Mr. Johnson Teaches Us About the “Art” of Television Acting

As we continue honoring revered television actors who passed away in 2019, Arte Johnson certainly is at the top of the list. Although he accepted roles in movies, most of his work was on the small screen.

Photo: blogspot.com

Arte was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan in 1929. Acting was not Arte’s first profession. He graduated with a radio journalism major from Illinois and decided to pursue a career in the advertising world. He left Chicago when he could find no ad agency jobs and moved to New York where he began at Viking Press. He loved books and collected them throughout his life.

Unlike the stories of people who hone their craft in hundreds of auditions in the Big Apple, Arte impulsively stepped into an audition line for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and got the part. His real name was Arthur and he decided on Art E. Johnson for his stage name, but “Arte” was mistakenly printed on the playbill, and he decided he liked that better.

Although acting began easily for him, after he moved to LA, his career hit a rough spot and he did take a job as a men’s clothing salesman for a while at Carroll & Co. in Beverly Hills.

Photo: cvta.biz
It’s Always Jan

Arte began on television in the 1950s. In the mid-50s, he had a recurring role on It’s Always Jan starring Janis Paige and Merry Anders. A widowed nightclub singer, Janis Stewart, shares a small apartment with an aspiring actress, a secretary, and her daughter. Arte plays a deli employee, showing up in 4 of the 26 episodes.

He was cast as in his first ongoing role later that year. He played Bascomb Bleacher, Jr. on Sally. His father, a department store owner, was played by Gale Gordon. This show about a girl who worked in a department store who became a wealthy matron’s companion also lasted 26 episodes.

Photo: sharetv.com
Cousin Edgar on Bewitched

During the 1960s, Arte would appear in 32 different series, including The Twilight Zone, The Andy Griffith Show, McHale’s Navy, Bewitched, Lost in Space, The Donna Reed Show, and I Dream of Jeannie. Once again, he was cast as a regular on a show, Don’t Call Me Charlie. If you’re not familiar with the show, you are not alone. The show starred Josh Peine as a rural veterinarian who is drafted into the Army. He leaves Iowa and heads for Paris. Like Gomer Pyle he retains his simple view of life and his “Sargent Carter” is Colonel Barker. Johnson played the part of Col. Lefkowitz.

Photo: inquisitor.com
The Cast of Laugh In

In 1968, Arte was offered a job that would change his life. Along with a handful of other cast members, he appeared on the new edgy Laugh-In. This is a hard show to describe if you never watched it. (It does appear on the Decades channel quite often.) The show was comprised of fast-moving comedy bits featuring guest stars, skits, regulars performing specific characters, gags, and punchlines in rapid format. It was quite different from anything else that had ever appeared in television. Arte was on the show from 1967-1971.

Photo: pinterest.com
“Wolfgang”

He was a master of accents and is best known for the characters he created on this show. “Wolfgang” was a cigarette-smoking German soldier hiding out who refused to believe WWII had ended. One of Arte’s taglines was “Verrrrry Interrrrresting.” He would also be seen in a yellow raincoat riding a tricycle that he would fall off from.

Photo: blogspot.com
Tyrone and Gladys

Another favorite was “Tyrone” who was an old man wearing a trench coat, always trying to seduce Ruth Buzzy’s “Gladys” on a park bench. She would hit him with her purse, and he often fell off the bench. Oddly, in a far-reaching concept, years later these two characters formed the nexus of a Saturday morning cartoon show, Baggy Pants and the Nitwits.

Photo: fox8.com
On The Partridge Family

During the 1970s, Johnson continued his television appearances with 17 different series, including two roles on The Partridge Family and several on Love American Style. He also could be seen on Match Game and Hollywood Squares.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

His prolific career continued through the 1980s where he was seen on 25 different shows, including Murder She Wrote and The Love Boat. At the end of the ’80s, he began voicing characters for animation shows, but in the 1990s he accepted roles on 14 shows, including Night Court.

At the end of his career, his love of books provided him an opportunity to begin recording the narration for more than 80 audiobooks, including Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up in 2005.

Photo: vulture.com

Married to his wife Gisela since 1968, he survived a battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1997. In 2006 he retired from acting. He passed away mid-year in 2019 after suffering from bladder and prostate cancer. Ruth Buzzy, his comrade on Laugh-In, shared this message upon his death: “Thank you for a wonderful half-century of friendship. I could not have shared the spotlight with a nicer guy. Rest in peace. And yes, Arte Johnson, I believe in the hereafter.”

I like to think Arte is working on some skits, waiting for Ruth Buzzy, and some day when we get to heaven, we’ll be able to watch Gladys and Tyrone team up for us again.

The Donna Reed Show: It’s All About the Mom

Merry Christmas Eve.  In honor of It’s a Wonderful Life which will be playing quite often today, this week’s blog is about Donna Reed, who played Mary in the Jimmy Stewart holiday favorite.

In 1958, most of the television shows were game shows, variety shows, or westerns. Almost all the sitcoms on the air were based on a star; we had The Danny Thomas Show, The Ann Sothern Show, The Bob Cummings Show, and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. It was also the year The Donna Reed Show began. The show would last eight seasons, resulting in 275 episodes.

