Everybody’s Friend, Marie Wilson

This month our blog series is “They Call Me Wilson,” and we will be looking at actors with the last name of Wilson.  Today we begin our series with Marie Wilson, a familiar face in television in the 1950s.

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Photo: e.n. wikipedia.org

Marie was born Katherine Elizabeth Wilson in August of 1916 in California. Her nickname in high school was “Maybelle.” After her father died, the family moved to Hollywood. She graduated from high school in 1933, and by 1934, she had received her first movie credit. One source mentioned that her parents divorced when she was only seven months old and her father, Wally Wilson, passed away when she was five. She received an $11,000 trust which helped her take time to pursue a career in acting. Her stepfather, Frank White, raised her.

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Her first role was as a passenger in Down to Their Last Yacht, but she would go on to appear in more than fifty films. The plot of this movie was that a family loses everything in the Depression except their yacht. Several men who feel bad for their daughter decide to host a Monte Carlo night.  The group rigs the roulette wheel so that the house is the winner although she knows nothing about it.

From 1947 to 1953 she also accepted a role on radio as the scatterbrained Irma on My Friend Irma. The show was very popular with well-written scripts and accomplished acting.

Wilson with Cathy Lewis–Photo: oldtimeradiodownloads.com

During this time, she also starred in a couple of films about Irma in My Friend Irma and My Friend Irma Goes West. A duo by the name of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis starred in the movie version of My Friend Irma.

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Not content with Irma occupying space in two big medias, My Friend Irma aired on television from 1952-1954. Irma was a secretary living with roommate and friend Jane Stacy (Cathy Lewis) in a run-down apartment owned by Mrs. O’Reilly (Gloria Gordon). Neighbor Professor Kropotkin (Sig Arno) got involved in the girls’ lives as well as Jane’s boyfriend, millionaire Richard Rhinelander III (Brooks West) whose mother was played by the amazing Margaret Dumont. After Jane moves to Panama at the end of season one, Kay Foster (Mary Shipp) became Irma’s new roommate. Her boyfriend was Joe Vance (Hal March). The new neighbor was Mr. Corday (John Carradine), an actor and just for some new plots, Irma’s seven-year-old nephew Bobby (Richard Eyer) moves into the apartment.

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During her time on radio, she married actor Allan Nixon. Apparently, he struggled because he was a bit player while her career flourished.  He was arrested numerous times for drunk and disorderly conduct, and they divorced in 1950. Another big disappointment occurred in 1950 when she lost the role of Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday to Judy Holliday.

The following year she married Robert Fallon, another fellow actor, and they remained together until her death in 1972.

Marie’s appearances on television waned in the sixties.  She appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1960 and on Comedy Spot in 1962. Comedy Spot had a different premise.  As a summer replacement for Red Skelton, it featured unsold pilots for comedy series and reruns from comedic anthology shows.

Photo: oldtimeradioclassics.com

In 1963 she would appear on two episodes of Burke’s Law and in one episode of Empire.

In 1970 she returned to a weekly animation series on Where’s Huddles? She had the role of football wife Penny McCoy. Unfortunately, it was cancelled after only ten episodes. This show was about the lives of football families on and off the field and featured a lot of talent including Paul Lynde, Jean Vander Pyl, Allan Reed, and Mel Blanc.

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Her last appearance was on Love American Style as Margaret Cooperman in 1972 in “Love and the Girlish Groom.”

Wilson was recognized for each of her Irma media hits with a Walk of Fame star for radio at 6301 Hollywood Boulevard, for television at 6765 Hollywood Boulevard, and for movies at 6601 Hollywood Boulevard.

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Not many actresses can claim their leg is a famous sculpture but Wilson’s left leg was used to cast a 35-foot sculpture located outside the Theme Hosiery plant in Los Angeles. The leg was wearing nylons to promote them to the public in 1949.

Marie had a long and successful career but was typecast early in life and unable to shake that image.  It may have contributed her loss of the part in Born Yesterday which might have changed her career dramatically. Discussing her life in entertainment, Wilson said “Show business has been very good to me and I’m not complaining, but some day I just wish someone would offer me a different kind of role. My closest friends admit that whenever they tell someone they know me, they have to convince them that I’m really not dumb. To tell you the truth, I think people are disappointed that I’m not.”

