Meredith Baxter: Her Long and Successful Career

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I am a big fan of the show Family starring James Broderick and Sada Thompson.  Along with Gary Frank and Kristy McNichol, Meredith Baxter played one of their children on the show. As Nancy, she got divorced and moved into a garage apartment with her son Timmy. She went to law school to follow in her father’s footsteps. Today we will learn a bit more about the life Meredith Baxter had off the show.

Photo: wordpress.com

Baxter was born in 1947 in California. Her mother was Whitney Blake who played Dorothy Baxter on Hazel. Her father was a radio announcer. Her parents divorced when she was 6. She lived with her brothers and her mother who eventually remarried; Meredith’s stepfather was sitcom writer Allan Manings. Manings wrote for a variety of shows, including McHale’s Navy, Laugh-In, Good Times, and both the original and reboot of One Day at a Time.

Baxter went to Hollywood High. She briefly transferred to Interlochen Center for the Arts as a voice major, but returned to Hollywood High to graduate. Shortly afterward she married Robert Lewis Bush and they had two children. They divorced in 1971.

Photo: youtube.com

For the next few years, Meredith appeared on a variety of television shows and in several big-screen movies, including The Doris Day Show and The Partridge Family.

Image #: 2088657 David Birney (as Bernie Steinberg) and Meredith Baxter (as Bridget Fitzgerald Steinberg) in the CBS comedy series “Bridget Loves Bernie.” 1972 – – Picture by Landov / Retna Pictures – Job: 79439 Ref: LAN / CBS – UK Rights Only *Unbylined uses will incur an additional discretionary fee!*

The following year, Meredith got her first major acting role: Bridget Loves Bernie. She starred with David Birney. The premise behind this sitcom is that wealthy, Catholic Bridget Fitzgerald marries lower-class, Jewish Bernie Steinberg who drives a cab. Both sets of parents are uncomfortable with their children’s mates.

Although the show only lasted one season, she and Birney lasted a little longer. They married in 1974 and had twins. In 1989 they divorced and don’t have very good things to say about one another.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com
Asea on The Love Boat

In the mid-seventies, television kept Meredith very busy with 11 appearances on shows such as Medical Center and McMillan and Wife and 10 made-for-tv movies.

She appeared on the big screen in All the President’s Men in 1976 before taking the role of Nancy Maitland on Family that same year.  Family featured the Lawrences. Kate is a stay-at-home mom and a bit distant but obviously loves her children. Warm, friendly Doug is a lawyer and judge. Nancy is in her twenties but much more mature than her brother Willie who can’t decide what to do with his life. Buddy, a tweener, is the youngest in the family.

Photo: nostalgiacentral.com

Critics as well as viewers were devoted to the show. Baxter was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in both 1977 and 1978. She was beat by her “sister” McNichol in 1977 (McNichol was nominated every year the show was on) and by Nancy Marchand for Lou Grant in 1978.  For both years, Family was nominated as best show and Sada Thompson as lead actress which she won in 1978 (Thompson was also nominated every year). Gary Frank as Willie won in 1977. James Broderick also received a nomination during those years.

After Family ended, she went back to making made-for-tv movies with 7 during the 1980s and 21 in the 1990s.

Photo: tvseriesfinale.com

The following year, she would land the role that made her the most famous, Elyse Keaton on Family Ties. In this much-beloved show, Elyse and Steven, former hippies, raise their four children who have different values than they did. Alex, the oldest is a conservative interested primarily in money, Mallory cares more about shopping and boys than anything else, Jennifer has a dry sense of humor and is trying to find her spot in the family and the birth of baby Andy doesn’t help her figure that out. The show was on the air for seven seasons.

In 1995, Baxter married actor and screenwriter Michael Blodgett, but their married only lasted five years. (Blodgett wrote for a variety of television shows and several movies.) Shortly before her divorce, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She made a full recovery and has become a spokesperson for treatment and research and developed a skin cream (Signature). A portion of the proceeds is donated for breast cancer prevention.

THE FACULTY — Meredith Baxter stars in the new comedy series, THE FACULTY, which airs on the ABC Television Network.

In 1996, she again attempted a television series, The Faculty. The show wasn’t renewed for a second season. Baxter played the role of a principal who is divorced and a single mother, and features the choices she has to make to balance her busy life. While the critics praised Baxter’s performance, they didn’t find much else to like about the show, and it was cancelled after 13 episodes.

Photo: wm.com/cold case

She made several television appearances on various shows or movies but her only recurring role was as Lilly Rush on Cold Case in 2007.

In 2011, Meredith published her memoir, Untied. She talks frankly about her unhappy marriages, including the abusive one with Birney. She also discloses that she was a recovering alcoholic and that she was gay. After coming out, she met Nancy Locke whom she married in 2013.

In 2014 Baxter accepted a role as Maureen, Nicky’s friend, on The Young and the Restless which began and ended that year. Since that time, she has appeared on a variety of television shows and in several movies. She has a couple of movies coming out soon.

Photo: tvguide.com
With Melody Thomas Scott on The Young and the Restless

Baxter has also done a variety stage work including the two-character play, “Kissing Place” with David Ogden Stiers. Most recently she has appeared in “Women Beyond Borders,” “Angels in America” and “Love Letters.”

Photo: pinterest.com

Although Meredith has definitely had some trauma and sadness in her life, she has had a varied and long-lasting career. Being cast in three successful television shows is not something that happens for most actors. She seems to have come to a place in her life where she is happy and content and that is something all of us strive for. Join me next week as we look more closely at the show that made her a household name: Family Ties.

Did You Know Shirley Partridge, Samantha Stephens, Jeannie, Donna Reed, and Hazel Lived in the Same Neighborhood?

As we proceed with our Behind the Scenes series this month, today we are thinking about set designers. Before the interior designs are done, the production team needs to find the perfect home for our television friends.

Did you ever daydream about places you might want to live in, even if you never would actually consider leaving your home?  Perhaps it’s a small rose-covered cottage in the English countryside, maybe a ski chalet in the Swiss alps, or a house on the Maine coast with green shutters and a widow’s walk. I’ve thought about all of these places, but now I have another one to consider. It’s an historic neighborhood where some of my favorite television friends lived. Today we learn a bit about the Columbia Ranch.

