The Magic School Bus: Encouraging Us To “Take Chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy”

Knowing the theme for this blog series is Valerie, if I asked you to think of “Valeries” from television history, it might take you a while to come up with our subject for today. We are learning about Valerie Frizzle, an eccentric teacher who takes her class on educational field trips on her magical school bus on The Magic School Bus.

Based on the books that are written by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen, the original television show ran from 1994-1997, producing 52 episodes. It was created by Joanna Cole, Bruce Degen, and Laskas Martin. (A reboot The Magic School Bus Rides Again began recently.)

Photo: io9.com

The premise of the show is that a class taught by Valerie Frizzle at Walkerville Elementary take field trips to learn about science. Mr. Ruhle is the principal, and he is not aware that the bus is anything other than a simple school bus. However, the “Friz’s” bus can change shape and form to explore anything: far into outer space, deep in the ocean, back to the days of dinosaurs, and even into the human body. The bus can transform itself into a plane, a jeep, or other form of transport. It can become a frog or another type of animal to get into a specific ecosystem.

The Friz has a pet lizard named Liz who accompanies the class on its trips. Liz eats insects, but when the bus shrinks, she is very frightened by bugs.

Photo: abcnews.com

Apparently Walkerville is in a small community, because there are only eight children in her third-grade class: Arnold, Carlos, Dorothy Ann, Keesha, Phoebe, Ralphie, Tim, and Wanda.

Photo: wikifandom.clom

The Bus

The bus itself is a 1970s Ward International R-183 manufactured by Ward International Trucks, Inc. The bus is painted the typical school bus yellow. The magic part comes in with the devices that are installed in the bus. There is the shrinker scope that can shrink and re-size the bus when Ms. Frizzle asks it to. There is also a portashrinker that doesn’t work if the bus is wet and if someone tries to use it then, the Dew Dinger alerts them. There is also a mesmerglober which can change the shape of the bus. A magic battery runs on solar power.

Photo: myabandonware.com

The bus seems pretty indestructible. In one episode it floated around in lava. The bus has eyes and a mouth and often shows emotions like fear, anger, and sadness.

Photo: buzzfeed.com

The Friz

Valerie Felicity Frizzle is a quite a character. She has fiery red hair that is usually seen in a bun. Static electricity makes her hair frizzy. So, what do we know about Ms. Frizzle? She was a Shakespearian actress at one point in her life. She also had a band called The Frizzlettes and toured with rock star Molly Cule. She then went back to school for education. She learned about “busanautics” from a mechanic she knows, R.U. Humerus.

Voiced by the funny Lily Tomlin, the Friz is always optimistic. She cares about her students and is passionate about science. She lives in a mansion that has a bridge on the property as well as a fountain with a statue of Liz. You can often spot the bus parked in her driveway. She keeps a framed photo of Mr. Seedplot, suggesting that they may be romantically involved. She loves to tell jokes. She is very protective of her students who love and respect her.

Miss Frizzle has an interesting wardrobe and most of her clothing is science themed.

Photo: twitter.com
Photo: pinterest.com

Some of her taglines are “To the bus!”; “Okay, bus, do your stuff!”; and “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

During the four years the show was on the air, we got to know her students very well.

Photo: wikia.com

Arnold

Arnold was not a fan of field trips. Like The Friz, he is a redhead. Arnold wears glasses. He was the shyest kid in the class, but he was brave. He cares about the environment and is interested in rocks. His aunt, Arizona Joan, is a famous archaeologist. He also has an uncle who is a firefighter in a national park.

Arnold’s favorite color is orange and he is Jewish. Pollen and pepper both make him sneeze. He also loves cold weather because that means he can drink hot chocolate.

His most famous sayings are “I knew I should have stayed home today”; “We’re doomed” and “Carlos!”

In one of his interviews, illustrator Bruce Degen mentions that Arnold was based on his son.

Photo: wikia.com

Carlos

Carlos, a brunette, is the class clown. He tells a lot of jokes, some not so good which always gets the reactions, “Carlos!” from his classmates, especially Arnold. Carlos and Dorothy Ann often butt heads about learning because he is a hands-on learner while she is not.

Photo: wikia.com

Dorothy Ann

Dorothy Ann likes to learn by reading. Her favorite science area is astronomy and she has a telescope at home. She tends to argue with many of her friends and one of her favorite sentences starts, “According to my research . . .”

Photo: wikia.com

Keesha

Keesha can be a bit sarcastic. While Arnold and Dorothy Ann have different perspectives, Keesha and Ralphie are opposites. Keesha is a realist. Like Ms. Frizzle, she keeps her curly hair in a bun most of the time. Unlike most girls her age, she likes garter snakes.

Photo: wikia.com

Phoebe

Phoebe keeps her brown hair in a flip with a yellow hairband and bangs. She is kind-hearted, sweet, very bright, and patient. She’s left-handed and she cares a lot about animals. She often refers to her previous class, saying “At my old school . . .” When her father visits the school one day, he also refers to her old school.