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As we’ve seen so often in this blog, it’s hard not to be grateful for a lucrative career in entertainment, but it’s tough to be locked into one type of role and never given a chance to show your depths as an actor. Thanks for being our friend, Marie.


Did I Tell You The One About The Farmer’s Daughter: The Chemistry of Inger Stevens and William Windom

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This blog takes a look at a show that is beginning to fade from viewers’ memories. The Farmer’s Daughter debuted in the fall of 1963, starring Inger Stevens as Katy Holstrum and William Windom as Glen Morley.

The show was based on the 1947 movie of the same name starring Loretta Young and Joseph Cotten in the lead roles.

Katy was a student who needed to earn some money and became a governess/housekeeper for Morley’s boys, Steve (Mickey Sholdar), age 14 and Danny (Rory O’Brien), age 8. Morley is a congressman. While Morley is sophisticated and refined, Katy is a no-nonsense type of girl from Minnesota. Morley’s mother Agatha (Cathleen Nesbitt) also lives with the family. The cast is rounded out by Philip Coolidge as Cooper, the family’s butler. In the early seasons, it is obvious that Glen and Katy are falling for each other, and many of the plots are one of them being jealous of the other. In the movie, Katy runs for Congress, but she is not as involved in politics in the television show.

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Screen Gems produced the show which aired on ABC. The show was sponsored by Lark Cigarettes and Clairol. The two stars often promoted the products at the end of the episode. In season one, the show was on Friday nights against Burke’s Law on CBS and The Fight of the Week on NBC. Season two found the show opposite The Flintstones and The Addams Family. The show moved to Tuesday nights for season three against A Man Called Shenandoah and Ben Casey. The show was never in the top 25 but, it had respectable ratings. The critics liked the show, and it was nominated for an Emmy for outstanding comedy in 1964 but lost to Mary Tyler Moore for The Dick Van Dyke Show. It was also nominated for Emmys for writing, directing, and best actress. Stevens won the Golden Globe for best female tv star. TV Guide conducted a popularity poll, and she won the female performer of the year with David Janssen of The Fugitive, winning male performer.

At the end of season two, Katy and Glen become engaged. The third season brought full-color episodes. Early in the third season, they marry. After that ratings fell significantly, and the show was not renewed for a fourth season. In the finale, Katy adopts Danny and Steve. The chemistry between Glen and Katie and waiting to see if they got together or not kept viewers tuning in.  Once they married, viewers were not as invested.

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

In 1957, Inger was signed to a seven-picture contract with Paramount. In 1959, she survived after swallowing an overdose of pills and she seemed to recover with a renewed zeal to work on her career and life situation.

Stevens became a favorite actress of many viewers after The Farmer’s Daughter. The cast and crew liked her very much and she was easy to work with. She never got upset when filming ran long or had complications. She and Windom often played practical jokes on each other to bring fun to the workplace. She recalled eating an onion sandwich one day right before they filmed a kissing scene.

After the show was cancelled, she was cast in the movie, A Guide for the Married Man in1967. She then starred in films with Jimmy Stewart, Dean Martin, and Clint Eastwood. She appeared in the made-for-tv film, Run Simon Run with Burt Reynolds in 1970. After seeing the film, Aaron Spelling cast her in an upcoming series, Zig Zag to air in the fall. The show was about a trio who work on hard-to-solve murders. When the show went on the air in 1970, Yvette Mimieux had to take over Inger’s role.

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Unfortunately, the sunny disposition Stevens portrayed to the world hid a sad and tragic life and she committed suicide before the show aired. Her housekeeper found her in April; she was semi-conscious and died on the way to the hospital. The cause of death was determined to be acute barbiturate intoxication. The public was saddened and surprised to learn how unhappy she was.

In 2000, William Patterson published the book, The Farmer’s Daughter Remembered. He dove into her life and tried to determine whether she meant to commit suicide or not.