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Photo: dallas.wikia.com

The series was created by William Roberts. Donna and her husband Tony Owen developed and produced the show, under the name “Todon.” We had shows about single adults in The Bob Cummings Show and The Ann Sothern Show. We had families, including The Danny Thomas Show, Father Knows Best, and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Roberts wanted to concentrate on the demanding roles a stay-at-home mom had to juggle. Reed agreed with him. As she noted, “We started breaking rules right and left. We had a female lead, for one thing, a strong, healthy woman. We had a story line told from a woman’s point of view that wasn’t soap opera.”

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Photo: imdb.com

The Donna Reed Show is often evoked by critics who say television scripts are not realistic but center around unreal family expectations, but that is not the goal Reed and her husband had. Donna described the show as “realistic pictures of small-town life—with an often-humorous twist. Our plots revolve around the most important thing in America—a loving family.” The shows featured typical family problems families faced in the late 1950s: having to fire a clumsy housekeeper, quality time with your spouse, dealing with disciplinary issues, or Donna being swamped with requests to volunteer for charity drives or community theater shows. However, there were times the show delved into more controversial issues such as women’s rights or freedom of the press.

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Photo: metv.com

The Stone family includes Donna, Alex, Mary and Jeff. Donna (Donna Reed) is the iconic mother. She grew up on a farm (which Reed did). She became a nurse and occasionally helps Alex (Carl Betz), a pediatrician who has his office at the house. Mary (Shelly Fabares) is in her first year of high school. She studies ballet and plays the piano. During the series, she has several boyfriends. Mary left for college before the show ended, but Fabares made guest appearances. Jeff (Paul Petersen) is in grade school. He loves sports, likes to eat, and often teases his sister. In 1963 when Fabares leaves, Paul Petersen’s real sister, Patty was cast as a runaway orphan taken in by the Stone family. The Stones live in Hilldale, an All-American town.

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Photo: pinterest.com

Several other characters appear often. Dave and Midge Kelsey (Bob Crane and Ann McCrea) are good friends of Donna and Alex’s.  Dave is also a doctor. Another of Alex’s colleagues who is a good friend is Dr. Boland (Jack Kelk), whom the kids call “Uncle Bo.” Smitty Smith (Darryl Richard) is Jeff’s best friend and Scotty (Jimmy Hawkins) is Mary’s boyfriend.

Photos: pinterest.com and metv.com

With Donna’s movie relationships, many guest stars appeared on the show during its run. Baseball players Don Drysdale, Leo Durocher, and Willie Mays played themselves. Musicians Harry James, Tony Martin, and Lesley Gore appeared. Buster Keaton was featured in two different shows. Esther Williams played a fashion designer. Other stars who showed up included Jack Albertson, John Astin, Dabney Coleman, Ellen Corby, Richard Deacon, Jamie Farr, Gale Gordon, Arte Johnson, Ted Knight, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Marion Ross, William Schallert, Hal Smith, Marlo Thomas, and William Windom.

In the opening credits, Reed comes down the stairs and answers the telephone which she gives to Alex. She then hands the kids their lunches and books and sends them off to school. When Alex leaves on a call, she closes the door and smiles. In 1964 when The Munsters debuted, their opening credits were a parody of Donna’s show as Lily performs the same actions.

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Photo: metv.com

The Donna Reed Show faced the Milton Berle show, Texaco Star Theater Wednesday nights and ratings were not great. It was renewed and moved to Thursdays the next year. I was surprised to learn that during the eight years the show was on the air it was only in the top 20 in season six and only in the top 30 in season four.

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Photo: cinemacats.com (Look closely and you’ll notice this was                                                                 the living room for I Dream of Jeannie as well).

Although the show never received very high ratings, Donna Reed was nominated for an Emmy every year from 1959 to 1962. (Jane Wyatt won in 1959 and 1960, Barbara Stanwyck won in 1961, and Shirley Booth won in 1962.) Donna Reed won the Golden Globe in 1963.

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Photo: metv.com

In 1962 Donna felt that the writers had run out of creative ideas and were recycling plots. Both Mary and Jeff were allowed to perform in this season. Fabares debuted a single, “Johnny Angel” in February which went to number one on the charts, selling more than a million copies. In October, Petersen sang “My Dad” which made it to number six. Donna decided that would be the last season, but when ABC made her a very lucrative offer for three more seasons, she and her husband agreed.

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Photo: nytimes.com

When this contract ended in 1966, Donna was ready to retire. Reed was considering a television movie reunion but when Betz passed away in 1978, she decided it was no longer an option.

Campbell Soup was the first sponsor, and later sponsors included Johnson & Johnson and The Singer Company. Whenever a scene takes place in a supermarket, Campbell’s Soup, V-8 Juice, Franco-American Spaghetti and Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder are likely to be in the shot.

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Photo: metv.com

Reruns of the show were seen on Nick at Nite from 1985-1994 and on TV Land from 2002 until 2004. MeTV began airing the show in September of 2011.

