The Phil Silvers Show: You May Never Get Rich, but You’ll Receive a Wealth of Humor

This month, we begin a new series, “We Salute You” and we will look at shows about the military. Our first series is The Phil Silvers Show a/k/a You’ll Never Get Rich.

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The sitcom debuted on CBS in 1955. The pilot was never aired, but the show was part of the television schedule until 1959, producing 143 episodes.

Nat Hiken created the series which ended up being nominated for Best Comedy Series every year it was on and winning that category in 1956, 1957, and 1958. In addition, Silvers won an Emmy for his performance, and Hiken won an Emmy for Best Director.

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Nat Hiken in the bowtie with Phil Silvers

In 1955, television was transitioning from New York to California. However, Hiken insisted on filming the series in New York. The earlier seasons were filmed at Dumont and later seasons moved to CBS studios in Chelsea, Manhattan.

The show was filmed like a play in front of a live audience. The cast members had to memorize the entire script. When Mike Todd guest starred in season two, he insisted that the show be filmed more like a movie. Takes were filmed out of sequence and multiple takes were allowed because there was no audience. The crew realized that this process was faster, cheaper, and easier for the actors, so the change was put in place permanently. The show was screened for the military though, and servicemen made responses that were used to make the show more realistic.

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Sergeant Ernie Bilko (Phil Silvers) is a con man. He runs a motor pool at a small US Army Camp, Fort Baxter in Roseville, Kansas. Colonel Hall (Paul Ford), who doesn’t trust Bilko, tries to stay on top of his schemes. Bilko tries to make money any way he can and is not above using the landing craft for midnight cruises, “borrowing” tanks, setting up poker games, and conniving with a local service station for spare parts for Jeep tires for his get-rich quick scams. Bilko has pulled the wool over Col Hall’s wife’s (Hope Sansberry) eyes and flatters her every chance he gets. Silvers said Bilko was so successful because “inside everyone is a con man wiggling to sneak out.”

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Although his men knew he could not be truly trusted, they were usually loyal to him and while he occasionally used them in a scheme, he typically made sure they were taken care of. Some of the situations Bilko found himself in included starting a mink farm, entering his platoon in a singing contest, investing in an ailing race horse, stealing a French chef’s family recipe, buying swampland, thinking there was uranium beneath Hall’s living room, and getting a hot racing tip but not being able to get his bet in on time.

For the fourth season, the camp moved from Kansas to Camp Fremont in California. The move was explained that Bilko orchestrated the new location because he learned there was a gold deposit near the abandoned army post. The primary reason for the geographical change was so stars could guest on the show because the camp was now said to be close to Hollywood. Some of these celebrities included Dean Martin, Mickey Rooney, Bing Crosby, Dorothy McGuire, and Lucille Ball.

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Bing Crosby visits the base

In addition to the stars who were said to come from Hollywood, guest stars on the show included Charlotte Rae, Fred Gwynne, Dick Van Dyke, Paul Lynde, Tom Poston, Dina Merrill, Alan Alda, Bea Arthur, and Tina Louise.

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I was surprised by the large cast that was featured on this show as opposed to Gomer Pyle, Hogan’s Heroes, or McHale’s Navy. Bilko’s comrades were Corporal Barbella (Harvey Lembeck) and Corporal Henshaw (Allan Melvin).

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Bilko with Barbella and Henshaw

The rest of the men included Corporal Sam Fender (Herbie Faye), Sergeant Grover (Jimmy Little), Privates Doberman (Maurice Gosfield), Zimmerman (Mickey Freeman), Kadowski (Karl Lukas), Gomez (Bernard Fein), Paparelli (Billy Sands), Mullen (Jack Healy), Fleischman (Maurice Brenner), Sugarman (Terry Carter) and Dillingham (Walter Cartier), as well as quartermaster Sergeant Pendelton (Ned Glass). Bilko even had a romantic interest in Sergeant Joan Hogan (Elisabeth Fraser).

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Because the series had so many secondary cast members, it became too expensive to maintain, and that was the primary reason it was canceled. I was surprised it did not affect the ratings because there were a lot of cast members to follow from week to week.

The show started out on Tuesday nights the first season. Its competition was The Legend of Wyatt Earp and Milton Berle.  The ratings at first were not good and Camel Cigarettes, the sponsor, considering withdrawing. The network moved the show so it didn’t need to compete with Berle’s second-half hour. The ratings skyrocketed. The second and third seasons, it continued on Tuesday nights but was up against Cheyenne both years and against The Big Surprise on the second season and The Eddie Fisher Show the third season. The Phil Silvers Show continued to be in the top 30 for season two but fell below those rankings in season three. Season four found the show on Friday nights up against Man with a Camera and M Squad.  I would have thought that season might have the weakest competition but the show never recovered its higher ratings. However, Friday nights many people were out, not home watching television.

Another downfall with such a large cast is the personality conflicts that might occur. Apparently, Phil Silvers did not get along with Maurice Gosfield. Gosfield had trouble remembering his lines which frustrated the other actors; however, he got the most fan mail which Silvers resented. In his memoir, Silvers discussed this issue and wrote that Gosfield “thought of himself as Cary Grant playing a short, plump man.”

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Gosfield as Doberman

Phil Silvers would play the same type of con man on many sitcoms later including The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan’s Island, The Lucy Show, and the movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

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After its cancellation, CBS sold the show to NBC which was a great move on NBC’s part. The network made a ton of money on the show’s syndication because reruns were run for decades.

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DC Comics published comic books based on the show as well. From 1957-1960 there were 16 issues of a Sergeant Bilko comic book and 11 issues of a Private Doberman comic book.

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In 2009, the US Postal Service issued a set of stamps honoring early television programs. This show was commemorated with an image of Sergeant Bilko.

I remember the show being on the air a lot while I was growing up, but I rarely see it now. I am going to rely on a fellow blogger to sum up the show. In a recent blog on neatorama.com from February 14, 2019, the show was described as follows:

It is my opinion that THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW (aka YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH) remains the single most underrated sitcom in television history and that Phil Silvers remains the most underrated comedian in that medium. This is really saying something because the series has indeed received great acclaim over the years. Even so, Silvers is just not given his proper due for creating the Bilko character. But it is Phil Silvers, his facial expressions, his bugle-call barking of orders, his complete manipulation of everyone on the base, and his wild schemes to make money that never seem to get old no matter how much you watch the episodes on video. The show is a great testament to the talents of Phil Silvers. With its complex plotlines and quickfire dialogue it’s still a treat to watch Silvers’s monumental character. The most oft-said line in the series must be “but, Sarge! as Bilko launches into another diabolical and, ultimately, flawed scheme to make money and dodge work.”

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Bilko isn’t a bad guy; he’s just not trustworthy. As he himself likes to say, “All I ever wanted was an honest week’s pay for an honest day’s work.” Maybe in this politically correct world we live in, making fun of the military is a taboo. It’s too bad because all the critics loved this show. If you want to check it out for yourself, the series is on DVD, so it is available for a week-end of binge watching; you can purchase individual seasons or the complete series.

Just a Couple of Characters, Part 4: Mary Wickes and Susan Oliver

We wrap up our series Just a Couple of Characters this week with Mary Wickes and Susan Oliver. Mary and Susan are very different character actors, but you will immediately recognize them. Let’s learn a bit more.

Mary Wickes

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It’s not surprising that Mary shortened her last name to “Wickes” after being born Mary Wickenhauser in 1910 in St. Louis. Her father was a banker, and the family had plenty of money. After high school, Mary attended Washington University in St. Louis, majoring in political science, planning a career in law. One of her professors suggested she try theater, and she dipped her toe into it doing summer theater in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

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After deciding a career in acting was for her, she moved to New York. She quickly found a role in “The Farmer Takes a Wife” on Broadway in 1934. In this show, which starred Henry Fonda, Mary was Margaret Hamilton’s understudy. Mary had a chance to perform during the run and received excellent reviews.