Photo: columbiaranch.net

Now called Warner Brothers Ranch, the former Columbia Ranch was in Burbank, CA. In addition to dozens of television shows, it was the setting for many movies as well such as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, High Noon, and Lost Horizon. The neighborhood interiors were typically shot at other studio locations.

In 1934, Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, purchased 40 acres in Burbank. In 1948, Columbia got into the television business under Screen Gems.

Photo: pinterest.com

During the 1950s, Captain Midnight, Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, and Dennis the Menace were filmed here. By the 1960s, the ranch was used continuously for television and movies. The set was about six blocks but looked much larger on camera shots. Shows during the 1960s included My Sister Eileen, Hazel, Our Man Higgins, The Farmer’s Daughter, Bewitched, Gidget, I Dream of Jeannie, The Monkees, and The Flying Nun.

In 1970, a fire destroyed a quarter of the neighborhood, including many buildings on Blondie Street. After rebuilding, taping continued on the set. During the next three decades, shows included The Partridge Family, Bridget Loves Bernie, Apples Way, The Scarecrow and Mrs. King, and Life Goes On.

In 1971, Columbia and Warner Brothers combined their companies and merged into The Burbank Studios. The Ranch then was relegated to a back backlot.

Photo: columbiaranch.net

When Columbia Pictures moved its production facilities to Culver City in 1990, Warner Brothers gained ownership of the Ranch.

Photo: pinterest

Photo: pinterest

It’s continued to be a busy spot for filming. The fountain in the park was the one shown in the opening credits in Friends.

Nearby is also a swimming pool used on a variety of shows, including The Partridge Family.

The most famous street in the Ranch was Blondie Street. Blondie Street was named for Blondie Bumstead because the Blondie movies of the 1940s were filmed here. Walking down Blondie Street reveals homes that we were all familiar with growing up in the sixties and seventies.

Photo: columbiaranch.net

It’s a curved residential street with twelve different houses, surrounding a large, central park. There is also a brick church and paved sidewalks. Three of the buildings—the Lindsay House, the Little Egbert House, and the Oliver House—were original to the 1935 set production.

The Blondie House

Photo: columbiaranch.net

This set, constructed in 1941, was the home for Major Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie, Mr. Wilson on Dennis the Menace, and the Andersons on Father Knows Best, in addition to the Blondie movies. Later it housed the operations office for the Warner Ranch. Of course, Jeannie’s house was not here, it was a Jim Beam decanter that was sold during Christmas of 1964.

The Corner Church

Photo: columbiaranch.net

When thePartridge Family drives off for a show in their bus, you can often spot the church which is just down the road from their home, across from The Stephens’ home on Bewitched. It was moved here in 1953. When any of the series needed a church, this was the one. It can be seen on an episode of Hazel when the family attends church.

The Deeds Home

Photo: columbiaranch.net

Originally built for Frank Capra’s movie, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town in 1936, the house is only seen briefly in the movie. The Three Stooges filmed there in the thirties and forties. In the sixties it was seen in Batman. Both Gidget and The Partridge Family used the house as the high school and Bewitched used it as a civic building. In 1989, the original house was demolished. In its place, The Chester House and the Griswold House were built. The Griswold House was built for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

The Lindsay House

Photo: columbiaranch.net

Constructed in 1936, this house was best known as the Baxter home on Hazel. It also served as the Lawrence home on Gidget.

The Higgins House

Photo: columbiaranch.net

This structure was constructed for the show Our Man Higgins in 1962. It was later the home of Darrin and Samantha Stephens on Bewitched from 1964-1972. On I Dream of Jeannie, it was the home of Alfred and Amanda Bellows.

Photo: pinterest.com

For Bewitched, the interior and backyard scenes were filmed on a sound stage. The stairs ended in a hallway, but the doors only led to small closets, not the master bedroom.  A modular first floor served as a setting for all the rooms. The den doubled as the nursery. A fake wall was put up to hide the view to the kitchen. When the den was needed, brown paneling was put over the nursery walls and the window was covered with a wall near the fireplace.

Photo: darkershadows.com

If you look closely, you’ll notice the avocado and gold flowered sofa in the Stephens’ living room was the same one used by Alfred and Amanda Bellows in their living room. But the shows shared well.  On one episode of Bewitched, Louise and Larry Tate are seen at their kitchen table, but the kitchen looks identical to Major Nelsons’s. Roger Healey’s bedroom eerily resembled Darrin and Samantha’s.

Photo: youtube.com
Photo: pinterest.com

I guess I was too busy crying to notice that this house was also Brian Piccolo’s home in Brian’s Song.

The Partridge Family House

Photo: pinterest.com

The house across the street from the Stephens’ house was home to Abner and Gladys Kravitz. During the filming of Dennis the Menace, it was Mrs. Elkins’ house. It was also the home of The Partridge Family. In 1989 it became the Thatcher home on Life Goes On.

The home was built in 1953, modeled after a Sears, Roebuck & Co. plan. The modest two-story home was a perfect fit for the Partridges with its white, picket fence. The interiors were filmed at the Ranch as well. Located next door to the Blondie House, there were shrubs between the homes that were featured several times on the Partridge Family. In an episode where Keith shoots a movie, Shirley is clipping the hedges and begins dancing for the film, not realizing her neighbor is watching her. We see the hedges again when Keith moves into the room above the garage next door and gets free rent in return for yard work.

Photo: flickr.com
Photo: flickr.com

Because they were filming the show when the infamous fire broke out, some of the structure had to be rebuilt for the remainder of the series. From season 1 to 2, Danny and Keith’s bedrooms switch back and forth a couple times, and I wonder if this is the reason.

The Oliver House

Photo: columbiaranch.net

Constructed in 1935 for a movie, the Oliver house was moved to Blondie Street for the home of the Stone family in The Donna Reed Show. It was also the Mitchell home where Dennis resided with his parents.

The Little Egbert House

Photo: columbiaranch.net

Technically, Little Egbert is not on Blondie Street but on its own, Little Egbert Street, basically an alley. Fortunately, the 1970 fire did not damage any of the original structure. The house was also used in Minding the Mint and as The Shaggy Dog, the hangout for Gidget and her friends.

Photo: retrospace.org

For sentimental reasons, I would choose the Partridge Family home to live in. However, I would have to remodel the kitchen. I could live with the red breakfast table set. The avocado and gold flowered wall paper may have been very chic in its day, but even I am not that sentimental!

C’mon Get Happy

We are in the midst of looking at the Friday night shows that aired in September 1970 through May 1972. Today we meet the cast of The Partridge Family.