The cast was a close-knit one and continued their relationships after the show ended. Paul Petersen credited Donna as being the nurturing adult he needed in his life to get him through the years of being a child star. She helped him understand how the industry worked and helped him during some tough times during his life. Shelly Fabares also said Donna and Carl were amazing. Realizing how tough the industry can be for young kids, they protected Paul and herself and loved them as second parents. Donna never forgot to send Shelly a birthday gift.  In 1986, before she passed away from pancreatic cancer, her final words were to make sure Shelly’s birthday gift was wrapped and delivered.

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Photo: lapostexaminer.com

Despite the bad raps the show often received from the women’s lib organizations, Donna Reed did help advance the way women were perceived in the media. She endowed her character with strong emotions, definite opinions on issues, and independence. In her personal life, Reed expressed her views on the medical industry and the political arenas.

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Photo: geocaching.com

Paul Petersen summed up the value of the show in an interview he did in 2008. In his words, The Donna Reed Show, “depicts a better time and place. It has a sort of level of intelligence and professionalism that is sadly lacking in current entertainment products. The messages it sent out were positive and uplifting. The folks you saw were likable, the family was fun, the situations were familiar to people. It provided 22-and-a-half-minutes of moral instructions and advice on how to deal with the little dilemmas of life. Jeff and Mary and their friends had all the same problems that real kids in high school did. That’s what the show was really about, the importance of family. That’s where life’s lessons are transmitted, generation to generation. There’s a certain way in which these are transmitted, with love and affection.”

I couldn’t say it better.

The Teacher We All Wished We’d Had: Our Miss Brooks

We kicked off the month looking at the successful transition of Burns and Allen from radio to television.  There were many shows that couldn’t make the leap to the small screen, and several that did very well like The Jack Benny Show and I Love Lucy. Our Miss Brooks not only had a successful radio show, but when their television show debuted, the radio show kept going. Many of the cast members starred in both mediums. In addition, they made it to the big screen with a movie and a comic book.

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So, what enabled Our Miss Brooks to do what many shows could not?  Let’s look a little closer at the series and the behind-the-scenes work that kept the show on the air for four seasons, producing 130 episodes.

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Connie Brooks (Eve Arden) is an English teacher at Madison High. She and her principal, Mr. Conklin (Gale Gordon), do not always see eye to eye, but she is close to his daughter Harriet and Harriet’s boyfriend Walter (Richard Crenna) who gives Miss Brooks a ride to school. She wants to be close to Mr. Boynton (Robert Rockwell), the science teacher, but he is oblivious to her charms. She rents a room from Mrs. Davis (Jane Morgan) where she lives with Mrs. Davis’s cat, Minerva.

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We also get to know Fabian “Stretch” Snodgrass (Leonard Smith), basically a “dumb jock” who is Walter’s best friend and Daisy Enright (Mary Jane Croft), another English teacher who is Connie’s love rival for Mr. Boynton.

The show debuted July 19, 1948 on the radio. The show program was sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive-Peet for its entire run which ended in 1957. The first choice for Miss Brooks was Shirley Booth, and the show was titled “Our Miss Booth.” In Gerald Nachman’s book Raised on Radio, he states Booth concentrated too much on the disadvantages of being a school teacher to be funny. There is an audition with her from April of 1948 and while she sounds pleasant, she doesn’t have the sarcastic wit of Arden. The television show began in 1953 and was sponsored by General Foods.

 

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Our Miss Brooks was a ground-breaking show featuring a single woman (teachers were usually single, and marriage might have ended her career). She was not a scatterbrained female like Lucy or Joan in I Married Joan, and she was not a housewife like June Cleaver or Donna Reed. She was a bright, attractive working woman. Eve remembered her third-grade teacher fondly and tried to give Miss Brooks some of her qualities. Eve was known for her sassy movie roles; one of the things she appreciated about the character of Connie Brooks was that it allowed her to be a warm, fun-loving person who had a self-deprecating side.

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The show was a Desilu Production, so they shared equipment and crews with I Love Lucy, as well as a director (William Asher) at times, to save money.

The show was funny because it is based on believable characters. Connie Brooks has a great sense of humor. Many of the plots involve misunderstandings or her trying to keep Walter out of trouble with Mr. Conklin. Here are a few episode summaries.

Miss Davis unknowingly uses school funds to buy Connie a new dress. Now Connie must sell the dress to return the money. Mr. Boynton even models the dress for the kids.

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Mr. Boynton asks Connie to play the role of Mrs. Boynton. She is thrilled,  imagining what it could lead to, until she realizes he meant his mother, not his wife.

Walter is listening to his home-made radio. Storm warnings come over the air for Bombay. Miss Brooks mistakenly thinks it is for their area and takes precautions to evacuate the school and prepare for a hurricane.

Mr. Conklin is furious when his bike is taken at the grocery store, and he wants the thief punished. Miss Brooks finds out that a poor boy borrowed it for his birthday and then returned it to the store. She goes to great lengths to protect the youngster.

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Radio Mirror magazine nominated Eve Arden as the top-ranking comedienne two years in a row for her characterization of Miss Brooks. The National Education Association recognized her for her sympathetic portrayal of teachers.