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The Man Who Came to Dinner

Mary understood that comedy was the field she needed to pursue. She was lucky enough to continue getting roles on Broadway, appearing in several shows throughout the 1930s, including “Stage Door” in 1936 and “Hitch Your Wagon” in 1937. She also was cast in “The Man Who Came to Dinner” as Nurse Preen with Monty Woolley. She continued to receive encouraging reviews. When Warner Brothers decide to turn the play into a movie, both Mary and Woolley were part of the cast. Mary became known for being a bit sarcastic and witty. She was given roles in the film, Now Voyager with Bette Davis, again playing a nurse.

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By the Light of the Silvery Moon

Mary flip flopped from Broadway to Hollywood, taking roles that interested her. She would appear in both Moonlight Bay (1951) and By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953) with Doris Day; White Christmas (1954), and The Music Man (1962).

Mary had cornered the market in roles of smart-alecky teachers, nurses, and housekeepers in film. When she transitioned to television, she often continued in these roles. Her first two recurring roles were housekeepers named Alice on Halls of Ivy from 1954-55 and Katie on Annette in 1958. From 1956-1958, she played Liz O’Neill, Danny Thomas’s press agent on Make Room for Daddy. Throughout the 1950s she also appeared on numerous shows including Zorro.

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One of my favorite episodes with Mary was the 1952 episode “The Ballet” on I Love Lucy where Wickes played Madame Lamond, a formidable ballet teacher who taught Lucy. Wickes and Lucy would remain life-long friends. After Mary’s death, Lucie Arnez talked about her relationship with their family: “For my brother and me, Mary was just like one of the family. If any of us were sick or even in bed with a cold, Mary would show up at the backdoor with a kettle of chicken soup. She could be loud and boisterous and as demanding as any of the characters she played, but she was also very loving and giving. What a lady.” Mary would appear on numerous episodes of Lucille Ball’s other shows in the 1960s and 1970s.

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In the 1960s, Mary continued to show up on a variety of shows. We see her on My Three Sons, Bonanza, F-Troop, The Doris Day Show, The Donna Reed Show, and I Spy. She also had recurring roles on three shows during the decade: The Gertrude Berg Show, Dennis the Menace, and Temple Houston. In the Gertrude Berg Show, Mary was landlady, Winona Maxfield. She was hilarious on Dennis the Menace, playing Miss Cathcart, an older neighbor looking for a man. On Temple Houston, she played Ida Goff. Temple was Sam Houston’s real son who was a circuit-riding lawyer.  

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The cast of Doc

As Mary aged, she progressed to the cranky relative or nosy neighbor type of character. In the 1970s she was a regular on Julia, Doc, and The Jimmy Stewart Show. On Julia, she was Dr. Chegley’s wife, Melba. She went back to her role as a nurse on Doc. On the Jimmy Stewart Show, she is Mrs. Bullard. Two of my favorite episodes of her from the 1970s were her roles on Columbo and M*A*S*H. On Columbo, Mary plays a landlady of a victim who’s been murdered. She and Columbo have a priceless conversation during the show, “Suitable for Framing” in 1971. On M*A*S*H, Mary played Colonel Reese who is observing Margaret and the nurses.

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In the 1980s, Mary’s schedule slowed down a bit. She did revive her role as a maid on The Love Boat in 1981. From 1989-1991, she took another regular role as housekeeper Marie Murkin on Father Dowling Mysteries.

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In the 1990s, Mary was doing more voice overs. She taped five episodes of Life with Louie which aired from 1995-1997 and was Laverne in The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1996. Unfortunately, she would not live to see them on the big screen. In 1995, she passed away after having respiratory problems. While a patient in the hospital, she fell and broke her hip. She died of complications caused by the surgery.

Mary never married or had children and as part of her legacy, she left a $2 million donation in memory of her parents to the Television, Film and Theater Arts at Washington University.

Susan Oliver

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More than twenty years younger than Wickes, Susan Oliver was born in 1932 in New York City. Her real name as Charlotte Gercke. Her father was a political reporter for the New York World. Her parents divorced when she was quite young, and she grew up in boarding schools. She traveled with her father to Japan when he took a post there. She studied at the Tokyo International College, studying American pop culture. While Wickes was the wise-cracking comedic foil, Oliver was often the leading lady character with blue eyes, blonde hair and heart-shaped face.

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on The Wild Wild West

In 1949, she traveled to LA to see her mother who had found her niche as “astrologer to the stars.” Susan then enrolled at Swarthmore College. After graduation, she continued acting courses at New York City’s Neighborhood Playhouse.

Her first Broadway part came in 1957 as the daughter or a Revolutionary veteran, “Small War on Murray Hill.”

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The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Returning to LA, she started a film career. Though she would appear in 15 big-screen movies, television is where she spent most of her time. She put in her due diligence in the 1950s and 1960s. Her first job was on The Goodyear Playhouse in 1955. She continued with a lot of drama and theater for the first few years of her career. She took roles in a variety of shows including: Father Knows Best, Suspicion, The David Niven Show, Bonanza, The Twilight Zone, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Wagon Train, Route 66, The Fugitive, The Andy Griffith Show, Ben Casey, Mannix, Dr. Kildare, The Man from UNCLE, I Spy, Gomer Pyle, My Three Sons, and the Wild, Wild West.

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I read several times that she turned down lead roles in series to retain her independence, but I never read any specific roles she turned down. In 1966 she accepted a recurring role of Ann Howard in Peyton Place. She had signed a contract for a year, but after five months, her character was killed on the show. She made a pilot for a show titled, “Apartment in Rome” that did not sell.

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on Peyton Place

Oliver never did get another show of her own, but she continued to guest on shows throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including Love American Style, Gunsmoke, The FBI, Streets of San Francisco, The Love Boat, Magnum PI, Murder She Wrote, and Simon and Simon.

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on Murder She Wrote

One of the reasons, she didn’t want to be tied down was her interest in flying. In 1959, a Boeing 707 she was a passenger on plummeted 30,000 feet for the Atlantic Ocean before leveling out. After that scare, she decided to learn to become a pilot. In 1964, she started flying single-engine planes. Bill Lear brought her on board to become the first woman to train on his new Lear Jet. She would star in a movie about Amelia Earhart. She also later wrote about her flying experiences in an autobiography, Odyssey: A Daring Transatlantic Journey in 1983.

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In the mid-1970s, she stopped accepting most acting roles and quit flying. She enrolled at the 1974 AFI Directing Workshop for Women with peers Lily Tomlin, Margot Kidder, Kathleen Nolan, and Maya Angelou. During the final season of M*A*S*H she directed an episode of the show. She would later direct an episode of Trapper John, MD.

At age 58, Oliver was diagnosed with colorectal, and eventually lung, cancer. She died in 1990.

Oliver was an interesting actress. Apparently, she loved acting, but never wanted to be tied down. She not only was a aviator and director but a writer. She was a practicing Buddhist and a baseball expert as well.

Wickes and Oliver were very different women with very different interests and acting roles. They both remained single and devoted themselves to their careers. But they were both women who were always in demand for their acting ability.

Just a Couple of Characters, Part 2: Hope Summers and Madge Blake

Today we continue our series, Just A Couple of Characters, about character actors we recognize but might not know much about. Hope Summers and Madge Blake are two actresses you will recognize if you watched sitcoms in the 1960s or 1970s.

Hope Summers

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Born Sarah Hope Summers in 1902 in Mattoon, Illinois, Hope Summers often played the friendly, but nosy, neighbor. She’s best recognized as Clara from The Andy Griffith Show.

Summers became interested in theater early in her life. She attended Northwestern, majoring in speech. After graduation she stayed at the University and taught speech and diction. She then moved to Peoria and headed the Speech Department at Bradley University. She joined a few community theaters, putting on one-woman shows. She also acted in a few dramatic radio shows.