Photo: wikia.com

Ralphie

Ralphie is a heavyset boy who often wears a baseball cap. He loves baseball, basketball, soccer, and hockey and is athletic. He daydreams a lot, learning through imagination. He is a fun-loving kid. He has a dog named Noodles. We learn he loves comic books and superheroes but dislikes anchovies and roller coasters. He worries about creatures like vampires which probably comes from overusing his imagination. His mother is a doctor and they seem to have a lot of fun together.

Photo: wikia.com

Tim

Tim is quiet and artistic; we often see him off drawing somewhere. Sometimes he tells jokes with Carlos. An interesting family fact is that his grandfather is a bee keeper and he delivers honey every winter.

Photo: wikia.com

Wanda

Wanda is a tomboy. She is the smallest member but may be the toughest. She dreams of being a pilot and loves it when the bus can fly. She hates cold weather. Her mother visits class now and then; she is a science journalist. It’s often mentioned that her mother keeps reptiles around the house; one time an alligator is found in the bathtub and a gila monster in the sandbox. Wanda is a gaming expert; she also likes to play the guitar.

We often hear her say, “What are we gonna do, what are we gonna do, what are we gonna do?”

Photo: wikia.com

Famous Guest Stars

For an animation show, this series featured an incredible number of famous guest stars. Tyne Daly was Ralph’s mother; Elliott Gould was Arnold’s father; Swoosie Kurtz was Dorothy Ann’s mom, and Eartha Kitt was Keesha’s mother. Ed Begley Jr. showed up as Logaway Larry; Carol Channing was Cornelia C. Contralto, Cindy Williams was Gerri Poveri; Dolly Parton was Katrina Murphy; Sherman Hemsley was Mr. Junkit; Rita Moreno was Dr. Carmina Skeledon; Dabney Coleman was Horace Scope; and Bebe Neuwirth was Flora Whiff. Tony Randall took the role of mechanic, R.U. Humerus while Wynonna Judd became rock star Molly Cule. Dom DeLuise was a baker; Ed Asner a general; Alex Trebek an announcer; and Tom Cruise played himself.

Photo: speed-new.com

Theme Song

The theme song is sung by Little Richard. The show begins with:

 (Bus honks, drives up, doors open)
 

Valerie Frizzle: Seatbelts, everyone!
 

Arnold: Please let this be a normal field trip.
 

Wanda: With the Frizz?
 

Kids except Arnold and Dorothy Ann: No way!
 

Arnold: Ohh!

Little Richard: Cruising on down main street. You’re relaxed and feeling good! (Yeah!)
 

Next thing that you know, you’re seeing…
 

Valerie Frizzle: (driving into ocean) Wa-ha-ha-hoo!
 

Little Richard: An octopus in the neighborhood?!

Surfing on a sound wave! Swinging through the stars!

Ralphie, Wanda and Carlos: Yee-ha!

Little Richard: Take a left at your intestine. Take your second right past Mars!

Kids: On The Magic School Bus!

Little Richard: Navigate a nostril!

(Ralphie sneezing)

(class gasping)

Kids and Little Richard: Climb on The Magic School Bus!

Little Richard: Spank a plankton, too!

Wanda: Take that!

Kids: On our Magic School Bus!

Little Richard: Raft a river of lava!

Kids: On The Magic School Bus!

Little Richard: Such a fine thing to do!

Kids: Whoa!

Little Richard: So, strap your bones right to the seat, come on in and don’t be shy….

Come on.

Just to make your day complete,

You might get baked into a pie!

Kids and Little Richard: On The Magic School Bus!
 

(Dorothy Ann, Keesha and Ralphie run up to Bus and enter before Bus shapeshifts)
 

Little Richard: Step inside, it’s a wilder ride!
 

Come on!
 

(Bus appears under big title that reads “The Magic School Bus…”)
 

Kids and Little Richard: Ride on The Magic School Bus!
 

(Bus disappears to reveal title of episode)
 

(Bus honking)

Photo: wordpress.com

I did not watch The Magic School Bus a lot. It went off the air about the time my older boys would have been the age to watch it. However, we read most of the books, and my kids learned a lot from them. Along with Arthur, this is probably one of my favorite cartoons for combining fun with learning.

Life in Fernwood: Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and Fernwood 2-Night

As we wind up our series of “oddly wonderful” shows, we take a look at two shows that were set in the same community and may be two of the most unusual shows to ever air on television—Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and Fernwood 2-Night.

If you read my blog often, you know I am not usually a fan of Norman Lear shows, and while these two series are very different from a typical Norman Lear show, unfortunately, I only enjoyed one of them. Lear’s shows were filmed at Metromedia Square in Hollywood. When he got ready to tackle these shows, there was no room left there. He arranged to rent space from KTLA which was across Fernwood Street. The staff started calling KTLA “Fernwood” which became the name of the town in Ohio where Mary lives.