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The Partridge Family was created by Bernard Slade. Slade wrote for Bewitched, was a script supervisor for The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, and created several other shows including The Flying Nun, Bridget Loves Bernie, and Love on a Rooftop. Bob Claver served as executive producer.

The concept was loosely based on The Cowsills, a family band who grew up in Rhode Island and toured with their mother. Shirley Jones was signed to be the star of The Partridge Family. The Cowsill kids were offered the role of her children, but they refused to do the show without their mother. David Cassidy, Jones’ step son, was hired as lead singer Keith Partridge. Susan Dey, a model, age 17, was hired as Laurie Partridge, keyboards. Danny Bonaduce is the ten-year-old Danny who acts 45 and plays bass guitar; Jeremy Gelbwaks is Chris the drummer, while Suzanne Crough is the tambourine-playing Tracy, the youngest member of the family.

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The pilot was filmed in December of 1969, but when the first episode aired, a few things had changed. Shirley was originally named Connie, and she had a boyfriend played by Jack Cassidy. The family lived in Ohio, not California.

THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY

In the first episode, the Partridge kids convince their mom, a widow and a bank teller, to fill in to record a song with them in their studio/garage. Danny goes through a few shenanigans to get Reuben Kincaid to listen to the demo, eventually trapping in him the rest room. Rueben loves it, hires on as their manager, and the song hits the top 40, propelling the family to stardom. They buy an old school bus which they paint and go on the road, performing in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

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While many of the episodes take place on the road, most of the shows are set in San Pueblo, their home city, dealing with the typical issues siblings had then and still encounter today.

Ray Bolger and Rosemary DeCamp show up often as Shirley’s parents. We also get to know Reuben’s stewardess girlfriend Bonnie Kleinschmidt played by Elaine Giftos.

bonnie

For the second season, a few additional changes took place. Shirley started out narrating the episodes but stopped partway through season one. Jeremy Gelbwaks’ family moved to the east coast; and he was replaced with Brian Forster. David Cassidy mentioned that young Jeremy had a personality conflict with most of the cast members. When he got older, he must have been easier to get along with because as an adult, he has appeared with the rest of the cast on reunion shows. The theme song was also tweaked.  Titled “Singin’ Together” the first year, it was given a new arrangement, a new name in “C’mon Get Happy,” and new lyrics:

We had a dream, we’d go travelin’ together,
We’d spread a little lovin’ then we’d keep movin’ on.
Somethin’ always happens whenever we’re together
We get a happy feelin’ when we’re singing a song                                                          Travelin’ along there’s a song that we’re singing,                                                                C’mon get happy

Scattered throughout the 96 episodes are more than 50 celebrity guest stars, an astonishing number for a sitcom. We saw sitcom stars from classic shows including Morey Amsterdam, John Astin, Edgar Buchanan, Jackie Coogan, and Arte Johnson. We saw popular hosts like Dick Clark. Howard Cosell represented the sports industry. Movie stars showed up like Margaret Hamilton, Charlotte Rae, and Harry Morgan. Future stars made their mark: Jodie Foster, Mark Hamill, Meredith Baxter, and Bert Convy.  Three of the Charlie’s Angels first appeared on The Partridge Family: Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, and Cheryl Ladd. Musicians Johnny Cash and Bobby Sherman appeared, as did comedian Richard Pryor.

Danny struggled with his lines. He was dyslexic, but he also had an eidetic memory, so he not only memorized his lines, but the rest of the cast’s lines as well, and they didn’t always appreciate him telling them what they could not remember. He was a bit of a wild child. Shirley Jones said once the cast ganged up on him and poured a pitcher of milk on his head to get him to behave. Once she forgot he was not her real son and sent him to his room for a time out. Danny had reason to misbehave though. He was verbally and physically abused at home. Dave Madden who played Reuben took him in to live with him for a while. On the show, the two of them pretended to have a love/hate relationship, but you knew Danny was Reuben’s favorite. Some of their dialogue was:

danny and reuben

Reuben Kincaid: …Tell me, did your mother ever tell you not to play in traffic?

Danny: Of course.

Reuben Kincaid: Too bad.

 

Danny: …You know, we think a lot alike.

Reuben Kincaid: I know. And sometimes it scares me.

 

Reuben Kincaid: Danny, if you’re ever thinking of running away from home, do it.

 

Reuben Kincaid: …Good day.

Danny: It was until now.

 

Reuben Kincaid: Danny, if you’d like to go to the beach with me, I’ll let you swim in the riptide.

Danny: Riptides are dangerous.

Reuben Kincaid: Aw, who told you that?

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The Partridge house is a popular house in television series. It was the home of the Kravitzes in Bewitched and was later Margaret’s house in Pleasantville and the home of the Thatcher family in Life Goes On.

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Most people might not remember that The Partridge Family created a spin-off series.  On one episode, Bobby Sherman and Wes Stern are introduced by the family and become a successful song-writing duo. It became a show Getting Together during the 1971-72 year. Too bad it wasn’t titled Staying Together, because it only lasted 14 episodes. The concept was based on Boyce and Hart who wrote for several famous singers including The Monkees and Jay and the Americans.

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Music was an important part of The Partridge Family. The early 1970s had a range of popular music. You could choose from Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix,  Led Zeppelin or the Archies–ranging from hard rock to pure bubblegum.

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The music for the pilot was recorded by Shorty Rogers. Rogers had worked with Woody Herman and Stan Kenton. He was a trumpet player and music composer. He recorded music for several movies and later for Starsky and Hutch. Wes Farrell produced the songs for the rest of the series. Farrell has written or produced more than 500 songs, the most famous being “Hang on Sloopy.” He wrote 30 songs for the Partridge Family. The Wrecking Crew were Los Angeles session musicians, most of whom had classical or jazz backgrounds. They were the house band for Phil Spector and played behind many singers including Sonny and Cher, The Mamas and the Papas, Frank Sinatra, The Monkees, and The Beach Boys.

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The most famous Partridge Family song was “I Think I Love You,” written by Tony Romeo who wrote for The Cowsills.  The song went to number 1 on the Billboard charts. When the first album came out, it went to number 4. Romeo also wrote the music for the movie Rain Man as well as for other television shows and a variety of jingles. I have to say that my favorite Partridge song, hands down, is “Oh, No, Not My Baby.” By the end of the show, 8 albums had been released including a Christmas one.

THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY

Shirley Jones sang on many of the songs while David Cassidy was the lead singer, but the rest of the cast lip-synched their songs. The show took a toll on David.  He was made a teen idol but was not playing the type of music he was passionate about.  He toured playing Partridge Family staples. Sony made a fortune off him. He wasn’t paid royalties, and they were allowed to use his image however they wanted to without his permission. Even the dues paid by his fan club members went to Sony. His manager realized that David had signed his contract at 19 when the legal age was 21, so his contract became null and void, allowing him to renegotiate it for better terms.  Until then, he was paid $600 per episode and that was it.

In 1974, The Partridge Family was moved to Saturday night opposite All in the Family and could not survive the ratings war.

cartoon

Oddly enough, later that year, a Saturday cartoon was aired called The Partridge Family 2200 AD. It was produced by Hanna-Barbera. Shirley Jones and David Cassidy were not involved at all and Dave Madden and Susan Dey had limited involvement.

reunion

The cast reunited November 25, 1977 for a reunion show with the cast of My Three Sons. They also got together on the Arsenio Hall Show, Danny Bonaduce’s radio show, and three different documentaries.

Perhaps the best measure of the show’s popularity is the incredible amount of items that were produced during the four short years the show was on the air. There is a Partridge Family game (which I have and still play), trading cards, mystery books and comic books starring the family, lunch boxes, blankets, Christmas ornaments, a Keith Partridge watch, dolls, song books and sheet music, a Johnny Lightning bus replica, Viewmaster reels, and many other items. Johnny Ray Miller wrote a book in titled When We’re Singin’: The Partridge Family and Their Music, chronicling the music of the show.

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Shirley Jones enjoyed her time on The Partridge Family. She has continued to keep busy performing and spending time with her real family.

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Dave Madden also kept quite busy following the cancellation of the show. Being a smoker most of his life, he quit smoking after the episode “Every Dawn I Diet” when he and Danny have a bet that he can quit smoking and Danny can lose some weight. He passed away in 2014 at age 82 from complications of myelodyplastic syndrome, a disease where red blood cells don’t mature in the marrow.

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Jeremy Gelbwaks became a management consultant.

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Brian Forster is a race car driver, participating in community theater. In a side note, his mother was related to Charles Dickens, and his step-grandfather was Alan Napier, the butler Alfred on the Batman television show.

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Suzanne Crough made a few appearances in shows and movies through 1980. She went to college, worked at a bookstore and managed an office supply store. She married and had two children. She passed away unexpectedly in 2015 from cardiomyopathy.

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Susan Dey had roles on several shows following her stint on The Partridge Family. She and David Cassidy tried dating after the show was off the air, but it did not end well. He revealed their relationship in his 1994 autobiography when she apparently severed ties with him altogether.

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Danny Bonaduce has had a rough ride but has been a busy and productive radio host for the past decade or so. David Cassidy also had some tough years with drug use and alcohol. He passed away in December. After Cassidy’s death, Bonaduce wrote: “I have known, loved, and admired David Cassidy for 48 out of my 58 years. He has been as kind to me as any real brother could ever be. We’ve been through a lot together and he was always there for me. This loss is huge. RIP my dear friend.”

susan and david

Brian Wilson, the lead singer of the Beach Boys, said he was “very sad” to hear about Cassidy’s death. “There were times in the mid-1970s when he would come over to my house and we even started writing a song together,” he tweeted. “He was a very talented and nice person.”

danny and keith

Bonaduce shared some of his remembrances about Cassidy:

David Cassidy was a god to me. We weren’t close when we did The Partridge Family — I was 10 years old; he was 20 — but to me he was like Elvis Presley, down to the jumpsuit and the arenas filled with fans. . .

We did become friends much later, in the 1990s. I was going through some trouble — I was on the cover of all the tabloids, “Ex-Child Star Gone Wrong” — and David was having problems of his own. He gave me some advice. He said, “You know, Danny, you should be in on the joke; you shouldn’t become the joke.” Then he invited me to go on tour with him. “It’s going to be fantastic,” he said. “We’re going to go on my tour bus, and at the end you’re going to get a job out of it. But here’s the deal: There’s going to be no drugs, no alcohol, no smoking and no women.” I said, “Then I’m not going.”

But I did go on tour, doing stand-up before David performed, and at every stop I did interviews with local radio stations. And around the fifth radio interview, they said: “Boy, you’re really good at this. You want to stay?” They offered me more money than I’d ever seen in my life: $75,000 a year. David told me the tour would give me a career, and it did.

When it came to his own career, though, David got robbed. When he decided he didn’t want to be Keith Partridge anymore, he quit The Partridge Family. He wanted to go on tour and be a real rock ‘n’ roll star. But the road he chose to go down after the show, it didn’t go as far. He became the Partridge Family theme song, he became the act of looking like David Cassidy, with the same thousand fans coming to every show. He never did get the life he wanted. It really was a tragedy. I was in Europe when he died, but I heard he was surrounded by his family — Shirley Jones, Shaun Cassidy, Patrick Cassidy. And I heard his last words were, “So much wasted time.”

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On the first episode, the Partridge clan goes to a car dealer to buy their bus. In reality, the studio purchased it from the Orange County School District. After the show was cancelled, the bus ended up behind Lucy’s Tacos near UCLA. When the restaurant did some repaving, the bus was moved to a local dump: the windows were broken, the tires were flat, and the paint had faded.

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In our memories, the bus will be forever colorful and bright, Keith will continue to make girls swoon, Laurie will give wise counsel to her siblings, Danny will make us laugh, Chris and Tracy will put in their occasional one-liners, and Shirley will take teach us important life lessons. There is something timeless about The Partridge Family, and I appreciate each of the 96 episodes.  On the next rainy day, watch a few of the DVDs from the four seasons and find something to appreciate in each one as well.

 

 

I Wish You a “Busy Christmas”

Merry Christmas!  I hope you are all enjoying a peaceful and happy day. We have a lot of holiday traditions in our family. When it comes to pop culture “must see” shows, we always watch Frosty, The Snowman; How the Grinch Stole Christmas; and a Charlie Brown Christmas, and the other specials are extras if we get them in.  Christmas movies are different for each generation.  I like White Christmas, while my oldest son never misses Elf.  But when it comes to television, one episode we all agree on is “Busy Christmas” from the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.  Our family makes an effort to watch this every year together. There is something charming about watching an episode that is more than 60 years old but still speaks to us in how we celebrate Christmas.  Ozzie, after vowing not to, involuntarily agrees to so many Christmas activities that he has no time to put up lights or buy a tree.

