This Doctor Made House Calls Every Monday Night

As we wind up our blog series, “The Movie Came First,” we finish with a show from the late seventies, House Calls. The original movie hit the big screen in 1978. The description of the movie is that Charley is a surgeon who’s recently lost his wife. He embarks on a tragicomic romantic quest with one woman after another until he meets up with Ann, a single woman, closer to his own age, who immediately and unexpectedly captures his heart.

House Calls (1978) movie posters
Photo: cinematerial.com

Walter Matthau played Charley and Glenda Jackson was Ann. Art Carney and Richard Benjamin were cast as friends and doctors who work with Walter. Max Shulman and Julius Epstein wrote the screenplay.

Jump ahead to 1979 and we find House Calls on the television schedule. The writers/creators are still Julius Epstein and Max Shulman. The same four top characters are featured but I thought it was interesting that only three of them got new names. Instead of Charley Nichols, we now have Wayne Rogers as Charley Michaels, Lynn Redgrave took on the role of Ann Anderson in place of Ann Atkinson. Charley’s coworkers are Amos Weatherby played by David Wayne where the original character was Amos Willoughby but Benjamin’s Norman Solomon role is now Normon Solomon, just one vowel change played by Ray Butenika. If there is a meaning behind the names, I never learned about it. Charley and Normon are the Hawkeye and Trapper of the hospital community and Willoughby is the senior doctor who tries to reign them in and doesn’t fire them only because they’re such good doctors.

In this version of the story, Charley and Ann are dating. He’s a surgeon at a San Francisco hospital and she is the new administrative assistant. He doesn’t like to conform to rules, while she insists on it, so while they are dating in their personal life, they often butt heads in the work life.

Photo: wikipedia.com

Redgrave and Rogers had a great chemistry and apparently the relationship of the three doctors provided a lot of funny situations. Providing additional humor were practical head nurse Bradley played by Aneta Corsaut, an older but enthusiastic candy striper Mrs. Phipps played by Deedy Peters, and everyone’s favorite character to hate, Conrad Peckler (Mark Taylor), the executive who was trying to bring order to the hospital.

Fans and critics liked the show; Redgrave was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe, but lost the Emmy to Isabel Sanford for The Jeffersons in 1981.

1980 TV Guide Ad Mash "Christmas" EPS House Calls "Christmas" EPS CBS TV |  Tv guide, 1980s tv shows, Holiday movie

CBS scheduled the show for Monday nights after MASH, Rogers’ previous show. Its competition was Monday Night Football/Baseball on ABC and The Monday Night Movie on NBC. The show stayed on Monday nights for its final two years up against Flamingo Road on ABC and depending on the time of year, Monday Night Football or Dynasty on NBC. The first season it was in the top 20; the second year, it jumped to the top ten and the third season it was in the top 30.

During season three, Lynn Redgrave left the show. There is some confusion as to why she left. Universal Television claimed there was a dispute about her salary; Redgrave insisted it was because the studio would not allow her to breastfeed her baby between takes.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Her leave was explained on the show by Charley reading a letter out loud to the staff that she had gone back to England to marry her former husband. After more than two years of the relationship developing between Ann and Charley, I’m guessing that the audience didn’t buy the abrupt ending of their romance. Sharon Gless was brought in as Jane Jeffries who develops a similar relationship with Charley. I’m also assuming that fans weren’t thrilled to think Charley would jump right into a new relationship with Ann’s replacement and the chemistry just wasn’t the same. The network cancelled the show after season three even though it was still in the top 25.

1982 Press Photo-Sharon Gless-House Calls - Sitcoms Online Photo Galleries
Photo: sitcomsonline.com

In an interview on “Pop Goes the Culture,” Rogers discussed the show. He said that he loved his time on House Calls. He related that the pilot had been filmed with another actor and for whatever reason, they needed to replace him and called Rogers to see if he was willing to take over the role.

