force.

In a frightening experience, in February of 1964, an intruder entered the Ames household and held Leon and Christine hostage, demanding $50,000. Ames phoned his business manager and asked him to go to the bank and then bring the money to the house. Once he got the money, the intruder left Ames tied up in the house and forced Christine to drive him in their car. Before leaving, he forced both the business manager and a guest at the home into the car trunk. Luckily, before Ames’ manager brought the money to the house, he had called police who eventually caught up with the car, surrounded it, and freed the hostages.

His next regular role was that of Dr. Roy Osborne on My Three Sons.  I enjoyed his performances on this show.  At first, Robbie thinks he is too old-fashioned to be Katie’s Ob/Gyn because he delivered her, but Robbie soon learns his caring ways and wealth of experience is invaluable.

Leon Ames — Life and Death of the Notable 'Mister Ed' Actor
Ames and Elizabeth Montgomery on Bewitched–Photo: amomama.com

The remainder of his television career was spent in a variety of genres including Bewitched, The Virginian. Apple’s Way, and Emergency, among others.

Ames was one of the founders of the Screen Actors Guild in 1933 and became president of SAG in 1957. In 1980, Ames was the recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award.

In addition to his acting duties, in the sixties, Ames opened several Ford dealerships in California.

Leon died in October of 1993 after having a stroke.

DREAMS ARE WHAT LE CINEMA IS FOR...: MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS 1944
Meet Me in St. Louis Photo: pinterest

One of my favorite roles of Ames was as the father in Meet Me in St. Louis. He had that perfect gruffness for a paternalistic role but made it obvious that there was a giant teddy bear just below the surface. What a character he was.

William Schallert, Man of Many Talents

As we finish up our “Men of August” series, I think I’ve saved the best for last. Today we look at the career of a man who had more than 400 acting credits during six decades: William Schallert.

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Photo: comforttvblogspot.com

Schallert was born in Los Angeles, California. His father, Edwin, was a drama critic for the Los Angeles Times and his mother, Elza, was a magazine writer and radio host. She interviewed some of the most famous people in the entertainment industry. Being in LA, he went to high school with Alan Hale Jr., Nanette Fabray, and Micky Rooney.

Schallert was also a composer, pianist, and singer. His first love had been music, and he studied composition with Arnold Schoenberg. Unfortunately, he realized that some of the other students were more adept at hearing the music in their heads than he could and that would inhibit his making a living from composing.

William decided to be an actor and registered at the University of Southern California. He left school temporarily to join the Army Air Corps as a fighter pilot during WWII. Following the war, he returned to school, graduating in 1946. That same year he was one of the cofounders of the Circle Theater. Sydney Chaplin was one of his friends at the theater, and in 1948, his brother Charlie directed Schallert in a production of W. Somerset’s Maugham’s “Rain.”

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From 1947-1951, William appeared in 14 big-screen films, including Mighty Joe Young in 1949. He would go on to accept roles in seventy more films during this career, but for this blog, I’m going to concentrate on his television career, or we could be writing and reading for days.

Schallert married Leah Waggner in 1949. They were together for their entire lives, dying a year apart from each other. Waggner was also an actress and appeared with him in several episodes including The Patty Duke Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

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With wife Leah Waggner on The Dick Van Dyke Show–Photo: facebook.com

During his career, he appeared in a lot of crime shows and westerns, but he could also do comedy as seen by his appearances on Burns and Allen, Father Knows Best, The Jack Benny Show, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, That Girl, The Partridge Family, and Love American Style. Some of these were his favorite appearances.

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Photo: pinterest.com

On the Partridge Family, he was able to use some of his music skills as Red Woodloe, a folk singer. The episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, “A Word a Day,” got a huge laugh for Schallert. It was similar to the episode when Rob is convinced that he and Laura got the wrong baby and Ritchie belongs to another family who he invites over and opens the door only to find Greg Morris, an African American. In this one, Ritchie begins using profanity and they assume it’s one of his new friends and invite the parents over to see what type of uncouth people they are and Rob opens the door to find William Schallert, a reverend.

The admiral he played on Get Smart was one of his favorite all-time characters. William said, “The admiral was a charming character.”

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Photo: greensburgdailynews.com

From 1979-1981, Schallert was the president of the Screen Actors Guild and was active in SAG issues and committees afterward.

During his six decades of acting, Schallert had recurring roles on eleven different series. The first was The Adventures of Jim Bowie in 1957. This show was set in the Louisiana Territory in 1830 and featured the people that Jim Bowie met there.

In 1958, William became part of the cast of Hey, Jeannie about Jeannie MacLennan, a Scottish woman, who has immigrated to New York and her adjustment to city life.

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Photo: ebay.com

1959 found him on Phillip Marlowe as Lt Manny Harris. The same year he also began portraying Leander Pomfrit, a teacher on The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis. That role lasted three years.

It was in 1963 that he received the role that made him a household name. As Martin Lane, Patty’s father and Kathy’s uncle, on The Patty Duke Show. The show was on the air for three seasons, producing 104 episodes. Martin was the patient, wise father who knew when to give advice and when to step back and watch a small failure for a learning experience.

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Photo: washingtonpost.com

He and Patty became very close in real life. In an interview with the Closer Weekly, Schallert discussed their relationship. “When I think of her, she’s family as far as I’m concerned. We had a very close relationship. Whenever I saw her it was always like greeting one of my kids. She just had a wonderful quality and I got to know her over the years and she was admirable in a lot of ways. She really did her best to raise her own kids and she certainly had very little help in her own life to do that, but she was very mature and she did a lot of growing up very fast. People take that kind of thing for granted far too easily, and she doesn’t get the credit she deserves for that.”

When the Patty Duke Show ended, Schallert began doing voiceover work in commercials and with his warm and friendly manner, it was a lucrative career for him for two decades, including the voice of Milton the Toaster for Pop Tart commercials. He said it was wonderful, “All you had to do was go in there and do it, you didn’t’ have to put makeup on, you didn’t have to learn anything. I also had a knack for timing.”