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Eve Arden was nominated for an Emmy for Best Actress Starring in a Regular Series in 1954, 1955, and 1956—winning in 1954. Gale Gordon was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1955, and the show was nominated Best Situation Comedy in 1954 and 1955.

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Eve Arden had to fight the same battle many celebrities do when they have a hit show. She handled her fame of being known as Miss Brooks with grace and practicality. As she explained it: “I originally loved the theater. I still do. And I had always wanted to have a hit on Broadway that was created by me. You know, kind of like Judy Holliday and Born Yesterday. I griped about it a little, and someone said to me, ‘Do you realize that if you had a hit on Broadway, probably 100 or 200,000 people might have seen you in it, if you’d stayed in it long enough. And this way, you’ve been in Miss Brooks, everybody loves you, and you’ve been seen by millions.’ So, I figured I’d better shut up while I was ahead.”

 

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While the TV series never resolved the Boynton-Brooks romance, the 1956 film did. It was directed by Al Lewis, who directed many of the television episodes. In the movie, Miss Brooks is unaware that Mr. Boynton is saving money, so he can ask her to marry him. He is hoping to get a promotion to head of the department. In a subplot, Connie is having issues with a student who is failing her class. He has no friends because he is very arrogant. When she meets his wealthy father, she understands why he has no friends and she tries to help him.  Also, Mr. Conklin is running for Coordinator of Education, primarily to stop the other nominee, Superintendent Stone, who has threatened to fire Conklin. Miss Brooks decides to be Conklin’s campaign manager despite her butting heads with him most of the time. If Conklin wins, Mr. Boynton might be promoted to principal. In the end, Boynton finally proposes, only to have a chimpanzee steal away the ring.

 

Our Miss Brooks comic. (1956)

The movie was a box-office failure. After the movie, Dell Comics released a comic book titled “Our Miss Brooks.” In past decades, it sold for hundreds of dollars in mint condition. Today it can be found on ebay for under $50.

A fun fact I learned was that Eve Arden was born Eunice Quedens. When she was encouraged to take a different stage name, she looked over her cosmetic jar labels. She picked “Eve” from “Evening in Paris” and “Arden” from “Elizabeth Arden.”

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While many of the plots for Our Miss Brooks are predictable and not overly creative, it was a innovative sitcom. The scripts were well written, and the humor still works today. I could not find any channels currently broadcasting Our Miss Brooks, but it does appear on Me TV from time to time. The radio shows can be heard on Sirius Radio, channel 148. Of course, there are a variety of DVDs featuring the show. Add it to your list to understand why Eve Arden was so popular with women in the 1950s.

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Today, I Get to Introduce You to One of My Very Favorite People, Blanche Morton, via Bea Benadaret

This week I’m excited to learn more about one of my favorite entertainers—Bea Benardaret. Bea had a long and successful career in radio and television, as well films. Nick-named Busy Bea, she would get credit for making more than 1000 radio and television appearances.

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Born in 1906 in New York City, she was raised in San Francisco. Her first radio appearance occurred when she was 12 years old in Beggar’s Opera.  While still in high school, Bea went to work for radio station KFRC where she acted, sang, wrote, produced, and announced. She went on to the Reginald Travis School of Acting.

 

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She married Jim Bannon in 1938. Their marriage would last until 1950 and produce two children, Maggie and Jack. She later married Gene Twombly in 1958 and remained married until her death.  Jack tells a story about when his mother was very pregnant with his sister. While exiting a cab, she fell and broke her pelvis.  It was so traumatic that her brunette locks turned white. At that time, she began dyeing her hair the blonde color we would all recognize once she transitioned to television.

 

Bea’s son Jack became an actor who has 91 credits for television and movie work. He appeared on Petticoat Junction 15 times, but was best known for his role of Art Donovan on Lou Grant. He was married to Ellen Travolta and passed away in the fall of 2017.

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Bea could probably win the award of most-often misspelled name. You can find her name spelled Benardaret correctly or Benederet or Benadaret. On several episodes of Burns and Allen, you can even find credits spelling her first name “Bee.”

 

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After graduation, she entered the radio business full time. She moved to Hollywood in 1936 and found work on The Jack Benny Show and shortly after with Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater in 1937. She was featured in 36 different radio shows with her most famous roles being Gertrude Gearshift on The Jack Benny Show, Eve Goodwin on The Great Gildersleeve, Millicent Carstairs on Fibber McGee and Molly, Gloria the maid on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and Iris Atterbury on My Favorite Husband. She received a starring role in Granby’s Green Acres, the forerunner of the Green Acres Show.

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In 1943, she became one of the primary voices of Warner Brothers Merrie Melodies and Looney Toons cartoons. She met Mel Blanc during this time and they remained friends for life.

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Bea also received roles in six films including a government clerk in Notorious (1946), one of two women Gene Kelley and Frank Sinatra encounter on the subway in On the Town (1949), and Tender is the Night (1962).

 

Bea’s first television role was my favorite character—Blanche Morton on the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. Bea had appeared on their radio show and when the duo transitioned into television, she made the move with them. From 1950-1958 she was Gracie’s best friend and long-suffering wife of Harry Morton. Bea credited George Burns for teaching her about comedy. Bea was awarded two Emmy nominations for her portrayal of Blanche.

