I Spy: With My Little Eye A Very Sophisticated Show

As we continue our crime-solving duos series, today we learn about I Spy featuring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby. They were a pair of spies who traveled the world posing as tennis pro, Kelly Robinson, and his coach, Alexander “Scotty” Scott. They work for the Special Services Agency which was part of the Pentagon. The show aired on NBC from 1965-1968.

Photo: pinterest.com

David Friedkin and Morton Fine, writers, and Fouad Said, cinematographer, formed Triple F Productions. The show was filmed at Desilu Productions. Fine and Friedkin took on co-producing the show. Friedkin also appeared as a guest actor in two of the episodes. Continuing the job-sharing duties was was Sheldon Leonard. Leonard was the executive producer. He also directed one of the episodes and guest starred on the show.

The theme music was written by Earle Hagen. (For more on Hagen and his composition of music from the series, see my blog dated)He also wrote specific music for each of the countries the team visited. He received Emmy nominations all three years, winning in 1968.

Photo: pinterest.com

Cosby’s character was written as an older mentor to Robinson, but Sheldon Leonard changed the role once he saw Cosby perform. Culp said Cosby was not very interested in the series and insulted the producers during his audition. Culp acted as a mediator and Cosby was hired.

Photo: youtube.com

Like future shows such as Miami Vice, The X-Files, or Castle, the partners had great chemistry. They had witty and clever dialogue and often improvised much of their banter. Friendship was the main theme of the show, not the crimes. The actors developed a close friendship that lasted long after the show did. The characters were also very different. Culp was the athlete who lived by his wits. Cosby was the intellectual who didn’t drink or smoke.

This was the first TV drama to feature a black actor in a lead role. Some of the NBC affiliates in the south refused to air the series. Truly a color-blind series, the two spies did not encounter racial issues. It also made history– being one of the first shows to be filmed in exotic locations around the world. The pair visited Acapulco, Athens, Florence, Hong Kong, Madrid, Morocco, Paris, Tokyo, and Venice.

Photo: desertnews.com

Like the western genre in the 1950s, spy shows were popular in the 1960s. Unlike Get Smart or the Man From UNCLE, I Spy was more realistic. The duo didn’t rely on unbelievable gadgets or campy villains.

Some of the episodes had more comedy than others. “Chrysanthemum” was inspired by The Pink Panther. The episode, “Mainly on the Plains” starring Boris Karloff, was about an eccentric scientist who thinks he’s Don Quixote. However, many shows took on more serious and contemporary themes. “The Tiger” was set in Vietnam.

Photo: imdb.com

During the three seasons the show aired, an incredible number of guest stars chose to work on the show. Some of these talented celebrities included Jim Backus, Victor Buono, Wally Cox, Delores Del Rio, Will Geer, Gene Hackman, Joey Heatherton, Ron Howard, Boris Karloff, Sally Kellerman, Eartha Kitt, Martin Landau, Peter Lawford, Julie London, Vera Miles, Carroll O’Connor, Don Rickles, George Takei, Cicely Tyson, Leslie Uggams, and Mary Wickes.

Photo: 007bondproxy.ml

Both Culp and Cosby were nominated all three years for Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, with Cosby winning all three years.

While the series was extremely popular, it was always over budget due to the high costs of filming. During the third season, ratings began to decline. The show was moved from Wednesdays to Mondays. It was on against The Carol Burnett Show. Unfortunately, the network refused to move the show back to its original night. They offered Sheldon the choice of renewing the show in the current time slot or the chance at creating a new series. Leonard realized that Culp and Cosby were tired of the show and ready to move on. In all, 82 episodes were filmed. 

Photo: pinterest.com

The show holds up well today.  The dialogue is timeless, and scripts are sophisticated and well written. The plots are realistic, but they are secondary to the relationship of Robinson and Scott. The exotic locations add a romance and intrigue to the show as well. The complete series is available on DVD and well worth watching.

Photo: moviestore.com

Of course, it’s hard to talk about a Cosby show without acknowledging the effect his legal issues have had on his work.  While I don’t condone his behavior and am sad that someone so talented (and preachy about character) would resort to such offensive actions, what makes me even sadder is that both I Spy and The Cosby Show were wonderful shows that featured talented casts. That so many people have to suffer because one person’s actions were unethical and selfish seems unfair.

One thing I’ve had to learn doing my research on all these classic shows is sometimes you have to separate the character from the actor. It’s possible to love a character even when the actor or actress who portrays them is a crummy human being. Of course, there are more of the other scenarios. Fred MacMurray was every bit as nice as Steve Douglas and Howard McNear was even nicer than Floyd.

Hopefully these shows get their due and their reputation for their well-written scripts overcomes the stain Cosby saddled the shows with.