She married Claude Witherell in 1927, and they were married until his death in 1967. The couple had two children.

In 1950, she transitioned to television. She appeared in an early comedy series, Hawkins Falls: A Television Novel. Like Edward Andrews, she was often cast in roles older than her actual age. She became a popular actress quickly. She continued to appear in a variety of shows throughout the 1950s including Bachelor Father, Private Secretary, Wagon Train, Dennis the Menace, and the Loretta Young Show.

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On The Rifleman

From 1958-1960, she would appear in The Rifleman as Hattie Denton.

In 1961, she received the role she would become most famous for, Clara, Bee’s best friend on The Andy Griffith Show. When Andy Griffith left the show in 1968, Hope continued with Mayberry RFD in her role of Clara for five episodes. Clara was a lonely spinster who lived next door to Andy and his family. She and Bee had fun sharing bits of gossip and talking about current events. Clara had a good heart and though she and Bee could get upset with each other, they truly cared about each other.

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While playing the role of Clara, she continued to guest in series throughout the 1960s. She appeared on many of the hit shows of that time such as Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, Make Room for Daddy, Hazel, My Three Sons, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Petticoat Junction, The Phyllis Diller Show, Marcus Welby, That Girl, and Bewitched.

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During the 1970s, Summers kept her career going strong, appearing in Hawaii Five-0, M*A*S*H, Little House on the Prairie, and Welcome Back Kotter.

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Playing a nice witch in Rosemary’s Baby

Although, Summers began her acting career during the second half of her life, she was also featured in several well-known movies. In 1960, she was in Inherit the Wind, The Shakiest Gun in the West, and Rosemary’s Baby in 1968, among others.

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Summers also was famous as the voice of Mrs. Butterworth in commercials.

In 1978 she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and quit acting. She passed away from the disease in 1979.

Madge Blake

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While Hope Summers was part of the cast of The Andy Griffith Show, Madge Blake was busy portraying Aunt Harriet on Batman.

Born Madge Cummings in 1899 in Kansas, she, like Hope Summers, became interested in acting at a young age. Her father was a Methodist minister and he refused to allow her to give it a try. Oddly enough, Madge’s maternal uncle was Milburn Stone, Doc on Gunsmoke.

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Although they later divorced, Madge married James Blake and they had one child. She had a fascinating career. Both she and James worked for the government during the war. They had top secret clearance for their project working on the construction of the detonator for the atomic bomb in Utah. They also performed tests on equipment used in the Manhattan Project.

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Also, like Summers, Blake turned to acting at a later age. When she was 50, she enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse to study acting. She only had twenty years in the business, yet she managed to achieve an impressive 124 acting credits.

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Singin’ in the Rain

Blake would appear in 47 films in smaller, but impressive, roles. Some of her movies included An American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain, Brigadoon, The Tender Trap, Bells Are Ringing, Ain’t Misbehaving, and The Solid Gold Cadillac.

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Margaret Mondello

Beginning her television career in 1954, she racked up an impressive amount of guest star roles and several recurring roles. She played Tillie, the president of the Jack Benny fan club on The Jack Benny Show. She played Larry Mondello’s mother on Leave It to Beaver. An interesting aside is that she was asked to play Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show where she would have worked with Hope Summers. Because she was locked into the role of Mrs. Mondello, she declined. She took the role of Mrs. Barnes, Joey’s mother, on The Joey Bishop Show. On the Real McCoys, she played Flora MacMichael, Grandpa McCoy’s love interest; Nurse Phipps on Dr. Kildare; and the role she became best known for, Aunt Harriet on Batman.  

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The network was worried about Batman and Robin living alone together on Batman, so the role of Aunt Harriet was added. The story line was that she raised Bruce Wayne in the family mansion. Their interaction with Aunt Harriet was also a reason for the dynamic duo to appear in their non-hero roles more often.

It would seem that coming into acting later in life and then appearing in so many movies and recurring television appearances would have kept her quite busy. But in addition to these appearances, she was cast in many of the most popular shows during her twenty years on television. During that time, you can find her on dramas like Public Defender, Lassie, The Restless Gun, and the Man from U.N.C.L.E.

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On I Love Lucy

Of course, she was meant to play comedy and she appeared on an incredible number of sitcoms. Just to name a few, there of them: George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, I Love Lucy, Private Secretary, Father Knows Best, Bachelor Father, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Donna Reed Show, Make Room for Daddy, Bewitched, The Addams Family, My Favorite Martian, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gomer Pyle, and The Doris Day Show. Pretty amazing.

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On Bewitched

I read over and over that one of her best performances was in the pilot for Dennis the Menace where she plays Dennis’s babysitter. I have not been able to watch that show, but I will definitely check that out.

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On Dennis the Menace

In 1969, Blake passed away from a heart attack after she broke her leg. She was only 70, or we might have had a much longer list of television series for her.

Hope Summers and Madge Blake had a lot in common. They both became interested in acting at an early age, they both had major careers before acting, they both began acting in the second half of their life, they both played neighborly types–Summers, nosier, and Blake, more ditzy. They also both had respectable film careers paralleling their television ones. Their television roles may have been smaller, but they were memorable, they are definitely two characters worth watching.

The Actor Who Always “Dressed” Up: Jamie Farr

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Jamie Farr was born Jameel Joseph Farah on July 1, 1934 in Toledo, Ohio. His mother was a seamstress and his father a grocer. They attended the St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church.

Farr’s first acting success occurred at age 11, when he won two dollars in a local acting contest.

He graduated from Woodward High School with honors and was named most outstanding student. In addition to writing and acting in two variety shows, he was a member of the Drama Society, class president for three years, feature editor of the school newspaper, president of the radio class, manager of the football and basketball teams and a member of the varsity tennis team.

Before becoming a successful actor, he worked for a lithograph company, a post office clerk, an army surplus store clerk, an airline reservations clerk, and at a chinchilla ranch.

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After graduation he attended the Pasadena Playhouse where a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer talent scout discovered him, offering him a screen test for Blackboard Jungle. He won the role of the mentally challenged student, Santini. He was drafted by the United States Selective Service into the United States Army, undergoing his basic training with the 6th Infantry Division, Fort Ord, California, he served for two years, with service in Japan and Korea. The dog tags he wore on M*A*S*H were his own. (Alan Alda also served as a gunnery officer in Korea.)

In 1958, Warner Brothers cast him as the co-pilot of a TB-25 in the Andy Griffith military comedy No Time for Sergeants, which also brought the young TV comic Don Knotts to motion pictures. Farr appeared as Thaddaeus in the 1965 film The Greatest Story Ever Told, along with minor roles in Who’s Minding the Mint? and with future costar William Christopher in With Six You Get Eggroll. He would also appear in Cannonball Run and Cannonball Run II.

 

In the late 1960s, he became a regular on the Red Skelton Show. He appeared in a variety of shows in the 1960s including Hazel, My Three Sons, Donna Reed, The Dick Van Dyke ShowI Dream of Jeannie, My Favorite Martian, Get Smart, Gomer Pyle, The Flying Nun, and Family Affair. Farr received roles in several commercials as well, including an ad for Wonder Bread where he says, “If it isn’t fresh, I’m outta business.”

 

During this decade, he also married Joy Ann Richards. They are still married and have two children.

He continued his television acting career through the 1970s appearing on a variety of shows including Room 222, Love American Style, Toma, Emergency, Barnaby Jones, and The Love Boat.

 

Image: Loretta Swit And Alan Alda William Christopher In 'M*A*S*H'

In October of 1972, he was hired to appear on one episode of M*A*S*H as Corporal Klinger. He wore women’s clothing, hoping to be discharged from the Army for a Section 8 discharge. He was asked back for the second season to appear in 12 episodes and became a regular cast member in the fourth season. When Radar left the show, and Klinger took over as Company Clerk, he stopped being fashionable and returned to uniforms. He said he did not want his kids to be made fun of because of his cross dressing. He was a resourceful and kind soldier. His character on the show was also from Toledo, and he often mentioned one of Farr’s favorite restaurants, Tony Packo’s Hot Dogs and talked about his love for the Toledo Mud Hens. (In 2017, he was inducted into the Mud Hens Hall of Fame.  A bobble head was given to the first 2000 fans to the game that night.) He continued with M*A*S*H until 1983 when it left the air.