Not long after she was obligated to play Blanche, Lucille Ball offered her the role of Ethel Mertz on her new show I Love Lucy. Bea had to decline, but she did make an appearance on the show in 1952. Her “husband” on My Favorite Husband and Granby’s Green Acres was Gale Gordon.  He, too, was approached to play Fred Mertz; however, similarly to Bea’s situation, he had already agreed to transition from radio to television on Our Miss Brooks. He too would costar on the show and later he was able to work with Lucille Ball again on her other television shows.

 

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In 1960 Bea accepted the role of the housekeeper on Peter Loves Mary. That same year she agreed to provide the voice for Betty Rubble when The Flintstones debuted on Friday nights. She would provide voices on The Flintstones for 112 episodes.

 

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Paul Henning was one of the writers for Burns and Allen. He and Bea became friends in the 1940s, and in 1962 he created a show called The Beverly Hillbillies. He brought in Bea for the role of Granny, but when Bea saw Irene Ryan’s audition, she told Paul he had definitely found his Granny. He then created the role of Pearl Bodine for Bea. She would appear in 22 episodes. Donna Douglas, who played Elly May, said that “watching her timing is like watching a ballerina. She’s so effortless.”

 

When Henning created a spin-off in Petticoat Junction, the role of Kate Bradley was written specifically for Bea. She appeared in 179 of the episodes of the show that aired from 1963-1969. Henning’s wife’s family ran the Burris Hotel in Eldon, Missouri that catered to salesmen traveling by railroad, and those stories became the basis for Petticoat Junction. Kate, a widow, runs the hotel with help of her Uncle Joe who is often busier trying to avoid work than helping out. She has three daughters Billie Jo, Bobby Jo, and Betty Jo. (During the show’s run, there would be three Billie Jo’s, and two Bobby Jo’s but only one Betty Jo, who was portrayed by Linda Kay Henning, Paul’s daughter.)

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Charley Pratt and Floyd Smoot run the Cannonball, a train that enables the Bradleys to travel to Pixley and Hooterville. Cut off from the main railroad twenty years earlier in a trestle demolition, the train caters to local residents, often stopping to move cows or let someone visit a neighbor between official stops. Sam Drucker runs the general store in Hooterville and is always the center of local society. Though it was never made too obvious, Kate and Sam had a special relationship, and we always assumed that once the girls were grown and gone, and Sam was ready for retirement, he and Bea would end up together. The old-fashioned hotel offers home cooking and a nostalgic feel. Other titles considered were Ozark Widow, Dern Tootin’, and Whistle Stop. When Steve Elliott, the crop duster, came to town, he dated Billie Jo. They made a glamorous couple, but a season or two later, he realized he truly loved Betty Jo, the youngest and the tomboy who helped in repair his plane. They married and had a daughter, Kathy Jo.

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In 1967 Smiley Burnette (Charley) passed away. In 1968 Bea became ill and died that year from lung cancer and pneumonia. Bea’s second husband, Gene Twombly, passed away four days later from a heart attack. June Lockhart was brought on to the show as Dr. Janet Craig to help be a mother figure to the girls. Ratings declined in season 6 with the loss of Bea; however, the network renewed the show for another year so there would be five years of colored episodes for syndication. Ratings increased during the last year, but in 1969 when the new administration cancelled all the rural shows, Petticoat Junction received its walking papers too.

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There were always rumors that there would be a reunion from the show, but that never happened, although the cast did take on both the Brady Bunch and Leave it to Beaver crews on Family Feud in 1983.

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Bea was known for her laugh. By all accounts, she was a kind woman and extremely professional in all her roles. While I enjoy Petticoat Junction, I adore Gracie Allen, and am always happy to indulge myself watching Burns and Allen Show episodes. Bea holds her own on the show and makes a wonderful practical counterpart to Gracie’s illogical logic.

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Go Green, Green Acres That Is

In the 1950s, a lot of the top shows were set in residential or suburban areas:  Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet, the Donna Reed Show, and December Bride to name a few.  In the early 1960s, the rural sitcom became the hottest genre.  In 1963 The Beverly Hillbillies was #1, Petticoat Junction was #4, and The Andy Griffith Show was #5. Filmways offered Paul Henning the chance to produce a new rural show with no pilot necessary.  Filmways was created in 1952, and the company was behind many successful shows including The Debbie Reynolds Show, The Pruitts of Southampton, Mr. Ed, The Addams Family, and Cagney and Lacey.

Paul Henning approached Jay Sommers to create the new rural comedy. Sommers based the series on a radio show he had written in 1950 —  Granby’s Green Acres.  Granby was based on a book, Acres and Pains by S.J. Perelman. The radio show only lasted for 13 episodes and starred Gale Gordon and Bea Benaderet. Granby was a former banker who moved to the country to run a farm.  He also had a daughter, and the general store owner was a major character, Will Kimble, played in the first episode by Howard McNear. A couple of titles proposed were Country Cousins and The Eddie Albert Show, but the final decision was Green Acres.

