This month we are getting up close and personal with some of our favorite television stars. Today we are getting to know one of the most prolific actors to appear on classic television: Denver Pyle. Denver amassed acting credits for 263 different television series and movies during a fifty-year career.
Denver was born Denver Dell Pyle in 1920 in Colorado, but not in Denver, in Bethune. His father was a farmer. His brother Willis became an animator who worked at the Walt Disney Animation Studios and UPA. Also, an interesting note is that Ernie Pyle, the famous journalist and war correspondent, was his cousin.
After his high school graduation, Pyle enrolled at Colorado State University but dropped out to pursue a show business career. He was a drummer for a band and then bounced around in different jobs including working in the oil fields, working shrimp boats in Texas, and as an NBC page. When WWII began, he joined the Merchant Marine. He was injured in the battle of Guadalcanal and received a medical discharge. Following his stint in the war, Pyle worked as a riveter at a Los Angeles aircraft plant. While there, he was spotted by a talent scout in an amateur theater production. Pyle decided he wanted a career in the entertainment business and trained under Maria Ouspenskaya and Michael Chekhov.
His first movie roles occurred in 1947 in The Guilt of Janet Ames and Devil Ship. He would continue polishing his film career for the next fifty years, with his last big-screen feature being Maverick in 1994.
When he was filming The Alamo with John Wayne in 1960, Wayne realized Pyle had an eye for photography. He made arrangements with the PR office to hire Pyle as the official set photographer for the film.
He received his first television role in 1951 in The Cisco Kid. He gravitated toward westerns and in the fifties would appear in many of them including Roy Rogers, Gunsmoke, The Range Rider, Hopalong Cassidy, Annie Oakley, The Gene Autry Show, The Adventures of Kit Carson, The Lone Ranger, The Adventures of Jim Bowie, and The Tales of West Fargo.
In 1955, Pyle married Marilee Carpenter. They had two children and divorced in 1970.
The sixties still provided many roles in westerns (The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Have Gun Will Travel, Bonanza, The Rifleman, Gunsmoke, and Death Valley Days among others), but he also began appearing on dramas and sitcoms: to name a few, Route 66, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Dr. Kildare, The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, and Gomer Pyle USMC.
In many of these shows, he returned nine or ten times to guest star in episodes. During the run of Perry Mason, Pyle would play a victim, a defendant, and a murderer on the show.
He received the first recurring roles of his career during this era on sitcoms. On Tammy, he played Grandpa Tarleton in 1965-66, and from 1963-66, he portrayed Briscoe Darling on The Andy Griffith Show. He only appeared in Mayberry six times but left a lasting impression on fans.
After playing Briscoe, Pyle invested in oil, buying oil wells thought to be near the end of their production. In the eighties, technology allowed the wells to produce more oil; Pyle made much more from oil than he did acting. However, he continued his career because he said, “I look at it this way, acting provides the cash flow I need for oil speculation, and besides that, I like acting. It’s fun.”
His career did not slow down too much throughout the seventies and eighties. In the seventies, you could watch him in The Waltons, Streets of San Francisco, Cannon, and Barnaby Jones. The eighties featured him in The Love Boat, Murder She Wrote, Dallas, and LA Law.
During this time, he also received three other regular cast roles. From 1968-1970, he played Doris Day’s father in The Doris Day Show. From 1977-78. He was Mad Jack in The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, and in 1979-85, he took on Uncle Jesse in The Dukes of Hazard. In fact, his last acting credit was for a made-for-tv movie where he once again portrayed Jesse in The Dukes of Hazzard Reunion! in 1997.
In 1991, Pyle married a second time. He wed Tippie Johnston and they remained married until his death. The couple did a lot of fundraising for charity including Special Olympics and Denver Pyle’s Children’s Charities. In addition, Pyle sponsored Uncle Jesse’s Fishing Tournament in Texas. For the ten years, he ran it, it raised more than $160,000 to support children’s needs.
In 1997, Pyle died on Christmas from lung cancer.
If you watch reruns from any decade of classic television, you will be very familiar with Denver Pyle. Although he was part of the cast in five very popular shows, it would have been fun to see him get the starring role in a show. It’s amazing to realize how many shows he was a part of. Considering he was in the television business for forty years and for almost fifteen of those years, he was busy being part of the cast of a weekly show, that left 25 years to amass 250 other series that he found time to appear on; that is almost one a month for 25 years—very impressive.
This month we are taking a close-up of five famous television male stars. If you were a television fan in the sixties, you will remember Larry Hagman as Tony on I Dream of Jeannie. If you watched Dallas in the eighties, you will remember him as the cad J.R. Ewing. However, Hagman had more than 100 acting credits and several other television starring roles, as well as credits as a producer and director. We’ll learn more about his career and these forgotten shows in this blog.
