Write On!

Happy Monday.  It’s National Encourage a Young Writer Day.  I love to encourage writers of all ages.  If you’re a writer, you know the two golden rules of writing.  (1) Write what you know and (2) Be original.  With those two qualifiers, one would think there would be a myriad of great shows out there about writers.  Not so.  It took a lot of exploring on my part to come up with 12 shows about writers in the past 70 years!

If writers are writing what they know, it seems writers know much more about incompetent parents, complex medical surgeries, and dating bachelors than they do about writing and writers.

Don’t get me started on being original. Unfortunately, any viewer knows that when one genre show succeeds, the next year will feature ten more just like it;  hence, the number of medical and police dramas currently on the schedule.  This doesn’t hold true anywhere else in life.  No grocer says avocados are so popular, let’s replace the oranges and apples with them.  No radio station decides to play the top five songs to the exclusion of the other songs.  That being said, I’ll jump off my soapbox before ranting about how the shows on today’s schedule are either amazingly written or not worth the time it takes to turn on the television. So, let’s look at shows about writers.

Apartment 3-C. In 1949 John and Barbara Gay played themselves.  Living in New York City, he was a writer.  The 15-minute show went off the air after one season. They moved to California where they raised their family and spent 66 years together. As far as I can tell, neither of them acted again, but John went on to be a prolific scriptwriter.

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Young and Gay/The Girls. Debuting in 1950 as Young and Gay, this series was based on an autobiographical novel written by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough. CBS bought the rights. After the first two episodes, the name was changed to The Girls.  The premise of the show was that two Bryn Mawr graduates come to Greenwich Village after spending time in Europe, trying to develop careers as an actress and a writer.  After a few more episodes, their acting career ended when the show was cancelled.

Dear Phoebe. In 1954, ex-college professor Bill Hastings, played by Peter Lawford, decided he wanted to try his hand at journalism.  The option he receives is becoming Phoebe Goodman, providing advice to the lovelorn. Ironically, his girlfriend, Mickey (Marcia Henderson), is the paper’s sports writer. After one season, they both received advice to seek new work when the show was cancelled.

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My Sister Eileen. It would take half a decade before another show about a writer was produced. In 1960, My Sister Eileen aired.  The concept will sound vaguely familiar.  It’s based on a book and two movies about two sisters from Ohio who move to Greenwich Village wanting to be an actress and a writer. The sisters were played by Elaine Stritch and Shirley Boone. The only memorable thing about the show was the pairing of Rose Marie and Richard Deacon who went on to try their hand at another show a year later called The Dick Van Dyke Show.

The Dick Van Dyke Show. Hands down, this was the best comedy to debut about a writer.  It was also the longest running show, going off the air five years because the cast wanted to quit while the show was still successful. Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) is the head writer of the Alan Brady Show, creating scripts with Sally (Rose Marie) and Buddy (Morey Amsterdam). Mel (Richard Deacon) is the long-suffering producer. This is one of the first shows to concentrate on work life. We get to see what goes on behind the scenes of a comedy/variety show. While Rob, Sally, and Buddy have lives outside the office, they are somewhat married to their work. Sally is always hunting for Mr. Right.  Buddy deals with more comedy at home because of his not-so-bright wife Pickles, although it’s obvious he is in love with Sally. Rob and Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) are both confident and intelligent adults and insecure parents, raising their son Richie (Larry Mathews) in New Rochelle. The show won an Emmy its first year and never left the top 20, producing 157 of the best-written sitcom episodes ever created.

Window on Main Street. Mention the name Robert Young, and most viewers fondly recall Father Knows Best or Marcus Welby.  In this 1961 show, Robert Young plays Cameron Garrett Brooks, an author.  After his son and wife pass away, he returns to his small home town of Millsburg to write about the town’s citizens. It must have been a very small town with few people to write about, because the series was cancelled after one year.

The New Loretta Young Show. Loretta Young starred in several shows using her name so it gets a bit confusing, but in this 1962 version, she plays Christine Massey, a children’s author and widow with 7 children. Living in Connecticut, she decides to get a job with Manhattan Magazine.  However, after meeting the editor she falls in love and marries him. Perhaps the network had a policy banning inter-company marriages, because the show was cancelled after six months.

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Glynis. In 1963 Glynis Granville (played by Glynis Johns) moved to town. She is an amateur sleuth who solves crimes to have something to write about. Her husband Keith (Keith Andes) is an attorney.  She consults with a former policeman Chick Rogers (George Mathews). The show only lasted three months.  Jess Oppenheimer, the producer of I Love Lucy, apparently forgot this was a different show, airing episodes that were very Lucy-esque.

