If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I am a big fan of the show Family starring James Broderick and Sada Thompson. Along with Gary Frank and Kristy McNichol, Meredith Baxter played one of their children on the show. As Nancy, she got divorced and moved into a garage apartment with her son Timmy. She went to law school to follow in her father’s footsteps. Today we will learn a bit more about the life Meredith Baxter had off the show.
Baxter was born in 1947 in California. Her mother was Whitney Blake who played Dorothy Baxter on Hazel. Her father was a radio announcer. Her parents divorced when she was 6. She lived with her brothers and her mother who eventually remarried; Meredith’s stepfather was sitcom writer Allan Manings. Manings wrote for a variety of shows, including McHale’s Navy, Laugh-In, Good Times, and both the original and reboot of One Day at a Time.
Baxter went to Hollywood High. She briefly transferred to Interlochen Center for the Arts as a voice major, but returned to Hollywood High to graduate. Shortly afterward she married Robert Lewis Bush and they had two children. They divorced in 1971.
For the next few years, Meredith appeared on a variety of television shows and in several big-screen movies, including The Doris Day Show and The Partridge Family.
The following year, Meredith got her first major acting role: Bridget Loves Bernie. She starred with David Birney. The premise behind this sitcom is that wealthy, Catholic Bridget Fitzgerald marries lower-class, Jewish Bernie Steinberg who drives a cab. Both sets of parents are uncomfortable with their children’s mates.
Although the show only lasted one season, she and Birney lasted a little longer. They married in 1974 and had twins. In 1989 they divorced and don’t have very good things to say about one another.
In the mid-seventies, television kept Meredith very busy with 11 appearances on shows such as Medical Center and McMillan and Wife and 10 made-for-tv movies.
She appeared on the big screen in All the President’s Men in 1976 before taking the role of Nancy Maitland on Family that same year. Family featured the Lawrences. Kate is a stay-at-home mom and a bit distant but obviously loves her children. Warm, friendly Doug is a lawyer and judge. Nancy is in her twenties but much more mature than her brother Willie who can’t decide what to do with his life. Buddy, a tweener, is the youngest in the family.
Critics as well as viewers were devoted to the show. Baxter was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in both 1977 and 1978. She was beat by her “sister” McNichol in 1977 (McNichol was nominated every year the show was on) and by Nancy Marchand for Lou Grant in 1978. For both years, Family was nominated as best show and Sada Thompson as lead actress which she won in 1978 (Thompson was also nominated every year). Gary Frank as Willie won in 1977. James Broderick also received a nomination during those years.
After Family ended, she went back to making made-for-tv movies with 7 during the 1980s and 21 in the 1990s.
The following year, she would land the role that made her the most famous, Elyse Keaton on Family Ties. In this much-beloved show, Elyse and Steven, former hippies, raise their four children who have different values than they did. Alex, the oldest is a conservative interested primarily in money, Mallory cares more about shopping and boys than anything else, Jennifer has a dry sense of humor and is trying to find her spot in the family and the birth of baby Andy doesn’t help her figure that out. The show was on the air for seven seasons.
In 1995, Baxter married actor and screenwriter Michael Blodgett, but their married only lasted five years. (Blodgett wrote for a variety of television shows and several movies.) Shortly before her divorce, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She made a full recovery and has become a spokesperson for treatment and research and developed a skin cream (Signature). A portion of the proceeds is donated for breast cancer prevention.
In 1996, she again attempted a television series, The Faculty. The show wasn’t renewed for a second season. Baxter played the role of a principal who is divorced and a single mother, and features the choices she has to make to balance her busy life. While the critics praised Baxter’s performance, they didn’t find much else to like about the show, and it was cancelled after 13 episodes.
She made several television appearances on various shows or movies but her only recurring role was as Lilly Rush on Cold Case in 2007.
In 2011, Meredith published her memoir, Untied. She talks frankly about her unhappy marriages, including the abusive one with Birney. She also discloses that she was a recovering alcoholic and that she was gay. After coming out, she met Nancy Locke whom she married in 2013.
In 2014 Baxter accepted a role as Maureen, Nicky’s friend, on The Young and the Restless which began and ended that year. Since that time, she has appeared on a variety of television shows and in several movies. She has a couple of movies coming out soon.
Baxter has also done a variety stage work including the two-character play, “Kissing Place” with David Ogden Stiers. Most recently she has appeared in “Women Beyond Borders,” “Angels in America” and “Love Letters.”
Although Meredith has definitely had some trauma and sadness in her life, she has had a varied and long-lasting career. Being cast in three successful television shows is not something that happens for most actors. She seems to have come to a place in her life where she is happy and content and that is something all of us strive for. Join me next week as we look more closely at the show that made her a household name: Family Ties.