Ruth Buzzi: Born to Be a Comedienne

As we continue our look at actors and actresses who made great character roles their own, our last meeting is with Ruth Buzzi.  While she was primarily known for her characters on Laugh-In, she has had a long and full career.

ruth2

Ruth was born in July of 1936 in Rhode Island. Her father was a famous sculptor who was born in Switzerland. He carved the marble eagles at Penn Station in New York City, the Leif Erikson Memorial in Providence, and several animals at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. For his family business, he created thousands of tombstones. In one article I read that he was asked to work on the Mount Rushmore presidents, but declined because he had a fear of heights.  I was not able to confirm that story however. She was raised in Connecticut. Her brother took over the family business and sold it a couple of years ago.

Ruth was head cheerleader in high school. At 17, she enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse for the Performing Arts where she studied voice, dance, and acting, graduating with honors. Her classmates there included Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman.

ruth8

Her first job was while she was still in school, traveling with Rudy Vallee in a musical and comedy act. After graduation, she moved to New York City and appeared in revues throughout New England. She teamed up with Dom DeLuise in a skit where he was an incompetent magician and she was his assistant. Buzzi decided to name her character, who never spoke, Shakuntala. They appeared to a national audience when they were booked on The Garry Moore Show in 1958. In the late 1960s Buzzi received a role on The Steve Allen Show.

Buzzi married Bill Keko in 1965. They would divorce a decade later.

ruth13

During this time, Ruth was hired by Bob Fosse to perform in a Broadway show, “Sweet Charity.” She also had an appearance on The Monkees. While she was in the play, she auditioned for a role on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In in 1967.

ruth7

She received the role, and it was on that show that many of her funniest characters were created. Along with Dick Martin and Dan Rowan, she was the only person to appear in every episode of the show. (Gary Owens also appeared every series episode, but he was not in the Laugh-In special.) Buzzi was a versatile performer; her quirky characters included Busy-Buzzi, a Hollywood gossip columnist; a prostitute, Kim Hither; Doris Swizzle (sometimes Sidebottom), who ends up drinking too much with her husband; and one of two inconsiderate flight attendants.

ruth5

Her most beloved character was Gladys Ormphby, a spinster dressed in a hair net and drab clothing. She always carried a purse and would use it to hit people when she was frustrated. Gladys was often paired with Arte Johnson as Tyrone, a dirty old man who was hit many times. (I have read about a lot of strange cartoons in the 1970s and one of them was The Nitwits, a cartoon about Gladys and Tyrone. Johnson and Buzzi voiced their characters.) Her performances on Laugh-In earned her a Golden Globe Award and five Emmy nominations.

ruth1

While I remember Buzzi from Laugh-In, the role I knew her best in was Pete Peterson, Ann Marie’s friend on That Girl which she appeared on during her Laugh-In tenure.

Buzzi was one of the many starts who frequently appeared on Sesame Street. She was nominated for an Emmy on that show for her role of Ruthie, a store owner. She later appeared at the dedication of Jim Henson’s star on Hollywood Boulevard after his death.

ruth4

In the early 1970s, Buzzi would continue to appear on television series, including Walt Disney, Night Gallery, Here’s Lucy, Love American Style, Lotsa Luck, and Medical Center.

In 1975, she starred with Jim Nabors in The Lost Saucer. This was a Sid and Marty Krofft production, so you know it was a bit odd. The stars were time-traveling androids Fi and Fum. The show was cancelled after 16 episodes.

ruth6

During the 1970s, Ruth also was the spokesperson on a number of products, including Clorox 2, Clairol, Ban deodorant, the Santa Anita Raceway, and Sugar Crisp Cereal. In the Sugar Crisp ads, she was Granny Goodwitch, a role she created for a 1960s animation show, Linus! The Lion Hearted.

ruth11

In 1978, another important milestone occurred for Ruth when she married her husband, Kent Perkins.

Her television work continued into the 1980s when she appeared on CHiPs, Trapper John, and The Love Boat. She was Chloe, the never seen, but often mentioned wife of Henry Beesmeyer on Alice. She also made eight appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. She was in 25 films during her career including The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again and Freaky Friday. She currently has two movies in post-production:  One Month Out with Barry Bostwick and John Schneider and Glen’s Gotta Go.

ruthfreakyfriday

Buzzi is also well known as a voice actress. Most of her roles since 1985 have been for animation series. She voiced characters in the series Pound Puppies, Mama Bear in The Berenstain Bears, Smurfs, Chip and Dale, Darkwing Duck, Rocket Power, and Angry Beavers.

She also had a nightclub act which toured the United States for a year. In addition, she was on most of the Dean Martin Roasts, typically playing Gladys.

Ruth currently lives with her husband in Texas on a 600-acre ranch. Her hobby is painting. The couple also collects antique automobiles, primarily post-war English cars. She also volunteers for a variety of charities.

ruthA

Like Fanny Flagg, Bill Daily, and Howard McNear, Buzzi can be described as delightful. I’m happy to celebrate such a full career for such a fun woman.