Although he had a successful voiceover career, his acting career was far from over. He would show up as a regular cast member on five more series before his career ended: The Nancy Walker Show, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Hour, The Waltons, The New Gidget Show, and The Torkelsons. I especially loved his casting in Nancy Drew.  When I read those books as a grade-school kid, he was exactly as I pictured Nancy’s dad Carson Drew in my mind.

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Nancy Drew Hour–Photo: williamschallert.com

His last role was on Two Broke Girls in 2014. In that year, he announced he was suffering from peripheral neuropathy and had to wear leg braces some but also had to rely on a wheelchair most of the time. He passed away two years later from an undisclosed condition.

It sounds like Schallert had an amazing life.  Growing up in Los Angeles and learning from his parents about theater and radio must have been a lot of fun.  He said those connections led to a lot of opportunities like going to Shirley Temple’s birthday parties. Then he started a theater at a young age, worked in television from 1951-2014, appeared in more than eighty movies, had a successful voiceover career, raised four great kids and enjoyed a long-lasting marriage. What a legacy to leave behind.

Al Molinaro: Just a Guy From Kenosha

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

Photo: itvhub.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On Bewitched–Photo: sitcomsonline.com

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

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Photo: DVDtalk.com

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

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

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Photo: nytimes.com

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

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

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

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Photo: pinterest.com

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

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

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Photo: pinterest.com

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

Tom Bosley Scores a Home Run on Any Team

Since January was all about female sitcom actresses, this month we give the men their fair due.  We begin this series, “The Men of August,” with Tom Bosley.  Anyone who was a Happy Days fan knows why Bosley is part of this line-up.

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Photo: quotetab.com

Bosley was born in Chicago in 1927. His father was in real estate and his mother was a concert pianist. After graduating from high school, he served in the Navy during WWII. His father was in WWI and then served again in WWII, building army bases on the coast.

Following the war, he attended DePaul University in Chicago, declaring his major as Pre-Law. He had to take night classes because the day classes were full, and after getting tired of teachers not showing up, he switched to a radio school, hoping to be an announcer because he loved baseball, but acting eventually tugged at his heart.” In 1949 and 1950 he performed at the Woodstock Opera House in Woodstock, Illinois with Paul Newman. He was in the first live television show ever done in Chicago which was a production of Macbeth, about 1948 (on WBKB).

In the early fifties, he moved to New York and held a variety of jobs, including coat checker at Lindy’s restaurant, doorman at Tavern on the Green, and Wall Street bookkeeper. He continued to audition for his big break. During the fifties while he was looking for work, he shared rent with another Chicago actor trying to make it in the entertainment business: Harvey Korman.

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Bosley as Fiorello–Photo: markrobsinsonwrites.com

With one foot in Broadway and one in television, Bosley took on a variety of roles in his early career. In 1955 he appeared in a television production of “Alice in Wonderland” as the Knave of Hearts. In 1959, he won a lot of acclaim as New York mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia in the Broadway musical “Fiorello!” and won a Tony award. Bosley would later return to Broadway in the 1990s taking on the roles of Maurice in “Beauty and the Beast” and as Cap’n Andy in “Show Boat.”

In the 1960s he explored motion pictures and landed his first role as a suitor of Natalie Wood in Love with the Proper Stranger.

Although he continued to appear in the big screen, the little screen took up most of his time in the sixties and early seventies. In 1962 he played opposite Tony Randall and Boris Karloff in “Arsenic & Old Lace.” His face became a familiar one showing up in Car 54, Where Are You?, Bonanza, Get Smart, Route 66, Dr. Kildare, The Mod Squad, The Streets of San Francisco, Bewitched, McMillan and Wife, and Marcus Welby, among others.

It was also during this decade he married Jean Eliot. They were married until she passed away in 1978.

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The Cast of Happy Days Photo: E!online.com

In 1974 he accepted the role that would make him a household name. “Love and the Television Set” was one of the four skits appearing on an episode of Love American Style, and I actually remember watching it. Garry Marshall developed it as a pilot, but the network wasn’t interested in turning the pilot into a show when it first came up. However, once George Lucas released American Graffiti in 1973, also starring Ron Howard, ABC took another look at the period show. The first two seasons, the show focused more on Richie Cunningham as he interacted with his friends and family. Jerry Paris (Jerry Helper on The Dick Van Dyke Show) directed 237 of the episodes. Happy Days was described as relentlessly ordinary. The plots revolved around the same types of problems most teens experienced in the fifties: dating, wanting to be popular, peer pressure, and similar issues.

Bosley originally turned down the role but reconsidered after reading the script more thoroughly; he was drawn to a scene between Howard and Richie that moved him. Bosley said he also was looking for some security. His wife was sick at the time, and they thought she might have epilepsy, which was later determined to be a brain tumor; he wanted an easier schedule in order to care for his wife and help raise his daughter.

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With Henry Winkler Photo: brooklynvegan.com

He captured the sometimes cranky, but lovable, Howard Cunningham perfectly. He might not agree with his children, but he was always there for them, and he was apparently always there for his castmates who all remembered him as a kind, fatherly figure.

For a decade, Bosley developed the role of Howard into a much-loved sitcom father. Bosley said none of the characters were well defined in the early scripts. The cast developed their characters as relationships developed.  He described the actors as a baseball team that never made errors; they just clicked and had a wonderful rapport.

During the run of the show, his wife passed away from her tumor, and in 1980 he married actress Patricia Carr whom he stayed married to until his death.

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With Angela Lansbury Photo: etsy.com

When the show ended, Bosley was immediately offered another role. Although he appeared in a variety of shows in the early eighties, including five episodes of Love Boat, he moved from Milwaukee to Maine to help Jessica Fletcher solve mysteries on Murder, She Wrote. Bosley said the role of Jessica was written for Jean Stapleton, but then she did not want to do it so it was offered to Angela Lansbury. He and Angela had worked together in the past, so he did the pilot. It was supposed to be a one-time role, but they brought him back nineteen times without a contract.  As Sheriff Amos Tupper, he spent four years trying to figure out why so many murders took place in peaceful Cabot Cove. He then retired from the police force and moved to live with his sister. 