For those of you who have been with me on this blog journey, I have shared quite a bit with you during the two and a half years I’ve been writing. You have learned I can’t stand All in the Family or Good Times. You have learned I think that perhaps the best sitcoms ever written were The Dick Van Dyke Show and M*A*S*H. You know that I love the Doris Day comedies from the 1960s. I became vulnerable enough to share with you that Bachelor Father, My Three Sons, ThatGirl, and The Partridge Family are some of my favorite classic sitcoms. Today I’m catching a long breath and taking my confessions a step further.
Television movies have been a staple since the 1960s. Different networks came up with a show that was an incentive for viewers to stay home and watch movies. In 1961, NBC Saturday Night at the Movies debuted. A movie previously released in the theaters was shown. Since each network had their own version of the show, eventually there was a shortage of previous movies to air. At that time, networks decided to fill the gap by producing their own “made-for-tv” movies. The first was See How They Run which aired October 7, 1964 on NBC.
I’m sure I
watched more than my share of these movies growing up, but most of them left no
impression on me. However, there is one that I do remember. I’m not sure if it
was the incredible cast or just the topic of women’s lib which I was just
beginning to understand at age ten, but I loved this movie. I watched it live
on television and never saw it again. It was The Feminist and The Fuzz. Although I’m sure it’s full of politically
incorrect dialogue and actions, I decided to learn a bit more about this treasure
that I have not seen in more than 40 years.
Screen Gems made the movie for ABC. It aired on The ABC Movie of the Week on January 26, 1971. Barbara Eden and David Hartman were the stars of the show. The movie was written by James Henerson. He wrote eighteen television movies, as well as scripts for several sitcoms including I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched. Jerry Paris, who was Jerry Helper, the Petries’ neighbor on The Dick Van Dyke Show, was the director. Claudio Guzman produced the movie, and Emil Oster was the cinematographer.
Jane Bowers (Eden) is a pediatrician. She is engaged to Wyatt Foley (Herb Edelman). Wyatt is a lawyer and a bit of a mother’s boy. Jane has recently been drawn into the women’s liberation movement. Apartments in San Francisco are few and far between. We learn she has been trying to find one for a while. As she arrives at the latest apartment in her hunt, she meets Jerry Frazer (Hartman), a cop who is also looking for an apartment. The landlord assumes they are a married couple as he shows them around.
When he leaves, they argue about who gets the apartment. Neither one of them is willing to give in, so they finally come to an understanding that they will share the apartment. They work opposite shifts, so they decide they will rarely be there together. Jerry is dating Kitty Murdock (Farrah Fawcett), a bunny at the Playboy Club.
what is going on to Wyatt, but Jerry does not want Kitty to find out he is
living with Jane. Jerry is a bit of a ladies’ man but treats women respectfully.
Jane refers to Jerry as a “cop-lawyer-sexual bigot-Boy Scout,” and she insists
he treat her like he would another man.
Although the plan is that Jane and Jerry don’t spend any time together, of course they end up being thrown together. Despite their first impressions of each other and their intention to dislike each other, the viewers realize that they are falling in love.
While Jane has been exploring the entire feminist movement, she has not bought into it as much as her friends. Her best friend is another doctor, Debby Inglefinger (Jo Anne Worley). Debbie is a hardcore protester and women’s libber. She decides her club, Women Against Men, or WAM is going to stage a protest at the Playboy Bunny Club.
her friends at the Club. The women are all wearing swimsuits and carrying signs;
Jane’s says, “Men are Playboys, Women are Playthings.” WAM refuses to leave the
premises, so the manager calls the police. Of course, Jerry is one of the
officers who come to get things under control. While the other women are being
arrested, Jerry picks up Jane, who is in a bikini, and carries her to a taxi, telling
the driver to take her home. She is incensed that she is not going to jail with
the other women. While this is going on, Kitty spots him and realizes he is
protecting Jane. Some of the women who are arrested at the Club include Sheila
James, Jill Choder, Merri Robinson, Penny Marshall, and Amanda Pepper.
Jane calls her father, Horace (Harry Morgan) who is also a doctor. She has not admitted to him that she has a male roommate. He decides to drive into town to talk to her in person. In the meantime, Lilah (Julie Newmar), a kind-hearted prostitute asks Jerry to arrest her, so she has a place to sleep that night. He feels sorry for her and lets her stay in his room at the house that night because he will be at work. When Jane’s father arrives, he runs into Lilah who he assumes is Jane’s roommate. Jane is not there because she was still angry and got even madder when she thought Jerry is sleeping with Lilah. She leaves him a note that she is moving out.
to call Jane at work and when he finds out she left early, he rushes home. Of
course, by this time Horace and Lilah have gotten to know each other well.
Kitty also shows up at the apartment and sees Jane and recognizes her from the Club.
Wyatt and Debbie also stop by.
admits he loves Jane. Jane is in a fluster and runs out of the apartment. Kitty
gets mad and asks Debbie if she can join WAM. Wyatt finds Debby’s controlling
nature attractive and they begin a relationship.