Hagman was born in 1931 in Texas. His father was an accountant and lawyer who became a DA. His mother was the famous actress, Mary Martin. His parents divorced when he was five. When his mother received a Paramount contract, he lived with his maternal grandmother in Texas and California.
When Larry was nine, his mother married Richard Halliday. The couple had a baby in 1941, but Larry was sent to an academy, Black Foxe Military Institute and later to Woodstock Country School in Vermont.
His mother resumed her Broadway career in New York City, so Larry lived with his grandmother in California until she passed away when he was sent to live with his mother.
Larry moved to back to Weatherford, his home town, to attend high school, and he graduated from there. Larry’s father wanted him to become a lawyer and join his practice. Larry worked for an oilfield equipment manufacturer for a summer, but was drawn to the acting profession. In the fall of 1949, he enrolled in Bard College in New York to major in drama and dance but he dropped out after his freshman year.
In 1950, Larry took on acting roles at Margaret Webster’s school, The Woodstock Playhouse in New York. The summer after his freshman year, he worked in Dallas as a production assistant and did some acting in Margo Jones’s theater company. He then traveled a bit with the St. John Terrell’s Music Circus. From 1951-1952, he appeared in “South Pacific” with his mother in London.
The following year, Hagman received his draft notice and enlisted in the Air Force. He was stationed in London and spent most of his military service entertaining troops in Europe.
In 1954, Larry married Maj Axelsson. She grew up in Sweden and they met in London. They had two children and were longtime residents of Malibu, California. They were married until his death.
When he left the Air Force in 1956, he returned to New York City, appearing in a couple of off-Broadway plays. His wife made costumes for a variety of productions. In 1957, Hagman received his first television roles, appearing in West Point, Goodyear Playhouse, Studio One, and Omnibus. His Broadway debut was in “Comes a Day” in 1958.
Larry continued his dual Broadway and television careers through the remainder of the fifties. One of his roles was on Decoy, which was the first crime drama to star a female police officer (Beverly Garland) and he portrayed three different characters on Sea Hunt.
In 1960 he had his first recurring role as Cliff Williams on Search for Tomorrow.
In 1964, he made began receiving offers to act on the big screen. He appeared in The Cavern, Ensign Pulver, and Fail Safe that year.
Hagman had been a heavy smoker but quit in 1965. He later became the chairman of both the American Cancer Society and the Great American Smokeout.
The next year, he received the role that made him a household name: Captain Anthony Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie. He rejoined the Air Force, but this time in a fictional service. The show was on the air for five seasons.
Two reunion movies were made later (I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later in 1985 and I Still Dream of Jeannie in 1991), but Hagman was not in the cast. I read that he was busy with Dallas and family vacations during the times the movies were filmed. They did not replace his character; they focused more on Roger, Jeannie, and Tony’s son with Tony being unavailable on assignment. However, Hagman did appear with Bill Daily and Barbara Eden in several reunion-type shows, and he and Eden remained good friends.
When the show ended, Hagman took on various guest spots on shows including Love American Style. A year later, he again tried a sitcom role. He was cast as Albert Miller in The Good Life. He starred with Donna Mills as a couple who pose as servants. The show lasted a season before being canceled.
A year later there was a repeat of the cycle when he starred in Here We Go Again with Diana Baker as a newlywed couple moves into a home located near both their former spouses’ homes. Again, it lasted one season.
I read that his mother was forced to kick him out of the house when he lived with her and his stepfather because of his heavy drinking. After the cancellation of this show, his father passed away and he reconciled with his mother.
For most of the seventies, he continued guest starring in television shows including Marcus Welby, Barnaby Jones, MacMillan and Wife, and TheRockford Files and big-screen movies including Harry and Tonto and Superman.
An entire new group of fans began watching Larry from 1978-1991 when he appeared as one of the major characters on Dallas. Two of the most-watched television episodes were the cliffhanger episode, “A House Divided” from 1980 when JR was shot (but viewers did not know who did it) and “Who Done It” when it was revealed that the shooter was his sister-in-law and mistress, Kristin.
Hagman was nominated for two Emmy Awards for his portrayal of JR in 1980 and 1981. He was beat out by Ed Asner for Lou Grant in 1980 and Daniel J. Travanti for Hill Street Blues in 1981.
Unlike I Dream of Jeannie, when reunion Dallas movies were made in 1996 and 1998, Hagman was part of the cast and listed as producer.