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Along with Harry Morgan and William Christopher, he appeared in After M*A*S*H for two years. The show never got the fan base the original show had and was cancelled after 30 episodes.

 

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The cast of both M*A*S*H and After M*A*S*H were very close. On the death of Harry Morgan, Farr commented, “Harry was very special to all of us cast members. Not only was he a wonderful performer that made such a difference … he was a dear friend to every cast member. He was absolutely a pixie, a gremlin as mischievous as all get out. You couldn’t be around Harry for very long without wanting to embrace him and I think our Lord will feel the same way.”

 

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He also commented on William Christopher’s passing: “We are all devastated by our beloved Bill’s passing. I have known him for over 50 years. During the 1960s we lived in the same neighborhood in Studio City. My Joy and I would see him and his wife Barbara going for walks as we were going for walks. Bill and I did the very last Doris Day movie together, With Six You Get Egg Roll. We were both cast in the tv series M*A*S*H at almost the same time. He was a gentle soul and, in my opinion, probably the most under rated actor of all of us on the show. He was wonderful. During between set ups for camera angles Bill would read his Homeric book in Homeric Greek. He was a real egg head. He and his Barbara traveled the world and he would try to learn the language of the countries they were going to visit. He went to Egypt one year and tried his Arabic on me. He was better than I was. We used to imitate Bill on the set using his high-pitched voice. One time he came down with hepatitis, and when he returned to the series we had his actor’s chair painted yellow. Bill and I did a National Tour of the play “The Odd Couple” with Bill portraying Felix and me doing Oscar, Bill was at one time on the Board of the Devereaux Foundation for Autistic Children. It was a real honor to have had him and Barbara as friends and a great honor to have shared the tv screen with this gracious, talented and charming soul. May his memory be eternal. Rest in Peace Father Mulcahy.”

 

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Like many celebrities who were typecast in a specific role, Farr realized there were advantages and disadvantages to his fame. He said that “the benefits from stardom as Klinger outweigh any setbacks. It’s a double-edged sword. What makes you famous is what interferes with getting other roles. But there are things that never would have happened without M*A*S*H. There certainly would be no Jamie Farr Kroger Golf Classic.”

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Farr has always been generous with his hometown. The golf classic he discussed above is now the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic. The tournament has raised more than $6 million dollars for local children’s charities.

The city has shown its love for Farr as well. The park in Toledo where Farr used to hang out when he was younger was renamed “Jamie Farr Park” in his honor on July 5, 1998. About the park, he said, “I wanted to be an actor, a famous actor, and I wanted my hometown of Toledo, Ohio, to be proud of me.” Farr spoke to about four hundred admirers and was quoted in the New York Post: “Jamie Farr Park is certainly a highlight of my life and career.”

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Farr also made a gift of his scripts to the University of Toledo. The scripts were from movies and television, including M*A*S*H, After M*A*S*H, The Blackboard Jungle, With Six You Get Eggroll, No Time for Sergeants, Who’s Minding the Mint, among others. He also donated call sheets with each script. Call sheets list the personnel and equipment needed for each day of productions, the scenes being filmed, shooting schedules, and the scenes to be filmed.

Farr has also appeared in plays during the second half of his career. In the 1990s, Farr  played the role of Nathan Detroit in a Broadway revival of “Guys and Dolls.” Farr is still active in regional theater and guest-stars occasionally on television.

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In 1996–97 Farr went on a national tour with “The Odd Couple,” playing Oscar Madison, playing opposite his old friend William Christopher in the role of Felix Ungar.

Most recently he was in the national touring production of “Say Goodnight, Gracie,” a one-man show about longtime entertainer George Burns.

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Farr has also tackled being an author. In 1994, he published his autobiography, Just Farr Fun. With his wife, he also wrote a children’s book, Hababy’s Christmas Eve, a Christmas book where the story is told from the view point of the animals.

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Jamie Farr has had a successful and fun career. He has been a movie star, a television celebrity, an author, and a Broadway performer. He was not bitter about his role as Klinger but accepted the benefits that came with it and made the most of it. He has also been generous, raising money and publicizing Toledo. He truly sounds like a very nice man. It was fun to learn more about his life.

Do You Hear What I See?

As viewers transitioned from radio to television, there was a lot of conflict as advertisers volleyed between the two mediums. Many critics predicted an early death for radio which never came about.  Radio found its new niche, relying more on news and music. Now, you can actually watch radio on television shows like Mike & Mike on ESPN.

Television has also featured several shows about radio stations over the years.  Today we tune in to five of those.

Good Morning World (1967)

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David Lewis (Joby Baker) and Larry Clarke (Ronnie Schell) are early morning DJs in LA with the Lewis and Clarke Show. Dave is happily married, while Larry considers himself a ladies’ man. Billy De Wolfe garnered a lot of attention as the best part of the show  portraying station manager Roland Hutton, a stuffy and humorless boss. Rounding out the cast are Dave’s wife Linda played by Julie Parrish and the debut of Goldie Hawn as their next-door-neighbor.

American actors Goldie Hawn (as Sandy Kramer) and Charlie Brill (as Milton Pervis) appear in an episode of the television show 'Good Morning Wold' called 'Knits To You, Sir,' June 20, 1967.

The show was created by an unbelievable group: Carl Reiner, Sheldon Leonard, Bill Persky, and Sam Denoff. They all were part of the creative force of the Dick Van Dyke Show.  Persky and Denoff were also the producers for That Girl. They based this show on their work as writers at WNEW-New York in the 1950s.

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This photo made me laugh.  They could actually be stand-ins for Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. It might even be the same kitchen!

Filmed before a live audience at Desilu, the show was created to showcase Schell.  Ronnie had been a private on Gomer Pyle and this was to be his break-out show. Procter and Gamble sponsored the series which aired Tuesday nights. It should have done well during its slot, being up against NYPD and the Tuesday Night at the Movies.

The ratings were not great, and the network debated whether to cancel the show or bring it back for a second season.  The two deciding factors might have been that Baker had a lot of trouble memorizing his lines and Parrish was dealing with some health issues.  The network considered recasting both roles but ended up cancelling the series after 26 episodes.  Surprisingly, it was released on DVD.

Schell went back to Gomer Pyle, USMC where he was promoted to corporal.

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The best episode is “No News Like Nude News.” The stars are invited to a Nude Ranch and go thinking they are on their way to a dude ranch.

 

WKRP in Cincinnati (1978)

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I consider WKRP the second-best radio sitcom. The premise for the show was that a new producer is brought in to help a struggling radio station in Cincinnati.  Changing the format from easy listening to rock brings new life to the station and a lot of chaos to the staff. Hugh Wilson created the format.  He can be seen as a police officer in the episode “Hold Up.”

Along with The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Barney Miller, and The Office, this was one of the best ensemble casts in television. The characters included:

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Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) is the producer who has a successful history of turning stations around.

Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump) is the station manager whose mother owns the station. The Big Guy’s management style is a big part of why the station is not doing well.  Art is more interested in fishing than radio. Jump was a DJ in Dalton in his former life.

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Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson) is the smart receptionist who is the highest-paid staff member. Anderson refused to be cast as a dumb blonde.  Jennifer has a journalism degree and although she is only receptionist, she has the skills that keep Art Carlson out of the loop and everything running smoothly at the station. She is gorgeous and kind-hearted, but she refuses to type letters or make coffee.

Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) is the incompetent news reporter. He always wears bow ties and is best friends with Herb. Richard has a bandage on his head from a real-life injury in the pilot and he made that one of his trademarks.  He often shows up with bandages on various parts of his body and we later learn that he has a large dog.

Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) is a tasteless boor. He is married but is always coming on to Jennifer. Herb’s suits are even louder than he is.  In one episode, Venus says “Somewhere out there there’s a VW with no seats.” One of his suits actually was made from VW covers. Bonner grew up in Arkansas, and Herb always has a Razorback mug on his desk.

Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) originally took care of billing but is also a journalism major and shows she is a more competent on-air reporter than Les. She and Fever date off and on.

Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid) is the soulful, smooth-talking DJ.  Although he is on the air at night and Fever has the morning shift, they become best friends. His real name was Gordon Sims and he was a school teacher before his DJ career took off.

Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) is the burned-out DJ from LA.  He was fired for saying “booger” on the air at his last job.  He’s an insomniac and addicted to coffee.  His hippie lifestyle and cynicism do not mesh with Herb and Les. Originally Hesseman was asked to read for the part of Les Nessman but would only audition for Fever. David Cassidy turned down the role of Johnny Fever. The character of Fever was based on Atlanta’s Bobby Harper who was on the morning show on WQXL 790 AM.  The creator of the show, Hugh Wilson, had previously worked there.

In many of the scenes there were bulletin boards with bumper stickers plastered all over that had been sent in from radio DJs all over the country. As a tribute to John Lennon, his photo was displayed in the background after his assassination.

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The show was videotaped because rock song rights were cheaper for taped shows than filmed shows. When the show went into syndication, almost all of the music had to be replaced.  When the DVD set was being created, the original music was put back in.  An agreement could not be reached until 2014.

Although it’s hard to believe, in 1980 Hugh Wilson collaborated with Hanna-Barbera to create an animated version of WKRP where all the characters are played by dogs.  The show never actually happened.

WKRP was on Monday nights against Welcome Back Kotter and Little House on the Prairie. After the first season, it was moved repeatedly. The show was cancelled after four seasons. It accumulated ten Emmy nominations including three for outstanding series. The show was much more successful in syndication.

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The show was filmed in Los Angeles, but the opening and closing scenes as well as several episode scenes were filmed at the Enquirer Building in Cincinnati.  That building is currently a Hampton Inn/Homewood Suites at 615 Vine St. near Fountain Square.  The radio station said they were housed in the Osgood R. Flimm Building.

One of the most memorable parts of the show was the theme song:

“Baby, if you’ve ever wondered, wondered whatever became of me.  I’m living on the air in Cincinnati, Cincinnati WKRP. Got kind of tired of packin’ and unpackin’, town to town, up and down the dial. Maybe you and me were never meant to be, just maybe think of me once in a while. I’m at WKRP in Cincinnati.”

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In 2015, a non-profit radio station in Raleigh, 101.9 was given the WKRP call letters. An independent television station, channel 25, in Cincinnati also received the WKRP designation in 1990.

The clever writing and memorable characters have gained this sitcom a great reputation in television history.

Hello Larry (1979)

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McLean Stevenson was hoping to be the star of M*A*S*H.  Once he realized Alan Alda was firmly entrenched in that position, he opted out of his contract to star in his own show.

The result was Hello Larry about a man, Larry Alder, who is divorced and moves with his two teenage daughters to Portland to star in a call-in psychiatric radio show. Kim Richards played his daughter Ruthie and Krista Erickson played Diane. Lisa Whelchel auditioned for the role of Ruthie but lost out to Richards and ended up on Facts of Life which she was grateful for.

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The other cast members included Joanna Gleason (Monty Hall’s daughter) as the radio producer, George Memmoli as Earl the engineer, and John Femia as Tommy Roscini. Larry also hung out with a familiar face – -Meadowlark Lemon, former Globetrotter, who owned a Portland sporting goods store.

The show was owned by the same company who created One Day at A Time and this was a mirror image of that show focusing on a single mom with two daughters.

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The ratings were not good. The show was up against Charlie’s Angels and the Wednesday Night Movie. Several months into the season, to bolster ratings, the writers brought in the cast of Diff’rent Strokes which was a popular show that aired right before Hello Larry.  It was scripted that Larry and Phil Drummond had served together in Korea.  It did not help the ratings. The show went through a variety of scheduling changes all with the same result.  An issue that certainly didn’t help the show was the Iranian hostage crisis.  The show was often interrupted with special news breaks.

After 38 episodes, the show died a quiet death.  A TV Guide poll in 2002 listed Hello Larry as the 12th worse show of all time.  It was probably best remembered as the show that continually got made fun of by Johnny Carson for being so bad.

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It’s hard to believe an actor would leave one of the most creative and popular shows of all time to move to one of the worst shows of all time.

Frasier (1993)

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I think that Fraisier was the best radio show on television.  Frasier was on the air 12 years resulting in 263 episodes. The show averaged only 24 episodes a year. The hundredth episode was entirely filmed on the streets of Seattle. Leaving the cast of Cheers, Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) moves back to Seattle to host a show as a radio psychiatrist.

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After an injury, his father, a former policeman, moves in with Frasier. Fraiser provides advice on the airwaves while struggling in his personal relationships, especially with his cranky father and his pretentious brother. The producers did not want the show to resemble WKRP too much, so they came up with the concept of having Frasier live with his father, so family relationships became important.

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John Mahoney plays Martin Crane, a grumpy, uncultured man who cannot understand his sons. Although Martin did not care about high-brow topics, John Mahoney taught Pierce a lot about wine and opera during the Frasier years.

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David Hyde Pierce was Frasier’s brother Niles.  The role of Niles was written just for Pierce.  The brothers were extremely competitive, although they could count on each other when it mattered. Frasier went to Harvard and Oxford while Niles went to Yale and Cambridge. Their mom was a scientist and the boys were named after lab rats she worked with. Both brothers had expensive tastes, intellectual interests, and high opinions of themselves. Niles was married to Maris, but we never see her. In later seasons, after getting a divorce, Niles marries Daphne. The brothers often meet at Café Nervosa.

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On an episode of Cheers, Frasier explained that his father had died in an accident and he had no siblings.  When Sam (Ten Danson) comes to visit on Frasier, the error is explained by having Frasier tell Sam that he made the story up because he was mad at his family. All but two characters from Cheers starred on Frasier.  Coach had passed away and  Kirstie Alley (Rebecca) was a scientologist who did not accept psychology.

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Jane Leeves plays Daphne Moon, who was hired to be Martin’s therapist and caretaker.

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Peri Gilpin (Roz Doyle) is Frasier’s radio producer and becomes one of his best friends. The role of Roz had been narrowed down to Gilpin or Lisa Kudrow. Kudrow was funnier but lacked the forcefulness she needed in the workplace, so Gilpin got the job.

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Another important character was Martin’s dog Eddie.  John Mahoney said Eddie got more fan mail than anyone else on the show. To get Eddie to lick Mahoney’s face, liver pate was placed strategically on his face.

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Bebe Neuwirth was offered a regular role on the show as Frasier’s ex-wife, but she wanted to return to Broadway, so she guest-starred from time to time. She appeared in 12 shows.

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Frasier’s apartment was almost another character on the show.  He lived in an ultra-modern apartment. A Dale Chihuly sculpture is seen near the fireplace. Above the fireplace is another artwork by Laddie John Dill, an LA sculptor.  A Coco Chanel sofa was recovered at a cost of $15,000 to add realism. In contrast, Martin brings his old, tattered recliner which clashes with the rest of the apartment – a symbol of the way he and Frasier clash. On the first episode, a deliveryman played by Cleto Augusto brings the chair in. On the final episode, the same actor came and took the chair away.  Martin explains to Frasier that he spent many important life moments in the chair such as watching the moon landing and specific sports events.  When he came home from work, he often fell asleep in the chair, and his wife would kiss him and send him to bed.  Frasier’s mother had passed away a few years earlier. Frasier finally understands the significance of the chair. On the last episode, Martin is marrying again, and he moves out. Wendie Malick plays his second wife.

