Frances Bavier

We are kicking off the new year learning about some of our favorite women from the golden age of television. Today we learn about an actress who was often described as difficult to work with personally but a consummate actress. Today let’s meet Frances Bavier, everyone’s favorite aunt.

Photo: mayberryfandom.com

Born in a traditional brownstone in New York City in 1902, Frances planned on becoming a teacher and attended Columbia University. However, she felt drawn to the stage and found herself enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Graduating in 1925, she received her first Broadway role the same year, appearing in “The Poor Nut.” Her big break came in the production of “On Borrowed Time.” Her last Broadway appearance was in 1951 with Henry Fonda in “Point of No Return.”

A Young Frances Photo: pinterest.com

Bavier would be part of the Broadway scene for a few decades before moving into films. Perhaps her best-known silver screen role was Mrs. Barley in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Bavier would continue to appear in movies throughout her career including her last performance which was in Benji in 1974.

In 1928 Frances married Russell Carpenter, a military man, and they divorced in 1933. During WWII Frances toured with the USO to entertain the troops. Frances reflected on her marriage later in life and said that he was a very charming man but did not understand her need to be an actress. She said as much as she loved him, she loved acting more.

Her first television roles were in drama series such as Ford Television Theater, Chevron Theater, and Pepsi Cola Playhouse among others in the early fifties. The mid-fifties found her in a variety of series, including Duffy’s Tavern, The Lone Ranger, Dragnet, The Ann Sothern Show, Perry Mason, and Wagon Train.

The Lone Ranger (TV Series 1949–1957) - Photo Gallery - IMDb
On The Lone Ranger Photo: imdb.com

Frances would be offered two recurring roles in sitcoms during this time. From 1954-56, she was one of the cast members of It’s a Great Life as Amy Morgan who ran a boarding house. When that show ended, she was cast on The Eve Arden Show as Nora, Eve’s mother and housekeeper.

In 1960 she happened to be cast as Henrietta Perkins in an episode of Make Room for Daddy with Danny Thomas. That particular show featured a little town called Mayberry where Danny and his boys were pulled over for speeding and met Sheriff Andy Taylor. When that episode became its own show, Henrietta Perkins transitioned to Aunt Bee.

Aunt Bee was a major character in The Andy Griffith Show, and Bavier continued with the show when it became Mayberry R.F.D. with Ken Berry as the star. Bavier was nominated and won the Emmy for her role in 1967.

Early Cast of The Andy Griffith Show 5X7 8X10 | Etsy
An early season with Ellie Walker Photo: etsy.com

Fans loved the relationship Andy and Aunt Bee had, although in real life Andy and Frances were not close. The entire staff was cautious in their approach when working with her because she was easily offended. Ron Howard, always tactful, was pressed on his relationship with her and just replied that “I just don’t think she enjoyed being around children that much.” Producer Sheldon Leonard commented, “[She] was a rather remote lady. Highly professional and a fine comedienne, fine actress with very individual character. She was rather self-contained and was not part of the general hi-jinks that centered upon Andy on the set.”

Producer Richard Linke commented that “She was very touchy and moody due to her age, and you had to be very careful how you treated her and what you said around her. I think Andy offended her a few times, but they became very close friends.”

“I think Frances thought I was a gentleman,” mused actor Jack Dodson, who played Howard Sprague on the show. “I’m not, really, not any more so than anybody else. Since I had fewer scenes to do with her, I had fewer opportunities to swear in front of her, which is why we never had any difficulties. Frances was temperamental and moody, but she kept 99 percent of that to herself. Once in a while, she would get mad at someone. She was the only person in the whole company whose feelings you had to be careful not to hurt.”

Pop culture historian Geoffrey Mark, wrote, “She was a very talented lady, but she was very difficult to work with, and nobody could really figure it out. Eve Arden had trouble with her on The Eve Arden Show. That’s the earliest I can point to where Frances was already getting to be persnickety. I can only repeat what I was told, but on The Andy Griffith Show, Howard Morris, who played Ernest T. Bass on the show and directed episodes of it, said that directing Frances was like stepping on a landmine. If you would ask her to move three inches to the right to get in the proper frame, or, ‘Could you stand up when you say that line?’, she’d blow a fuse and refuse. It was, like, ‘I’m an actress and I know what I’m doing. How dare you try to tell me when to walk and where?’ It’s like yes, you are an actress, but an actress takes direction from the director. Why in the world would you make what is already a stressful situation more stressful?”

Emmy with Don Knotts Photo: 99.9 kekb

However, Andy mentioned during a Larry King interview that Frances phoned him four months before her death and apologized to him for being difficult to work with. Perhaps being alone and reflecting on her past behavior gave her some perspective on the situation, because she told a reporter with the Times Record in Troy, NY that “I don’t have a lot of friends. I don’t see how anyone my age working as hard as I do can have a big social life. I get very annoyed with people and the older I get, the crankier I am. This work has had an effect on my personality. I’m impatient with people and oriented to action.”

In 1972, Bavier retired. She bought a home in Siler City, North Carolina. The stately house is a three-story brick home with stone accents and located at 503 West Elk St. The house was built in 1951 by a local doctor. When asked about her choice of retirement, she said that she “fell in love with North Carolina, all the pretty roads and trees.”