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The show first aired in December 19, 1956 . It was the 12th episode of season 5. It was written by Jay Sommers, Don Nelson, Ozzie Nelson, and Alfred Nelson.  Alfred’s only writing credits were 4 Nelson episodes.  Ozzie, of course, helped write almost every episode.  Don Nelson, another brother, enjoyed a long writing career.  He helped Ozzie write the movie Here Come the Nelsons and he went on to write for a variety of shows including Bachelor Father, the Donna Reed Show, the Mothers-in-Law, the Doris Day Show, Bridget Loves Bernie, Herbie the Love Bug, Julia, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Nanny and the Professor, as well as a few episodes of Ozzie and Harriet’s later show, Ozzie’s Girls and 326 episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Jay Sommers got credit for 146 of the Nelson episodes and went on to write for Dennis the Menace, wrote many Petticoat Junction shows, almost all the Green Acres scripts, and, surprisingly, Hello Larry which we looked at a few weeks ago.

Produced by Ozzie and Leo Pepin, the show’s set decoration was created by Jack Moore.  Moore had six Academy Award nominations and won for Little Women in 1949. The costume designer was George Sedilla, and the show was filmed at the General Service Studios, 1040 N. Las Palmas, Los Angeles.

In addition to the regular cast, Phil Arnold appears as a tailor and Isabelle Randolph is Mrs. Brewster.

This episode opens with Ozzie and Harriet looking at some of their Christmas cards.  Ozzie mentions he wished people took time to write in their cards.  He sees one that is a perfect example of what a card should say.  It has a very warm and sentimental message.  When Harriet agrees it is nice and asks who sent it, Ozzie replies, “Acme Cleaners.”

 

Modern Christmas cards were started by the Hall brothers whose company would become Hallmark.  They were post cards, but people did not have enough room to write what they wanted to tell people they didn’t see often. In the 1930s, Hallmark switched to a “book format” which is our card today.  The cards increased in popularity from the mid-1930s to the 1960s. Hallmark began commissioning famous artists to design cards including Salvador Dali, Grandma Moses, and Norman Rockwell. The Nelsons would have had to use regular postage stamps, because Christmas stamps did not debut until 1962. It’s funny that the switch to these cards was made so people could write more, but Ozzie’s complaint (and one you hear often today) is that people didn’t write anything personal.

 

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Scene 2 cuts to Ozzie trying to maneuver through a mad rush of people shopping in a department store.  His arms are full of wrapped packages. He tries to ask a clerk for a Donkey Party game.  Giving up, he takes cover in a seating area and ends up sitting next to Mrs. Brewster.  We learn it is a week before Christmas. They are watching a busy crowd and listening over the speaker as Irving Muller is lost and they attempt to find his mother.  Eventually they find her, but now Irving is gone.  Ozzie reminisces about a Christmas when he and Harriet were first married.  They were looking at the tree when all the sudden they heard “Silent Night” and were caught up in the beauty of the song and the carolers on Christmas Eve.  Mrs. Brewster says that is perfect because they would like the Nelsons to join them for caroling this Christmas Eve.  Ozzie says he’ll talk to Harriet, and if she agrees, they will.  Mrs. Brewster smiles and says Harriet has already agreed to it if Ozzie was willing. Over the loudspeaker they hear little Ozzie Nelson is missing and then the message is corrected that Mrs. Nelson is looking for Mr. Nelson.

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Donkey Party was a version of pin-the-tail-on-the donkey. It came with a poster and 24-30 tails. Some of the other classic toys from this year are Candy Land, Mr. Potato Head, a Slinky Dog, and a Lone Ranger guitar.

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Following World War II, the nation displayed an era of peace, productivity, and prosperity and this could be seen in the nation’s department stores.  At Christmas the windows were magical places where beautiful scenes were created, often with moving parts.  Ozzie’s presents were wrapped because that was a service department stores provided, saving the customer time later. Here are some vintage options Ozzie might have been able to choose from.

 

By Scene 3, a few days have passed. Ozzie is helping Harriet hang a wreath on the wall. When Harriet asks him about the tree and putting up lights, he says it’s too early to get the tree, and he decided not to put up lights this year.  He tells her he is not going to get overly busy again this year.  The doorbell rings and Doc Williams enters in.  Doc tells Ozzie that he has been appointed entertainment chairman of the Men’s Club for Christmas, and instead of the regular pageant, they have decided to do a shortened version of the Christmas Carol. Doc will be playing Bob Cratchet. Ozzie tells Harriet this is exactly what he was talking about.  They make one of the busiest men in town chairman and how unfair that is.  Doc looks confused and then starts to laugh.  He assumes Ozzie is auditioning for the role of Scrooge and he gives him the role. Doc asks when the lights are going up, and when Harriet says Ozzie isn’t putting them up this year, Ozzie says yes he is, he just hasn’t gotten around to it yet.

 

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I have a beautifully illustrated book of  The Christmas Carol, and I try to find time to read it each year.  I also have a Scrooge in his striped night shirt, who is about 4 feet and I love him, although most of my family find him creepy.  My grandfather had a set of Dickens books and liked The Christmas Carol, and I find it inspiring that many generations have enjoyed and learned from this book.

Scene 4 finds Ozzie in his garage a day or so later trying to untangle lights. His friend Joe Randolph stops by and says the guy who always helped as Santa at the orphanage Christmas Eve party moved away.  Now they realized he used his own suit.  Ozzie offers his suit; however, Joe thinks his is also offering to be Santa.  Joe has to hurry off before Ozzie can explain.

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Ozzie would be filling in for Santa because the real Big Guy was too busy Christmas Eve delivering gifts. NORAD began tracking his movements in 1955, so the Nelsons would have been able to follow his progress around the globe.