Photo: next-episode.net

Lear said he created the show to deal with consumerism.

The original show was was a campy show but had likable and thoughtful characters. Like Soap, this show had a brilliant cast and satirized soap series. It was called Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, because the writers said dialogue on a soap opera was often said twice. Lear filmed the pilot and offered it to the three major networks who all passed. The show began as a syndicated show (it began on 50 stations) and was only on from January 1976 till May 1977. Unlike Soap, this show produced a huge number of episodes, 325 to be exact. It aired daily on weekdays.

Like the Tates and Campbells, Mary suffered through bizarre plots and unbelievable story lines, including adultery, mass murder, disease, homosexuality, religious cults, UFO sightings, and a nervous breakdown.

Photo: imdb.com
Dodie Goodman as Martha

Louise Lasser (who had been married to Woody Allen) portrayed Mary. She was married to Tom (Greg Mullavey). Tom worked at an auto assembly plant. Dody Goodman played Mary’s mother Martha. Debralee Scott played her sister Lorraine. The cast was rounded out by amazing supporting characters including Mary Kay Place as Mary’s best friend Loretta; Graham Jarvis as Charlie, Loretta’s husband and Tom’s best friend; Claudia Lamb as Heather, Mary and Tom’s daughter; Martin Mull as Garth Gimble who killed his wife; Dabney Coleman, Fernwood’s mayor; Gloria DeHaven who had an affair with Tom; Orson Bean as Rev. Brim, Shelley Fabares as Eleanor Major, a woman Tom falls in love with after Mary leaves him; Ed Begley Jr. as Steve; and Doris Roberts as Dorelda Doremus, a faith healer.

Photo: tumblr.com
Mary Kay Place as Loretta

Mary wore her hair in braids like Pippi Longstocking. One article described her as a life-size Raggedy Ann. She was indecisive and switched her emotions quickly and without reason. Mary went through one crisis after another until she couldn’t function anymore. One of the things that led to Mary’s breakdown was that she believed everything she saw on television and it made her crazy that she could not see the waxy yellow build up the commercials claimed was on her floor. She was also dealing with marital problems and boredom.

Photo: moviestillsdb.com

Right from the beginning, the show displayed its weird story lines. In the first episode, the Lombardi family of five is murdered and the neighborhood tries to catch the Fernwood Flasher, who later turned out to be Mary’s grandfather. There were a lot of strange deaths in this show. Jimmy Joe Jeeter was electrocuted in the tub, Coach Leroy drowned in chicken noodle soup, and Garth Gimble impaled his wife on a bottle brush Christmas tree.

In 1977, Lasser decided to leave the show. The rest of the cast continued on and accounted for her disappearance by announcing that she had run off with Sgt Dennis Foley. The show then became Forever Fernwood.

Photo: tumblr.com

Later that year, Fernwood 2-Night was spun off. Martin Mull was now Garth’s twin brother Barth and was the host of a late-night talk show with Jerry Hubbard (Fred Willard) as his “Ed McMahon”.

One of my favorite things about this show was Frank DeVol, the composer, who played Happy Kyne with his band the Mirth Makers (Eddie Robertson, Tommy Tedesco, Frank Marocco, and Colin Bailey) on the show. Happy never looked happy; he had a side business, a fast-food restaurant called Bun ‘n Run.

Photo: sonypicturesmuseum.com

Alan Thicke was the head writer on the show. Lear thought it should all be improvised, but Thicke said it needed a balance of scripting with ad-lib.

In the same way Mary Hartman satirized soap operas, this show satirized late-night talk shows. The guests were a mix of real and fictional people. For example, Tom Waits appeared on the show when his bus broke down in Fernwood. I don’t remember a lot about this show specifically, but I remember thinking it was very funny.

Photo: sonypicturesmuseum.com

After the first season, the show was moved to California where celebrities would be more likely to appear on the show.

Photo: nostalgiacentral.com

I have never seen either of these shows in reruns and like most of the shows we learned about this month, I think they are better left as a remnant of the era they debuted in. Although few people seem to remember Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, it was listed #21 on TV Guide’s list of best one-hundred shows in 2003. When thinking about the classic shows that had been on the air by 2003, that says a lot about what TV Guide thought about the quality of this show.

Lear had to tow a fine line on this show. With the types of crises Mary encountered and the bleak life that was portrayed of a housewife in Fernwood, Ohio, it was close to tragic. The exaggerated number of catastrophes and despairing situations kept it slightly in the humor genre. The demise of the show is often blamed on Lasser’s leaving, but in my opinion, it could not have continued to sustain viewers much longer than it was on the air. How many crises can be cooked up that hadn’t happened, and when did the tragic overtake the comedy for most viewers? Again, it’s a show best viewed in its decade.