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Windom also starred in the series, My World and Welcome to It as cartoonist John Monroe and as Dr. Seth Hazzlett on Murder She Wrote in 1985. His first movie role was in To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962. In addition to other films and Broadway, he traveled performing one-man shows of both James Thurber and Ernie Pyle. He passed away of congestive heart failure in 2012 at 88.

Cathleen Nesbitt would continue appearing in television series until 1982 when she passed away at age 93. Although she had appeared in many films, The Farmer’s Daughter was the only series she was featured in regularly.

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Cathleen Nesbitt

Mickey Sholdar only appeared in five other shows after The Farmer’s Daughter. His last acting appearance was in the movie Babe. I could not verify how he spent his life up to now.

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Mickey Sholdar and Rory O’Brien

Rory O’Brien, like Sholdar, only appeared in a few shows after the series ended. He was also in one film afterward, Little Big Man. O’Brien left the acting profession in the early 1970s. I could not find any other information on him either.

Photo: famousfix.com
Phillip Coolidge

Philip Coolidge was in many acclaimed movies before he took the role on The Farmer’s Daughter. Like most of his cast mates, he only appeared in a few shows in the mid-1960s, and he passed away in 1967.

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The show was aired in syndication on CBN, but I cannot find any other channels that carried it, and I cannot find any evidence that it was ever released on DVD. It’s too bad because the show featured a couple with great chemistry and the quick pace of the story and well-written dialogue that made the show memorable will be lost if no one is able to see the show in the future.

Life Changes in the Blink of an Eye: The Career of Barbara Eden

Many baby boomers equate Barbara Eden with I Dream of Jeannie.  While she never escaped her iconic role as Jeannie, she has had a long and full career.

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Barbara Jean Morehead was born in Tucson, Arizona in August of 1931. Her parents divorced when she was three, and she then took her stepfather’s last name of Huff. Moving to California, she went to high school in San Francisco and then studied at the San Francisco City College, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and the Elizabeth Holloway School of Theatre. In 1951, she was crowned Miss San Francisco.

She began working in television in 1956, and her career has been going strong ever since. In 1958, she married actor Michael Ansara.  They had a son in 1965 who passed away from a drug overdose.  Eden said of his struggle, “He won a lot of battles, but he lost his personal war.”  She and Ansara divorced in 1974. From 1977-1983 she was married to Charles Donald Fegert.  In 1991, she married her current husband, Jon Eicholtz, and they live in Beverly Hills.

In addition to her screen and television career, she performed in Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, and Atlantic City. She had an album produced in 1967 and performed on many variety shows.  She traveled with Bob Hope and starred in many musicals and plays.

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She received a Walk of Fame star in 1998.

In 2011, she wrote her autobiography, Jeanne Out of the Bottle.

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She has used her celebrity status to help many nonprofits, raising money for The Trail of the Painted Ponies Breast Cancer Research, the American Cancer Society, the Wellness Community, Make-A-Wish Foundation, the March of Dimes, the American Heart Association, Save the Children, and Childhelp, USA.

Her television career can be divided into three phases, each including a major series.

She began her acting career making appearances in many shows from 1956-1958 including West Point, Highway Patrol, I Love Lucy, The Millionaire, Crossroads, Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, Bachelor Father, December Bride, Father Knows Best, and The Lineup.

In 1957, she received her first starring role in a sitcom, 52 episodes of How to Marry a Millionaire. Based on a movie (starring Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, and Betty Grable), she starred as Loco Jones, a model. Her friends were Michele Page (Merry Anders), a secretary, and Greta Lindquist (Lori Nelson), a quiz host.  The three women lived together in Manhattan, all sharing the goal of finding a wealthy husband.

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In the 1960s, she made appearances in many more well-known shows including Adventures in Paradise, The Andy Griffith Show, Target: The Corruptors, Cain’s Hundred, Saints and Sinners, Dr. Kildare, Route 66, The Virginian, Rawhide, Burke’s Law, Slattery’s People, The Rogues, and Off to See the Wizard.