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Scene 5 is December 23. Mrs. Brewster has dropped off a song, and Doc has dropped off his part. Ozzie climbs the ladder to hang lights and has Rick practice the part of Scrooge with him.  Rick, wearing a sheet like a ghost, leans out the window and plays Marley, ad-libbing the part till Ozzie tells him he must learn the part the way it’s written. David comes in the room and tells Rick to take off the sheet because it’s from David’s bed.  The boys get into a conversation and walk off, leaving Ozzie wondering what is going on.  Ozzie remembers he has to get the Santa suit out of the attic and goes to retrieve it. Mrs. Brewster stops by before he can get back on the ladder to bring more music and asks him to please learn the bass part, because she is short on basses. As he goes back up the ladder to put up the lights, he is called to dinner.

 

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Scene 6 begins on Christmas Eve day.  Ozzie is walking around practicing his play part and singing his bass parts. He is just leaving the house to get a tree when the phone rings.  It’s Joe Randolph saying that there are so many children at the orphanage, they will have to do two parties instead of one.  Then Doc stops by and says he was called to the hospital for an emergency and Ozzie will have to go pick up the costumes. David offers to drive him.  They rush to pick up costumes from the tailor, then to the orphanage, and then to the play.  During the play, Ozzie knocks a picture off the wall, then drops a prop and, when he picks it up, his pants rip.

Everyone is back at home for Scene 7.  Ozzie is complaining that once again he was too busy.  He talks about how embarrassing the play was and how he hurt his knee hopping in and out of the car.  David says the audience thought what Ozzie did was part of the play and it was funny. Then David says he got a parking ticket.  That is the last straw for Ozzie, but when Harriet inspects it, she realizes it is an invitation to the Policeman’s Ball. At that moment, the carolers arrive to pick up the Nelson family. They are singing “Silent Night” and the family gets quiet and listens to the song, realizing how beautiful it is and what Christmas is all about.  Ozzie goes to get his coat which Harriet has put in the den.  Ricky comes into the hall with a Charlie Brown tree saying that was all they had left when he got to the lot.  As Ozzie opens the den door, a huge tree is revealed decorated with bulbs and tinsel with tons of presents under it. Harriet and Ricky said they did it while Dave and Ozzie were gone.

Tree decorations is one area that has changed drastically today.  Rarely do you see tinsel, garland, or snow flocking.  Back in the 1950s you might have seen bubble lights, or popcorn strands, and the rainbow colors of Shiny Brite ornaments.

 

They go outside for Scene 8 to join the carolers.  It begins to snow lightly. Doc mentions it’s too bad lights didn’t get put up, but then Ricky hits the light switch and he explains he and Harriet took care of those too. The group moves off singing “Deck the Halls.”

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That’s the end of the 1956 episode, but in 1964, Ozzie replayed this show and added a Scene 10.  It is now 1964.  David is married to June Blair and they have a son Danny. Rick is married to Kris Harmon and they have a daughter Tracy. The entire Nelson family gathers around the tree.  Ricky plays his guitar, sitting in front of the fireplace and decorated tree and sings “The Christmas Song.”  While he sings, the camera pans around watching the rest of the family. It ends with everyone wishing the viewers a merry Christmas.

 

So much of our culture has changed today from 1956; however, thankfully many Christmas traditions remain.  We still send and get cards, although some of them are on the computer.  We still put up lights and a tree; we just tend to do it earlier, so we can enjoy it longer. We still do things for others like orphanage parties; we just don’t have actual orphanages much anymore. We also can get quiet, listening to “Silent Night” and be deeply touched by the season and what it means to us. This episode is a reminder of that for me every year, and I look forward to it.

 

 

 

 

America’s Favorite Family

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For the last two weeks of 2017 we are going to spend some time with the Nelson family. Ozzie, Harriet, David, and Ricky visited our home every week from 1952-1966. America watched the boys grow from young boys to adult men. Let’s see how the show developed.

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Oswald George Nelson was born in New Jersey in 1906. He attended Rutgers and graduated with a law degree, but in the 1920s he put a band together to see if he could make a living from music.  A new vocalist named Peggy Lou Snyder joined his band in 1932. Her parents were actors and she grew up on the stage. She had married a comedian Roy Sedley, but he was not funny at home; he was abusive, and she had their marriage annulled. When she joined Ozzie’s band, she changed her name to Harriet Hilliard, and she changed it again in 1935 when she married Ozzie.

 

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They did a few radio shows, eventually ending up on the Red Skelton Show. In 1944, they received their own radio show and they called it The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Their boys were played by actors until 1949 when Ozzie and Harriet felt they were old enough to join the cast. Later Ozzie would be criticized for putting his boys on the show and destroying their childhood, but David said his parents tried hard to give the boys a normal upbringing.

 

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In 1952, Ozzie and his brother wrote a movie called Here Come the Nelsons which was shown on the big screen.  It functioned as a pilot for a television show they began that same year.  Decades before Seinfeld, these two put together a how about nothing — and everything.  It was about their life and what was happening at home.  Unfortunately, the downside of portraying yourself on television was the pressure of trying to appear the perfect family when everyone realizes there is no such thing.   Growing up before the cameras put a lot of stress on the boys especially to always be “acting.”  David once was quoted as saying, “It’s an awfully big load to carry, to be everyone’s fantasy family.”

 

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The Nelsons lived at 822 Sycamore Rd, but the exterior shots were that of their real home at 1822 Camino Palmero St., Hollywood, LA, California.  The interior shots, built to resemble their own home, were filmed at Selzick International Studios in Culver City.

 

Hotpoint was one of their first sponsors, and viewers would have watched a young Mary Tyler Moore as Happy Hotpoint, a dancing pixie. Actors often addressed the audience directly, drawing them into their life.

 

Other characters who showed up regularly were their next-door neighbor Thorny played by Don DeFore; Don’s son said in real life he was much like Thorny.

 

Ozzie and Harriet’s friends Clara and Joe Randolph (Mary Jane Croft and Lyle Talbot) and Doc Williams (Frank Cady) were on the show regularly. Ricky’s friend Wally (Skip Young), and Jack (Jack Wagner) who worked at the malt shop also appeared regularly.  On several episodes you can see a young Barry and Stan Livingston before they were Steve Douglas’s sons.

 

The show produced 436 episodes, all written in part by Ozzie, produced by Ozzie, directed by Ozzie, and even set buildings were supervised by Ozzie who was considered a workaholic and quite different from the stammering, hesitant, and slightly absent-minded father he played on the small screen.

 

When Ricky decided he wanted a rock and roll career, it was written into the show, and his popularity is what kept the show going for a good part of the 1960s.