In my rating of odd, wonderful, or oddly wonderful, I give Fernwood 2-night wonderful, and I’m afraid I have to give Mary Hartman an odd rating. It was a hard show to watch. If you wanted drama, there was too much humor in it, but if you wanted comedy, it was way too dark. I’d love to hear from you on your ratings for these two little-remembered shows.

Life Coach: Hayden Fox

Many of us enjoyed the Super Bowl yesterday. Maybe you are a football fanatic, maybe you just wanted to catch the commercials, or perhaps, like many of us, you just wanted someone, anyone, besides the Patriots to win this year. For many Americans, the Super Bowl has become an unofficial holiday.  We prepare certain foods, we throw parties, and decorate the house.

Many movies have been written about football; my favorite is still Remember the Titans, although Brian’s Song (appropriately with Shelly Fabares as Joy Piccolo) still makes me cry. On television we had Friday Night Lights, but when I think back to the classic sitcoms, the only show that came to mind was Coach.

Photo: pinterest.com

I remember watching Coach when it was originally on the air from 1989-1997, but my viewing was hit and miss. In my defense, I had two young children then, and they kept my evenings busy. This past year, I caught part of the Coach marathon on Decades. I’ve also been watching it on Antenna TV, and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. The characters still ring true for me. Hayden, Christine, Luther, Dauber, and Judy are just exaggerated enough to be fun and quirky. My youngest son attends Minnesota State Mankato, and I knew there were some connections with the show, but I was unsure what they were. I decided this was the perfect time to learn some of the behind-the-scene details of the show and celebrate our national pastimes of football and television watching.

COACH – “Did Someone Call Me Snorer?” – Airdate: January 9, 1995. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) L-R: BILL FAGERBAKKE;JERRY VAN DYKE;CRAIG T. NELSON

Hayden Fox (Craig T. Nelson) is the head coach of a NCAA Division I college football team. His staff, primarily Michael “Dauber” Dybinski (Bill Fagerbakke, later the voice of Patrick on SpongeBob Square Pants) and Luther Van Dam (Jerry Van Dyke), help him coach the Screaming Eagles. His girlfriend is Christine Armstrong (Shelly Fabares), a local newscaster. Christine doesn’t especially love sports, but she loves Hayden even though his narrow mindedness can make her crazy. Their relationship is a give and take that gradually entwines them and allows them to grow together, understanding more about each other, but still retaining very different personalities and points of view. Hayden truly cares about his friends, he just has a gruff manner when showing it. Feelings make him uncomfortable.

Photo: pinterest.com

In addition to Christine, Hayden has to learn to be a father again. His ex-wife raised their daughter, and now Kelly (Clare Carey) has enrolled at Minnesota State. Kelly has much more in common with Christine than with Hayden. Eventually she dates and marries Stu, a guy Hayden cannot relate to at all. In 1991, the marriage ends in divorce when Stu falls in love with someone else, and Hayden is relieved to have him out of their lives. Kelly graduates in 1993 and is offered a job at an ad agency in New York and only guest stars after that time. Oddly enough, Carey was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in California but got the part because she was a believable Midwesterner.

Photo: imdb.com

In addition to trying to influence the players on his team to become good men and citizens, Hayden “parents” Dauber who is much younger and Luther who is much older. Luther is a bachelor and has a lack of self-confidence, but he’s a great coordinator and Hayden appreciates him. Dauber has a heart of gold but is not the most intelligent though he can be wise at times. He continues to work with the team, eventually gathering three degrees and dating the women’s basketball coach, Judy (Pam Grier).

Judy and Hayden do not see eye to eye, and she does not have the patience or motivation to be nice to Hayden. Hayden often has harsh words for his athletic director Howard Burleigh, (Kenneth Kimmins) who always has his finger on the bottom line, but Hayden and Christine are friends with Howard and his wife Shirley (Georgia Engels) and, despite their working relationship, we see their underlying friendship developing.

At the end of season seven, Hayden is offered an NFL dream job with the Orlando Breakers. He accepts and takes his staff with him. By this time, he and Christine are married, so she also moves with the coaching staff. The owner of the team, Doris Sherman (Katherine Helmond), is more interested in the perks she gets being an owner than the success of the team. However, Fox gets the Breakers to a wild spot playoff game in the last season, although they lose to Buffalo. Also in the final season, Christine and Hayden adopt a baby boy. The Breakers were a parody of the Jacksonville Jaguars who, like the Breakers, entered the NFL in 1995 and made the playoffs against Buffalo in their second year as a team. The view Hayden sees when he looks out his office window at the stadium is actually the Milwaukee County Stadium, another tie to my Midwest.

Photo: tvtropes.org

In the season finale, the cast thanks the audience for nine years of support. Van Dyke refuses to believe the series is really over, despite all his co-stars trying to convince him. The fans also are treated to an summary of what the characters did after Coach. Hayden and Christine return to Minnesota to raise their son, even though other NFL teams are interested in Fox as a coach. Luther and Doris are in a relationship, and they build a house similar to Graceland as a tribute to Elvis. Howard and Shirley sell their rare collection of Barbie dolls and use the proceeds to buy a dinner theater in Florida. Dauber takes over the Breakers team as head coach. He wins back-to-back Super Bowls, and when he retires, he joins the Monday Night Football crew as an announcer.