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. In 1968, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies came to the small screen.  Based on Jean Kerr’s book, it was also a movie starring Doris Day about the Nash family.  James (Mark Miller) is a college professor and his wife Joan (Patricia Crowley) is a free-lance writer. The show featured their four sons, two of whom were twins, their large dog, and their housekeeper Martha (Ellen Corby). Faring better than most of our shows, this one lasted two years.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. This show about a writer, a widow Carolyn Muir (Hope Lange) who moves into an old house in Schooner Bay in New England, appeared in 1968. The house turns out to be haunted by Captain Daniel Gregg (Edward Mulhaney), a captain who built the house in the 1800s. This show was also based on a movie. Captain Gregg is annoyed with the interruption and noise of the new family, but ultimately falls in love with Carolyn. Charles Nelson Reilly plays the Captain’s nephew Claymore Gregg. Dabbs Greer is Noorie Coolidge, the owner of a local lobster restaurant, and Reta Shaw is their housekeeper Martha. The show was on NBC for one year then moved to ABC for one year.  Apparently, CBS declined its turn, so the show was cancelled.

The Debbie Reynolds Show. In 1969, another show produced by Jess Oppenheimer eerily reminiscent of I Love Lucy was on the fall schedule. Jim Thompson (Don Chastain) is a sports writer. His wife Debbie (Debbie Reynolds) is a stay-at-home wife who wants to be a feature writer. Jim discourages her, wanting her to stay home.  Instead of Ethel and Fred, we have her sister Charlotte (Patricia Smith) and her brother-in-law Bob (Tom Bosley).  After one season, the network decided they did not care if  Debbie worked or stayed home and sent the crew packing.

Suddenly Susan. Jump almost thirty years to 1996 and we have another show about a writer, Suddenly Susan, starring Brooke Shields. Susan leaves her husband-to-be at the altar and is forced to ask her ex brother-in-law (Judd Nelson) to hire her back at his magazine.  Most of the show is set in the workplace.  Luis Rivera (Nestor Carbonell), Vicki Groener (Kathy Griffith), and Nana (Barbara Barrie) round out the cast and appear on all the episodes.  (The photo above also includes Andrea Bendewald [the blonde] and David Strickland [laying down] who were in about half the episodes.) The show continued until 2000.

I should mention that because I focused on comedies I did not include Murder She Wrote or Castle, both having long runs of 12 and 8 years respectively. I did not include Everybody Loves Raymond because that show concentrated on his family life, and rarely revealed his writing profession.

I wish I had more encouraging words for writers who wanted to get involved in television.  About the only thing I can tell you, is if you want to develop a successful show around a writer, make it a drama for job security.

I’ll Take Paul Lynde for the Win

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Today we are talking about the career of Paul Lynde.  Paul Lynde was an icon when I was growing up; he was probably best known at that time as the center Hollywood Square, the voice of Templeton the Rat in Charlotte’s Web, and Uncle Arthur on Bewitched.  His life encompasses both a unique and successful career as a comedian loved by many fans and the all-too-common saga of a star’s life ruined by drugs and alcohol. Many of the things you read about Paul Lynde concerning his behavior and cruel things he said to others are disheartening to a fan, but I learned that the characters I loved growing up (and continue to as an adult) are the characters, not the actors and actresses behind them.  With a few exceptions such as Fred MacMurray, Jimmy Stewart, or Cary Grant, most stars don’t live up to our illusions of them. Although truth be told, if someone studied our entire lives and wrote about them, there are probably parts of them we would not want the world to learn about either. I wanted to talk about Paul Lynde’s career, because although he was extremely well known during my youth, most young adults today probably have no idea who he is.

Paul was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio, one of six children.  His father was a local police officer and for a time, the family lived above the jail when his father was the sheriff of the jail.  Like many youngsters growing up in the 20s and 30s, he became interested in acting when he went to the movies  with his mother. The first movie he remembered was Ben Hur.  That interest propelled him to Northwestern University where he studied drama.  After school, he relocated to New York City where he worked as a stand-up comedian and then received a part in a Broadway show, “New Faces of 1952.” Alice Ghostley, who would be featured on Bewitched was also in the show. In 1963 he recorded a comedy album. From then on he was a popular guest, television star, and movie celebrity. His unique delivery of his sarcastic one-liners made him a popular entertainer.  There is not a lot of difference between the role of Uncle Arthur and his humor and delivery on Hollywood Squares.