 

When David married June Blair, she was written into the show, and when Ricky married Kris Harmon (sister of Mark Harmon and mom of actress Tracy Harmon and the Nelson twins who had the band Nelson), she was written in as well.

A lot of the shows centered around the boys. Many of the situations were taken from real life.  When they’re younger, we see them learning life lessons; as they became teenagers, we watched them go through dating issues; and when they became adults, we followed their marriages, parenting choices, and careers.

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In 1966, the show began to be considered old-fashioned even though Ozzie tried to update the scripts. When the show was cancelled that year, it was replaced by a new show starring Adam West called Batman.

 

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Ozzie and Harriet tried television again in 1973 with Ozzie’s Girls where Ozzie and Harriet rent out the boys’ rooms to two college students, but the show failed after a year.

 

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Ozzie would go on to appear on the Mothers-In-Law, Adam-12, Night Gallery, Bridget Loves Bernie and three episodes of Love American Style. He passed away in 1975 from liver cancer.

 

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Harriet appeared in a variety of shows also including Bridget Loves Bernie, Love American Style, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Aloha Paradise,  and Happy Days but after Ozzie died, she became a bit of a recluse. The last show she appeared on was her granddaughter Tracy’s show, Father Dowling’s Mysteries. She died in 1994 from emphysema and congenital heart disease.

 

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Ricky had a variety of movie and television performances.  His music career continued successfully, although his drug abuse ruined his marriage and stalled his career.  He was killed in 1985 in a plane crash on his way to a performance.

 

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David appeared in quite a few movies when the show was over and got into directing and producing.  He and June divorced in 1975, and he married Yvonne O’Connor Huston. He passed away in 2011 from colon cancer.

I cannot imagine living your growing-up years under the microscope of the entire American public.  We have all experienced living near neighbors when they hear something we prefer they didn’t, or we hear something we prefer we didn’t.  This family had millions of people watching them, seeing if they lived up to their perfect image.

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It’s hard to discuss the show without discussing the repercussions it had on the Nelson clan, but the show itself was a chance to watch a family we admired and hoped to be more like when we became parents.  I have learned that you need to love characters for who they are — period.  Because, often the real humans behind them will let you down and make you sad.  It was hard for me to adjust to watching some of my favorite characters after learning disappointing things about the actors or actresses who portrayed them; often they were not such nice people.  So I made a determined effort to keep characters I love separate from any real life issues.

That said, I think Ozzie and Harriet did the best they could to raise their children under the spotlight with as much normalcy as possible.  They had to deal with real-life issues at home and then come together and play America’s favorite family.  I give them credit just for being able to do that for fourteen years.

 

How a Cat Becomes An Angel

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Today we look at one of the most popular shows on television forty years ago: Charlie’s Angels.  The show propelled the entire cast into national superstars.  Viewing the show today might cause someone to question what the big deal was about the show, but in 1976-77, it was a new twist on contemporary crime shows.

Forty years later, the show still has maintained its spot in pop culture history, primarily due to reruns, the movie remakes from 2000 and 2003, and an updated show from 2011.

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Aaron Spelling developed the series.  Although he had a successful track record, ABC did not feel that this show had potential. The original script called for a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead.  It was titled “Alley Cats” and the three crime solvers—Alison, Catherine and Lee—apparently hung out in alleys and carried whips and chains which they used to subdue criminals.  I can certainly understand the network thinking Spelling was losing his touch.

Kate Jackson, a brunette, was hired and cast as Kelly Garrett; the characters were now renamed Kelly Garrett, Sabrina Duncan, and Jill Munroe.  Jackson felt more affinity with the Sabrina Duncan character, so the producers moved her into that role and gave her semi control of the series development.

Spelling then hired Farrah Fawcett, a blonde, based on her role in Logan’s Run, a film from 1976.

Hundreds of actresses auditioned for the role of Kelly Garrett.  Eventually the producers set aside their wish for a redhead and hired Jaclyn Smith, based on her onscreen chemistry with Jackson and Fawcett.

Jackson disliked the concept of the whips and chains aspect of the show (thank you Kate Jackson!!!), so the girls became graduates of the police academy.  The head of the agency was a wealthy man who is never seen by his detectives. The three girls excelled at the police academy where they went to school but were forced into gender-based careers of a meter maid, an office worker, and a crossing guard, so he hires them to solve crimes for him.

One day, Jackson noticed a picture of three angels in Spelling’s office, and she suggested the name Harry’s Angels. The network thought Harry’s Angels might get confused with one of their other shows, Harry O, so it then became Charlie’s Angels.

Gig Young was brought in to read for the role of Charlie, but showed up too intoxicated, so Spelling went to ask his friend, John Forsythe to take the role.

David Doyle was then hired as John Bosley, Charlie’s assistant and office manager.  Bosley is the only one of the cast who ever sees Charlie in person. I always wondered why they named him Bosley, given that David Doyle and Tom Bosley look a lot alike and this might have contributed to the confusion.

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The pilot received enormous ratings, but ABC wanted it tested again.  Still thinking that this was one of the worst concepts for a show they had ever heard, the network wanted to double check the numbers. It still scored high, so on the air it went.

Each show began with the girls surrounding the speaker phone to get the case details from Charlie.  They then went on to solve the case and ended the show back in the office getting congratulated by Charlie.

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Before Season 2, Fawcett decided she wanted to leave the show to pursue a film career.  One issue stopping her was the fact that all three stars had signed five-year contracts. After much negotiation, the network allowed her to leave, with the concession that she return for three appearances in season 3 and three appearances in season 4. Cheryl Ladd was approached to take her place but she declined the role. When asked to reconsider, she changed her mind and accepted the role of Kris Munroe, Jill’s sister.

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In season 4, Kate Jackson also left. The year before she was offered the lead role in Kramer vs Kramer.  The network would not allow her time off to do the film.  The role then went to Meryl Streep who won an Oscar. Jackson refused to come back for season 4.

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Many actresses were considered including Barbara Bach, Connie Sellaca, Shari Belafonte, and Michelle Pfeiffer. The network opted for Shelly Hack who came on board as Tiffany Wells, a Boston police graduate. In November of Season 1, more than half the available viewers were tuned in to Charlie’s Angels, but Season 4 saw a 40% decline in its audience. Hack was fired, and season 5 welcomed Tanya Roberts to the cast as Julie Rogers, a prior model and private investigator. However, the ratings continued to decline, and the show was then cancelled.