COACH – “Inconceivable” – Airdate: October 17, 1994. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) JERRY VAN DYKE

Barry Kemp originally created the role of Hayden Fox for Dabney Coleman, but when ABC was ready to air the show, Coleman was unavailable. Kemp was also the creator of Newhart, and he gives a nod to his previous hit from time to time. In one episode, Christine is reading a book, How To Fly Fish by Dick Louden. In the finale, when Christine and Hayden return to his cabin, there just happen to be several people living there: Larry, Darryl and his “other brother Darryl,” whom all Newhart fans recognize immediately.

Another interesting twist on Coach was the appearance of stars who had personal relationships with the cast. Nanette Fabray, Shelly’s aunt, shows up as Mildred Armstrong, Christine’s mother. Mike Farrell, from M*A*S*H, Shelly’s husband, also appears on an episode. Nelson’s son, Noah, guest stars as a football player in one show, a delivery boy in one show, and the biological father of Fox’s adopted son in two later episodes. Perhaps the most unusual appearance was related to Luther. When Luther learns he was adopted and attends his birth family’s reunion, he tells Hayden that there was no way he could be related to any of these people. At that moment, a guy walks by them. He doesn’t have any lines, but it is Dick Van Dyke, Jerry’s brother.

Photo: twitter.com

Other guest stars included Tim Conway, Elinor Donahue, Lisa Kudrow, Dick Martin, Lucy Liu, Tom Poston, Rob Schneider, and Alan Young.

This show might have more stars appearing as themselves as any sitcom ever. Just a few of these sports heroes include Troy Aikman, George Allen, Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka, Eddie George, Frank Gifford, Kathie Lee Gifford, Bob Griese, Lou Holtz, Keith Jackson, Jimmy Johnson, Keyshawn Johnson, Jerry Jones, Al Michaels, Hank Stram, Joe Theismann, and Johnny Unitas.

Kemp was an alumnus of The University of Iowa. He chose the name Hayden Fox as a tribute to Iowa coach Hayden Fry. Even though the show is supposed to be set in Minnesota, much of it is filmed in Iowa. Many of the exterior shots on the show were taped at the Memorial Union. A couple of residence halls and the Field House also end up on the show.

The theme song was performed by the Iowa State University marching band. They won a national contest, earning the right to record the song.

The footage of football games is actually film from The University of Minnesota football seasons.

The Screaming Eagles was a nod to the line of Harley-Davidson motorcycles which Nelson collected.

Photo: A real photo from Mankato. I could not find a history of the names but how appropriate to have “Armstrong” for Christine and “Nelson” for Hayden’s real name.

In 1989 when the show first aired, there was no Minnesota State University. However, in 1998 Mankato State University became Minnesota State University Mankato ( and Moorhead became Minnesota State University Moorhead). However, there are some similarities between Mankato and the fictional college. Both have purple and gold as their school colors. The campus is about an hour from St. Paul-Minneapolis as is Mankato. (Christine lives in the Twin Cities when they first begin dating.) Hayden lives on a lake and in Mankato, faculty members do live on Lake Washington. The television university was founded in 1867, and Mankato was also created at that time.

Although the finale summed up the lives of the characters, that was not the end of the story. In 2015, NBC ordered 13 episodes of a Coach sequel. Nelson and Kemp came up with a concept where Hayden’s son takes a coaching job at a small college in Pennsylvania. The plan was to retain the original viewers while attracting a new, younger audience. Hayden, now a widower, comes out of retirement to be his son’s assistant coach. Dauber, now married to Judy, also signs on to help with the team. The pilot was filmed, but then NBC changed its mind. There are rumors that the revival may still happen, and other networks might be considering it. We’ll have to stay tuned.

Although the reboot has not come to fruition yet, Nelson, Van Dyke, and Fagerbakke did star again in an episode of The District. Nelson starred in the show from 2000-2004. In “The Black Widow Maker,” Jerry is a grumpy small-town judge and Bill is a police officer.

It’s too bad that the revival has not been fully developed. Considering the shows that were resurrected, often badly, this one sounds like it might have been a hit. Nelson won an Emmy during his time on Coach, but the network moved the show constantly, making it hard for fans to become loyal viewers. It was on every night except Thursday and Sunday. It survived because it worked. The writing was solid, and the characters were realistic. Hayden always had good intentions, and Christine was aware of that. Also, the show was able to survive the changes with Kelly graduating and moving, with the NFL team move; the crew stayed together while circumstances kept the show fresh.

Photo: people.com

The show went on the Antenna TV schedule last January. Do yourself a favor and get to know the Minnesota State crew.