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James Stephens, Tracy Nelson, Bosley, Mary Wickes Photo: pinterest.com

He actually did work with a sister in his next role on Father Dowling Mysteries. As Father Frank Dowling by day, he moonlighted, solving mysteries with his assistant Sister Stephanie Oskowski (played by Tracy Nelson, Rick Nelson’s daughter and granddaughter of Ozzie and Harriet).

Bosley described Father Dowling as being a lot like himself: calm, quiet, and caring. While murders occurred on the show, there was no violence. When they were casting the part for the housekeeper, they described the character as a Mary Wickes type, and Bosley told them to just get Mary Wickes, and he loved working with her.  He enjoyed that show more than any of the other shows he worked on. The cast was totally caught off guard when it was cancelled.  The network wanted to do a show with James Earl Jones and Richard Crenna.  They gave Crenna’s agent a short-time period to agree to the show and he agreed before the limit ended, so the network was forced to delete a show from the current schedule to make room for this new show and they chose Father Dowling; the James Earl Jones show, Pros and Cons, also about several private detectives, and was dropped after 12 episodes.

When the show ended in 1991, his career definitely did not. When asked if he was going to retire, he replied, “Don’t be silly—actors spend half of their careers in retirement.” He continued appearing in a variety of shows (39 in all) until his death in 2010 from a staph infection.

Photo: outsider.com

There are several actors I get confused by at times because of their similarities. One is Ray Walston from My Favorite Martian with Jonathan Harris from Lost in Space. The other is Tom Bosley with David Doyle from Charlie’s Angels.  At least I felt better about my mental error after doing research on Bosley.  Apparently, David Doyle was named “Bosley” on the show because people confused the two actors so often. 

I’m sure Tom Bosley would have made an excellent attorney or announcer, but I’m happy that he followed his acting passion, and I’m thankful for the five decades he was willing to entertain us with his special gift.

December Bride “Springs Into Action”

Today we get to spend some time learning about one of the earliest sitcoms, December Bride, which aired on CBS from 1954-59. It began life as a radio show in 1952.

Cast of December Bride–Photo: tumbral.com

The show was created by Parke Levy who wrote the episodes as well and claimed to base Lily on his own mother-in-law. He owned 50% of the program; Desilu, producer, owned 25%; and CBS owned 25%. Harry Morgan said he liked Desi Arnaz very much. They cast rarely saw Lucy and saw Desi frequently but not in a negative way; he just might show up to see how things were going. (As an aside, I remember an interview with Bob Schiller, who wrote for this show along with many others, loved the name of “Parke Levy” and said it sounded like a Jewish housing development in New York.) Levy also wrote the film scripts for My Friend Irma and My Friend Irma Goes West.

Spring Byington and Frances Rafferty–Photo: vintagetvandmore.com

One fun fact is that both Fred de Cordova and William Asher were directors for this sitcom. Both would go on to long careers; de Cordova would produce The Tonight Show and Burns and Allen, direct My Three Sons, and both produce and direct for The Jack Benny Show. Asher would go on to direct I Love Lucy and Alice and both produce and direct most of the Bewitched episodes.

Spring Byington–Photo: pinterest.com

Spring Byington starred as Lily Ruskin, a lively widow who was looking for the right man.

Dean Miller and Frances Rafferty–Photo: pinterest.com

She lives with her daughter Ruth Henshaw (Frances Rafferty) and son-in-law Matt (Dean Miller) who help her in the search, as does her best friend, Hilda Crocker (Verna Felton).

Lily stays busy writing an advice column for the LA Gazette, “Tips for Housewives.”

Verna Felton–Photo: upperjacksonco

Pete Porter (Harry Morgan) is her next-door neighbor who also shows up often. (Next week we will learn about his spin-off from this show, Pete ‘n Gladys.) Pete enjoyed watching Matt and Lily’s interactions which he viewed as positive, unlike his relationship with his mother-in-law which he viewed negatively.

A lot of guest stars showed up including Jack Albertson, Morey Amsterdam, Desi Arnaz, Edgar Bergen, Madge Blake, Barbara Eden, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Nancy Kulp, Fred MacMurray, Howard McNear, Isabel Randolph, and Mickey Rooney

Harry Morgan–Photo: wikimedia.com

The scripts seemed about what you would expect for this era. In one of the funniest shows, Lily fails to deliver plans for Matt and as a result, Desi Arnaz’s family room collapses. In another one, Lily arranges for Pete to take riding lessons because his fear of horses is standing in the way of him earning a huge commission selling insurance to a wealthy ranch owner.

The gold standard for this decade seems to be Ozzie and Harriet Nelson’s show and the writing doesn’t measure up to that but seems like a fun show to watch.

Maxwell House Coffee was their sponsor for the entire run of the show.

The show was on Monday nights after I Love Lucy and had top-ten ratings for the first four years. For season five, the network moved it to Thursdays, where it was up against Zorro and The Ed Wynn Show. Ratings declined significantly, and it was cancelled. Fans have noted that the last season’s scripts were not as well written and the show had probably run its course.

Harry Morgan discussed the show for the Academy of Television interviews. He said it was a nice show to work on; he described it as “fluffy and light” and “typical for the time.” He said he enjoyed doing the show, all the cast was wonderful, especially Spring who was an amazing actress, and he became good friends with Dean Miller and Frances Rafferty. He said that it was a well-done show and he had a lot of fun during those five years.

I watched the episode about Desi’s family room caving in. Morgan’s description was pretty accurate. The show might not present deep philosophical moments, but it was well written. One of the bright spots was Desi’s butler played by Richard Deacon. I can certainly think of worse ways to spend a few hours than watching several of these classic television episodes.