Photo: newsobserver.com

It must have been a bit of a lonely life though. She was pretty much a recluse and lived with 14 house cats. She had no children, and there was no family living nearby. She promoted both Easter Seals and Christmas Seals and often wrote letters to her fans. In an interview with the San Bernardino County Sun, she talked about one of her hobbies: launching imaginary expeditions to remote corners of the world via her collection of maps. During the production of The Andy Griffith Show, Frances mentioned in an interview in the Charlotte News that when she felt lonely, she went to a supermarket and somebody would always look at her and smile and say “Why, hello, Aunt Bee.”

Aunt Bee and Clara My Hometown.mpg - YouTube
With Hope Summers in Mayberry Photo: youtube.com

Frances realized the 3700 residents of Siler City had a difficult job relating to her as well. As she put it during a local TV interview, she was “a 70-year-old lady that probably wants to be alone and they’re having a problem with trying to be friendly and show their friendliness, and at the same time not intrude. That makes it very difficult for them. Living here has been a difficult adjustment for me. I have a great deal to learn from Siler City and North Carolina. It’s an entirely different and new way of life.”

Some Credit, Please, for Aunt Bee | Classic Movie Hub Blog
Photo: classicmoviehub.com

When she passed away in 1989, she left a trust fund of $100,000 to the police department in Siler City that would provide an annual bonus to all police personnel. Most of her $700,000 estate was left to the hospital foundation. She was buried in her adopted hometown, and her tombstone reads “Aunt Bee. To live in the hearts of those left behind is not to die.”

Frances mentioned in several interviews that she loved the character of Bee, but it was hard to be stereotyped in one role. She told The Charlotte News that “Once in a while I get a hankering to play a really bad woman. . . I was really vicious in a Lone Ranger episode, but so many people wrote in outraged at what I was doing, I guess it was a mistake. Sometimes it gets me down to think I’ve lost my own identity as an actress. But other times I get a lift when I realize that I’m really doing quite well.

I can’t imagine having to become another person for so much of my life and always having to be that person to so many people that you would feel like people didn’t really know you as you. The Andy Griffith Show is one of those shows that you read about where the cast truly had a special bond and formed close ties, and Frances must have felt bad that she was not part of that group even if it was her own choice to be excluded. She must have developed a love for Mayberry since she decided to find a small town similar to it where she could live out the rest of her life. Even though she says she never got over her homesickness for New York, she chose to be buried in Siler City as well. I’d like to think she finally found her own Mayberry where she could live and bond with the community as Frances instead of Bee, but it sounds like that continued to be a struggle for her.  I hope she realizes how many people loved her character and the joy she has brought to so many fans in the past six decades.

https://reelrundown.com/animation/A-Psyche-Analysis-of-Charlie-Brown-and-his-Friends  2021-04-05T15:32:42.000Z weekly  https://images.saymedia-content.com/.image/t_share/MTc0MDU3Njg5NDgyMDEyMjI2/a-psyche-analysis-of-charlie-brown-and-his  ...
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Martin Kane, Private Eye: The First Crime Drama

This month we are looking at “It Was the First” in the golden age of television. We start off with the first television crime drama: Martin Kane, Private Eye.

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Martin Kane, like so many other early television shows, started life as a radio show. Sponsored by the United States Tobacco Company, it was on the radio from 1949-1952 and aired on television from 1949-1954, resulting in 75 episodes.

The show was directed and produced by Frank Burns. A variety of writers provided scripts, but Alvin Boretz and Donald Sanford wrote the most. Boretz would go on to write scripts for many shows during the sixties, seventies, and eighties. Sanford was also a prolific writer during those decades; he is best known for writing all 194 episodes of The Plainclothesman which aired the same years as Kane, 1949-1954.

Considering it was only on for five years, four different actors played the title role: William Gargan, Lloyd Nolan, Lee Tracy, and Mark Stevens. Gargan played the role till 1951 when Nolan took over. Nolan would have a long, acting career, best known for his starring role on Julia as Dr. Chegley. Tracy accepted the role in 1953 and Stevens became the star for the last year. After this show ended, Stevens went right into another crime series, Big Town which was written from the perspective of the press.  He would make appearances in movies and television through the late eighties.

Martin Kane works in New York. Originally, Kane was a sweet-talking detective who called women “doll face.” Depending on which actor was playing the detective, his personality could be smooth and suave or gruff and aggressive. Kane seemed to become tougher as the series continued. Sometimes he received full cooperation from the police; other seasons, they were more difficult to work with.

Rounding out the cast were Frank M. Thomas playing Captain Burke, King Calder was Lieutenant Gray, Nicholas Saunders portrayed Sergeant Ross, Loring Smith was Captain Evans, and Sergeant Strong was played by Michael Garrett.

The early years of television had their share of mishaps. Watching these early shows you can see botched cues, falling scenery, missed lines, and other bloopers.

It was immensely popular both on the radio and television; in its second season, it was 12th in the ratings and would go on to the top ten.

The United States Tobacco Company also sponsored the television version. Martin Kane could be seen entering his favorite tobacco shop in the middle of the show where he discussed his pipe and cigarette tobacco with store owner Happy McMann played by Walter Kinsella. The sponsor’s products were prominently on display in the shop and Kane paid $.15 a pouch for his tobacco.

Charles Paul provided the music for the show. After this show went off the air, Paul spent the rest of his career composing music for soap operas, contributing to almost 2500 different episodes through the eighties.

NBC aired the show on Thursday nights at 10 ET. It was a half-hour show for the first four seasons, switching to a 60-minute format for the final year.

The show was nominated for Best Mystery, Action, or Adventure Program in 1953, but it was beat out by Dragnet.