Let’s end with some dialogue that captures the relationship between Hayden and Christine’s real marriage and Hayden and Luther’s work marriage:

Assistant Coach Luther Van Dam: I’ve made out my will, and I’d like you to be my executioner.

Coach Hayden Fox: I think you mean “executor.”

************************************************************************

Coach Hayden Fox to his wife: You think I didn’t respect you Christine, but the truth is, I didn’t even think of you.

Poor Hayden, even when he takes two steps forward, he fumbles and loses yardage.

The Donna Reed Show: It’s All About the Mom

Merry Christmas Eve.  In honor of It’s a Wonderful Life which will be playing quite often today, this week’s blog is about Donna Reed, who played Mary in the Jimmy Stewart holiday favorite.

In 1958, most of the television shows were game shows, variety shows, or westerns. Almost all the sitcoms on the air were based on a star; we had The Danny Thomas Show, The Ann Sothern Show, The Bob Cummings Show, and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. It was also the year The Donna Reed Show began. The show would last eight seasons, resulting in 275 episodes.

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Photo: dallas.wikia.com

The series was created by William Roberts. Donna and her husband Tony Owen developed and produced the show, under the name “Todon.” We had shows about single adults in The Bob Cummings Show and The Ann Sothern Show. We had families, including The Danny Thomas Show, Father Knows Best, and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Roberts wanted to concentrate on the demanding roles a stay-at-home mom had to juggle. Reed agreed with him. As she noted, “We started breaking rules right and left. We had a female lead, for one thing, a strong, healthy woman. We had a story line told from a woman’s point of view that wasn’t soap opera.”

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Photo: imdb.com

The Donna Reed Show is often evoked by critics who say television scripts are not realistic but center around unreal family expectations, but that is not the goal Reed and her husband had. Donna described the show as “realistic pictures of small-town life—with an often-humorous twist. Our plots revolve around the most important thing in America—a loving family.” The shows featured typical family problems families faced in the late 1950s: having to fire a clumsy housekeeper, quality time with your spouse, dealing with disciplinary issues, or Donna being swamped with requests to volunteer for charity drives or community theater shows. However, there were times the show delved into more controversial issues such as women’s rights or freedom of the press.

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Photo: metv.com

The Stone family includes Donna, Alex, Mary and Jeff. Donna (Donna Reed) is the iconic mother. She grew up on a farm (which Reed did). She became a nurse and occasionally helps Alex (Carl Betz), a pediatrician who has his office at the house. Mary (Shelly Fabares) is in her first year of high school. She studies ballet and plays the piano. During the series, she has several boyfriends. Mary left for college before the show ended, but Fabares made guest appearances. Jeff (Paul Petersen) is in grade school. He loves sports, likes to eat, and often teases his sister. In 1963 when Fabares leaves, Paul Petersen’s real sister, Patty was cast as a runaway orphan taken in by the Stone family. The Stones live in Hilldale, an All-American town.

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Photo: pinterest.com

Several other characters appear often. Dave and Midge Kelsey (Bob Crane and Ann McCrea) are good friends of Donna and Alex’s.  Dave is also a doctor. Another of Alex’s colleagues who is a good friend is Dr. Boland (Jack Kelk), whom the kids call “Uncle Bo.” Smitty Smith (Darryl Richard) is Jeff’s best friend and Scotty (Jimmy Hawkins) is Mary’s boyfriend.

Photos: pinterest.com and metv.com

With Donna’s movie relationships, many guest stars appeared on the show during its run. Baseball players Don Drysdale, Leo Durocher, and Willie Mays played themselves. Musicians Harry James, Tony Martin, and Lesley Gore appeared. Buster Keaton was featured in two different shows. Esther Williams played a fashion designer. Other stars who showed up included Jack Albertson, John Astin, Dabney Coleman, Ellen Corby, Richard Deacon, Jamie Farr, Gale Gordon, Arte Johnson, Ted Knight, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Marion Ross, William Schallert, Hal Smith, Marlo Thomas, and William Windom.

In the opening credits, Reed comes down the stairs and answers the telephone which she gives to Alex. She then hands the kids their lunches and books and sends them off to school. When Alex leaves on a call, she closes the door and smiles. In 1964 when The Munsters debuted, their opening credits were a parody of Donna’s show as Lily performs the same actions.

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Photo: metv.com

The Donna Reed Show faced the Milton Berle show, Texaco Star Theater Wednesday nights and ratings were not great. It was renewed and moved to Thursdays the next year. I was surprised to learn that during the eight years the show was on the air it was only in the top 20 in season six and only in the top 30 in season four.

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Photo: cinemacats.com (Look closely and you’ll notice this was                                                                 the living room for I Dream of Jeannie as well).

Although the show never received very high ratings, Donna Reed was nominated for an Emmy every year from 1959 to 1962. (Jane Wyatt won in 1959 and 1960, Barbara Stanwyck won in 1961, and Shirley Booth won in 1962.) Donna Reed won the Golden Globe in 1963.