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Green Acres ran on CBS from 1965-1971 with solid ratings. It produced 170 episodes, all filmed in color.  Richard Bare directed most of the shows. At the end of each episode, Eva Gabor would say “This has been a Filmways presentation dahling.”

While the Beverly Hillbillies took a family out of the mountains and put them in Beverly Hills, Green Acres went with the opposite scenario.

The premise of the show was that Oliver Douglas  who had been a busy attorney in New York City decides he wants to move to the country to run his own farm. His wife Lisa  does not agree. He buys a farm unseen in Hooterville. We are never told where Hooterville is, and I think everyone has their own idea of which state it might be in. The house and farm are more run-down and dilapidated than Lisa ever imagined in her worst nightmare.  The citizens of Hooterville are a quirky set of characters.

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The debut show was done as a documentary narrated by John Daly, a former newscaster and the host then of What’s My Line.  Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor appeared on What’s My Line later in the fall as a thank you to Daly. As you can see below, Oliver’s mother is horrified by his choice.

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The theme song is memorable and tells the backstory of the Douglases:

Oliver: Green Acres is the place to be – Farm living is the life for me –Land spreading out so far and wide – Keep Manhattan, just give me the countryside.

Lisa: No, New York is where I’d rather stay – I get allergic smelling hay – I just adore a penthouse view – Darling, I love you but give me Park Avenue

Oliver: The chores

Lisa: The stores

Oliver: Fresh air

Lisa: Times Square

Oliver: You are my wife

Lisa: Goodbye city life

Both: Green Acres, we are there

Snippets of country and New York city were shown while the stars sing, and ends with both of them in the same pose as “American Gothic” by Grant Wood.

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Like the Andy Griffith Show, the series worked because of the interaction between these Hooterville citizens who become believable for us. Let’s meet the cast of characters.

Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert) – Oliver is intelligent, hard-working, and practical to a fault.  He has to deal with a kooky wife, a disapproving mother (played by Eleanor Audley who was only 5 months older than Albert), and the quirky neighbors that surrounded him. However, Oliver has a respect for the wisdom these people have about farming and rural life.  Despite the fact that he seems to be the only sane person in the valley, it’s obvious he truly has an affection for the folks he lives with.

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Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor) – Lisa grew up in a wealthy Hungarian family. Her misuse of the English language is one of her endearing qualities. She has a hard time adjusting to farm life.  In one episode she is using a stapler to fix Oliver’s socks.  While Oliver is telling her how woman for centuries have sewn socks, Fred Ziffel, the most experienced farmer in Hooterville enters the room and tells her he notices she is mending socks; his wife does it the same way. Despite the fact that Lisa did not want to leave the city, she adapts to living in the country quickly and develops an understanding with the neighbors Oliver never attains.

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Eb Dawson (Tom Lester) – Eb is the farmhand who lives with the Douglases.  He comes off as naïve, but we understand Eb is much smarter than he lets on.  He is always trying to get less work for more money.  He calls them Mom and Dad which Lisa loves but drives Oliver crazy.

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Mr. Eustace Haney (Pat Buttram)- Mr. Haney is the unethical and dishonest salesman who originally sold Oliver the farm, which belonged to his family. He is always showing up to sell them something they need at outrageous prices. [Pat Buttram was Gene Autrey’s sidekick in the movies and tv; Smiley Burnette, Charley, who runs the Cannonball, the local train on Green Acres and Petticoat Junction, was Autrey’s sidekick in radio and movies and  Buttram replaced him when he moved on.]

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Sam Drucker (Frank Cady) – Sam was a busy guy; he ran the general store, he was the newspaper editor, was the only printer in town, he was part of the volunteer fire department, he was the justice of the peace, and he’s the postman. Apart from Oliver, he was the smartest and most sane person in the valley, and he and Oliver often commiserated about the crazy life going on around them.

Hank Kimball (Alvy Moore) – Mr. Kimball was the county agricultural agent who was supposed to help Oliver adjust to farming. He often loses his train of thought and rarely follows through on the news or information he is supposed to relay.

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The Monroe Brothers – Alf (Sid Melton) and Ralph (Mary Grace Canfield) are a brother and sister team that Alf portrays as brother and brother in order get work. Their projects are never finished on time, and rarely finished the right way.

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Fred and Doris Ziffel (Hank Patterson and Barbara Pepper/Fran Ryan) – the Ziffels were successful farmers.  They had no children, but they had a pet pig that they considered a son.

 

Arnold Ziffel – Arnold Ziffel was their pet pig and one of the most intelligent people in Hooterville. He understands English, attends the local grade school, lives inside in his own bedroom, can sign his name, and is a bit addicted to television watching, especially westerns. A new pig was used each season because they grew so fast. The Union demanded the pigs be payed $250 a day and were trained by Frank Inn. In 1967 Arnold won a Patsy award.

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Some of the other animals featured on the show included Eleanor the Cow; Bertram the rooster; Alice the hen; and Mr. Haney’s dog, Cynthia, a basset hound who had a huge crush on Arnold.

Green Acres had its fair share of guest stars including Parley Baer, Robert Cummings, June Foray, Alan Hale Jr., Elaine Joyce, Gordon Jump, Bernie Kopell, Al Lewis, Rich Little, Al Molinaro, Pat Morita, Jerry Van Dyke, and Jesse White.