A 1950 comic book was based on the show; it was illustrated by Wally Wood, Joe Orlando, and Martin Rosenthal. (Wood became one of Mad’s first cartoonists, and Orlando also worked on Mad and was the VP of DC Comics and his career spanned six decades in the business.)

In his biography, Why Me, William Gargan talks about working on this show:

“Very soon in the game, I realized our stories were nothing to rave about. How much well plotted story line and genuine character development can you accomplish in a half-hour? So, I made the program a showcase for me. After all, that was what we were selling – Martin Kane. I developed a tongue-in-cheek style, a spoof of the hard-boiled detective, a way of silently saying, Don’t blame me for the lousy stories, I didn’t write them. And anyway, what’s the difference?

It was nothing staggering, my decision. It only made sense. Bogart’s movie version of Sam Spade applied the same ground rules. We gave the audience a good time, and if all the threads were not tightly tied in a half-hour, we swept them under the bed. Have fun. And the show, for whatever reason, took hold. . . . The show had charm, and its charm held together the lunacy, the feeble character development, the limited camera work.

It also had a producer I could not abide. . . . He used the show for a flesh parade. The result was we had pretty, empty-headed girls on the show. blowing lines all over the lot.

The show began to slide downhill. In desperation, I began to mug a little more, to cover up the new holes, and the script writers began to write more blatantly. You get into a terrible rut this way. Everybody works harder to undo the damage, and the result is more screeching, more overacting, overwriting, which starts to drive the viewers away and to get them back you come up with more and more desperate gimmickery.”

A new show was created in 1957 with Kane working in London, starring Gargan, but it never was popular and was cancelled after a year.

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parkcircus.com Gargan with Brian Reece and unnamed actress

The show might not have been the best crime detective show ever written, but it was popular, nominated for an Emmy by its peers, and set the tone for future dramas.

His Honor Homer Bell: Was It a Comedy? A Western? A Legal Drama? It Was a Mystery.

As we continue our “Don’t Judge Me” series, we check out a show full of mystery: His Honor, Homer Bell.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

This show seemed to be unsure what genre it wanted to be. Was it a drama? A comedy? A western? Some shows were written by Si Rose who wrote for Bachelor Father and McHale’s Navy, but other writers included Michael Cramroy, a Dragnet writer and Jerome Coopersmith who wrote for Hawaii Five-0.

It also didn’t have a definite home. The show was made to go directly into syndication by NBC Films and taped in Brooklyn. There are different statistics about how many episodes were made of the show. Imdb lists only one episode. Some other sites indicate 38 episodes were made. To the best of my research ability, I believe there were 39 episodes including the pilot. It had a budget of one million dollars and episodes were listed in TV Guide.

Those TV Guide descriptions lead to another mystery. The show talks about being in the West but it must be a more contemporary west. In one episode, Judge Bell tries to acquire tickets for a sold-out football game and in another one he delivers a speech to the town traffic commission.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

What we do know for sure is that the show debuted in 1955. The show followed the ups and downs of Homer Bell (Gene Lockhart) who was a respected and much-loved justice of the peace living in a small western town of Spring City. Bell was a widower who lived with Casey (Mary Lee Dearing) and their housekeeper Maude (Jane Moultrie).

Adding to the mystery is whether Casey was his daughter or an orphaned niece he was raising. I found several descriptions listing both cases. However, Casey was a tomboy, and her antics often caused problems for the judge. He was a caring man who went to great lengths to help others. He relied more on good old common sense than legal technicalities to make his decisions. The show was produced by Hy Brown and directed by Derwin Abbe.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Gene Lockhart, father of actress June Lockhart, transitioned from the big screen to the small screen for this series.

He was born in Ontario, Canada in 1891. His father was musical, and when a band he played with went overseas on tour, he took his family along with him. During most of that time, Gene went to school in London. When the family returned to Canada, Gene’s mother encouraged him to try out for a Broadway play. He moved to New York and received his first offer in 1917 as part of the cast in “The Riviera Girl.” He also began to write for the stage. One of his projects, “The Pierrot Players” toured Canada.

In 1924, Gene married Kathleen Arthur, an English actress and musician. Gene stayed busy. He continued to appear on the stage, he could be heard on radio, he became a writer for theatrical magazines, and he lectured on drama techniques at the Julliard School of Music.

Photo: imdb.com

In 1933, he was offered the role of Uncle Sid in “Ah, Wilderness.” His great reviews in the play led to a contract with RKO Pictures. While he occasionally returned to Broadway, notably in 1949 as Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman,” he found his true calling as a Hollywood actor. He appeared in more than 125 films and was nominated for an Oscar for his work in Algiers in 1938. With 146 acting credits, he had about ten appearances on theater shows in the fifties on television.

Lockhart suffered a heart attack in his sleep in 1957.

Mary Lee Dearing (another mystery was her last name; most places credit her as “Dearing” but I’ve seen “Dearring” and “Deering”) was born in 1939 in New York City. She only has eight acting credits in addition to Homer Bell. She began her career on several theater dramas in the fifties, was on The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Danny Thomas Show, and The Brian Keith Show. I could find very little about her; most of her fame stems from appearing on the episode of Dick Van Dyke as a babysitter when Rob talks Laura into going to a party, leaving a sick Richie with the sitter.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com
Mary Lee Dearing as Janie on The Dick Van Dyke Show

Very little is known about Mary Moultrie as well. She was born in 1903 in Los Angeles. Her only other acting credits occurred in the fifties in several theater drama shows and on Mister Peepers and The Goldbergs.