Guest stars played callers on the radio show.  Often, they phoned in their lines. Callers included David Duchovny, Phil Donahue, Marlo Thomas, Linda Hamilton, Olympia Dukakis, Daryl Hannah, Chris Reeve, and Estelle Parsons.

Grammer made life a bit anxious for his guest stars. He used an acting method called requisite disrespect where he did not rehearse and learned his lines right before each scene.

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The theme song was “Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs” by Darryl Phinnessee and Bruce Miller. Miller wanted Mel Torme to sing the theme for the show, but the producers wanted Kelsey Grammer who ended up recording it.

Critics had great respect for the show. The series holds the record for most sitcom Emmys – 37.  It had the record for most Emmys of any genre till Game of Thrones won its 38th recently. The five best episodes include “The Ski Lodge,” “The Doctor is Out,” “Wheels of Fortune,” and “Ham Radio.”

Grammer and James Arness are currently tied for the character who was on television the longest – 20 years.  Arness played Marshall Dillon on Gunsmoke for 20 years while Grammer played Frasier on Cheers and Frasier for a total of 20 years. The Simpsons have actually passed both of them if animated characters count.

Not only was Fraiser a great radio sitcom, but it is one of the best sitcoms on my top 15 list.

News Radio (1995)

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News Radio explores the office politics and interpersonal relationships among the staff of WNYX, New York’s #2 news radio station.

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Dave Nelson (Dave Foley) is the boss who tries his best to manage a quirky staff. He was raised in Wisconsin and some of his interests include tap dancing, a cappella singing, knife-throwing, and ventriloquism. He is polite and always in control.  He talks to his mother frequently and keeps a photo of her on his desk. He loves coffee and classic sitcoms, especially Mr. Ed and Green Acres.

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Bill McNeal (Phil Hartman) is an egotistical co-anchor. He is arrogant and insubordinate.  There are many gaps in his knowledge, but he does show flashes of concern for others. Near the end of the show’s run, Hartman was killed; tragitically, Hartman was shot by his wife.

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Catherine Duke (Khandi Alexander) is the other co-anchor. She and McNeal previously had an affair and they are rivals. In the fourth season, she takes a job in London.

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Jimmy James (Stephen Root) is an eccentric owner. He is a billionaire and feels the need to micromanage the station. He is always searching for a wife and loves to air his rivalries with other entrepreneurs such as Ted Turner and Bill Gates. In the finale, he buys a radio station and newspaper in New Hampshire and takes most of the staff with him.

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Lisa Miller (Maura Tierney) is an ambitious producer who is Nelson’s on-and-off-again girlfriend. She’s an overachiever who can do complex math problems and has a detailed life plan. In season five, she marries Jimmy’s archenemy Johnny Johnson (Patrick Warburton).

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Matthew Brock (Andy Dick) is a hapless reporter who is clumsy and always tripping or falling down. He idolizes McNeal.  He has a dental degree, loves sci fi, and has a crush on Lisa.

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Joe Garrelli (Joe Rogan) is a handyman and electrician.  He is infatuated with Catherine and believes conspiracy theories, especially about extraterrestrials. Ray Romano was originally hired for this job, but his verbal comedy did not mesh well with the rest of the cast.

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Beth (Vicki Lewis) is the quirky secretary.  She typically wears inappropriate clothing, chews gum all the time, and likes to complain about her low salary. She was named Beth based on the Kiss song.

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Max Lewis (Jon Lovitz) was McNeal’s replacement after Hartman’s death. He was inept, eccentric, insecure, unprofessional and a former colleague of Bill’s.

The show was on the brink of cancellation every season. It never placed higher than 26th and changed time slots 11 times. It was briefly cancelled in 1998, but the network reversed its decision and ordered 22 more episodes and then it was cancelled for good.

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The show was fast paced and witty.  Sarcasm ruled the dialogue. Physical humor and sight gags also had a place in the humor. The show differed from the casts in The Office or the Mary Tyler Moore Show because they were a dysfunctional family without the affection and empathy of those characters. The cast was banned from SAG awards for bad behavior at the first ceremony.

Shows featuring radio stations seem to be hit or miss.  Good Morning World and Hello Larry did not do well.  I think everyone can agree on WKRP in Cincinnati and Fraiser are well-written shows.  News Radio seems to fall somewhere in the middle.  Some people seem to love it while others thought it missed the mark.  I think the show is well written, but the characters are not endearing.  They don’t grow or change for the better.  We can grow to love a Herb Tarlek and a Ted Baxter, but there is nothing redeeming about the crew here.  I guess I would tune out.  There are too many good shows out there to watch a “maybe, maybe not” show.

The Friendship and Careers of Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis

Fred Gwynne was born in New York in July of 1926 and died in Maryland in 1993.  Al Lewis was born in New York in April of 1923 and passed away in New York in February of 2006. At first glance, they don’t seem to have a lot in common, but a closer look reveals why they enjoyed a long friendship.

Fred Gwynne

Fred Gwynne grew up in New York and had a very wealthy and advantaged upbringing.  He was a radioman in the Navy during World War II.  When the war was over, Gwynne entered Harvard, studying drawing and dramatics. He became a member of their Hasty Pudding Club, being involved with many theatrical productions. Gwynne graduated in 1951 and went on to work for a Shakespeare repertory company. He was a talented man with a variety of interests and earned his living from several careers.  He was a copywriter, a musician, a book illustrator, and a commercial artist.

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In 1952, he made his Broadway debut, acting with Helen Hayes in “Mrs. McThing.” The play ran for 320 performances.  In 1953, he performed in his second Broadway play, “The Frogs of Spring” which had a much shorter run.  In 1954, he had a small role in On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando.

He also began appearing on television in the 1950s, and most of his roles were on dramas such as Kraft Theater or DuPont Show of the Week.

The one exception was The Phil Silvers Show where he appeared in 1955 and 1956. The producer of this show, Nat Hiken, went on to create a similar show called Car 54 Where Are You? about New York policemen.  He cast Gwynne as one of the leads, Francis Muldoon. The show ran for two seasons and when it was cancelled, Gwynne went back to his theatrical dramas.

In 1964, the creators of Leave It to Beaver, decided on a different concept for a show called The Munsters.  Fred was cast as the lead role.  While this show also ran two years, the part of Herman Munster was much harder to overcome than Francis Muldoon had been.  Gwynne struggled to find new roles, and when he was unsuccessful, he went back to Broadway.  He did make one pilot during these years for a show called Guess What I Did Today, but no network picked it up. His favorite Broadway performance was Big Daddy in 1974 when he starred in “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof.”

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During the 1980s, his cinema career picked up and he ended up with 15 movies to his credit from 1979-1992. Included in this list are The Cotton Club, The Secret of My Success, Fatal Attraction, Ironweed, Pet Sematary, and My Cousin Vinny.

His book writing and illustrating also continued.  His first book, The Best in Show, was published in 1958.  The King Who Rained came out in 1970, and Simon and Schuster published A Chocolate Moose for Dinner in 1976 and A Little Pigeon Toad in 1988.

Throughout most of his career, Gwynne lived a quiet life far from Hollywood. He was married to his first wife Roxy from 1952-1980 and his second wife from 1981 until his death from pancreatic cancer in 1993.

Al Lewis

Al Lewis claimed he was born in 1910 and was a circus performer in the 1920s.  He also said he went to Columbia and graduated with a PhD in child psychology.  After he passed away, his son confirmed that he was born in 1923, and Columbia had no record of him attending school with his given name or his stage name.  His son thought he made himself older to get the role of Grandpa in The Munsters because in real life Yvonne DeCarlo was a year older than he was.

