Dick Wilson, Prolific Character Actor

As we wind up “They Call Me Wilson,” I think I’ve saved the best for last.  If you watched television between 1956 and 1989 you will be very familiar with this entertainer.  He had a prolific career and appeared on so many amazing television programs.

Photo: bewitchedwiki.cm

Dick Wilson was born Riccardo DiGuglielmo in 1916 in Lancashire, England. That same year, the family moved to Ontario, Canada. Not much is known about his early life, but at age 15 he began working as an announcer at CHML, a local radio station. He graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design where he studied sculpture. He became a comedic acrobatic dancer and performed in vaudeville for two decades. He followed his parents’ footsteps; his father was a minstrel vaudeville performer, and his mother was a singer.

He served in the Royal Canadian Airforce during WWII. In 1954 he moved to California and became an American citizen. He received his first television role in 1956 and would continue to receive offers until he retired 35 years later.

In 1957, he married Meg Brown and they would be married until his death from natural causes in 2007.

The first role he was offered was in 1956 on a Man Called X. This was an interesting show about agent Ken Thurston (Barry Sullivan) who went by the code name X. He took on dangerous cases in exotic locations all over the world for the Intelligence Bureau.

Not surprisingly many of the shows he was on in the fifties were westerns, since they dominated the air waves in that decade. He can be seen on The Adventures of Jim Bowie, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, Wagon Train, The Texan, Cimarron City, and Tales of West Fargo. He also appeared on dramas including I Led Three Lives, Official Detective, Jane Wyman Presents, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, Not for Hire, and The Untouchables.

Jack Arnold's The Tattered Dress (1957) "When I spill a drink on the  carpet, my butler cleans up after me." "When you spill blood, your lawyer  is expected to do the same." "

It was also during this decade he received his first big screen role. He appeared as a jury foreman in The Tattered Dress, a mystery in 1957. He would go on to get credits in 23 additional movies including The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966) and The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968), both with Don Knotts, and Caprice (1967) with Doris Day and Richard Harris.

During the 1960s, we saw him everywhere; he appeared on 63 different shows and often appeared on the same show as different characters. He continued his western appearances on shows including Maverick, The Rifleman, Bat Masterson, Death Valley Days, and The Virginian.

Photo: theriflemanepisodeguide.com

We also see in him dramatic roles on M Squad, The Law and Mr. Jones, Perry Mason, Route 66, Ben Casey, The Twilight Zone, and The Fugitive.

Sitcoms definitely kept him employed. In the early sixties, he can be seen in Bachelor Father, The Bob Cummings Show, The Farmer’s Daughter, The Jack Benny Show, and Hazel. The mid sixties found him on The Bob Hope Show, My Favorite Martian, Gomer Pyle, Donna Reed, Gidget, The Monkees, My Mother the Car, and Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. As the sixties wound down, he kept busy on My Three Sons, Petticoat Junction, The Flying Nun, The Carol Burnett Show, That Girl, Get Smart, Mayberry RFD, I Dream of Jeannie, Room 222, and The Bill Cosby Show.

Dick Wilson Pictures | People | Sunshine Factory | Monkees Fan Site
Wilson with The Monkees Photo: thesunshinefactory.com

From 1963-1966, Wilson was offered his second permanent role for a television series. He appeared as Dino Barroni on McHale’s Navy.

Three of his most successful roles began in the mid sixties and continued for much longer. Wilson appeared on Bewitched for the first time in 1965. However, he would be featured on that show 18 times before 1972 as eighteen different characters. This means he was on the show more than regular cast members Paul Lynde, Maurice Evans, and Alice Ghostley. He often received the role of the “local drunk” on various sitcoms, but he abstained from alcohol for his entire life.

BEWITCHED ELIZABETH MONTGOMERY DICK YORK DICK WILSON 1967 ABC TV PHOTO  NEGATIVE | eBay
With Dick York and Elizabeth Montgomery Photo: ebay.com

In 1966 he began appearing on Hogan’s Heroes and he would show up in 8 episodes between then and 1971.

Don't Forget to Write (1966)
Photo: imdb.com

However, his most prolific role of his career began in 1965 when he took on the role of Mr. Whipple for Charmin commercials. It wasn’t a bad gig. He worked 12-16 days a year and made $300,000 for that time. It was not easy work though. Dick described his work in a 1983 interview: Commercials are “the hardest thing to do in the entire acting realm. You’ve got 24 seconds to introduce yourself, introduce the product, say something nice about it and get off gracefully.” He also liked to relay that the first commercial series was made in the appropriately named Flushing, New York.

Photo: pinterest.com

His tagline in the commercials was “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin,” although we would often find Whipple squeezing the product when he thought no one was looking.  In appreciation for his work, Proctor and Gamble provided him with a free life-time supply of Charmin toilet paper.