By this time, you might be asking yourself—If there is more unknown than known about this show, why even write about it? We are losing so much information about the classic age of television. My philosophy is that if we keep the shows in the conversation, they won’t become totally lost. If anyone has any of the answers to the many questions about this show, I would love to hear from you. Besides, what television fan doesn’t love a mystery?

Note: In January of 2021, I received this information in an email from Diane Dearring and wanted to share it with you for an update on Mary:

I found the info on your site about Mary Lee Dearring (https://thewritelife61.com/tag/mary-lee-dearing/).  Mary Lee was my dad’s first cousin.  You mentioned on your site that you couldn’t find much info about her, so I thought I would share what I have with you.
Her maiden name was indeed Dearring.  However the spelling was originally Doering.  Her ancestors came to the US from Germany in 1853 and settled in Ohio,  Her father, my grandfather’s brother, was Ernest “Ernie” Dearring and her mother was Lene (Belisario) Dearring.  They owned a dance studio in NYC.  I haven’t been able to find out any information on the dance studio, but would dearly love to know more.
Mary Lee married Wallace Foster Tracy in 1966.  They had no children.

Just a Couple of Characters, Part 3: Henry Jones and Olan Soule

My series, “Just a Couple of Characters” continues with Part 3 today. This month, we learn more about actors we recognize but may not know much about. This week Henry Jones and Olan Soule are on the hot seat.

Henry Jones

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Born in New Jersey in 1912 and raised in Pennsylvania, his grandfather was a first-generation Prussian immigrant who became a Representative. Henry went to St. Joseph’s College, a Jesuit school. He landed his first Broadway show in 1938, playing Reynaldo and a grave digger in “ Hamlet. ” Like many of the actors in the late 30s and early 40s, Henry joined the Army for World War II. He was a private. During his service, he was cast as a singing soldier, Mr.  Brown, in Irving Berlin’s “This is the Army.”

When he came back to the US, he married Yvonne Sarah Bernhardt-Buerger in 1942. I think that it took longer for her to sign her name on the marriage certificate than the marriage lasted because ten months later they were divorced. Jones continued his stage roles and began a movie career. He had bit parts in 35 films, including The Bad Seed, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Vertigo, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He won a Supporting Actor Tony in 1958 for his performance of Louis Howe in “Sunrise at Campobello.”

Photo: fanpix.famousfix.com

In 1948 he married Judith Johnson. They had two children (one is actress Jocelyn Jones) but divorced in 1961.

Bridging the gap of television and film, he starred in seventeen tv movies as well.

Although his movie career kept him somewhat busy, it was nothing compared to his television work. Jones was credited with 205 acting appearances, meaning he had roles in 153 different television series. Jones was able to tackle a wide range of roles, being believable as a judge, a janitor, a murderer, or a minister. Jones had no illusions about becoming a romantic lead. He once said that “casting directors didn’t know what to do with me. I was never tall enough or good looking enough to play juvenile leads.”

Photo: findagrave.com

His first television appearance was in drama series, Hands of Mystery, in 1949. His work in the 1950s was primarily in theater shows about dramas. He also appeared in the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show and Father Knows Best.

Photo: michaelstvtray.com

He continued his drama roles into the 1960s. He also appeared in 3 episodes of The Real McCoys and westerns including Wagon Train, The Big Valley, and Daniel Boone. He showed up on mysteries such as the Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Name of the Game. He also found work on unique shows including Lost in Space, Route 66, and the Alfred Hitchcock Show. Hitchcock liked his work and used him five times. He also appeared in several comedies, Bewitched and That Girl. He starred in Channing in 1963-64.  Jones played Fred Baker, a dean who mentors Professor Joe Howe who teaches English at Channing College while he writes his memoir about the Korean War.

During the 1970s, he continued to work on a variety of genre shows. We see him on westerns, The Virginian, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza. We see him in thrillers like The Mod Squad; McMillan and Wife; Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law; and The Six Million Dollar Man, on which he had a recurring role as Dr. Jeffrey, a scientist who built robots. However, comedies continued to be his mainstay, and he appeared in many of them including Nanny and the Professor, the Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Paul Lynde Show, The Doris Day Show, the Partridge Family, and Barney Miller.

commons.wikimedia.org

In addition to all his guest spots, he was cast in three shows during this decade. In The Girl with Something Extra, he played Owen Metcalf in 1973. The role he was best remembered for was Judge Johnathan Dexter on Phyllis. He was Phyllis’s father-in-law from 1975-1977. As Josh Alden, he appeared on Mrs. Columbo for thirteen episodes.

Photo: totallykate.com

Recurring roles comprised most of his television appearances in the 1980s. He continued to accept guest roles on such shows as Quincy ME, Cagney and Lacey, Magnum PI, Murder She Wrote, The Love Boat, and Mr. Belvedere. He would make regular appearances on Gun Shy, Code Name: Foxfire, Falcon Crest, and I Married Dora.

Jones continued to appear in shows in the 1990s, including Coach and Empty Nest. In 1999, he passed away after suffering from complications from an injury from a fall.

Olan Soule

Photo: pinterest.com

Olan Soule’s timeline was similar to Jones. He was born in Illinois in 1909, growing up in Iowa, and he passed away in 1994. While Jones’ grandfather arrived in America, Soule’s ancestors included three Mayflower passengers. He began his acting career on the radio.

In 1929 he married Norma Miller. They would be married until her death in 1992 and they had two children.