The show was 25% surrealism, 25% satire, and 50% just plain fun.

Some of the running gags on the show were the fact that people, except Oliver, could see the credits running, and Lisa often commented on them. A lot of the jokes were at Oliver’s expense.  He was the only one in town who could not understand Arnold’s grunts. Also, whenever Oliver got passionate about something, he went into a monologue, usually patriotic, and everyone but him could hear fifes playing.

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Lisa’s hotcakes were good for many projects, just not eating. The Douglases had a feud with the phone company because they were supposed to move their phone inside.  Whenever they had to use the phone, Oliver had to climb up a phone pole to talk. Oliver had a Hoyt-Clagwell tractor which was usually breaking down, catching on fire, or falling apart.

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We also had the stark extremes of sophisticated New York living and rural life.  Lisa continued to dress in beautiful gowns and furs.  They slept in a huge, expensive bed, with an elaborate chandelier over their heads, but their closet had no back so neighbors walked in on and off. The fire department marching band often practices at Sam Drucker’s store but for all five years whenever they practice, they only know one song, There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.

Although Lisa continues to threaten to move back to New York City, aided and abetted by Oliver’s mother, we know she loves him and will never leave without him.  Despite their arguments, Lisa and Oliver are frequently seen kissing and hints are given about them retiring to their room together. In real life, Albert and Gabor were dear friends and they are both buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. Tom Lester, Eb, credited Albert with helping him as an actor and being a surrogate father to him; the two remained close friends until Albert passed away.

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There are many cross-overs with Petticoat Junction and the Beverly Hillbillies. Sam Drucker was featured in both Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. Some of the characters visited each other on various episodes. It is funny that Bea Benaderet starred in Petticoat Junction as well as the radio show Granby’s Green Acres which means Green Acres was based on her radio show and was a spin-off of her television show. In 1968, a Beverly Hillbillies Thanksgiving Show united cast members from all three shows.

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With 170 episodes, it’s hard to come up with the best five, but after looking at various polls and tv guide reviews, I will do my best to represent the majority’s votes:

“Music to Milk By” – Eb wants to win a radio contest and he has to listen day and night which cuts into his chores, especially when the cow swallows the radio.

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“I Didn’t Raise My Pig to be a Soldier” – Arnold Ziffel gets a draft notice. Oliver acts as his attorney before the draft board. They are assuming Oliver is making fun of them with the pig and the real Arnold is elsewhere. After a lot of explanations and some time in jail, Oliver convinces them Arnold is really a pig.  The end of the show has Oliver back before the draft board because Ralph Monroe, a woman, who they think is a man, has been drafted.

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“The Hooterville Image” – The town agrees Oliver needs to do chores in overalls. He has been farming in a vest and dress shirt. They finally convince him to become more accepted by switching his attire until they see the overalls Lisa’s dress designer came up with.

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“The Computer Age” – Ralph Monroe joins a computer dating service. Oliver and Lisa disagree on whether that is a good idea. Oliver thinks it is. He also thinks computers are the best way to run a farm. To prove her point, Lisa uses the service to see if she and Oliver would have been paired up.

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“A Star Named Arnold is Born, Parts 1 and 2” – Arnold appears in a play at the local theater. Lisa arranges for an old friend to give him a chance in show business. In the second part, Lisa and Oliver chaperone his trip to Hollywood to star in a motion picture.

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Oddly enough the top four were all from season 2, and “A Star Named Arnold Is Born” is from season 3.

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In Spring of 1971, Green Acres was still pulling in good ratings.  However, the Rural Purge of 1971 got rid of all shows that had country leanings whether they were audience favorites or not.

 

In full disclosure, I loved Petticoat Junction growing up, and I could not stand the Beverly Hillbillies.  I thought Green Acres was okay but if I missed it that was okay too.  As I’ve gotten older, I still love Petticoat Junction, and I still don’t care for the Beverly Hillbillies, but I have developed a much greater appreciation for Green Acres.  If a show was capable of having a sense of humor, this one did.   It never took itself seriously.  Eddie Albert was willing to be the straight guy to the rest of the ensemble. The character interaction worked, and no dialogue came off as too zany.  The citizens might not have always agreed or understood each other’s lifestyles, but they had affection and respect for each other. Lisa’s reading the credits and different characters addressing the audience brought us in on the jokes and made us part of the Green Acres family. Now when I watch the show, I laugh out loud – a lot! I don’t laugh at the characters, I laugh with them. For being a rural sitcom, this show has some sophisticated humor.  If you have not watched the show in a while, you owe it to yourself, as well as the cast and crew who created it, to get to know the folks in Hooterville.

 

Developing A Negative Perspective

We can all name a ton of shows featuring lawyers, doctors, and teachers.  Once you begin looking at other careers, it’s not easy to find more than one or two successful shows about each profession. Let’s look at a few series about photographers and see what develops.