Some of his other jobs included a salesman,  hot dog vendor for the Brooklyn Dodgers, waiter, pool room owner, and store detective.  He was a good basketball player in high school and apparently worked as a basketball scout at some time in his early life. A friend convinced him to join an actor’s workshop in 1949 and that led to a career in vaudeville. In the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in a variety of TV shows including US Steel Hour, Route 66, Lost in Space, and Gomer Pyle.  He too was cast in the Phil Silvers Show which later resulted in his role of Patrolman Leo Schnauzer in Car 54 Where Are You?

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In 1964, he too was offered a role in The Munsters. In 1966 when the show went off the air, he continued making television appearances and starred in cinema movies.  During the 1970s and 1980s, he appeared on Night Gallery, Green Acres, Love American Style, Here’s Lucy, Taxi, and Best of the West.  His career featured 22 films including They Shoot Horses Don’t They, Boatniks, Used Cars, Married to the Mob, and a remake of Car 54 Where Are You?

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Like Gwynne, he was married twice:  to Marge from 1956-1977 and to Karen from 1984 until his death from heart complications in 2006. Lewis also published several children’s books during his acting career.

Midway through his career he opened an Italian restaurant, Grandpa’s Bella Gente, which Gwynne designed the logo for. He also got into radio and was featured on Howard Stern’s Show often.

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It is surprising that both of these stars were in two sitcoms which both lasted only two years. Let’s take a look at the shows that made them household names.

Car 54 Where Are You?

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This sitcom, set in the 53rd precinct in Brooklyn was an early Barney Miller. Gwynne played Francis Muldoon.  His partner, Gunther Toody, was his exact opposite.  While Muldoon was a bachelor, an intellectual, calm and quiet, Toody was married, naïve, excitable, and talkative. In one show, when the precinct is debating splitting up the two men, Muldoon says “I guess most of the men are smarter than Gunther and less trouble than Gunther, but  . . . well, I’m so used to Gunther.  When he chatters away, the days just fly by.  I’d just be lost without Gunther.” Gunther concurs, “You mean ride around with someone next to me that’s not Muldoon? Francis is a quiet man. He doesn’t say a word. He just sits there all day thinking. It’s very comforting for a man like me to know there’s someone next to him doing the thinking for both of us.” Of course, they split them up only to partner them up again because no one else could take the silence or constant chatter.

Al Lewis played Officer Leo Schnauzer, appearing in every episode.

Policemen were split on their view of the show.  Some took offense and felt they were portrayed in a negative light, while others enjoyed it and identified with some of the comedic elements. It was filmed in The Bronx at Biograph Studio.  There was a large sign out front identifying it as the 53rd precinct till a woman came in pleading to save her from her abusive husband and the sign was quickly taken down.

Originally titled Snow Whites, the show aired at 8:30 eastern time Sunday nights between The Wide World of Disney and Bonanza.  The only clue I could find for the original name was that the show was sponsored by Proctor and Gamble who made several detergents for clothing. It was filmed in black and white, but the police cars were red and white so they would show up better on black and white film. The show also starred Beatrice Pons, Charlotte Rae, Nipsey Russell, Alice Ghostley, and Larry Storch.

Perhaps what the show is best remembered for was its catchy theme song.  Anyone who viewed an episode or two can probably remember the fun lyrics:

There’s a hold up in the Bronx, Brooklyn’s broken out in fights.

There’s a traffic jam in Harlem that’s backed up to Jackson Heights.

There’s a scout troop short a child; Kruschev’s due at Idlewild . . .

Car 54, where are you?

 

The Munsters

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In 1964, the creators of Leave It to Beaver decided to feature another “wholesome” family who just happens to live at 1313 Mockingbird Lane in Mockingbird Heights. The family consists of Grandpa who is always experimenting in his lab; Herman who is the funeral director at Gateman, Goodbury, and Graves; his wife Lilly, a vampire; their son Eddie who is a werewolf; and their beautiful black-sheep Marilyn.  Marilyn was beautiful but they viewed her as odd looking and she seemed to get a lot of dates but when she brings them home, they never ask her out again. The family also owns two pets – Spot, a prehistoric animal Grandpa rescued and Igor, a bat.  They lived a somewhat normal life but drank bat milk and cooked in a cauldron. On the hour, a cuckoo clock chimed and a raven, voiced by Mel Blanc, appeared and said “Nevermore.”

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All the actors had to endure a two-hour make-up session, but Gwynne had the worst time because he had to wear 40-50 pounds of padding.  One day he lost 10 pounds filming under the lights.  They gave him gallons of lemonade between takes and later rigged a way to blow cool air on him underneath the material.

The entire family could have been played by different actors.  John Carradine was offered the role of Herman. The pilot featured Joan Marshall as the wife and instead of Lilly, her name was Phoebe. Marilyn was played by Beverly Owens for 13 episodes and then Pat Priest took over for the rest of the show’s run. Eddie was first offered to Bill Mumy, Will Robinson from Lost in Space, and Grandpa to Bert Lahr from The Wizard of Oz.

After the show was cancelled, the Munster mobile often traveled to memorabilia shows.  There was also a Dragula built with purple silk upholstery and chrome pipes for the exhaust. Although the show was only on the air for two years, there were a lot of collectibles such as board games, lunch boxes, paper dolls, and coloring books.

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In 2001, the McKee family of Waxahachie, Texas was such a huge fan of the show that the family built their 5000+ square foot house to exactly resemble the Munsters’ home including the crooked weather vane and grand staircase that lifted up to feed Spot.

Both Gwynne and Lewis were born in New York.  They both appeared on the show Brenner early in their careers. Both were tapped from their roles in The Phil Silvers Show to play roles on Car 54 Where Are You? They both went on to star in The Munsters.  Neither of them ever had another series.  They both chose to live on the east coast. They both wrote children’s books.  They were each married twice and married to their second spouse for the rest of their lives. They both had a lot of success in the movies as well as television. They were both men with fascinating careers before they ever entered acting.  I learned a lot about these interesting friends.  Happy Birthday to Fred Gwynne would have been 91.

Remembering William Christopher

I wanted to pay a tribute to William Christopher, who passed away December 31, 2016, exactly one year after Wayne Rogers, one of his co-workers on the show M*A*S*H.

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Christopher was born in Evanston, Illinois October 20, 1932. Growing up in that area, he attended New Trier High School in Winnetka, the same high school as Rock Hudson.  His family’s genealogy apparently included Paul Revere. Ironically, his grandmother hoped he would go into the ministry like his grandfather who was the founder of the First Methodist Church in Chicago, and in some ways, he did. Christopher went to college at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, graduating with a BA in Drama, focusing on Greek Literature. (In the last episode of M*A*S*H, Father Mulcahy wears a Wesleyan sweatshirt.) He participated in fencing, soccer, and the glee club in college.  Connecticut was also where he met his wife Barbara on a blind date.  They married in 1957 and later adopted twin boys, John and Ned.

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Building on his theater experience which began with him playing a groundhog in the third grade, he moved to New York.  Eventually he made his Broadway debut in Beyond the Fringe where he worked with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Not long after, he moved to California to continue acting.

He began his work in television in 1965 appearing in 12 O’Clock High. For the next seven years, he worked regularly appearing in Hank in 1965, The Patty Duke Show in 1966, 2 appearances in The Andy Griffith Show in 1965 and 1966, Death Valley Days in 1966, four separate episodes of Hogan’s Heroes from 1965-68, Gomer Pyle where he was in 16 episodes from 1965-8, That Girl in two episodes as Chippy Dolan, The Virginian in 1971, Alias Smith and Jones in 1971, Insight in 1972, and 4 shows of Nichols from 1971-2.