In 1965, she took on her role of Jeannie in I Dream of Jeannie.  The show lasted five years, filming 139 episodes. Captain Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman) finds a bottle when he crash lands on a deserted island in the South Pacific. When he opens it, Jeannie emerges.  He brings her home and tries to keep her a secret from NASA. His best friend Roger (Bill Daily) finds out, and he and Tony perform a lot of stunts to avoid anyone else figuring it out.  In the final year of the show, Jeannie and Tony get married, exposing her to the rest of the crew at NASA who know something is different but never figure out what it is. Personally, I like the Jeannie in the first year who is mischievous and intelligent. While the show was only on for five years, certainly not one of the longest-running shows, it defined Eden because since it debuted, it has been on television continually in reruns.

After I Dream of Jeannie, her television career continued as she appeared on NBC Special Treat, Condominium, A Brand New Life, Dallas, Team Supremo, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, George Lopez, and Army Wives.

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Based on the song by Jeannie C. Riley and a movie also starring Eden, she took on the role of Stella Johnson in Harper Valley PTA from 1981-82 with costar Fannie Flagg. The show lasted for 30 episodes. Stella is a widow who moves to Harper Valley with her 13-year-old daughter which is a town filled with hypocrites.  The other women severely criticize her for wearing miniskirts, and not acting like they thought a mother should.  Meanwhile, the board members were always trying to find ways to discredit her.  Fannie Flagg was the beauty shop owner Cassie Bowman.  The show never really caught on with the public. Maybe Stella was too drastic of a role change from Jeannie.

Along with her range of television acting jobs, Eden also was in 26 movies, including Flaming Star in 1960 with Elvis Presley, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea in 1961, The Brass Bottle in 1964 which led to the idea for the sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, and Harper Valley PTA in 1978 which led to her third series.

In The Brass Bottle, Tony Randall plays Harold Ventimore, an architect who buys an antique urn that houses a djinn played by Burl Ives.  Grateful for being released, the djinn tries to help Harold to show his gratitude.  However, being unfamiliar with contemporary times, he causes a lot of trouble for Harold, especially with his girlfriend Sylvia, played by Eden.

She also starred in 28 made-for-tv movies.  My favorite was The Feminist and the Fuzz which you never see aired on television anymore.

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The Feminist and the Fuzz aired in 1971.  I remember watching this movie when it originally aired.  The story was about a scientist played by Eden and a cop played by David Hartman.  They both end up at an apartment at the same time and have lost so many apartments that they decide to share it until one of them can find somewhere else to live. She is a feminist, and he dates a playboy bunny played by Farrah Fawcett.  One night, the women’s libbers raid the bunny club, and while most of them are being arrested, Hartman carries Eden to a waiting police car and tells him to get her home.  Fawcett, watching this, realizes they have feelings for each other, even though they don’t acknowledge it themselves yet.  The movie had a great cast with Joann Worley, Herb Edelman, Julie Newmar, John McGiver, and Harry Morgan.

If her television show jobs and movie roles were not enough, Barbara appeared as herself on 177 different television variety and game shows from 1961-2016.

At 85, Eden continues her career with credit in Shimmer and Shine in 2016. She has also been to the Mayberry Conventions to meet her fans. She continued her friendship with Larry Hagman up to his death.

One might assume that Eden would want to distance herself from Jeannie and rely on her other body of work, but that is not the case.  Some actors develop a dislike for the character they are unable to shake off, but Eden’s advice to actors is:  “I would embrace the character, because it won’t do any good if you don’t. And another thing: Don’t whine or talk trash about it. I don’t think you ever demean to your public what you’ve done. You’re insulting them if you demean your work.”

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While Jeannie certainly provided Barbara Eden with a lot of fame, future work opportunities, and money (although probably not so much from the tv show directly), taking a survey of her career proves just how versatile of an actress she was.  No one-hit wonder here.  She accumulated a wealth of roles both on television and in the movies. She traveled around the country appearing in musicals and plays. She sang and danced, performing at some of the top clubs in the country.  She appreciated her fans and never demeaned Jeannie in their eyes.  She used her celebrity to raise money for great causes. She had a full career any actress could be proud of.