June Lockhart Rocked the Acting Profession

As we check out some of my favorite actresses this month, this week we learn about one of the most prolific actresses on the small screen. With more than 170 credits between 1938 and 2004, June Lockhart had a very successful career.

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Photo: ebay.com

Perhaps destiny planned for June to become an actress. Both her parents, Canadian-born Gene and English-born Kathleen Lockhart, were actors and she traveled with them as a young child while they performed. Although she was born in New York City in 1925, she was brought up in Beverly Hills.

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June with her parents
Photo: mesquitelocalnews.com

She was only 8 when she took the role of Mimsey in “Peter Ibbetson” at the Metropolitan Opera.

In 1938, at age 13, June made her film debut in A Christmas Carol with her parents. She appeared in more than thirty movies, including Meet Me in St. Louis, Sergeant York, All This and Heaven Too, and The Yearling.

Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944 ~ June Lockhart, Judy Garland & Lucille Bremer |  Judy garland, Hollywood, Holiday movie
Photo: pinterest.com Meet Me in St. Louis

In 1948, she won a Tony for Outstanding Performance by a Newcomer for her role in “For Love or Money.”

Although her appearances in film and on Broadway would have been a lucrative career n themselves, it was in television that she found most of her fame. In 1949 she accepted a role on The Ford Theater Hour. During the 1950s she would make 56 appearances on drama theater shows. In addition, she was in Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Rawhide, and Wagon Train.

In 1951 she married John Maloney. In 1959 they divorced and that same year, she married John Lindsay whom she was married to until 1970.

But it was in the television show, Lassie from 1958-1964 that she became a household name as Ruth Martin, Timmy’s (Jon Provost) mother. The show was about the Martin family’s life on the farm and the heroics of Timmy’s dog Lassie.

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Photo: pinterest.com

The 1960s continued to be very productive for her as an actress. She appeared in a variety of television shows, including the dramas Perry Mason, The Man from UNCLE, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and the comedies Bewitched, Family Affair, and The Beverly Hillbillies.

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Photo: thenewyorktimes.com

She also starred in two long-lasting sitcoms. From 1965-1968 she was Maureen Robinson on Lost in Space. On the show, a family with three children travel with Major Don West to colonize a new planet.  Dr. Zach Smith is a stowaway who tried to sabotage their mission by throwing their ship off course and ends up having to live with the people he thought were his enemies.

See the source image
With Bill Mumy
Photo: uncleoldiescollectible.com

In an interview with Bill Mumy who played her son Will on Lost in Space, he said that Lockhart always made time for the kids on the set. He said she kept them occupied between takes which she didn’t need to do. He said “she spent a lot of time nurturing Angela’s and my developing thought processes. Teaching us.”

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In 1968 she was offered a role as Dr. Janet Craig for the final two seasons of Petticoat Junction. Bea Benaderet, the star, passed away in 1968, and Janet filled in as a “mother” to the girls.

Although she would not take on any additional regular roles for sitcoms, she continued to keep busy through the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. During these decades , she could be seen on Love American Style, Marcus Welby, Adam-12, Police Story, Ellery Queen, Happy Days, Magnum PI, Falcon Crest, Quincy, Murder She Wrote, Full House, Roseanne, Drew Carey, Grey’s Anatomy, and in Beverly Hills 90210 where she had a recurring role, along with 33 other series.

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On Happy Days
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Her last acting role was an animation movie, Bongee Bear and the Kingdom of Rhythm, in 2016. She passed away in 2019, apparently from old age.

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Lockhart was an interesting person as well as a successful actress. She hosted the Tournament of Roses parade for eight years and the Macy Thanksgiving parade for five years.

During my research, I learned several surprising things about her. She was an Ambassador for the California State Parks system. She won the NASA award for Exceptional Public Achievement Medal for inspiring the public about space exploration in 2013. She served as a panelist with several White House correspondents on a quiz show Who Said That in the fifties. That job provided her with an open invitation to attend White House briefings which she did and said were fun.

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Her hobbies included gold mining, antique motorcars, lighter-than-air aircraft, and learning about the Old West. She kept medical texts near her bed for nighttime reading. She was a member of a kite-flying club. She also loved old steam engines.

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Her husband bought her a 1923 Seagrave pumper fire engine named “Cordelia Delilah Lindsay” which she drove around even though it got two miles to the gallon. She actually had the largest parking space at the studio.

If all those facts aren’t interesting enough, in an interview with Bill Mumy by the Archive of American Television, he relayed that she loved rock and roll. In 1967, she hired the Allman Brothers Band (then called Hour Glass) to play at her house. She took Angela Cartwright and Bill to the Whiskey-A-Go-Go. He also said that “in the 1980s she carried a picture of only one person in her wallet and it was David Bowie.”

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I’m truly impressed that with as busy as she was as an actress, she made time for both her two daughters and her television children, and enjoyed a ton of hobbies as well. It seems she had a joy for learning about new things and continued to add interests to her life. She was a great role model for all of us.

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Dave Madden: A Magical Career

We are right in the middle of “The Men of November” series where we learn about some of our favorite actors from the classic age of television. Today we focus on a comedian who is best known for his role of a family band manager—Dave Madden.

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Madden was an American born in Ontario, Canada in 1931. He spent his early childhood in Port Huron, Michigan and then was sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Terre Haute. His father had died and his mother had a job where she had to travel. When he was 13, he had a very bad bike accident which left him immobilized. He had a head-on collision with a car going about 45 mph. He broke his leg and fractured his skull. They pumped him with penicillin which saved his life. He was in the hospital for about three months because they had to keep breaking his leg. During the months he spent recuperating, he learned about magic from a book his aunt brought him called 101 Tricks You Can Do, and he later developed a comedy act that featured magic.

Appropriately enough, he served as the joke editor for his high school paper, writing his own material. He attended Indiana State Teachers College for a semester and then dropped out to enlist in the Air Force. He was assigned to Special Forces and sent to Libya where he entertained the troops. He even performed a magic show for the King of Libya.