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Why the show was so successful the first two years has been hotly debated.  Was it just a case of “Jiggle TV” as it was often labeled?  Several critics at the time, commented that despite the sexy apparel of the female detectives, the characters were still intelligent women successfully working in a predominantly man’s world. (There was $20,000 allocated per episode for wardrobe, the equivalent of $90,000 today.  Most characters averaged 8 changes per show.) This was one of the first times an all-female cast appeared in a work situation typically reserved for men’s roles.  The original cast was very close and had a chemistry never matched by their replacements.  The three women continued to be friends, each enduring a battle with cancer which Fawcett lost in 2006.

So, which Angel was the most successful?

Kate Jackson. Born in Alabama in 1948, Jackson started attending The University of Mississippi, but then transferred to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. She worked as a page at Rockefeller Center and appeared in summer stock plays in Vermont.  Her first break was being cast as Daphne in Dark Shadows.  In the 1970s, she accepted the role of Jill Danko on The Rookies. That led to Spelling offering her the Charlie’s Angel job. She later went on to star in two other series, Scarecrow and Mrs. King and Baby Boom.  She appeared in 9 films, 5 series, 15 episodes of other shows, and 29 made-for-tv movies.

Farrah Fawcett. Born in Texas in 1947, Fawcett attended the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in art.  After her junior year, her parents gave their permission for her to move to California to try a modeling and acting career. She received a contract with Screen Gems and began appearing in commercials including Noxzema, Max Factor, and Beautyrest.  She began appearing on a variety of series including The Flying Nun, I Dream of Jeannie, The Partridge Family, and Marcus Welby.  She was married to Lee Majors from 1973-1982 and involved with Ryan O’Neal from 1979-1997.

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Her iconic poster was photographed in 1976.  Many cites indicate the poster company reached out to Farrah and that led to her Logan’s Run role.  However, the photographer Bruce McBloom, who was a family friend, gave his account differently. He says ABC approached all three stars of Charlie’s Angels and offered to shoot posters for each one, with the stars getting a percentage of the sales.  Smith and Jackson declined, but Fawcett agreed. She didn’t like the original shots and asked for McBloom. She was supposed to be shot in a bikini but that was not working, so McBloom asked her what else she had in her closet because they were shooting at her home. (She did her own hair and makeup). She came out in the red one-piece and they both felt it was the one.  Fawcett picked out the photos she liked best, and more than 12 million posters were sold. The suit now resides in the Smithsonian, along with Fonzie’s leather jacket and Archie Bunker’s chair.

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Farrah ended up appearing on 21 tv shows, two of which she co-starred in. (She went on to appear in Good Sports with her then-boyfriend Ryan O’Neal.) She was in 16 films, including Logan’s Run and Cannonball Run. Like her co-stars, she also made 22 made-for-tv movies.

Jaclyn Smith.  Born in 1945 in Texas, she wanted to be a ballerina. In 1973, she received national notice as a Breck Shampoo girl and accepted the Charlie’s Angel role in 1976. Before Charlie’s Angels, Smith appeared in 6 tv shows and had small roles in 3 movies.  She appeared in 9 shows after Charlie’s Angels and 4 films.  Like Jackson, she spent most of her time in made-for-tv-movies, 30 in all.

Cheryl Ladd. Born in South Dakota in 1951, Ladd worked as a carhop during high school. Her intentions were to attempt a music career, and in 1970 she was hired to sing for “Melody” on the animated series, Josie and the Pussycats. She began accepting tv roles, appearing in The Rookies, Harry O, and The Partridge Family, among others. She was considered for the role of Nancy on Family which eventually went to Meredith Baxter. She was married to David Ladd from 1973-1980, and has been married to Brian Russell since 1981.

Ladd appeared in 31 tv series, co-starring in 5 of them.  She was in 15 films and made 30 made-for-tv films.  Still working, she appears in a new film this year, Unforgettable.

Shelly Hack. Born in 1947, Hack became a model at 16 and is well known as the Revlon Charlie Perfume girl before she was the Charlie’s Angel girl. She took a bit part in Annie Hall in 1977 and was cast as an Angel in 1979. She continued to accept tv roles after Charlie’s Angels, appearing in 11 total, co-starring in two. She was in 10 films, most of them in the 1980s, and as the trend seen by her co-stars, made 12 made-for-tv movies.

In the late 1990s, Hack left acting for a political career.  She became a voting registrar and polling station supervisor in Bosnia-Herzegovina. She produced several foreign political debates and became a media consultant for pre-and post-conflict countries, primarily in Eastern Europe. She has been married to Harry Winer since 1990.

Tanya Roberts. The youngest of the Angels, Roberts was born in 1955 and dropped out of school at 15. She studied acting while earning a living as a model and Arthur Murray instructor. She briefly married but that was annulled.  In 1974, she married Barry Roberts who passed away in 2006.

After Charlie’s Angels was cancelled, she appeared in 13 other shows, co-starring in Hot Line and That Seventies Show.  She appeared in 19 movies, the most famous being A View to a Kill in 1985 and also made 4 made-for-tv movies.

John Forsythe. It’s hard to compare any of these stars to John Forsythe.  As Charlie’s Angels debuted, he was at the end of a long and full career, while his co-stars were entering the prime of their careers.   I have shared much of his career in prior blogs.  After Charlie’s Angels, he would go on to star in Dynasty from 1981-89 and in Powers That Be from 1992-3. Overall, he appeared in 48 television series, co-starring in 6. He made 23 films and 27 made-for-tv movies.

David Doyle. Born in 1929 in Nebraska, David was the third-generation family member to become a lawyer.  Wisconsin can claim him because he graduated from Prairie du Chien high school. He went to college with Johnny Carson who remained a friend.  He gave up his law career to try his hand at acting and received his first movie role in 1956. In 1956, he married his wife Rachel and she passed away due to a fall in 1968. In 1969, he married Ann and their marriage continued until his death. He made 26 films, 18 made-for-tv movies and appeared in 62 tv shows, co-starring in Charlie’s Angels and Bridget Loves Bernie, along with several animation series.  Younger viewers might remember him as the voice of Grandfather Lou Pickles in Rug Rats. He passed away in 1997 from a heart attack.

So, which Angel was the most successful?  I’ll let you make that determination, but I might lean toward the non-female cast member David Doyle  (removing John Forsythe from the equation). It’s hard to deny any of the cast members’ success when looking at the popularity of the show.

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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