He said he truly enjoyed working with Redgrave and she was very gifted. He wasn’t sure how much of her firing had to do with the baby demands and how much was subterfuge for more money, but she was managed by her husband at the time and the entire situation backfired. Rogers especially loved her use of language, and they would sometimes improvise tongue twisters into the script.

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He said like MASH, the show took a serious subject and turned it on its head. One of his favorite episodes had to do with medical marijuana. The older Willoughby was growing pot in the hospital for his patients’ use. He said it was a very funny episode. Rogers wrote two episodes and directed three of them. He talked about one of the shows he wrote, “Institutional Food” which he took a different take on hospital food which was always stereotyped as bad. In this situation, the hospital had a Mexican chef whom everyone liked. He didn’t have a green card and was getting ready to be deported, so the hospital staff was trying to come up with a solution. Finally, Charley decides to adopt this man as his son so he could continue to cook for them.

Rogers was very upset they took the show off the air. They were currently the eleventh most popular show when it was cancelled. He said he wrote a letter to the head of the network programming and to Bill Paley to protest. Paley invited him to lunch in his private quarters but refused to put the show back on the air.

I did find several episodes of the show on YouTube but did not see the DVDs available. I have to admit I saw this show infrequently and never saw the original movie, so I will add that to my list of things to watch in the future. This one sounded like a fun show, but I guess if I’m going to watch Wayne Rogers as a doctor, I’d rather continue watching reruns of MASH. It makes you wonder how long the show would have lasted if the network had not fired Redgrave.

Learning How to Marry a Millionaire Can Be Fun

Today starts a fun, new blog series, “The Movie Came First.” For the month of December, we’ll be learning about shows that began life as a big-screen movie. Our first sitcom is How to Marry a Millionaire.

In 1953, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, and Lauren Bacall starred in a comedy romance about three women who make a pact to help each other find millionaires to marry but end up finding love instead. Their love interests are played by Cameron Mitchell, David Wayne, and Rory Calhoun.

An interesting fact about this movie is that it was the first one filmed in Cinemascope. In order to highlight the incredible sound, the movie begins with an orchestra performance. It was a bit awkward because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the movie, but is an interesting intro. It was also the first movie to air on television when it appeared on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies in September of 1961.

Another fun fact about the movie is that Merry Anders who would appear in the television show had a bit part as a model in the film.

Photo: filmaffinity.com

In 1958, the movie came to the small screen with Merry Anders (Mike) filling Lauren Bacall’s role, Barbara Eden (Loco) is the sexy bombshell Monroe played, and Lori Nelson (Greta) is the neutral one in between played by Grable. Greta is the co-host of a quiz show, Go for Broke. Mike, whose real name is Michelle, works as a secretary on Wall Street, and Loco is a fashion model. One of the weekly gags is that Loco has terrible eyesight, but thinks men don’t like girls in glasses, so she often has mishaps not seeing correctly.

In order to find a wealthy husband, they found a chic penthouse apartment while wearing designer clothing even if they could not afford to eat. I guess that’s why they went on a lot of dinner dates.

Photo: imdb.com

The girls are often short of money and have trouble paying the rent on time. Mr. Blandish (Dabbs Greer), their landlord, is always threatening to evict them. The elevator operator Jesse (Jimmy Cross) sometimes helps and sometimes hinders the trio with their get-rich-husbands schemes.

The pilot was filmed in 1957 with Lori Nelson as Greta but her roommates at the time were played by Charlotte Austin (Loco) and Doe Avedon (Mike, who had been married to photographer Richard Avedon). By the time the show was sold in 1958, the roles had been recast and after looking at more than seventy auditions, the producers picked Eden and Anders.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Anders discussed the camaraderie of the three stars. She said they were amazingly similar. She said they all wore size 8, all drove Thunderbirds, and all had French poodles and this was before they met. Anders had tested for the role of Mike and Loco because she had been playing a lot of ditzy blonde roles. When she was given the role of Mike, Eden was brought on board as Loco. Anders said the cast worked hard. After filming all week, they did late night interviews and early morning shows. One weekend they were sent to New York for a personal appearance. They got back late Sunday night and still had to be at work early Monday morning.