Larry always said Dallas was his favorite show, and he loved being a part of it. Both his children appeared on the show. His old costar Barbara Eden joined the cast for the final season as Lee Ann, fittingly as a character from JR’s past. The show was filmed at Southfork Ranch in Texas and after his death, Larry’s ashes were scattered there.
In an unusual reboot, Hagman reprised his role of Ewing on a new Dallas from 2012-2013.
Between the original and reboot of Dallas, Hagman once again received offers to star in two new series. One was Orleans in 1997 when he played Judge Luther Charbonnet. Unfortunately, the series only lasted for eight episodes, but he received some of the best reviews of his career for the role. In 2006, he took on the role of Burt Landau on Nip and Tuck which lasted one season.
Hagman also wore a directing hat. He began directing three episodes of I Dream of Jeannie in 1967. He would also direct two episodes of The Good Life, 32 episodes of Dallas (he also was listed as producer for 74 episodes), seven episodes of In The Heat of the Night in the early nineties starring one of his best friends Carroll O’Connor, and one feature film: Beware! The Blob which was a sequel to the cult classic 1958 horror film, The Blob. He produced a made-for-tv movie in 1993 called Staying Afloat which he also starred in. The plot was that Alex, a millionaire’s son, has trouble managing money so his father cuts him off. The IRS is pursuing him, and he has a lot of debt when an FBI agent offers to help with his financial issues if Alex becomes a government informant to take down a man who once burned Alex and he happily agrees.
In 1995, Hagman had a liver transplant after being diagnosed with liver cancer. He also had cirrhosis of the liver which was a result of heavy drinking. He had stopped drinking earlier in his life, but the damage was done.
In 2001, Larry added author to his resume after writing Hello Darlin’: Tall (And Absolutely True) Tales About My Life. In 2007, he gave an interview, sharing his passion for alternative energy creation. He and his wife had a solar-powered, energy-efficient home named “Heaven” in Ojai, California, where they promoted a green lifestyle. The couple also owned a home in Sundsvall, Sweden, her hometown and they visited there often.
In 2008, Maj was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Hagman cared for her as long as possible, but she required 24-hour nursing care by 2010.
The following year, Hagman learned he had Stage 2 throat cancer. He had the tumor removed and went into remission. In 2012, he was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a preleukemia condition. The actor died in November from acute myeloid leukemia.
His friend Barbara Eden said, “Larry was one of the most intelligent actors I ever worked with.” Later she said that their on-screen chemistry on the set of Jeannie was not just work and their timing was right. She could not explain it; it was wonderful.
Two of his Dallas castmates were at his bedside when he passed away. Linda Gray who played his wife on the show said Larry was “her best friend for 35 years” and that “he brought joy to everyone he knew. He was creative, generous, funny, loving, and talented and I will miss him enormously. He was an original and lived life to the fullest.” His brother on the show was played by Patrick Duffy who said “Friday I lost one of the greatest friends to ever grace my life. The loneliness is only what is difficult, as Larry’s peace and comfort is always what is important to me.”
Fans reported that Hagman often had people who requested his autograph tell him a joke or sing him a song first.
Hagman said his idols were Jack Benny, John Wayne, Dick Powell, and his future Dallas castmates, Barbara Bel Geddes and Jim Davis. He credited his good friend Carrol O’Connor as his acting mentor, saying that, “Carroll is really my mentor. He knows more about show business than any other actor I know.” During his Dallas years, he paid that back by mentoring several coworkers including Charlene Tilton.
Hagman also enjoyed hunting, backpacking, fishing, skiing, sailing, golfing, and collecting canes, hats, flags, and art. I’m so glad that he was not typecast as Tony and was able to continue his career with several other sitcoms and that he truly enjoyed his many years associated with Dallas. When you love what you are doing, people love you for doing it.
Russell Johnson was born in Pennsylvania in 1924. He had six siblings. His father died from pneumonia when Russ was only 8, and his youngest brother died the following year. He was sent to Girard College, a boarding school for fatherless boys located in Philadelphia. He struggled early in his education, being held back for a year. In high school he made the National Honor Society.
In 1943, he married Edith Cahoon. They would divorce in 1948.
During World War II, Johnson joined the Army Air Corps and received the Purple Heart after his plane was shot down in the Philippines in 1945. Johnson flew 44 combat missions in the Pacific Theater. Once the war was over, Russ used his GI Bill to enroll in the Actors’ Lab in Hollywood to study acting. While there he met Kay Cousins, and they married in 1949 and were married until her death in 1980.