In all, he appeared in 504 commercials between 1965-1989 and again from 1999-2000. In the late 80s he retired due to health concerns. He had two strokes and brain surgery. The company did bring him back in 1999 for a year as Mr. Whipple.

Even after he became Mr. Whipple, he received work in television. During the seventies, he would choose roles on Nanny and the Professor, Marcus Welby, Love American Style, McMillian and Wife, The Doris Day Show, The Paul Lynde Show, Maude, The Bob Newhart Show, Alice, and The Rockford Files among others.

His career declined in the eighties, but he still managed to tackle several roles and could be seen on Quincy, The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, Small and Frye, and Square One Television. His last role was in 1989 on Small Wonder, a show about a robot who lives with a family and is portrayed as a child to the community.

All in all, he had a pretty amazing and full career.  He was able to appear in a variety of genres and, even after being so well known as a drunk or as Mr. Whipple, he was not typecast as a specific character. Two of his three children followed in his footsteps, son Stuart as a stuntman and daughter Melanie Wilson as an actress, who was best known for her 102 appearances on Perfect Strangers and several roles on Step by Step.

Hoho the Clown (1967)
On Bewitched Photo: imdb.com

Like Charles Lane, Dick Wilson is one of my favorite character actors. He provided thousands of hours of entertainment for us. It’s worth watching some classic television episodes just to see if you can spot him. Thank you Mr. Wilson for providing so much joy for so many years.

A Tribute to Doris Day

In my tribute to television stars who passed away in 2019, I chose to end the series and the year with Doris Day. I have been a fan of hers for decades, and my heart was very sad when she left us in May. She died on a Monday; the day before was Mother’s Day, and we happened to watch Pillow Talk that day which I thought became a fitting tribute.

Although Doris Day is a huge star, she only has 45 acting credits, and 43 of them are movies. Of her two television appearances, one was for her voice only on The Governor and JJ. However, because her star was so bright, her five seasons of The Doris Day Show allows her to be included in the television star category.

As a disclaimer, I have to say that while I adored her in her movies, especially the comedies, I was not as big a fan of the television show. It was not a bad show, but it took a lot of liberties with format, as I mentioned in my Kaye Ballard blog earlier this month.

Photo: pinterest.com

Doris had a lot of valleys as well as mountains in her life journey. Born in 1922 as Doris Mary Ann Kapelhoff, she wanted to be a dancer. At 14 she had formed a dancing act with Jerry Doherty. When they won $500 at a local contest, they traveled to Hollywood to check out the possibilities there. They were optimistic about a career for them in California, so they returned home to pack up their belongings and make the move permanent. Unfortunately, the night before they were scheduled to leave, Doris was involved in an accident when a train hit a car she was a passenger in. Her dancing career ended before it really began.

Photo: rollingstone.com

Her parents had divorced when she was young and her father was a music teacher and choir master. One of her brothers died before she was born and the other one, Paul, was a bit older than her. Following in her father’s footsteps, she took singing lessons, and by age 17 was touring with the Les Brown Band. The trombonist, Al Jorden, captured her heart and they married in 1941. Her two years of marriage was a deep valley; Al was abusive and soon after the birth of their son, Doris asked for a divorce. Her second marriage to George Weidler lasted less than a year.

Photo: nbcnews.com

Doris’s agent convinced her to make that trek to Hollywood again to tape a screen test for Warner Brothers. She was immediately signed to a contract. Her first role was in Romance on the High Seas in 1948. They kept her busy. She made two films in 1949, three in 1950 and five in 1951. Audiences were attracted to her “girl-next-door” personality, beauty, and singing ability.

In 1951 she met Marty Melcher. They married, and he adopted her son Terry who would become a successful record producer. Her marriage to Marty seemed happy, but the union would also have its tragedies. Her brother Paul passed away in 1958.

Photo: claytondavis.com
Pillow Talk, one of my favorite’s

She continued starring in movies throughout the fifties and in 1959, Pillow Talk, with co-star Rock Hudson, debuted and catapulted her to a new level. Melcher, who had become her agent, signed her to an unrealistic amount of work which led to her being diagnosed with exhaustion about this time. During the 1960s he had signed deals for Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960), Midnight Lace (1960), Lover Come Back (1961), That Touch of Mink (1962), Billy Rose’s Jumbo (1962), The Thrill of It All (1963), Move Over Darling (1963), Send Me No Flowers (1964), Do Not Disturb (1965), The Glass Bottom Boat (1966), Caprice (1967), The Ballad of Josie (1967), Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? (1968), and With Six You Get Eggroll (1968).