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The second season found Nelson out with Lisa Gaye as Gwen in. Nelson claims she was the best actress and that she decided to move on, disliking her character’s development. Other sources say she was fired because she gave an interview criticizing her role. Nelson said her role wasn’t defined well with Anders getting the “Eve Arden wisecracks” and Eden being the sexy, bubbly personality. Greta supposedly married a gas station owner and then moved to California. Only thirteen episodes were aired for season two and then the show was cancelled.

Photo: imdb.com

Barbara Eden was interviewed for the Television Academy and discussed her time on the show. She said she was doing a play in LA when director Mark Robson saw her. He offered her a role in his new movie Peyton Place. However, the studio gave the part to another actress who was under contract at the time; but because of Robeson’s interest, they brought Eden in for a test at Fox. One of the television executives called her and said he had seen the test and read her notices for the LA play and was wondering if she was interested in doing a television series.  He asked her to go to the Fox Western studios for some still shots. When she got there, she thought the part was still in the process of being cast, but realized the stills were being taken because she had the part and the other girls were her costars.

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Eden said she was a huge fan of Marilyn Monroe and had seen the original movie. She felt trying to take on the part by imitating Marilyn would have ended badly because she could never compete with Marilyn’s version, so she took the part and made it her own. Like Anders, she also said the three costars were close and became good friends.

Eden said the time on the show was her “finishing school.” She learned so much about filming before the cameras, lighting details, and building stamina. The stars sometimes filmed up to thirteen hours a day in three-inch heels which she said was painful. After long days, they would be given new dialogue to learn for the next day’s shooting. It was a very tough job but prepared her for film work.

Photo: etsy.com

If you like cultural history, the show is fun to watch just to see the wardrobes and settings. The clothing was provided by Mr. Mort. Mortimer Goldman owned his design business in 1952, producing mid-priced stylish dresses. During the run of the show, Stan Herman came on board as a designer. Throughout the sixties, Herman’s designs were the height of fashion. Stan Herman later opened his own design studio, producing items under his label as well as for other companies. In the 1990s he began appearing on QVC with his design line of comfortable clothing and sleep ware.

The show was pitched to the three major networks, but they all passed on the series. So, in 1958, NTA Film Network sold the show into syndication to 115 stations. It packaged a three-series deal including Man Without a Gun and This is Alice.

Photo: imdb.com

Both critics and fans liked the show, but it had some tough competition. The show aired Friday nights against The Adventures of Ellery Queen, The Wide World of Disney, and Rawhide. Eden said she never knew exactly why the show was cancelled. She assumes that because Fox was trying to be the fourth network and it didn’t work out at the time, all the Fox shows were just dropped.

So, what happened to the NTA network? The company that referred to itself as the fourth network launched in 1956 with 100 affiliate stations. Twentieth Century Fox bought half of the company with the intention of producing original programming. The shows were filmed and then mailed to each station. By 1961, the network was losing money and the flagship station was sold to the Educational Broadcasting Corporation which later became National Educational Television and eventually PBS. One of their largest stations, KTTV in Los Angeles became part of the Fox television network, co-owned by Twentieth Century Fox, part of 21st Century Fox.

Photo: boomtownamerica.com

I was able to watch a few of these shows online. I’m not sure how the fourth network’s ownership affected syndication. Youtube has four episodes available. For this blog, I watched the first episode again. The jokes were a bit overdone and the laugh track was annoying, but I’ve seen worse. There were some charming moments in the show, and Barbara Eden’s comic ability was obvious with some funny scenes about her failure to wear glasses. Take some time to check out one of these four episodes to see what tv looked like in the mid fifties.

The Butler Did It

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When we mention the word butler, we usually think of the prim and proper English gentleman, stern-faced, polishing the silver, decanting the wine, and keeping an eye on the staff.