He starred in several television series including Stanley with Buddy Hackett and Carol Burnett where he played a hotel owner in 1956-57 and The Pruitts of Southhampton with Phyllis Diller in 1967. From 1965-71, he was on Bewitched where he played Harold Harold a driving instructor the first season and then became a regular in the role of Uncle Arthur, Endora’s brother.  Surprisingly, the character of Arthur only appeared in ten episodes of the series. After Bewitched, he starred in The Paul Lynde Show where he played an attorney with two daughters and a liberal-minded son-in-law. Stiller and Meara were also on the show which was done to satisfy his contract with ABC in place of the ninth season of Bewitched. The show was up against The Carol Burnett Show and Adam-12 so it was cancelled, but he was nominated for a Best Actor Golden Globe award. His last starring role in television was in New Temperatures Rising where he played a penny-pinching doctor running a hospital owned by his mother.

Paul appeared on Hollywood Squares for 15 years (801 episodes).  In addition to that game show, he accumulated 80 credits playing himself on a variety of shows including Donny and Marie, Password, The 10,000 Dollar Pyramid, Dean Martin Roasts, The Carol Burnett Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and on several Paul Lynde Comedy Hour specials.

He appeared on a variety of television shows – 33 in all.  In addition to those he starred in, he was also in The Phil Silvers Show, The Patty Duke Show, The Jack Benny Show, The Munsters, Gidget, F-Troop, That Girl, I Dream of Jeannie, The Mothers-in-Law, The Flying Nun, and three episodes of Love American Style.  Had he lived a few years longer, I’m sure we would have seen him cruising the ocean on The Love Boat.

In addition to his television work, he also appeared in 18 movies between 1956 and 1975. He and Dick Van Dyke were the only Broadway performers from Bye Bye Birdie to be cast in the movie version.  He was also in Beach Blanket Bingo, and two of my favorites, Send Me No Flowers and The Glass Bottom Boat, both Doris Day movies.

Although he was gay, he did not discuss his sexual orientation, and the media respectfully did not report on it either.  In 1965, his partner and companion Bing Davidson died. They had been out drinking and Bing thought it would be funny to pretend to dangle from a hotel balcony but fell to his death.  Whether this exacerbated his alcohol and drug problems isn’t known, but Lynde’s health suffered from his addictions and he was arrested for public intoxication frequently. In 1980 he went through a successful rehabilitation, becoming sober and drug free.  Unfortunately, the damage that was done to his body was extensive, and he died from a heart attack in January of 1982 at age 55.

Some other interesting facts are that he was friends with Elizabeth Montgomery and her husband William Asher, he purchased Errol Flynn’s Hollywood Mansion, he was a dog lover, and he was one person who was able to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show while singing a song from Bye Bye Birdie about being on The Ed Sullivan Show. He was also a chef and considered opening a restaurant. To see some of his recipes, visit www.paullynde.info.

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To truly appreciate Lynde’s comedic personality, here are a few lines from Bewitched and Hollywood Squares.

To Endora, his sister, on  Bewitched:  “Endora when I think of you as a blood relation, I long for a transfusion.”

On Bewitched, telling a story, “Then I spent the summer hunting lions with the British expedition. One morning I shot a lion in my pajamas. Now, what he was doing in my pajamas, I’ll never know.”

Answers on Hollywood Squares:

Peter Marshall: According to Ann Landers, what are two things you should never do in bed?

Paul Lynde: Point and laugh.

 

Peter Marshall: According to the IRS, out of every 10 Americans audited, how many end up paying more taxes?

Paul Lynde: 11.

 

Before a cow will give you any milk, she has to have something very important. What?

Paul Lynde: An engagement ring

 

Peter Marshall: Fred Astaire says, his mother has been trying to get him to do this since he was 35. But he hasn’t done it and says he won’t do it until he’s ready. Do what?

Paul Lynde: Move out of the house!

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Perhaps the award that best sums up Lynde’s career was bestowed upon him in 1976 when he received the Entertainer of the Year Emmy for the funniest man of the year. If you don’t know much about Paul Lynde, check out some of the youtube videos from Hollywood Squares or watch a few of his episodes from Bewitched. Although not as well known today, his influence on present-day performers is wide spread and his career deserves to be remembered and celebrated.