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Photo: metv.com

In 1962 Donna felt that the writers had run out of creative ideas and were recycling plots. Both Mary and Jeff were allowed to perform in this season. Fabares debuted a single, “Johnny Angel” in February which went to number one on the charts, selling more than a million copies. In October, Petersen sang “My Dad” which made it to number six. Donna decided that would be the last season, but when ABC made her a very lucrative offer for three more seasons, she and her husband agreed.

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Photo: nytimes.com

When this contract ended in 1966, Donna was ready to retire. Reed was considering a television movie reunion but when Betz passed away in 1978, she decided it was no longer an option.

Campbell Soup was the first sponsor, and later sponsors included Johnson & Johnson and The Singer Company. Whenever a scene takes place in a supermarket, Campbell’s Soup, V-8 Juice, Franco-American Spaghetti and Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder are likely to be in the shot.

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Photo: metv.com

Reruns of the show were seen on Nick at Nite from 1985-1994 and on TV Land from 2002 until 2004. MeTV began airing the show in September of 2011.

The cast was a close-knit one and continued their relationships after the show ended. Paul Petersen credited Donna as being the nurturing adult he needed in his life to get him through the years of being a child star. She helped him understand how the industry worked and helped him during some tough times during his life. Shelly Fabares also said Donna and Carl were amazing. Realizing how tough the industry can be for young kids, they protected Paul and herself and loved them as second parents. Donna never forgot to send Shelly a birthday gift.  In 1986, before she passed away from pancreatic cancer, her final words were to make sure Shelly’s birthday gift was wrapped and delivered.

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Photo: lapostexaminer.com

Despite the bad raps the show often received from the women’s lib organizations, Donna Reed did help advance the way women were perceived in the media. She endowed her character with strong emotions, definite opinions on issues, and independence. In her personal life, Reed expressed her views on the medical industry and the political arenas.

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Photo: geocaching.com

Paul Petersen summed up the value of the show in an interview he did in 2008. In his words, The Donna Reed Show, “depicts a better time and place. It has a sort of level of intelligence and professionalism that is sadly lacking in current entertainment products. The messages it sent out were positive and uplifting. The folks you saw were likable, the family was fun, the situations were familiar to people. It provided 22-and-a-half-minutes of moral instructions and advice on how to deal with the little dilemmas of life. Jeff and Mary and their friends had all the same problems that real kids in high school did. That’s what the show was really about, the importance of family. That’s where life’s lessons are transmitted, generation to generation. There’s a certain way in which these are transmitted, with love and affection.”

I couldn’t say it better.

Just When You Think It Can’t Get Any Weirder, It Does

Although I love The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, there are a lot of shows on television today that make me shake my head.  It’s amazing what is airing when you scroll through the channels:  Vanilla Ice Goes Amish, I Cloned My Pet, Doomsday Preppers, and these are some of the best reality shows out there.  However, when I researched sitcoms from the classic era, I also found a lot of weird concepts there also.  Let’s take some time to look at a few of them.

 

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Boss Lady (1951)

Lynn Bari was Gwen Allen, owner and operator of Hillendale Homes Construction Co. which was owned by her father.  While this show would not seem unusual at all today, back in 1951 it was not common to see a woman the boss of a construction crew. This show began on the Dumont network and then switched to NBC for twelve episodes, running as a summer replacement from July to September 1952.

 

 

 

Where’s Raymond? (1953)

Believe it or not, this was a musical sitcom.  Ray Bolger (who had sang and danced as The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz) was a song and dance man named Ray Wallace living in Pelham, New York. He had a girlfriend named Susan (Marjie Millar) and a business partner Peter (Richard Erdman). Verna Felton from December Bride was his understudy’s mother-in-law. The show lasted 2 ½ years on ABC.

 

 

 

The People’s Choice (1955)

Ok, pay attention, because the basis of this show is confusing. Socrates (Sock) Miller played by Jackie Cooper is a Bureau of Fish and Wildlife Orinthologist studying to be a lawyer.  Honestly! He has car trouble one day and is picked up (and picked up) by the mayor’s daughter Mandy who thinks he should be on the city council. Sock decides to be a lawyer to support Mandy.   In the finale to year one, the two elope and conceal their marriage for the entire second season.  When the show came back for a third year, the mayor finds out about the marriage, Sock gets his law license, and Sock’s free-loading pal Rollo (Dick Wesson) moves in with the couple.  Now Sock is managing a real estate development. Just when you thought it could not get more confusing, Sock’s basset hound Cleo would do tricks and comment directly to the audience about situations occurring on the show. LSD had not even become a social problem yet, so it was not responsible for this show, so I’m not sure how this crazy mess stayed on the air for 104 episodes.