 

Love That Bob – 1955-1959

Bob Collins (Bob Cummings) is a bachelor and a professional photographer. He lives with his sister Margaret McDonald (Rosemary DeCamp), a widow, and his nephew Chuck (Dwayne Hickman). Bob spends his time trying to get dates with his models while his sister spends her time trying to get him to settle down. Although he was not aware of it yet, we all knew the real love of his life was his assistant Schultzy (Ann B. Davis) who was obviously in love with him.

Not only did Bob get around, but his show followed suit. This show debuted on NBC for a half season and then moved to CBS for two years. Then it went back to NBC for two years and finally finished its life on ABC.

The opening of every show was Bob and his camera; he said “Hold It.  I think you’re going to like this picture.” Though Bob tried hard to be a playboy, he was so insecure we liked him in spite of himself and because of Schultzy.

Among the beautiful bevy of models on the show, we also got to know his best pal Harvey Helm (King Donovan) and his next-door neighbor Pamela Livingston (Nancy Kulp), an avid bird watcher.

The writers had a great perspective for the series because the show lasted five seasons for a total of 157 episodes.

The Box Brothers – 1956-1957

The Box brothers lived in San Francisco. They badly needed money and were offered a chance to buy a photography studio.  They developed more trouble than photographs. The brothers were total opposites. Mild-mannered Gilmore (Bob Sweeney) dated quiet Marilee Dorf (Nancy Hadley) while strong-willed Harvey (Gale Gordon) dated the self-assured Dr. Margaret Kleeb (Ann Morriss).

The show was one of the first series to feature a character who was heard off camera but never seen. Andy worked in the darkroom, so we never saw him in person.  The show also featured Howard McNear soon to run a barber shop in Mayberry and Barbara Billingsley who would dress in pearls and parent the Beaver.

After 26 episodes, the network had a flash of inspiration to cancel the whole thing.

Shirley’s World – 1971-1972

Shirley Logan (Shirley MacLaine) is a mod, young photographer who works for World Illustrated magazine based in London for editor Dennis Croft (John Gregson). She travels the world taking pictures, and the shows were filmed in England, Scotland, Japan, and Hong Kong, among other spots. She usually becomes involved in the lives of the subjects she is sent to photograph.

The show was a collaboration between British ITC and Sheldon Leonard.  It was expensive to film due to the traveling costs for shooting around the world and MacLaine’s salary which was reported as $47,500 per episode. This salary would be the equivalent of about $275,000 per episode today.

After 17 episodes, the network either ran out of money or changed its focus to cheaper production methods because this series was cancelled.

All’s Fair — 1976-1977

In 1976, Norman Lear created this sitcom about 49-year-old Richard Barrington (Richard Crenna) involved with 23-year old Charlotte Drake (Bernadette Peters).  He was a political columnist and she was a photographer, and they both lived in Washington DC.  That was about all they had in common.  He was conservative, lived in a luxurious townhouse, and was a gourmet cook.  She was liberal, lived cheaply, and was a vegetarian.  Most of the series centered around their generation gap and their political differences.

Jack Dodson, no longer living in Mayberry, played Senator Joplin, Barrington’s friend and Michael Keaton played President Carter’s aide.

The dialogue was fast-paced. One reviewer described it as “the best new comedy of the year” and the New York Times said, “casting is first rate and the finger-snapping pace of the show leaves just about everything looking easy and undemanding.”

Peters was nominated for a Golden Globe.  The only other well-known show to debut in 1976 was Alice.  I’m not sure if the writing quality was uneven or if the jokes just got tired and predictable, but after 24 episodes, the network decided it had been overexposed and moved on.

We’ve Got Each Other – 1977-1978

Mary Tyler Moore’s company produced this sitcom.  Stuart Hibbard (Oliver Clark) was a copywriter who worked from home and took care of the house and cooked the meals.  His wife Judy (Beverly Archer) commuted to Los Angeles for her career as a famous photographer’s assistant. Tom Poston played Damon Jerome the photographer.  He was great with a camera but a terrible businessman, so he relied on Judy for everything.

Stuart had to deal with their nutty neighbor Ken Redford (Martin Kove), and Judy had to put up with a self-centered model DeeDee Baldwin (Joan Van Ark). Damon’s secretary Donna (Red Woods) tried to keep peace between the women at work.

Thirteen was an unlucky number for this show which was cancelled after that many episodes. I guess Damon was a underexposed photographer whose contract was not renewed.

Whitney – 2011

We started with star Bob Cummings in this blog and we end with Whitney Cummings, no relation.  Whitney created and starred in this show about a photographer and her friends, a group of 20 somethings, who live in Chicago. Her boyfriend Alex Miller is played by Chris D’Elia.

Beverly D’Angelo from the Vacation movies played her mom in the original pilot, but was replaced by Jane Kaczmarek with all the scenes re-shot. The show did not garner great reviews.  The debut was watched by 6.8 million viewers in September, but by December only 4 million of them were still watching.

After 38 episodes, the network thought too large a time lapse had happened and ended the show.  Cummings also was the co-creator of 2 Broke Girls the same year.  That show had better luck, lasting five years, being cancelled this past May.

Obviously shows about photographers did not do too well over the television decades.  But if anyone can handle it, it’s these characters – after all they deal with negatives all day long.