For eleven years, he was part of the cast of the soap, “Bachelor’s Children.” His roles changed when he transitioned to television. On radio, he could play any role, but his 135-pound frame prohibited him from getting many roles he played on radio. He told the Los Angeles Times during an interview that “People can’t get over my skinny build when they meet me in person after hearing me play heroes and lovers on radio.”

Photo: tralfaz.blogspot.com

However, he certainly was not lacking in roles. Soule is credited with more than 7000 radio episodes and commercials, 60 films, and 200 television series.

The 1950s found him appearing in many sitcoms, including George Burns and Gracie Allen, I Married Joan, I Love Lucy, December Bride, the Ann Sothern Show, and Dennis the Menace.

Photo: complete-hitchcock.com

He would appear regularly in Dragnet from 1952-59 and in Captain Midnight from 1954-56.

Photo: riflemanconnors.com

He got even busier in the 1960s, working nonstop. The only show he had a recurring role on was The Andy Griffith Show where he played choir director and hotel clerk John Masters. Other comedies he appeared on included The Jack Benny Show, Pete and Gladys, Bachelor Father, Make Room for Daddy, Mister Ed, My Favorite Martian, The Addams Family, The Monkees, Petticoat Junction, and That Girl. He also took on roles in suspense shows including One Step Beyond, the Alfred Hitchcock Show, and the Twilight Zone. He also specialized in westerns, including Maverick, Stage Coach West, Have Gun Will Travel, The Rifleman, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and The Big Valley.

Photo: pinterest.com

He started the 1970s continuing to show up on series such as Family Affair, My Three Sons, McMillan and Wife, Cannon, Police Woman, and a recurring role on the comedy Arnie.

Photo: monkees.coolcherrycream.com

In the mid-1970s he began appearing on Battlestar Galactica and Project UFO. Most of his career in the decade was spent providing voiceovers for animated shows, primarily Batman.

The Towering Inferno Director: John Guillermin US Premiere: 10 December 1974 Copyright 1974 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Warner Bros. Inc.

In 1994, Soule died from lung cancer at age 84.

Both Soule and Jones were prolific actors who had long and successful careers. Neither one of them were the leading men type of actors, but they could tackle a wide range of roles. Soule once said, “Because of my build and glasses, I’ve mostly played lab technicians, newscasters, and railroad clerks.” Not a bad life for someone who loves acting. If you watch Antenna or Me Tv, chances are you will see these two characters pop up quite often.

The Secret Word is George Fenneman

I am cheating just a bit with this post. During this Oddly Wonderful series, I think I can push the envelope enough. You Bet Your Life was a very different type of game show. If ever there was a person who personifies oddly wonderful it was Groucho. But I really wanted an excuse to write about George Fenneman.

George Fenneman is best remembered for his role on Groucho Marx’s quiz show, You Bet Your Life which began on radio in 1947 and transitioned to television in 1950. The show went off the air in 1961, the year I was born. Obviously, I don’t remember the original show, but I saw it in reruns and always had a crush on George; I think it was his smile that always got me.

Photo: imdb.com

George was born in Beijing (then Peking), China in 1919. His father was in the importing/exporting business. When he was not quite one, his parents moved to San Francisco where he grew up. After high school, he attended San Francisco State College. He graduated in 1942 with a degree in speech and drama. He took a job with a local radio station KGO for a short time. He married his college sweetheart Peggy Clifford in 1943 and they would stay married until George died. The couple had two daughters and a son.

Photo: collectors.com

Poor eyesight and asthma prevented Fenneman from military action in World War II, but he was able to become a broadcast correspondent for the War of Information. In 1946 he was back in California, in the radio industry again. One of the shows he announced for was Gunsmoke. After the episode concluded, he would introduce Matt Dillon (William Conrad) to discuss the sponsor’s products which often was cigarettes such as L&M or Chesterfield.

Some of the other radio shows he announced for included The Orson Welles Show, The Eddie Albert Show, and the Hedda Hopper Show.

Photo: aveleyman.com

He and Peggy were neighbors of Christian Nyby. In 1951, Nyby was hired as director for the film, The Thing from Another World. George joined the cast as in the minor role of Dr. Redding who has an important scene at the end of the film. It took 27 takes for him to get the speech right, and he realized he was better suited for radio. However, he would appear in two additional films, the little-known Mystery Lake in 1953 and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 1967. While his voice was part of several other films, most notably in the original Ocean’s 11 as the man talking on the phone to Sheriff Wimmer.

Jack Webb had worked on broadcasts with George during the war. He hired Fenneman as announcer for his radio show, Pat Novak, For Hire. When Dragnet aired the same year, Jack took George with him. George, along with Hal Gibney took on the role of narrator for the show. They both continued with the show in 1951 when it moved to television. Dragnet was off the air for a number of years and returned to television in 1967. Fenneman was again hired as narrator with John Stephenson for that version. George was the one who was heard saying, “The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.” Stephenson handled the closing narration. Fenneman was also cast as a news reporter in a variety of shows including Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Name of the Game, and on Batman in 1966 in the episode, “The Yegg Foes in Gotham.”

Photo: pinterest.at
On Batman

In addition to appearing on Groucho’s show on television, Fenneman was the host or announcer for several other shows. He emceed two games shows during his time with Groucho: Anybody Can Play in 1958 and Your Surprise Package in 1961. In 1963, He hosted a show on ABC titled Your Funny, Funny Films which was a cousin to the later Candid Camera and America’s Funniest Home Videos.

He was usually an unseen announcer on The Ed Sullivan Show, but in 1964, the night the Beatles were on the show for the second time, he did a spot on the air for Lipton Tea. From 1978-1982 he hosted a show on PBS, Talk About Pictures. In this show, Life magazine photographer Leigh Weiner and George interviewed respected photographers and looked at their best photos.