Along with his television roles, he appeared on the big screen during this period. His first movie was Fortune Cookie in 1966 where he played an intern, The Perils of Pauline in 1967 as a doctor, The Private Navy of Sargent O’ Farrell in 1968 as Private Jake Schultz, The Shakiest Gun in the West in 1968 as a hotel manager, and With Six You Get Egg Roll in 1968. With Six You Get Egg Roll was Doris Day’s last movie before she moved into television and then retired. After playing so many military and religious roles, this one was out of character as he played a hippie Zip Cloud along with future M*A*S*H member Jamie Farr.wc6

In 1972 he got his big break, being cast as Father Mulcahy in the television version of M*A*S*H. George Morgan, who was cast in the pilot, was replaced and Christopher received the role. Morgan appeared in four series and three movies before the pilot, but only two other series after. M*A*S*H was on the air from 1972-1983, and Christopher was in 213 of the 251 episodes. Fans loved the goodness Father Mulcahy displayed, along with his humanness when the inhumanity of war tried his patience and frustrated him. Some of his best lines from the show included:

“This isn’t one of my sermons; I expect you to listen.”

“Klinger, how’d you like the last rites…and a few lefts!”

“I think the world of Colonel Potter. He’s a good Christian – yet hardly dull at all.”

“Remember what the good book says: Love thy neighbor, or I’ll punch your lights out!”

While he was part of the M*A*S*H cast, he appeared on other series including Columbo and Movin’ On in 1974, Lucas Tanner, Karen, and Good Times in 1975. Like so many of the stars we meet in this blog, he was on The Love Boat in four episodes from 1981-4. He appeared again on the big screen in the movie Hearts of the West in 1975 as a bank teller. He also made a TV movie, For the Love of It in 1980.

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In 1983, the series After MASH debuted, and Christopher reprised his role of Father Mulcahy along with Harry Morgan as Dr. Sherman Potter, Jamie Farr as Klinger and Gary Burghoff as Radar. The show was not a great success and ended after 30 episodes.

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Christopher never had another recurring role in a television show, but he continued to work in the business appearing in Murder She Wrote in 1985, CBS Summer Playhouse in 1987, The Smurfs 6 times from 1984-88, The New WKRP in Cincinnati in 1993, Lois and Clark: Adventures of Superman in 1997, Diagnosis Murder, Team Knight Rider, and Mad About You in 1998. His last television role was in 11 episodes of Days of Our Lives where he played a priest. In 1987 he made his second TV movie, The Little Troll Prince.

During the years of 1975-2011 he also appeared on several game shows, talk shows, and M*A*S*H-related specials and reunions. In 1994 he made his last movie, Heaven Sent.

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He continued his love of theater touring the country with Jamie Farr in The Odd Couple in the mid-1990s. He also toured with the Church Basement Ladies in 2008-9.

Christopher was generous with his time, helping to raise money for the National Autistic Society (NAS).  The organization was near and dear to his heart because his son Ned suffers from autism. He and his wife wrote a book in 1985, Mixed Blessings, about their experience with their son.

 

William Christopher is revealed to be a very nice man liked by everyone who worked with him.  He was married to Barbara for the rest of his life, was a good family man, generous in working with the NAS, and had a full career.

After Christopher died, Alan Alda tweeted “His pals from #MASH miss Bill powerfully. His kind strength, his grace and gentle humor weren’t acted. They were Bill.”

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Jamie Farr summed it up best in his tribute to his friend and co-worker:

We are all devastated by our beloved Bill’s passing. I have known him for over 50 years. During the 1960s we lived in the same neighborhood in Studio City. My Joy and I would see him and his wife Barbara going for walks as we were going for walks. Bill and I did the very last Doris Day movie together, “With Six You Get Egg Roll.” We were both cast in the tv series “M*A*SH” at almost the same time. He was a gentle soul and in my opinion probably the most underrated actor of all of us on the show. He was wonderful. During between set ups for camera angles Bill would read his Homeric book in Homeric Greek. He was a real egg head. He and his Barbara traveled the world and he would try to learn the language of the countries they were going to visit. He went to Egypt one year and tried his Arabic on me. He was better than I was. We used to imitate Bill on the set using his high pitched voice. One time he came down with hepatitis and when he returned to the series we had his actor’s chair painted yellow. Bill and I did a National Tour of the play “The Odd Couple” with Bill portraying Felix and me doing Oscar, Bill was at one time on the Board of the Devereaux Foundation for Autistic Children. It was a real honor to have had him and Barbara as friends and a great honor to have shared the tv screen with this gracious, talented and charming soul. May his memory be eternal. Rest in Peace Father Mulcahy.

Decorate With Style

With the Christmas shopping season fully in swing, I thought it would be fun to look at ways to decorate with movie and television collectibles. If you are looking for a unique gift for someone on your list or trying to come up with ideas to share with others, think about personalizing home décor with items that showcase pop culture favorites.

Whether you want to sprinkle a few items in around your house or devote an entire room to a theme, there are a lot of fun ideas to display your passions.

If you are shopping for children, think about purchasing a movie poster from the first movie they ever went to.  Our oldest son’s first movie at 3 was supposed to be an animated Christmas feature, but they had a problem with the film and showed Home Alone instead.  I thought he would be bored (or scared), but he loved it, and we commemorated that memory with a framed movie poster for his room. Maybe your child is older but has a movie she watches over and over.

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Our middle son collected old board games.  We still have a lot of those and play them a lot. You can find games about shows from the 1950s up through the present. Here are just a few of the ones I’ve seen out there:  The Lone Ranger, Happy Days, McHales’s Navy, The Partridge Family, The Patty Duke Show, The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, The Honeymooners, The Office, and hundreds more.

If you have an avid sports fan to buy for, think about decorating with movies and tv shows about sports. How about the lobby cards for Remember the Titans, a basketball signed by Gene Hackman from Hoosiers, or a Happy Gilmore script signed by the entire cast.

Decorating with western items can also be a fun theme. Consider redoing your guest room with a western flare.  What would you put in it?  How about Clint Eastwood’s hat from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  I’ve seen a Roy Rogers bedspread, a John Wayne figurine, a Lone Ranger poster for the wall, and on the night stand place a couple of Bonanza tin cups for morning coffee and a CD player with a collection of Old West radio episodes.

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Maybe you have a family member who loves Christmas.  You can find a variety of Christmas photos from classic television shows.  Or buy a small fake Christmas tree and decorate it with Hallmark ornaments from pop culture.

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Perhaps you have someone who loves fashion.  There are a variety of items you can search for in that category. Many movies had photos taken when they tested their costumes. You can also find clothing, accessories, and jewelry worn on television shows or movies to wear or frame. I have a thirtysomething jacket that was made for the crew and cast and it’s a fun item to hang on the wall.

Someone who likes old advertising can use a variety of collectibles scattered throughout the house.  You can find stars promoting everything from cold cream to coffee.  We have an ad of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson in our laundry room for a Hot Point washing machine.

Do you have a doll collector on your list ?  There are hundreds of dolls out there from television series. I’ve seen I Love Lucy, George Burns, Maxwell Smart from Get Smart, That Girl, and Laverne and Shirley. In movie collectibles, you can find Gone with the Wind dolls, Wizard of Oz figures, and even Rock Hudson and Doris Day from Pillow Talk.

Coffee bars are becoming common in new homes.  If you have someone who loves entertaining that way, you’re in luck.  You can find coffee mugs, serving bowls, and tea sets to display.

Last, but not least, if you know someone who has one show they are drawn to use that as your theme.   The iconic show is The Andy Griffith Show.  You can find blankets, villages, cups, signs, clocks, and even canned food and muffin packages. However, any show whether it be The Donna Reed Show from the 1950s or Last Man Standing currently on television will have a lot of items to choose from. If you are looking for single show themes, consider advertising items–My Three Sons had a wood block invitation made for the press; props –a typewriter used on Will and Grace; tv guides; music boxes; paper dolls and coloring books; lunch boxes; or even light switch plates.

If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, make your own.  For example, you could enlarge the sheet music from the theme song and frame it. Or make a shadow box with a few treasured items. You can even make pillows or magnets.

With a little imagination, you can come up with that perfect gift for everyone on your list.  The bonus?  You get to stay cozy and warm inside when the winds are blowing and the snow is falling and watch your favorite shows while you shop for everyone on your gift list.