Photo: blogspot.com
That Touch of Mink

It was a grueling schedule, but Day was always the perfectionist and a professional, so she gave 100% to each production. Melcher had mentioned she could star in a television show which she objected to. Shortly after their discussion, Melcher passed away. To her shock, Doris was informed not only did he sign her to the television deal despite her refusal, but he had squandered millions of dollars, and she was basically broke. (Later she was awarded $22 million in court against an investor Melcher had worked with.)

She had no choice but to tackle the television series to try to recoup some of her money.

From 1968-1973 she would star in The Doris Day Show, which was almost like three different shows. The original concept was that widow Doris Martin and her two sons left the city to move back to her dad’s ranch. The theme song was “Que Sera Sera,” the song that would become synonymous with Doris.

Photo: Wikipedia.com

In the second season, Doris drives back and forth from San Francisco to the ranch after getting a job as a secretary at Today’s World magazine. Rose Marie plays Myrna Gibbons, her friend at work.

Photo: fox4kansascity.com

In season three, the family moves into an apartment in San Francisco that is rented from the Palluccis who own a restaurant on the ground floor. Doris got to work with Billy de Wolfe again. He played her neighbor, a cranky bachelor who doesn’t like noise, especially made by children. However, he has a soft spot and becomes close to the family.

Photo: michaelstvtray.com

In the fourth and fifth seasons, there is no mention of the father, the kids, or the Palluccis! Doris is now a single person and is a staff writer for Today’s World.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

When this show was good, it was really good, but often it was so-so; however,  the skill of actors involved in the show kept it at a higher level. The first season was a bit corny with life down on the ranch. The second season felt like everyone was almost ready to break into song to celebrate the decency and clean-living of the country versus the corrupt city life. Season three it started coming into its own. Even though some of the characters were a bit stereotyped, the stars carried it.

Photo: articlesvally.com

The final two seasons were probably what the concept of the show should have been all along. After all, we viewed Doris as the country girl who moved to the city. She knew just what life would be like there and wanted to experience it all but retained just enough of her wholesomeness and morals to be likable and a bit innocent.

However, the ratings don’t really support my thesis. The show came in at #30 for season 1, #10 for season 2, #20 for season 3, #23 for season 4 and #37 for season 5. I’m guessing the real issue behind the lower-than-expected ratings was a result of scheduling and the constant changing of formats. The show began Tuesday nights against The Red Skelton Show and 60 Minutes. Season 2 it landed on Monday nights where it would remain. Season 2 and 3 it was opposite Mayberry RFD and The Carol Burnett Show. Season 4 it went against Here’s Lucy and The Sonny and Cher Show, and the last season was also Here’s Lucy and then the debut of The New Bill Cosby Show. The targeted audience was probably split. The same group who watched Doris Day would also be a fan of Carol Burnett, Red Skelton, and Lucille Ball. These three shows were all in the top 15 during this time.

Photo: monstersandcritics.com

I’m not sure why the show ended. Some references claim Day was tired and quit; others say the network cancelled the show. Either way, I think Doris was ready for retirement and certainly deserved it. One thing that doesn’t vary is that all the reviews I read, even those that criticized the format changes or the corniness of some situations, said it was a great show and that Doris Day made it fun and believable. I didn’t read any reviews that were negative about the show overall. Sometimes the quarterback truly does carry the team. And to be clear, there were many great teammates on the series during its run.

Photo: pinterest.com

Doris gave marriage one more try in 1976 when she wed Barry Comden but they divorced in 1982. After that Doris settled into Carmel, California where she devoted her energies to animal rights. She and her son owned a boutique hotel, Cypress Inn.  

Although Doris was never happy in marriage, she developed life-long, satisfying friendships with several men. Her costar Rock Hudson and she were very close. He called her Eunice just because he said when he thought of her as a Eunice, it made him laugh.

Photo: retrokimmer.com

She was also very close to Billy de Wolfe. They first worked together in 1950 on the set of Tea for Two. He told her he didn’t see Doris Day when he looked at her; he saw Clara Bixby, and that remained his nickname for her from then on.

Photo: dorisday.net
The great Billy de Wolfe

While The Doris Day Show can’t compete with Pillow Talk, it shouldn’t have to. It was what it was, and considering it wasn’t a show Doris even wanted to take on, she did her best with the crazy format changes and made it something worth revisiting. It may not be her best work, but it is far better than many television shows.

Photo: enews.com

Doris was a truly great star. She was a consummate performer, gave everything she had to her scripts, and was never a diva or complainer. She worked hard for three decades and then earned a long retirement. Although I was sad when she was taken from us, she lived a long and full life, with its share of tragedy and joy. She left us an amazing variety of movies to remember her by. Thank you Doris for leaving us a legacy of comedy and drama to enjoy in our retirement.