When his time in the Air Force was over, he attended the University of Miami, majoring in communications and graduating in 1959.

Madden took his comedy act on the road. His manager booked him in Palm Springs during the Palm Springs Golf Classic, and the Rat Pack came in one night. After the show, Frank Sinatra went backstage and asked if Madden would be his opening act in Lake Tahoe in July.

Tralfaz: The Unhappy Man With the Confetti
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He and Sinatra hung out and one night in his bungalow he said Madden should be on The Ed Sullivan Show and picked up the phone and called Ed in New York. That call resulted in Sullivan booking him for three episodes.

His manager had a club in Beverly Hills, The Ye Little Club, and he called Madden who was in town because his regular singer was sick. Madden helped him out, and a Screen Gems writer, Jerry Davis, was in the audience with Nat King Cole’s manager. Nat was Madden’s favorite singer and his manager asked if he would do an eight-week tour with him. Unfortunately, Cole died soon after and Madden never even got to meet him.

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Jerry Davis called Madden and asked him if he was interested in filming a pilot which led to an offer for a regular role on Camp Runamuck which debuted in 1965. The show lasted a season with 26 episodes. Madden had never acted before, and he said it was a great experience. The show was primarily about the camp counselors. Madden met Dave Ketchum on the show and they became friends. Later, the role of Reuben Kincaid was narrowed down to Dave Ketchum and Madden.

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A year later, Madden was offered a spot on Laugh-In. Rowan and Martin had seen his act in Reno and invited him on the show. Madden said that filming the show was not much fun. He said apart from the opening and closing jokes and cocktail party, most of the segments were individual ones. He described a day where he might go in at 10 am, and there would be 2 cameramen, a director and a light man. He would film a dozen skits which would be shown over the course of the season. None of the rest of the cast would be there.  So, it was long and boring work.

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After two years with the wacky cast, he accepted the role that would make him a household name. As Reuben Kincaid, he managed the Partridge family on a new series based on the life of The Cowsills. The show aired Friday nights following The Brady Bunch and was on the air from 1970 till 1974.

Some of the scenes I loved the most on the show was when Reuben would lay on the couch to watch tv with the family or hold Shirley’s yarn while she knitted—just everyday family activities. Unfortunately, he and Shirley were not as close as they could have been because Madden and Shirley’s husband Marty Ingels did not hit it off.

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Filming The Partridge Family was not always fun either. He said it could be very boring.  The cast might have three to four pages of scripts that take place in the dining room.  The whole family would sit around the table and they would have to change the lighting every time someone else spoke. He said you could arrive at 7 am and leave at 3 pm and never leave the dining room.

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While one of the running gags on the show was that Reuben and Danny had a battle of wits ongoing, in their personal lives, Reuben took Bonaduce into his home when his house was not a safe place. He said Danny’s mother was worried about Danny being home on the weekends when his father was home, so she asked Madden if Danny could stay with him at his bachelor pad on weekends. Madden said he didn’t drink and had small groups of people over, so it was not a problem to have Danny staying there.

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Madden said that he learned that The Partridge Family was cancelled because someone in his apartment building read it in the newspaper—a crummy way to learn you no longer had a job.

During this time period, Madden was on two episodes of Love American Style which was also part of the Friday night schedule and two episodes of Bewitched. When Madden recalled his time on Bewitched, he said he was with the same secondary actor for both episodes, Herb Ellis. He said that Elizabeth Montgomery was very gracious.

After the end of The Partridge Family, Madden appeared on an episode of Happy Days. In 1976, he would have a part in Eat My Dust!, a movie developed by Ron Howard who played Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. It was one of only two big screen features Madden was in. The other movie Madden had a role in was the family favorite, Charlotte’s Web in 1973. Madden was the voice of the ram.

In the late seventies, Madden could be seen on a variety of shows including Starsky and Hutch, Barney Miller, The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island.

In 1975, Madden took a break from his acting schedule to marry Nena Arnold. They had two children and divorced ten years later.

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In the late seventies, he would be offered another recurring role. He began eating at Mel’s Diner on Alice from 1978-1985, as Earl Hicks. He was also Alice’s son’s basketball coach. The Hicks character was meant to be a guest shot, but the producers liked his interaction so much that he ended up doing 35 episodes. He really enjoyed working on the show because it was done before a live audience. He said it was like doing a one-act play every week. The cast rehearsed for a few days and then shot the show at one time.

In the late eighties, Madden also joined the cast of Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey. In 1990 he created his own character, curmudgeonly window washer Bernard Walton, which he would voice until 2008.

From 1970 or so on, Madden did a lot of voice-over work. When he had more time for it, it was very profitable. He said he made more money between 1985-1990 doing that then all four television series combined; he was making more than $250,000 a year just in voice work.

He stayed busy throughout the 1990s, showing up on The New Leave it to Beaver, Life with Lucy, Ben Stiller, Married . . . with Children, and Boy Meets World. His last credited role was on Sabrina the Teen-age Witch in 1998, where he appeared with other Laugh-In cast members.

He had another memorable event in 1998 when he married his former college girlfriend Sandy Martin.

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If you watched The Partridge Family, you might remember the episode where Danny and Reuben have a bet to see if Danny can lose weight and if Reuben can quit smoking. Madden was a long-time smoker in real life and that episode inspired him to quit, although he had been thinking about quitting for a while.

Madden had always been interested in cameras, buying his first one in the service.  He began to experiment with photography on the set of The Partridge Family. He said it was illegal to bring a camera to the set, so he began taking photos of the crew when they were filming away from the regular set. He then made gifts for the crew and then began filming the director. By that time, people were so used to him having a camera around, no one called him out on photographing the cast. He would bring his camera to work with him, taking photos of the cast and crew. It turned into a life-long hobby.