Johnson’s big-screen career began in 1952. He was a friend of Audie Murphy and would appear in three of his films in the early 1950s. He was in a variety of movies throughout the 1950s, mainly westerns and sci fi classics such as It Came fromOuter Space.
Russell began receiving roles on television in 1950. In the 1950s he would be seen on 28 different shows. In 1959 he was offered a role in a western, Black Saddle. Johnson was Marshal Gib Scott. The show was on for one season.
During the 1960s, Russell’s television work increased, and he appeared on 39 series including The Twilight Zone, Route 66, Ben Casey, Laramie, 77 Sunset Strip, OuterLimits, and Big Valley. In 1964 he was offered the role of The Professor on Gilligan’sIsland, replacing John Gabriel who was a teacher in the pilot. Roy Hinkley was a genius who made complex inventions from the simple materials he found on the island. As we have learned, most of the cast of Gilligan’s Island was typecast after the show was cancelled, and they had a hard time getting other roles. Johnson discussed this circumstance in a later interview: “It used to make me upset to be typecast as the Professor . . . but as the years have gone by, I’ve given in. I am the Professor, and that’s the way it is. . . Besides, the show went into syndication and parents are happy to have their children watch the reruns. No one gets hurt. There are no murders, no car crashes. Just good, plain, silly fun. It’s brought a lot of joy to people, and that’s not a bad legacy.”
Although he had trouble at first, he did go on to appear in 45 different shows from 1970-1997, including That Girl, Marcus Welby, Cannon, McMillan and Wife, LouGrant, Bosom Buddies, Dallas, Fame, Newhart, ALF, and Roseanne. He had a recurring role on Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law from 1971-1973.
In 1982, Russell married for a third time. He married Connie Dane, and they were married until his death from kidney failure in 2014.
In 1993, he published his memoirs, Here on Gilligan’s Isle.
Like so many of the tv icons in the 1960s—Barbara Eden, Adam West, Butch Patrick, David Cassidy, Maureen McCormick—Russell struggled with his alter ego, eventually accepting his role as the Professor. While being tied to one character for 50 years makes it tough to get the roles you want, it’s hard to be critical of a personality that gives such pleasure to decades of viewers and makes you a household name for half a century. Being given the chance to portray a character that America loves is a hazard of the business but is certainly better than never receiving a starring role.
You Never Know Who Might Show Up
With a show like Gilligan’s Island, you would assume it would be almost impossible to have guest stars. After all, they are on a deserted island. Except for the native people who might be living there, where would stars come from? Amazingly, Gilligan’s Island featured many guest stars over the years. Let’s look at a few of them.
Vito Scotti appeared on four different episodes playing Dr. Boris Balinkoff, mad scientist, twice, a Japanese sailor, and a Japanese soldier who does not believe World War II is over.
Mel Blanc could be heard portraying a parrot several times and a frog.
Hans Conried visited the island twice as Wrongway Feldman, an incompetent pilot who had crashed on the island years before.
Kurt Russell was a modern-day Tarzan.
Richard Kiel, a Russian agent, pretended to be a ghost to scare the castaways off the island so he could have the oil rights. When the cast turns the tables and acts like ghosts, he didn’t stick around long.
Zsa Zsa Gabor was a rich socialite who falls in love with the Professor.
Larry Storch is a robber hiding out on the island and pretending to be a doctor.
John McGiver was Lord Beasley Waterford, famous butterfly collector.
Don Rickles is con man Norbert Wiley who is hiding out on the island. He kidnaps Mrs. Howell and later Ginger, planning on getting ransom for each castaway. After the Professor puts him in jail, Ginger convinces them to let him out for a party. Norbert steals jewelry and other items from the castaways and leaves the island.
Phil Silvers crashes onto the island as Herbert Hecuba, arrogant movie producer. He orders everyone around like they’re his servants. He is not impressed with Ginger’s acting ability, so the castaways write and perform a play to show off her talents. In the middle of the night, Hecuba takes off with their play, claiming it as his own back in the US.
Sterling Holloway is an escapee from a prison and the owner of a pigeon. The Professor thinks he can get a message back to the States through the pigeon, but when Birdy finds out he is paroled, he sends the bird off first.
A variety of actors played natives on the show. In all, there were 54 guest stars given credit on the show.
In addition, Bob Denver, Tina Louise, and Jim Backus all had guest starring roles playing people who were look-alikes for Gilligan, Ginger, and Mr. Howell.
I guess it’s a good lesson to always keep up appearances because you never know who might show up when you’re stranded on an island.
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.
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.
She received a Walk of Fame star in 1998.
In 2011, she wrote her autobiography, Jeanne Out of the Bottle.
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.
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, Route66, 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.
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.
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.”
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.