Bert Convy: A Multi-Talented Star

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Actor Who Always “Dressed” Up: Jamie Farr

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Jamie Farr was born Jameel Joseph Farah on July 1, 1934 in Toledo, Ohio. His mother was a seamstress and his father a grocer. They attended the St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church.

Farr’s first acting success occurred at age 11, when he won two dollars in a local acting contest.

He graduated from Woodward High School with honors and was named most outstanding student. In addition to writing and acting in two variety shows, he was a member of the Drama Society, class president for three years, feature editor of the school newspaper, president of the radio class, manager of the football and basketball teams and a member of the varsity tennis team.

Before becoming a successful actor, he worked for a lithograph company, a post office clerk, an army surplus store clerk, an airline reservations clerk, and at a chinchilla ranch.

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After graduation he attended the Pasadena Playhouse where a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer talent scout discovered him, offering him a screen test for Blackboard Jungle. He won the role of the mentally challenged student, Santini. He was drafted by the United States Selective Service into the United States Army, undergoing his basic training with the 6th Infantry Division, Fort Ord, California, he served for two years, with service in Japan and Korea. The dog tags he wore on M*A*S*H were his own. (Alan Alda also served as a gunnery officer in Korea.)

In 1958, Warner Brothers cast him as the co-pilot of a TB-25 in the Andy Griffith military comedy No Time for Sergeants, which also brought the young TV comic Don Knotts to motion pictures. Farr appeared as Thaddaeus in the 1965 film The Greatest Story Ever Told, along with minor roles in Who’s Minding the Mint? and with future costar William Christopher in With Six You Get Eggroll. He would also appear in Cannonball Run and Cannonball Run II.

 

In the late 1960s, he became a regular on the Red Skelton Show. He appeared in a variety of shows in the 1960s including Hazel, My Three Sons, Donna Reed, The Dick Van Dyke ShowI Dream of Jeannie, My Favorite Martian, Get Smart, Gomer Pyle, The Flying Nun, and Family Affair. Farr received roles in several commercials as well, including an ad for Wonder Bread where he says, “If it isn’t fresh, I’m outta business.”

 

During this decade, he also married Joy Ann Richards. They are still married and have two children.

He continued his television acting career through the 1970s appearing on a variety of shows including Room 222, Love American Style, Toma, Emergency, Barnaby Jones, and The Love Boat.

 

Image: Loretta Swit And Alan Alda William Christopher In 'M*A*S*H'

In October of 1972, he was hired to appear on one episode of M*A*S*H as Corporal Klinger. He wore women’s clothing, hoping to be discharged from the Army for a Section 8 discharge. He was asked back for the second season to appear in 12 episodes and became a regular cast member in the fourth season. When Radar left the show, and Klinger took over as Company Clerk, he stopped being fashionable and returned to uniforms. He said he did not want his kids to be made fun of because of his cross dressing. He was a resourceful and kind soldier. His character on the show was also from Toledo, and he often mentioned one of Farr’s favorite restaurants, Tony Packo’s Hot Dogs and talked about his love for the Toledo Mud Hens. (In 2017, he was inducted into the Mud Hens Hall of Fame.  A bobble head was given to the first 2000 fans to the game that night.) He continued with M*A*S*H until 1983 when it left the air.

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Along with Harry Morgan and William Christopher, he appeared in After M*A*S*H for two years. The show never got the fan base the original show had and was cancelled after 30 episodes.

 

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The cast of both M*A*S*H and After M*A*S*H were very close. On the death of Harry Morgan, Farr commented, “Harry was very special to all of us cast members. Not only was he a wonderful performer that made such a difference … he was a dear friend to every cast member. He was absolutely a pixie, a gremlin as mischievous as all get out. You couldn’t be around Harry for very long without wanting to embrace him and I think our Lord will feel the same way.”

 

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He also commented on William Christopher’s passing: “We are all devastated by our beloved Bill’s passing. I have known him for over 50 years. During the 1960s we lived in the same neighborhood in Studio City. My Joy and I would see him and his wife Barbara going for walks as we were going for walks. Bill and I did the very last Doris Day movie together, With Six You Get Egg Roll. We were both cast in the tv series M*A*S*H at almost the same time. He was a gentle soul and, in my opinion, probably the most under rated actor of all of us on the show. He was wonderful. During between set ups for camera angles Bill would read his Homeric book in Homeric Greek. He was a real egg head. He and his Barbara traveled the world and he would try to learn the language of the countries they were going to visit. He went to Egypt one year and tried his Arabic on me. He was better than I was. We used to imitate Bill on the set using his high-pitched voice. One time he came down with hepatitis, and when he returned to the series we had his actor’s chair painted yellow. Bill and I did a National Tour of the play “The Odd Couple” with Bill portraying Felix and me doing Oscar, Bill was at one time on the Board of the Devereaux Foundation for Autistic Children. It was a real honor to have had him and Barbara as friends and a great honor to have shared the tv screen with this gracious, talented and charming soul. May his memory be eternal. Rest in Peace Father Mulcahy.”

 

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Like many celebrities who were typecast in a specific role, Farr realized there were advantages and disadvantages to his fame. He said that “the benefits from stardom as Klinger outweigh any setbacks. It’s a double-edged sword. What makes you famous is what interferes with getting other roles. But there are things that never would have happened without M*A*S*H. There certainly would be no Jamie Farr Kroger Golf Classic.”

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Farr has always been generous with his hometown. The golf classic he discussed above is now the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic. The tournament has raised more than $6 million dollars for local children’s charities.

The city has shown its love for Farr as well. The park in Toledo where Farr used to hang out when he was younger was renamed “Jamie Farr Park” in his honor on July 5, 1998. About the park, he said, “I wanted to be an actor, a famous actor, and I wanted my hometown of Toledo, Ohio, to be proud of me.” Farr spoke to about four hundred admirers and was quoted in the New York Post: “Jamie Farr Park is certainly a highlight of my life and career.”

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Farr also made a gift of his scripts to the University of Toledo. The scripts were from movies and television, including M*A*S*H, After M*A*S*H, The Blackboard Jungle, With Six You Get Eggroll, No Time for Sergeants, Who’s Minding the Mint, among others. He also donated call sheets with each script. Call sheets list the personnel and equipment needed for each day of productions, the scenes being filmed, shooting schedules, and the scenes to be filmed.

Farr has also appeared in plays during the second half of his career. In the 1990s, Farr  played the role of Nathan Detroit in a Broadway revival of “Guys and Dolls.” Farr is still active in regional theater and guest-stars occasionally on television.

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In 1996–97 Farr went on a national tour with “The Odd Couple,” playing Oscar Madison, playing opposite his old friend William Christopher in the role of Felix Ungar.

Most recently he was in the national touring production of “Say Goodnight, Gracie,” a one-man show about longtime entertainer George Burns.

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Farr has also tackled being an author. In 1994, he published his autobiography, Just Farr Fun. With his wife, he also wrote a children’s book, Hababy’s Christmas Eve, a Christmas book where the story is told from the view point of the animals.

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Jamie Farr has had a successful and fun career. He has been a movie star, a television celebrity, an author, and a Broadway performer. He was not bitter about his role as Klinger but accepted the benefits that came with it and made the most of it. He has also been generous, raising money and publicizing Toledo. He truly sounds like a very nice man. It was fun to learn more about his life.

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.