The Partridge Family 4x05 Reuben Kincaid Lives - ShareTV
Margaret Hamilton
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One of the benefits of working in the industry was meeting so many beloved actors like Lucille Ball. On The Partridge Family, Madden enjoyed working with Ray Bolger who played Shirley’s dad and Margaret Hamilton who played Reuben’s mother. He said he would chat with Ray between takes and hear stories from Hamilton about The Wizard of Oz. He said Hamilton was a real pro and they were both very nice people.

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During retirement in 2007, he wrote his memoirs, Reuben on Wry: The Memoirs of Dave Madden.

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In January of 2014, he passed away in hospice care, suffering from complications of myelodysplastic syndrome, a disorder that results from poorly formed or dysfunctional blood cells.

For someone who began his first magic performance because of a serious injury and was hired for a sitcom without ever having acted, Dave Madden had a very fun and successful career. I must admit, I have many great memories of him as Reuben Kincaid. He seemed to be a very nice and easy-going individual who worked hard and enjoyed his life. You can’t ask for more than that. Thanks for the memories Dave Madden.

Bert Convy: A Multi-Talented Star

I’m calling this series “The Men of November.”  We are taking a look at five actors who contributed to television during the classic decades of the 1940s-1980s. I’ve decided to take them in alphabetical order so we are starting with Bert Convy.

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Born in St. Louis in 1933, Convy’s family moved to Los Angeles when he was seven.  His focus was athletics, not acting, in school. When he was 17, the Philadelphia Phillies gave him a contract to play in their minor league system which he did from 1951-1952. In 1951 he played for the Klamath Falls Gems (Oregon), and in 1952 he split his time with the Salina Blue Jays (Kansas) and the Miami Eagles (Oklahoma).

Once he realized baseball was not going to be his career, he joined The Cheers, who released a top ten hit called “Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots” in 1955. Convy opted to enroll at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, earning a BA.

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Like Ken Berry, he was a performer in the Billy Barnes Revues which was popular in the fifties and sixties. In 1956, he was an usher on Art Linkletter’s popular show House Party. He appeared in several early television series throughout the late fifties, including Those Whiting Girls.

In 1959 he married Anne Anderson. They had three children and were divorced in 1991.

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He showed up on the small screen a lot during the sixties, primarily in detective shows including Perry Mason in 1960. His first feature role was in the big screen drama Susan Slade starring Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens in 1961. He also spent a part of this decade on Broadway in ten different productions.

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The decade of the seventies found him balancing roles in both detective (Mission Impossible, McMillan and Wife, Police Story and Charlie’s Angels among many others) and comedy shows (including Bewitched, Love American Style, and Karen). He appeared on The Partridge Family as a politician who dates Shirley. You get the distinct impression that they ended up together once the kids were out on their own. He also portrayed one of Mary’s boyfriends on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

As Paul Revere on Bewitched
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He received his first recurring role in 1974, playing Lt. Steve Ostrowski on The Snoop Sisters. The show starred Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as two sisters, one widowed and one never married, who are mystery writers that also get involved in real murders.

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Two years later he starred in a short-lived variety show with the convoluted title of The Late Summer Early Fall Bert Convy Show. The title alone probably doubled the advertising budget. When I say short-lived, I mean I could only find one episode of the show which featured Don Knots.

He was offered another permanent role in 1983 on It’s Not Easy. Originally Larry Breeding was given the role and made the pilot, but he passed away after a car accident. This show only lasted for 11 episodes. The plot is that Jack and Sharon have divorced. Sharon has remarried and she and her husband Neal (Convy) have decided to live across the street from Jack so it’s easier for the kids. Jack and Neal do not like each other.

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He appeared in a few series during the eighties including Aloha Paradise, Fantasy Island, Murder She Wrote, Hotel, The Love Boat and The People Next Door.  

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While he would make ten big screen and fifteen made-for-television movies, two of them involved his buddy Burt Reynolds. Convy appeared in Semi-Tough in 1977 and Cannonball Run in 1981. The two friends developed a production company, Burt and Bert Productions.

Convy was probably best known for his game show work. He was a panelist during the sixties and seventies on a variety of shows including What’s My Line, To Tell the Truth, Match Game, and Password. He hosted Tattletales, Super Password and Win, Lose or Draw. His emceeing of Tattletales resulted in an Emmy for Best Game Show Host in 1977.

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In April of 1990, Convy collapsed and was diagnosed with cancer. The brain tumor was inoperable, forcing his retirement. His last credit was as himself on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show in 1990. He married his second wife Catherine Hills during the winter of 1991, and he passed away in July of 1991.

Sadly, Convy was never offered that perfect role that made him an icon, but he certainly had a full career. He had a lot of talents: acting, singing, and the personality to host game shows. I think it was his smile that always made him a favorite with me.

Bewitched vs I Dream of Jeannie: The Great Debate

Do you get a bit nervous when you see someone twitch or blink in public? If so, you probably have a bit of MSD, magic stress disorder. It comes from watching Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie reruns. Today, I am attempting to settle the long-debated Jeannie vs Samantha question. Let me state first that I am not considering the “who is hotter” question. That argument has been going on for five decades and is a personal preference, so I’ll continue to let those people who care and have an opinion debate that issue. Also, both women could provide any wish, so it’s not about what they could do for someone else by blinking or twitching for say a million dollars.

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My goal was to decide, from a mortal perspective, who would be the better woman to have a relationship with, be it a spouse, best friend, neighbor, or PTA co-chair.

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There were a lot of similarities in the two shows. Bewitched began in 1964 and ran till 1972. I Dream of Jeannie debuted in 1965 and was cancelled in 1970, but had its beginnings in the movie, The Brass Bottle, a 1964 comedy about a modern man who accidentally acquires the friendship of a long-out-of-circulation genie. It starred Burl Ives, Tony Randall, and Barbara Eden. In this version, Ives is the genie, and Eden is Randall’s girlfriend, but it gave Sidney Sheldon the idea for the television series.

Both shows had an animated opening and a great theme song.

Also, both shows center around a relationship where the woman has magic powers, and the man has to live with the consequences.