Married . . . with Children

The title is the only reference I’ll be making to that 1980s show.  In honor of our 29th anniversary today, I thought I would look at sitcoms dealing primarily with marriage.  Surprisingly, there have not been as many as one would think.  It’s amazing how many sitcoms are about single parents, families, friends, or co-workers.  If there are any similarities between our married life and Al and Peg Bundy’s life, I really don’t want to know about them.  So, let’s look at a few sitcoms that did focus on blessed unions.

The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show – George Burns and Gracie Allen filmed 120 episodes for their television series.  They were married in real life, and the set design for the show was based on their real-life home. Gracie was zany, but her literal perspective of the way life worked made uncanny sense.  George loved Gracie and knew that she was the center of his marriage and career. George was very generous and made numerous gifts to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center which is at the intersection of George Burns Road and Gracie Allen Drive. I love looking at marriage that way – it’s an intersection found at the center of a very diverse couple.

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I Love Lucy – In 1953, I Love Lucy joined the Monday night line-up with The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. Lucy and Ricky (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) are probably the most famous married couple. For six years, they took ordinary situations and exaggerated them. Lucy’s hare-brained schemes created an endless source of comedy. However, the problems with couple faced were believable, and they were the same problems other young couples were facing the first couple years of marriage like how to pay the rent, buying a new dress, and dealing with in-laws.

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Pete and Gladys – Starring Harry Morgan and Cara Williams, this was one of, if not the first, spinoff.  Pete Porter was a neighbor featured on December Bride for six years.  When the show went off the air, we finally met Gladys, his wife.  He was an affectionate and caring husband and she was a very nice homemaker.  Unfortunately, the show only lasted two seasons, although Harry Morgan went on to star in many television shows.

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The Dick Van Dyke Show – Dick and Laura Petrie (Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore) showed us an intimate side of married life for five years.  They were funny and had an interesting life.  Sometimes they even watched a bit of television at night.  They were a couple who admitted they were a bit insecure about parenting.  They worked through their problems with humor and logic. Although Dick was a writer and Laura a stay-at-home mom, they were equal intellectuals and that was the basis of their relationship.

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The Bob Newhart Show – Bob and Emily Hartley (Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette) were another couple who were intellectual equals.  They were funny, understanding, and warm.  They argued about real issues, and they made up.  Both the characters had very definite identities, and they did not always see eye to eye, but they respected each other and loved each other deeply.

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Mork and MindyMork and Mindy was a sitcom about an alien and the girl next door (Robin Williams and Pam Dawber). If most American couples think they have some impossible issues to work through, they should watch a few episodes of Mork and Mindy. The show lived on for four years, primarily because of Robin Williams’ wild improvisations and Pam Dawber’s believable love for Mork. Mork and Mindy was not only a spinoff from Happy Days, but it was actually inspired by a Dick Van Dyke Show episode “It May Look Like a Walnut.” Director Jerry Paris created the idea when Garry Marshall mentioned that his son would like to see a spaceman on television. Paris, who played Jerry Helper on the Dick Van Dyke Show, remembered that episode and invented Mork.  In season four, Mork laid an egg, in more ways than one, and the show was cancelled.

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Dharma and Greg – When free spirit Dharma and lawyer Greg (Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson) get married on their first date, the show was born.  They have conflicting views on everything except how much they love each other.  These views lead to comical situations – imagine a Republican and Democrat married in today’s political climate! Dharma overshares all her views and feelings, while Greg was raised to not talk about such things.  I think a lot of us can relate to that.

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Mad About You – Paul and Jamie Buchman (Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt) are newlyweds who cope with life as a recently married couple.  They point out the gentle humor of everyday life situations. One description of the show said that this show starts after a party when the husband and wife are alone in the car discussing the evening. For seven seasons, they tackled the issues so when the series was over, there was no “seven-year itch” to worry about.

A fun fact, Carl Reiner reprised his Alan Brady role from the Dick Van Dyke Show on Mad About You.  The episode made several references to the classic sitcom, including Jamie saying “Oh Paul,” an aside to Laura Petrie’s famous “Oh Rob.”

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These were several of the couples we watched during our life who indirectly influenced the way we viewed marriage. Each of the couples has something to teach us about successful marriages. One review of Burns and Allen concluded that “the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show exuded excellence, with a unique format, interesting plots, a great cast, and virtually non-stop comedy featuring the unparalleled zany wit of Gracie.”  I would consider it a compliment if that was a review for our marriage as well.