Dick Wilson, Prolific Character Actor

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

Photo: bewitchedwiki.cm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: theriflemanepisodeguide.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: pinterest.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love and the Funny Show

ABCFriday_1972

There was something magical about the Friday evening television schedule from 1971-1973.  Anyone who was born in the late 1950s or early 1960s can remember sitting down in front of the television at 7 pm (central time) for the Brady Bunch and staying put through The Partridge Family, Room 222, The Odd Couple, and Love, American Style.  Sitting through an entire evening of shows was almost unheard of back then, but we binge watched every Friday night. While the boys were divided between Marcia Brady and Laurie Partridge, every girl of that age had was in love with Keith Partridge.  Watching an episode of The Partridge Family today makes me feel 10 again. For the next five weeks, I’m taking a look at each of the shows that made this schedule so enjoyable.

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Today we begin with Love, American Style. This show was an iconic 1970s show. Like Laugh In, the clothing, furnishings, and vocabulary do not make it timeless. But it was a lot of fun. This fast-paced anthology show featured two to four mini episodes each week, and between them were quick skits, often featuring a brass bed. Each smaller episode is titled “Love and the _______.”

A troupe of players was featured on each show for the in-between skits. These regulars included William Callaway, Buzz Cooper, Phyllis Davis, Mary Grover, James Hampton, Stuart Margolin, Lynn Marta, Barbara Minkus, and Tracy Reed. Margolin went on to a regular role in The Rockford Files; Tracy Reed was featured in McCloud and Knot’s Landing; Phyllis Davis was part of the cast of Vega$ and Magnum PI, and James Hampton will be familiar if you watched The Doris Day Show or F-Troop. Both Reed and Davis were featured on Love Boat episodes which had a similar format to Love, American Style.

The show had a memorable and catchy theme song. Written by Arnold Margolin, the first year it was performed by The Cowsills.  You will see a lot of overlap between these five Friday night shows, and music is one of those cross-overs. The Partridge Family was based on the life of The Cowsills.

During the second and subsequent years that Love, American Style was on the air, the theme song was performed by the Ron Hicklin Group. The Ron Hicklin Group could be heard in a variety of motion pictures and commercials, and they also appeared on recordings with stars such as Paul Revere and the Raiders and Cher. John and Tom Bahler, brothers who sang under The Charles Fox Singers were also part of this group. The group provided television theme song recordings including Batman, That Girl, Happy Days, and Laverne and Shirley. They also did the singing for The Partridge Family theme and songs performed on the show as well as the Brady Bunch kids. Ron retired in the early 2000s, and Tom does a variety of things. He is also known for writing Bobby Sherman’s hit, “Julie Do You Love Me?”. John married Janet Lennon, one of the Lennon sisters who performed on The Lawrence Welk Show. He currently lives in Branson and conducts the “new” Lawrence Welk orchestra.

hicklin singers

The snappy melody was set to the following words:

Love, Love, Love

Love, American Style,
Truer than the Red, White and Blue.
Love, American Style,
That’s me and you.

And on a star-spangled night my love,

My love come to me.
You can rest you head on my shoulder.
Out by the dawn’s early light, my love
I will defend your right to try.

Love, American Style,
That’s me and you.

Paramount Television developed the show. The executive producer of the show was Arnold Margolin, Stuart’s brother. There were 53 different directors during the four-year run. The series received Emmy nominations for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1970 and 1971; Best Music Composition in 1971, 1972, and 1973, winning in 1973; and winning the Emmy in 1970 for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics.

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Many people wrote for the show, but Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson received the most credits. One of the writers, Peggy Elliott, was interviewed by the Huffington Post in May of 2013, and she talked about her time writing for the show.

“But the show I loved writing the most, was Love, American Style. For every other show, I was writing for characters created out of someone else’s head. Sure, we could create the occasional guest-star role, and we had been told to make every role, no matter how small, a real person. ‘Think of the actor who’s playing that delivery boy,’ I can hear Billy Persky, the co-creator or That Girl, say: ‘This is a big break for him — it’s the biggest role he’s had so far. Give him something to work with.’

But with Love, American Style, every character was our very own; every situation came out of our heads. Each segment of the hour the show ran each week was a one-act play created entirely by us. Added to the attraction was the fact that we could say and do things that were taboo on every other TV show in the early ‘70s. Arnold Margolin, co-creator of the show with Jim Parker, told me recently that the creative side of the network wanted the show to be more daring, while the censors kept their red pencils ready. There was a full-time position on the show just to run interference.

We must have put both sides through the hoops with one episode we wrote: ‘Love and The Hand-Maiden.’ A young guy was dating a centerfold model. As their relationship developed, he discovered that she had no problem with shedding her clothes, but she always kept her hands covered — with artful poses in magazines, and with gloves in real life. He became obsessed with seeing her hands and came up with one ruse after another to get her to take off her gloves. We had a ball writing it, with one double-entendre after another.”