In the case of Bewitched, Darrin falls in love with Samantha and proposes before he learns she is a witch; with I Dream of Jeannie, Major Nelson finds Jeannie’s bottle on a beach after a space landing and then feels like he is “stuck” with her.

That said, let’s look at Life Issues, Friends and Family Issues, and Magic Issues to try to determine who would be the better person to have as part of your life.

Life Issues. In the area of life issues, I think most people would agree that Samantha understands life in the 20th century United States. Jeannie has to do some observing and reading to learn what that type of life means and different concepts confuse her, resulting in some uncomfortable situations for Tony.

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Samantha lives a fairly normal life. She has taught herself to be a “regular” housewife. She cooks, cleans, and shops like her friends. Jeannie spends her days holed up at Anthony’s house, and no one can know she is there. Related to that is the fact that the majority of the time, Samantha wears the same type of clothing as everyone else in her community.

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Jeannie does get to wear more fashionable clothing from time to time, but most of the time is spent in her pink harem outfit.

Another factor is how much damage could be done to their spouse’s career of to a friend or family member. Darrin is an advertising executive; really, there is not a lot of damage Sam can do. She can cause a client to leave the firm, but that’s not too significant. With Major Nelson being an astronaut, there are a lot of problems Jeannie can create when she pulls him into and out of outer space or causes NASA staff to question Tony’s reliability as an astronaut.

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One of the biggest problems for Tony was Jeannie’s quick temper. While Samantha often was unhappy about certain things, Jeannie was a bit more vindictive. Samantha might cause someone who was being treated unfairly to acquire a skill they didn’t really have, usually a positive action. Jeannie was typically mad at Tony, and often the problem involved another woman, so Tony is the one who typically was put into a dangerous or complicated situation. She might send him to another century or put him in a torture chamber.

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A final life factor, which would have more repercussions in today’s social media age than in the sixties, is that Jeannie did not show up in photos. That meant she would have to blink a clone or add another complication like destroying the film to keep her invisibility a secret.

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There were a lot of family and friend matters that also come into play on this question. Samantha was not hidden from Darrin’s friends and family members, only her witchcraft was kept secret. That also became true for Jeannie after she and Tony Nelson married in the final season, but in the first four years there were often plots where Jeannie had to be explained or hidden, causing much confusion. Roger Healy did know of Jeannie’s existence which could be a positive or negative. Roger could help Tony keep her hidden or get Jeannie’s help when necessary, but occasionally he also caused problems by trying to get Jeannie to do things for him Anthony might not approve of.

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Both women had to deal with another character who was suspicious and always on the lookout to get an “a-ha” moment. In the case of Bewitched, Gladys Kravitz knew there were some strange things happening at the Stephens’ household.

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She was constantly trying to peek in the window or capture some evidence when things seemed not quite right. However, her husband Abner thought she was crazy and didn’t give any credence to her hare-brained schemes so she remained a harmless busybody.

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In Jeannie’s case, Dr. Bellows was a psychiatrist and was also alarmed at things he saw or learned about Major Nelson. His wife Amanda was a co-conspirator, often trying to help him learn the truth behind what was going on.

Family Issues. Both Tony and Darrin had to deal with some wacky and quirky relatives.

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Tony was forced to obey some more powerful relatives who were fierce and could cause great harm; they often showed up to threaten Tony. Darrin was really only threatened by his mother-in-law Endora.

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She often put a spell on him that affected his looks and made it hard for him to explain what was happening, but Samantha was always able to convince her to make things right. He was perhaps inconvenienced by some of her other relatives. Although he could be annoyed by them, we found them delightful and enjoyed hanging out with most of them, especially Uncle Arthur and Aunt Clara.

Two relatives that could cause some serious problems were Jeannie and Samantha’s “twins.” Jeannie had a sister that looked just like her except she traded blonde hair for black and a pink harem outfit for a blue one.

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However, she could pretend to be Jeannie, and it was almost impossible to tell them apart. Sam’s cousin Serena looked a lot like her and also sported a black hairdo.

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However, Serena had a very different kooky personality and it didn’t take long to figure out who she really was. In Tony’s case, he could have been stuck with the other Jeannie for a long time without realizing it.

One other family concern was whether the children would follow in their mother’s footsteps. On Bewitched we did learn that both Darrin and Samantha’s children were a witch and a warlock which tripled the problems Darrin was living with. Since Jeannie and Tony never had children, we don’t know if they would have magical powers or not.

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Magic Issues. Both Jeannie and Samantha could come down with some strange illnesses related to their powers.

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While Jeannie often had to wait out the situation, Samantha had a personal physician available at all times, Dr. Bombay, who could usually cure her quickly.

The last question involves twitching versus blinking. Samantha’s magic was accomplished by sometimes raising her arm, but typically she twitched her nose. Jeannie would fold her arms over each other and lower her head while blinking. The two issues with their methods are that Sam’s magic was more subtle and if she turned just right, no one noticed what she was up to.

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Not only was Jeannie more obvious but if her arms were broken, she would have been helpless, as she mentions in one episode. It would be less likely for a nose to be broken, but not impossible, at least according to Marcia Brady.

One last magical issue was that Tony could in fact ban Jeannie to her bottle. Since he was her master, she had to obey him and even if she refused, once she was in her bottle, a cap could keep her there. Samantha was an equal partner with Darrin and there were no consequences for her that were any different from any other marriage. She was free to come and go and send him to the couch for the night when they had a disagreement.

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So, after reflecting on these issues, what is the determination? Jeannie definitely caused more problems, but she could be banned to the bottle. Samantha was more helpful, but her family caused Darrin a lot of stress.

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I guess I would have to say from my perspective at least, Samantha would be the person I would rather be friends with. Jeannie often misinterpreted situations or caused more problems while trying to make things better. She also had a temper that caused her to be blinking before thinking.