Photo: pinterest.com
With Leigh Weiner on PBS

He also was the voice for Home Savings & Loan commercials from the late 1960s until his death from emphysema in 1997. He also acted as announcer for shows such as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Donny and Marie, The Jim Nabors Show, and The Life of Riley.

Photo: hollywoodphotographs.com
With Martin and Lewis

In 1993, The Simpsons aired an episode that spoofed Dragnet, and Fenneman can be heard on the show delivering his famous line about names being changed to protect the innocent.

Despite his large cannon of work as an announcer and emcee, Fenneman became a household celebrity when he went to work for Groucho on You Bet Your Life. One day George was standing on the corner of Hollywood and Vine. Robert Dwan, who had hired him at KGO Radio, came up and told him he was holding an audition for a new show for Groucho. Fenneman went up against thirty other announcers and won the job which paid $55 a week. He was hired just to do commercials. At some point, Groucho decided he should also be scorekeeper, as well as his straight man.

Photo: usawoopro.blogspot.com

When discussing Groucho, George said, “I have to say he was unique, and he was fearless. It was a great privilege to work with him for 15 years and to be his friend for 30.” After Fenneman’s death, Peggy did an interview for an article by Lawrence Van Gelder for the NY Times in June of 1997. She said that George was always a fan of Groucho and the Marx Brothers. She remembered them often going to the Golden Gate Theater when they were in college. They went to watch the Marx Brothers rehearse future movie scenes for comic timing. She remembered watching scenes from A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races.

Groucho, known for his quick wit and acid tongue, found an agreeable and attractive man in Fenneman. When viewers queried George whether the show was scripted or ad-libbed, he always said yes. Actually, it was about 50/50.  Groucho was fed some lines from the interviews with the contestants, but he never met them ahead of time and was given the freedom to interject whatever comments he chose.

Photo: mptvimages.com

George often took the brunt of Groucho’s humor. One time he had to inhale helium, one day he came down from the ceiling when the secret word was said in place of the usual duck, or he would be questioned about something on the show. For example, one evening each of the contestants was a very attractive woman and Groucho made it seem that Fenneman had set that up on purpose. One contestant mistakenly referred to George as Mr. Fidderman, and Groucho called him out to discuss his double life.

Photo: popflock.com

George never knew what Groucho had in store for him. Often Marx would summon George from behind the curtain, and he always looked uncomfortable which was quite genuine. But Groucho had great affection and appreciation for him, calling him the perfect straight man.

At times on the show, George could also be quite funny, but he knew his main role was straight man, and he usually toed that line carefully.

George and Groucho remained friends long after the show was cancelled. They often got together before Groucho’s death in 1977 at age 87. Groucho never lost his sense of humor. At one of their last visits, Groucho was in very frail health. Helping Groucho get across the room, George lifted him out of his wheelchair and carried him. He had his arms around his torso and began to shimmy him across the floor. Groucho’s rasping voice said, “Fenneman, you always were a lousy dancer.”

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Although the shows have never been released in a chronological DVD collection, they are available. The programs were recorded in full and then edited to the desired length. On MP3 discs, some of the unedited tapes are available which provide a very different perspective than the aired show.

There are a few announcers still well known in the business. I think of Rod Roddy, Johnny Gilbert or Johnny Olson who have game show fame, but it is a career that is being phased out. There is something charming about watching the former announcers for shows promoting products and interacting with the stars. Harry Von Zell from the Gracie Allen and George Burns Show comes to mind or Don Wilson from the Jack Benny Show. Like rotary phones, transistor radios, and Polaroid cameras, they are fondly remembered from a slower and less technological period in history.

With this series being Oddly Wonderful, I am stretching it a bit by focusing on George. In our definition of oddly wonderful, he was definitely the wonderful.

The Alliterative Harry Morgan (Famous for saying Horse Hockey and Beaver Biscuits as Colonel Potter)

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When it comes to prolific actors in television and film, few people can equal Harry Morgan’s career. Known for his deadpan delivery, he was in more than 100 films. He also starred in 11 television series and appeared on 6 TV Guide covers.

 

Born Harry Bratsberg in 1915, he grew up in Muskegon, Michigan. His parents came from Norway and Sweden.  Harry went to the University of Chicago, planning on becoming an attorney but got interested in acting instead. In 1937, he began appearing with stock companies, followed by Broadway roles.

Harry Morgan From 'December Bride'

 

His first wife was Eileen Detchon who he was married to from 1940 until her death in 1985. Her photo appears on Colonel Potter’s desk on M*A*S*H. They had four sons: Christopher, Charley, Paul and Daniel. Morgan remarried in 1986 and was married to Barbara Bushman until his death.

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He was signed by Twentieth Century Fox in 1942. His screen debut was The Shores of Tripoli under the name Henry Morgan. Later that year he appeared in Orchestra Wives and a few years later was in The Glenn Miller Story with Jimmy Stewart. In 1943, he starred with Henry Fonda in the highly acclaimed The Ox-Bow Incident.

 

In 1954, he was offered the role of Pete Porter in December Bride which ran until 1959. In the show, he complained about his wife Gladys a lot, but we never meet her. When the show ended, he starred in a spin-off Pete and Gladys from 1960-1962. Pete Porter is an insurance salesman. His scatter-brained, but beautiful, wife is played by Cara Williams.