According to the International Butler Academy, there are a few million butlers serving today. They typically take care of travel arrangements, packing, household finances, and other general duties. Salaries vary from $50,000-$150,000 per year, but most include room and board, the use of a car, a cell phone, and 4 weeks of vacation.

When we think about butlers on television, some might come to mind quickly:  Lurch on The Addams Family, Alfred from Batman, Hudson from Upstairs, Downstairs, Benson from Soap, and Mr. Caron from Downton Abby.

Today, let’s look at shows that feature a butler as one of the main characters. This was an interesting blog for me.  I had only seen 1 of these 5 shows, so I learned a lot this week.

Our Man Higgins (1962-63)

Alice and Duncan MacRoberts are looking forward to receiving an unexpected inheritance from Scotland.  You can only imagine what they were hoping for.  Instead, they received a butler, Higgins. Higgins is the proper butler who lends a hand with their adventurous children while they teach him how to relax and have fun. Sterling Holloway played Higgins.  After 34 episodes, the network gave Higgins way more than 4 weeks of vacation.

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The Good Life (1971)

In between I Dream of Jeannie and Dallas, Larry Hagman starred in this show with Donna Mills, David Wayne, Danny Goldman, and Hermione Baddeley. Albert and Jane Miller were middle class citizens, tired of their boring routines.  They got the crazy idea to find work as servants for a wealthy family. Their employer, Charles Dutton, hires them as a butler and cook, not realizing they haven’t been professionally trained.  His wife is constantly trying to find ways to get them fired.  Dutton’s son Nick discovers their true identity and thinks the whole thing is hilarious, so he never gives their secret away.  The network apparently didn’t see the humor Nick did because they cancelled the show after 13 weeks.  In the show’s defense, it was up against All in The Family which scored incredible ratings when it aired.

The Two of Us (1981-82)

Nan Gallagher (Mimi Kennedy) is a television talk show host and a single mother.  She decides to place an ad to hire a nanny and ends up with Robert Brentwood (Peter Cook), an English butler. He is able to use his many talents, including being multilingual and a gourmet cook.  The show also features Nan’s agent Cubby Royce (Oliver Clarke) and her daughter Gabrielle (Dana Hill). The show came in as a replacement in 1981 and the critics gave it high praise.  Most of them wrote about the intelligent writing and the chemistry between the cast.  Unfortunately, when it entered the schedule the next fall, the ratings fell.  After 20 episodes, the network decided to send Brentwood back to England.

 

Mr. Belvedere (1985-1990)

Based on a novel and a movie, Mr. Belvedere debuted in 1985. Christopher Hewitt plays Lynn Aloysius Belvedere, a proper English butler, who previously worked for Winston Churchill and has connections to the royal family. The Owens place an ad for someone to help watch the kids and guess who answers the ad?  Mr. Belvedere has an ulterior purpose. He is recording their experiences in his diary so he can write a novel later. George Owens, played perfectly by Bob Uecker, is a sportswriter and his wife Marsha (Ilene Graff) is a law student.  Mr. Belvedere bonds with the kids no matter how hard he tries not to: teen Kevin (Rob Stone), tweener Heather (Tracy Wells), and grade school age Wesley (Brice Beckham).

Marblehead Manor

Randolf Stonehill (Bob Fraser) is the third generation to own Marblehead Manor which is somewhere in New England. Albert Dudley (Paxton Whitehead) is the third generation to work as a butler at Marblehead Manor. Randolf is the heir to a corn oil fortune. He is married to Hillary (Linda Thorson). The staff at the manor is quite a bunch of eccentrics.  There’s Jerry (Phil Morris) the chauffeur, Dwayne (Rodney Scott Hudson) the handyman, Lupe (Dyana Ortelli) the cook and her son Elvis (Humberto Ortiz), and Rick (Michael Richards) the gardner. To add an even weirder spin, the characters often dress as other people for comic effect.

After watching a few of these episodes, you just might decide to attend the International Butler Academy. It looks like an interesting life.