If you were a star of any kind in the early 1970s, you most likely were on Love, American Style.  The show produced 108 episodes, and those shows featured 1112 different actors. Some of the famous names showing up in the credits include Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Phyllis Diller, Arte Johnson, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Regis Philbin, Burt Reynolds, Sonny and Cher, Flip Wilson, and Jo Anne Worley. Karen Valentine from Room 222, Ann B Davis and Robert Reed from The Brady Bunch, and both Jack Klugman and Tony Randall from The Odd Couple show up along the way.

Brad Duke wrote a biography about Harrison Ford and he said Ford had fond memories of appearing on Love, American Style. “He recalled that he had been given little time to prepare his wardrobe for the role of a philosophical hippie in the November 1969 episode, “Love and the Former Marriage.” He appeared on set with long hair and a beard thinking they were appropriate for the role. He was surprised when he was told he needed a haircut and trim than given a navy blue dress shirt and vinyl burgundy jeans with a large belt. They even had a scarf with a little ring to put around my neck. And I thought, someone has made a mistake here. So, rather than argue with the wardrobe people, I put on the clothes and went to find the producer. I walked on the set and he was pointed out.  I tapped his shoulder and when he turned around he had on the same clothes I did. He was a hippie producer I guess. At least the check went through, and I got paid.”

harrison1love and the former marriage

The best way to get a good understanding of what the show was like is to look at a couple of the episodes.

January 23, 1970: Love and the Big Night

Starring Ann Elder, Buddy Lester, Frank Maxwell, Julie Newmar, and Tony Randall, this episode was often listed as a favorite. Randall is a married businessman who escorts his voluptuous secretary (Newmar) to her apartment after a late night at the office. Eager to get home to his wife, Randall hurriedly tries to open a stubborn jar of mayonnaise and winds up covered with mayo. Newmar cleans his suit, but while it’s drying, it’s stolen. After a series of amusing mishaps, Randall finally gets back to his own apartment and creeps into bed with his wife–only to find out she’s not there.

February 25, 1972: Love and the Television Set

It starred Harold Gould, Marion Ross, Ron Howard, and Anson Williams. Reading this list of names might give you a hint about what happened to this episode after it aired. Garry Marshall had written a pilot about a 1950s family that did not sell.  He turned it into an episode for Love, American Style. George Lucas caught the episode and was impressed with Ron Howard and offered him a role in his new movie American Graffiti about 1950s teens. The movie was so popular, that the network decided to put Marshall’s pilot in the fall line-up as Happy Days. Harold Gould’s role was given to Tom Bosley for the series. When Love, American Style went into syndication, this episode was retitled “Love and the Happy Days.”

October 22, 1970: Love and the Bashful Groom

This is the episode I recall when I think of the series. When I watched it originally, I was staying overnight at my grandparents’ house and my grandmother was shocked at the “vulgarity.” It really seems quite tame today, but back then it probably was unexpected. She would approve of Tom Bahler marrying Janet Lennon though because I watched Lawrence Welk with her and my grandfather whenever I was at their house.

In this episode, Paul Petersen, Christopher Stone, Meredith MacRae, Jeff Donnell, and Dick Wilson are featured. Harold (Petersen) and Linda (MacRae) are getting married. He learns that she grew up in a nudist colony and is not comfortable being naked for his wedding.  After a soul-searching talk with his best friend, and realizing he loves Linda enough to be uncomfortable, he decides to go through with the ceremony.  He gets to the church a bit late and walks in, only to see that everyone else is dressed in their Sunday best. His bride informs him that they always dress up for weddings. One of the congregation members says something like “Let’s not make him uncomfortable,” and they all begin to undress.  Of course, you see nothing improper, only clothes flying. This was probably not the best episode to “expose” my grandmother to as a first glimpse of the show.

The show lasted for four years and was cancelled in 1973. In 1985, a reboot was created, but it was on in the mornings and only lasted a few months.  The show was on at the same time as everyone’s favorite game show, The Price is Right. For the 1998 fall season, a pilot was created for prime time, but it was never ordered. While doing my research for this blog, I noticed that there was a Love, American Style project in production, so we may see it resurface again.  I’m not sure I would want to watch a 2019 or 2020 version of the show though. It was such a product of its time, and I fear what a current version would be like after seeing the reboot of Match Game which has been airing the past year or so.

Let’s all write to Antenna TV and Me TV to see if they will make the original 1971 television schedule happen, and we can watch these original shows again, reliving the excitement we experienced the first time around.

Next week we get to know The Odd Couple.