 

The next year he was cast in The Richard Boone Show from 1963-1964. This was an anthology series which Richard Boone hosted.  A cast of 15 actors appeared in different roles each episode. Morgan appeared in all 25 episodes. The show never captured viewers, probably because it was on against Petticoat Junction.

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Almost immediately upon its ending, he was again cast in a television show with a role on Kentucky Jones during 1964 and 1965. Kentucky Jones is a veterinarian and former horse trainer.  He and his wife adopted a Chinese boy named Dwight Eisenhower “Ike” Wong. After his wife’s death, the local Asian community and handyman Seldom played by Morgan helps him raise Ike.

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Morgan had a couple of years of guest starring in shows such as The Wackiest Ship in the Army and Dr. Kildare, and then he was cast in Dragnet from 1967-1970. He and Jack Webb were friends before the show and continued to be best friends throughout Harry’s life. Webb had directed the previous Dragnet show in the 1950s and revived the show in 1967, convincing his friend to play the role of Officer Joe Gannon who helped Sergeant Joe Friday (Webb) solve crimes in Los Angeles.

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Between 1970 and 1972 he would show up in The Partridge Family in two different roles and Love American Style among other shows. 1972 would find him starring in another show, Hec Ramsey, until 1974. This show reunited Morgan with Richard Boone who starred in it and Jack Webb who produced it. Ramsey was a western detective who preferred to solve crimes with his brain rather than his gun. The show only lasted for ten episodes.

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From 1974-1983, he was cast in his most famous role, that of Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H. A military hospital staff treating soldiers during the Korean war rely on laughter to get through the gruesome work. The show combined heartache and joy to tell the story of the 4077th. When the show was cancelled, Harry continued the role in the spin-off, After M*A*S*H from 1983-1985.

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On M*A*S*H Morgan painted the portraits attributed to Colonel Potter. He won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in 1980, receiving 11 nominations overall during the run of the show.

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His description of Colonel Potter was: He was firm. He was a good officer, and he had a good sense of humor. I think it’s the best part I ever had. I loved playing Colonel Potter.”

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When asked if he was a better actor after working with the show’s talented cast, Morgan responded, “I don’t know about that, but it’s made me a better human being.

 

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Morgan also appeared in several Disney movies during the 1970s, including The Barefoot Executive, Snowball Express, Charley and the Angel, The Apple Dumpling Gang, The Cat from Outer Space, and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again.

In 1986 he was cast in Blacke’s Magic. The show featured a magician and his father, a con man, who solve crimes. Unfortunately, like many of the shows he was a part of, this one only lasted 15 episodes. When it ended in 1987, Harry was immediately given a role in You Can’t Take It with You where he appeared on three episodes during 1987 and 1988. Morgan starred as Martin; the show was based on the original play, but the television series was set in the 1980s.  Although Morgan was only in three episodes, he was in the majority of them, because the entire show consisted of four episodes.

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In the 1980s, he appeared in commercials for ERA realty and Toyota.

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During the late 1980s and early 1990s, he appeared in six different shows, with recurring roles on The Simpsons and Third Rock from the Sun. In 1996 he retired.

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In 2006, Morgan was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

 

Many of his western films were done with James Stewart. They did five films together, and Morgan says Stewart was one of the nicest men he ever met and extremely professional.

 

In addition to Jack Webb, he was good friends with Tim Conway and Don Knotts.

A very interesting man, in his spare time, he enjoyed golfing, fishing, travel, spending time with his family, reading, raising horses, horse riding, painting, and poetry.

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He died in 2011 from pneumonia.

Following Morgan’s death, Mike Farrell, who played B.J. Hunnicutt, starring with Morgan in M*A*S*H, released the following statement:

“He was a wonderful man, a fabulous actor and a dear and close friend since the first day we worked together. As Alan [Alda] said, he did not have an unadorable bone in his body . . . He was a treasure as a person, an imp at times, and always a true professional. He had worked with the greats and never saw himself as one of them. But he was . . . He was the rock everyone depended on and yet he could cut up like a kid when the situation warranted it. He was the apotheosis, the finest example of what people call a ‘character actor’. What he brought to the work made everyone better. He made those who are thought of as ‘stars’ shine even more brightly . . . The love and admiration we all felt for him were returned tenfold in many, many ways. And the greatest and most selfless tribute to the experience we enjoyed was paid by Harry at the press conference when our show ended. He remarked that someone had asked him if working on M*A*S*H had made him a better actor. He responded by saying, ‘I don’t know about that, but it made me a better human being.’ It’s hard to imagine a better one.”

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“The Ultimate Definition of Success is to Repeat It” says Jeffrey Benjamin

After reading about That Girl and what a tough time Marlo Thomas and Ted Bessell had finding new roles that did not stereotype them as Don and Ann, I thought about actors who were able to transcend that hurdle.  I could think of numerous actors and actresses who were able to have two important television roles.  Mary Tyler Moore began as Laura Petrie but Mary Richards was also a strong character.  Ron Howard grew up from Opie Taylor to Richie Cunningham.  Kristy McNichol lived out her adolescence in Family and then moved to Florida as Barbara in Empty Nest.

I started to do some research and found the following actors who had numerous television series.

Alan Alda – Of course, his iconic role was Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H.  From 1972-83 he kept us laughing or crying in Korea.  Since M*A*S*H he has taken on roles in several television series including ER (1999), West Wing (2004-06), 30 Rock (2009-10), The Big C (2011-13), and The Blacklist (2013-14).

Fun Fact:  He got his start on the Phil Silvers Show in 1957.