 

 

 

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Dick and the Duchess (1957)

Dick Starrett (Patrick O’Neal) is a claims adjuster in London.  There are some exciting scenarios to provide interest. He meets and marries Jane (Hazel Court) a duchess. She becomes his wife and assistant, although she still expects to live in the manner she has become accustomed to.  She humorously gets involved in his investigations. The network must not have thought she was that funny helping out because  CBS cancelled it after 25 episodes.

 

 

 

Mr. Ed (1961)

Let me say, I do not put Mr. Ed in the same category as Dick Van Dyke Show, That Girl, or Bachelor Father, but I don’t mind catching an episode or two now and then.  When looking at strange concepts for show, this one does have to go into the mix.

When the creator asked Young to appear in the show, he turned him down twice. A pilot was made without him. It did not sell, so producers Arthur Luben and Al Simon decided to enter it directly into syndication, and Young then agreed to take on the role. It was very successful, so CBS bought it.

Wilbur Post (Alan Young) is a married architect. Wilbur and his wife Winnie (Connie Hines) bought their house with a horse included. Their neighbors were played by Edna Skinner and Larry Keating. What no one else realized (including his wife), was that Wilbur was the only human who could understand Ed and talk with him.  Ed was quite the character; he was a hypochondriac; a voracious reader; a playboy, or play horse; loved Carl Bernstein and wanted to decorate his stable in Chinese modern.

The voice of Ed was a highly guarded secret until the show ended in 1967 when it was revealed to be Rocky Lane. Ed was played by Bamboo Harvester, a palomino. One interesting fact about this show is that it has been seen in 57 different countries.

 

 

 

My Mother the Car (1965)

This is another one of those shows you roll your eyes about.  Dave Crabtree (Jerry Van Dyke) lives in LA.  He wants to buy a new station wagon, and when he goes shopping, he realizes his mother’s voice is coming through the radio of a 1928 Porter.  Ann Sothern provides his mother’s voice. Of course, he buys the car which irritates his family, but they don’t know his secret. He also has to deal with a car connoisseur who wants to buy the car for his collection. Maybe it’s a Freudian slip, but I’m a bit offended that a mother is portrayed as an old jalopy as opposed to a new, sleek car, but I digress. This show was only on the air for a year and then the radio was turned off.

 

 

 

 

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The Second Hundred Years (1967)

Here is the premise of this one:  In 1900, 33-year-old Luke Carpenter (Monte Markham) is prospecting for gold in Alaska.  An avalanche occurs, and he is buried alive and frozen.

In 1967, Luke’s son Edwin, who is 67, is told that his father has been found alive.  Dad looks 33, but his identity and past has become a top-government secret.  He is released into the custody of Edwin (Arthur O’Connell) and grandson Ken (also Monte Markham). Luke has a hard time adjusting to life in the 1960s. I know you are surprised, but the show was cancelled after 30 episodes.

 

 

My World and Welcome to It (1969)

This show was based on James Thurber’s writings. The show was set in Connecticut where John Monroe (William Windom) was a cartoonist for Manhattanite Magazine. He was intimidated by his wife Ellen (Joan Hotchkiss). To escape his boring and nagging life, he escapes into a secret world where his cartoons come alive and he is a king. He drifted between real and fantasy lives. NBC cancelled the show after a year, but CBS picked it up and aired it from May-September of 1972. So, the presence of LSD does explain the writing on this one. What it doesn’t explain is that this show won two Emmys in 1970 : Outstanding Continued Performance by and Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Comedy Series. The competition for comedy included Love American Style, Room 222, The Bill Cosby Show, and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.

 

 

 

The Roller Girls (1977)

Meet the Pittsburgh Pitts, an all-women roller derby team, owned and managed by Don Mitchell (Terry Kiser). The Pitts were pretty but useless when it came to roller derby. James Murtaugh played the team’s announcer Howie Devine. After four episodes, the network agreed this really was the pits and it was cancelled.

 

 

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Apple Pie (1978)

This show aired for one episode – I thought they used to call that a movie. (A couple sources say 2 episodes, perhaps a mini-series.) The show is set in Kansas City, Missouri. A hairdresser named Ginger Nell Hollyhock (Rue McLanahan) is lonely and decides to advertise in the local paper for a family. She ended up with a con artist, Fast Eddie (Dabney Coleman), a tap-dancer daughter, a son who wanted to fly just like birds do, and a grandfather figure (Jack  Guilford).

 

So, when you think you’ve seen it all before, you probably have. I would not be the least surprised to read that in the fall there will be a reality show that features a roller derby team, or a woman who advertised for a family in the personal ads, or an insurance adjustor married to royalty.

I do have to say that both Dick and the Duchess and My World and Welcome To It  seem to have some die-hard fans who appreciate the shows  I guess I should watch a few more episodes.

Listen up you sitcom developers; if you think you have a concept that’s a bit too far out there, it will probably be a big hit. After all, who would have guessed a show about an alien from Ork who traveled in an egg, and gave birth to a 79-year old man would score high ratings?