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With Samantha you could have a normal friendship without being subjected to any weird circumstances, and if you did get involved in something outlandish, she had the ability to freeze time till it got back to normal or put a spell on you to forget that you saw or heard anything abnormal. Whether you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: Fifty Years After Getting the Pink Slip

The late 1960s and early 1970s might have contained the most diverse television shows than any other era. In 1968, there were the rural comedies like Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies; there were the standard sitcoms, My Three Sons, Get Smart, That Girl, Bewitched; there were the remains of a few westerns including The High Chaparral, The Virginian, and Gunsmoke; there were crime and thrillers such as Hawaii Five-0 and Mission Impossible; there was the crime/western in The Wild, Wild West, there were gameshows on at night including Let’s Make a Deal, The Dating Game, and The Newlywed Game; there were sci-fi shows like Star Trek and The Land of the Giants; family shows like Lassie; and even Lawrence Welk.

In addition, there were a couple of shows that were a bit edgier and introduced more  provocative concepts and themes. The Mod Squad featured three teens who were helping solve crimes in lieu of jail time, and then there was the almost-impossible-to-describe Laugh In.

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Similar to Laugh In was The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour which also debuted in 1967 featuring Tom and Dick Smothers. It had more of a variety format to it but it had the same topical and satirical humor.

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The Who

In addition to poking fun at politics, the war, religion, and current issues, you could tune in to the Smothers Brothers for some of the best and sometimes controversial music in the industry. Performers such as Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf, Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Cream, Pete Seeger, and The Doors appeared on the show.

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Jefferson Airplane

The show aired Sunday nights against Bonanza on NBC; ABC aired The Sunday Night Movie in its first season and Hee Haw in its second season.

The series had some of the best writers on television: Alan Blye, Hal Goldman, Al Gordon, Steve Martin, Lorenzo Music, Don Novello, Rob Reiner, David Steinberg, and Mason Williams. Reiner and Martin both commented on the show in an interview by Marc Freeman in the Hollywood Reporter 11-25-2017 (“The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour at 50: The Rise and Fall of a Ground-Breaking Variety Show”).  

Reiner relayed that “you had two cute boy-next-doors wearing red suits, one with the stand-up bass and the other with his guitar. They looked like the sweetest, most innocent kids. You got drawn to them, and then they hit you with the uppercut you didn’t see coming.”

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Martin elaborated “When you have the power wrapped up in innocence, it’s more palatable. They were like little boys, but you also had Dickie there to reprimand Tommy when he would make an outrageous statement. It’s like the naughty ventriloquist dummy who can get away with murder as long as the ventriloquist is there to say ‘You can’t say that.’ It’s the perfect setup for getting a message across.”

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Jack Benny

In addition to the musical acts, hundreds of celebrities appeared on the show between 1967 and 1969, including Jack Benny, Carol Burnett, George Burns, Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, Barbara Eden, Nanette Fabray, Eva Gabor, Shirley Jones, Don Knotts, Bob Newhart, Tony Randall, Ed Sullivan, Danny Thomas and Jonathan Winters, along with so many others.

Part of the show was the brothers’ ongoing sibling rivalry about whom their parents liked best. They also began to add political satire and ribald humor. Pat Paulsen delivered mock editorials about current topics such as the draft and gun control, and in 1968 he had a mock presidential campaign.

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Pat Paulsen for president

Church sermon sketches poked fun at religion. The show lampooned many of the values older Americans valued, often delivering anti-establishment and pro-drug humor. No one was given an exception, and the show lambasted the military, the police, the religious right, and the government.

Battles over content were ongoing with the network. The network pulled Pete Seeger’s performance of his anti-Vietnam War song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.” They nixed Harry Belafonte’s song, “Don’t Stop the Carnival” because it had a video collage behind him of the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots.

Younger viewers were tuning in, and despite the conflicts, the show was picked up for a second season. The network insisted they receive a copy of the show at least ten days in advance for editing. In April of 1969, William Paley canceled the show without notice. Some sources contend it was canceled by CBS president Robert Wood. Some sources cite the issue with unacceptable deadlines and others mention Tom Smothers lobbying the FCC and members of Congress over corporate censorship that brought about the firing. The brothers filed a breach of contract suit against the network and after four years of litigation, a federal court ruled in their favor, awarding them $776,300.

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Here’s a typical joke from the show that was not as controversial.

Tom: You can tell who’s running the country by how much clothes people wear, see?

Dick: Do you mean that some people can afford more clothes on, and some people have . . . less on? Is that what you mean?

Tom: That’s right.

Dick: I don’t understand.

Tom: See, the ordinary people, you’d say that the ordinary people are the less-ons.

Dick: So, who’s running the country?

Tom: The morons.

The Smothers Brothers elicited humor that was as topical, influential, and critical as anyone had ever heard before on television. Fifty years later, both the network and the brothers realized everyone over-reacted. If the Smothers Brothers had tried to play by the rules a bit, they would not have lost their platform to continue to help change what they saw as a messed-up culture.

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The CBS executives felt the program created too much controversy. In their defense, politicians, especially Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, exerted a lot of pressure on the network. Remember this was a time of three networks and ads are what produced the profits to fund shows. The network received a boatload of hate mail daily about the program and, when viewers begin talking boycotting advertisers, executives sit up a bit straighter and listen.

The Smothers Brothers Show, a less controversial series, debuted in 1975. They had two specials on NBC later and another CBS series in 1988 but never regained the influence they had in the sixties. However, the show did help pave the way for a future that permitted, and later embraced, shows with controversy beginning with All in the Family, continuing with Saturday Night Live, and recently seen on shows such hosted by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Although the comedy spouted on the show would seem quite tame by today’s standards, the show had an important part in the history of television and the rights of free speech.

Photo: wvxu.com

I have seen some DVDs out there from this show, but they are pricey. Recently I saw season two going for $190. I do see Laugh In on Decades quite often, so perhaps The Smothers Brothers might show up somewhere too, although I’m not sure this show would hold up as well as Laugh In, but the musical performances would be fun to see.