 

Meredith Baxter – Most people remember her as Elyse Keaton in Family Ties (1982-89), but for me it was Nancy in Family (1976-80).  Other shows include Bridget Loves Bernie (1972-73), The Faculty (1996), Cold Case (2006-07), The Young and the Restless (2014), and Finding Carter (2014-15).

Fun Fact:  Her mother was Whitney Blake, Missy on Hazel.

 

Sally Field – I think most people will always think of Sally Field as the Flying Nun (1967-70).  Her first show was Gidget (1965-66). As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, she had a role in the forgettable Hey Landlord (1967) and she was The Girl with Something Extra (1973-74).  Like Alan Alda, she also had a recurring role in ER (2000-06), and her most recent show is Brothers and Sisters (2006-11).

Fun  Fact:  She won an Emmy for her appearance on ER.

 

John Forsythe – While younger people only know him as the voice of Charlie on Charlie’s Angels (1976-81) or Blake Carrington from The Colbys (1980-86) which led to Dynasty (1981-89), one of my favorite sitcoms of all is Bachelor Father which John starred as Bentley Greg from 1957-62.  Before Bachelor Father, he starred in Lights Out (1951-2), Suspense (1951-52) and Studio One (1949-55). Before Charlie’s Angels, he was in the John Forsythe Show (1965-66) and To Rome with Love (1969-71). His last show was The Powers That Be (1992-93).

Fun Fact: Along with Harry Morgan and Meredith Baxter, he was on episodes of The Love Boat.

 

Harry Morgan – Harry Morgan is the king of shows, with 12 series to his credit.  He is probably best remembered for three of them–Pete and Gladys (1960-62), Dragnet (1967), and M*A*S*H (1974-83). His first sitcom was December Bride (1954-59) which spun off Pete and Gladys.  In the 60s before Dragnet he was in Kentucky Jones (1964-65) and Dr. Kildare (1965).  The seventies saw him in Hec Ramsey (1972-74) and Gunsmoke (1970-75).  After M*A*S*H, he literally was in After M*A*S*H (1983-85), Blacke’s Magic (1986), You Can’t Take It With You (1987-88), and Third Rock From the Sun (1996-97).

Fun Fact:  He was in an episode of the Partridge Family in the first season.

 

Bob Newhart – Bob Newhart gets the award for having the most shows with his name it in.  Fans fondly remember The Bob Newhart Show set in Chicago when he played Dr. Hartley (1972-78) or Newhart where he was the inn owner Dick Loudon (1982-90).  His first show was The Bob Newhart Show (1961).  After Newhart, he tried out Bob (1992-93) and George and Leo (1997-98).  Like Alan Alda and Sally Field, he also had a recurring role on ER (2003) and most recently has had a recurring role on The Big Bang Theory (2013-15).

Fun Fact:  The 1982-90 show had the best finale ever when the show ended with Bob in bed with his wife from the 1972-78 series thinking Newhart had been a dream.

 

Ed O’Neill – If any actor should have been stereotyped after a role, Ed O’Neill seemed doomed after Al Bundy in Married. . . With Children (1987-97), yet he now has an even bigger hit in Modern Family as Jay Pritchett (2009-16).  In between he was on the Big Apple (2001), Dragnet (2003-4), a remake of Harry Morgan’s show, and John From Cincinnati (2007).  Like Alan Alda, he took on a role on The West Wing (2004-05).

Fun Fact:  He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969 but was cut in training camp.

 

Dick Van Dyke – Finally, we have Dick Van Dyke.  Before I researched this blog, I thought he and Bob Newhart might have the most sitcoms to their credit.  He comes in with only four starring shows overall.  Like Bob, he never wanted to stray far from his name:  We had the iconic Dick Van Dyke Show as Rob Petrie (1961-66), The New Dick Van Dyke Show (1971-74), The Dick Van Dyke Show (1988), and then Diagnosis: Murder (1993-2001). Like so many of these actors who have something in common with Alan Alda, Dick Van Dyke’s first appearance in a sitcom was also The Phil Silvers Show (1957-8).

Fun Fact:  He can trace his family line back to the Mayflower.

 

Why do some stars get locked into a role that they are never able to separate themselves from?  Think Henry Winkler as the Fonz, Lucille Ball as Lucy, or Don Knotts as Barney.  I think part of it is that we get so attached to these characters we almost want to believe they are real and the actor moving on destroys that image.

The above actors all had different situations that allowed them to move on more easily.  Alan Alda never had that hit show again.  After M*A*S*H, he took on dramatic recurring roles.  Meredith Baxter was in a  mixed genre of shows. Of her two hit shows, one was a drama, Family, and one a sitcom, Family Ties.  Dick Van Dyke had the same formula:  The first Dick Van Dyke Show, a sitcom, and Diagnosis: Murder, an action/mystery series.  John Forsythe and Harry Morgan came into show business during the golden days of television.  They were able to have extremely successful shows and characters and then start over.  Forsythe had 10 series to his credit, Morgan had 12. Sally Field, although starting out in television, was certainly better known as a movie actress.  Audiences were seeing her on the big screen as other characters so they perhaps don’t pigeon hole her into one role so much.  Ed O’Neill actually had success on two sitcoms about families.  Maybe Jay Pritchett is so successful because he shows what Al Bundy may have been like growing up in a more enlightened era where the fathers help parent and run the house.  And Bob Newhart, I think, was successful because he actually plays the same character in most of his shows, and we love that character so we keep looking for him, no matter what the show is actually titled.