Jerry catches up with Jane in the middle of an intersection where he kisses her, stopping traffic. Horace is happy because never liked Wyatt but likes Jerry a lot.
Like Laugh-In, With Six You Get Eggroll, or The
Brady Bunch, this movie could only have come out of this era. Everything
about the movie screams the seventies—the clothing, the interiors, the cars,
the language—which is probably why I was drawn to it. Everyone in the cast is a
well-known star, which also made it fun to watch.
There were a lot of impactful and important television movies made in the 1960s and 1970s, so I’m not sure why this movie, primarily fluff, is so memorable for me. I guess I was not alone because it was the second-highest ranked television movie when it aired. It is on my bucket-list of shows to watch again. What is the movie that you love but hate to admit how much you love it?
We all have those family members who seem to find fun catch phrases which get repeated by friends. Then there are those relatives who say something that drives us crazy and overuse expressions. That is what we’re talking about today: catchphrases from our favorite television shows. I prepared a list of twenty phrases that caught on with viewers. What seems strange to me are expressions that come from a series or movie that were never actually said. For example, “Play it again Sam,” from Casablanca is a well-known phrase. However, that line was never said in the actual movie. You often hear someone say, “Beam me up Scotty,” but once again, it was never said in Star Trek. The closest line was only used once, and it was, “Beam us up, Mr. Scott.”
I’ll list these memorable phrases by shows alphabetically and tell you how often they were used: none, one, fun, or overdone. I also rate them: green light means I like it, yellow if it was getting close to being overkill, and red for those expressions that never should have been used at all. Here we go.
The A Team – Pity the fool
Mr. T often says this on commercials, public appearances,and as a guest on other shows, but he never said it on The A-Team. Mr. T explained how this phrase came about on the Conan show one night, “When you pity someone, you’re showing them mercy. I didn’t start this pity stuff, it was in the bible. You’ll find pity so many times in the Bible and fool so many times, so I put ‘em together. Pity the fool,” Mr. T said. He added, “Lotta guys in the Bible [were] asking for pity. And then a lot of them were saying, I did a foolish act. So, I put ‘em together.”
Not only has he trademarked the phrase, but he actually had a series developed around the phrase which was the title of the show. It aired in October of 2006 and was off the air by November 6, so I pity the fool who stuck money into it.
Rating: None, Green– I can’t really give it a light because it was never used but it was a good expression at the time.
Alf – I kill me
The Tanner family members weren’t often amused by Alf’s jokes. When no one responded or someone shook their head at him, he was often heard to say, “I kill me.”
The phrase was so popular, a poster and a t-shirt were sold featuring it.
Rating: Fun, Green – I also thought Alf was pretty funny, even when the Tanners were not as impressed.
Alice – Kiss my grits
While Flo was a warm-hearted person who would do anything to help a friend, or Mel, she didn’t take any sass from anyone. Whenever someone did something to irritate her, she responded, “Kiss my grits.”
Rating: Overdone, Yellow– Only Flo could get away with using the phrase so often, but it did become a bit too much.
The Andy Griffith Show – Nip it in the
Barney liked being on top of situations and being in charge.When something happened whether it was questionable behavior by Opie or a dangerous criminal activity being plotted, he was heard to say, “Just nip it, nip it in the bud.”
Rating: Fun, Green –Barney Fife was just a great character.
Big Bang Theory – Bazinga
Sheldon learned about sarcasm during season 2 of the show. Whenever he said something sarcastic or something that proved others wrong in a humorous way, he would utter, “Bazinga.” The first time he used it, it was not actually in the script, but he added it and it stuck.
Rating: Fun-ish, Green– I added the “ish” because it can be overdone some shows
The Brady Bunch – Marcia, Marcia, Marcia
Jan didn’t like being the middle child. While Cindy was the cute younger one and Marcia the pretty older one, Jan often felt left out. When she was upset Marcia was getting attention or doing something she wanted to do, she would pout, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.”
In the Season 3 episode, “Her Sister’s Shadow,” Jan said, “all I hear all day long at school is how great Marcia is at this or how wonderful Marcia did that. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” Jan did not say the phrase much, but viewers sure did.
Rating: One, Green – I think every middle child understood what Jan meant. Apparently, viewers loved it, because it is an iconic quote for being only said one time. Actually, I always thought Jan was the cool one.
Columbo – Just one more thing
When the bad guy thought he had gotten away with a crime, Columbo would often turn around and say, “Just one more thing,” and that “thing” was usually the evidence he needed to arrest someone.
Rating: Fun, Green – Even when we knew it was coming, it was fun to see how the villain of the week realizes he has been found out.
Diff’rent Strokes – What you talkin’
Arnold was the “cute” kid in the Drummond family and often made others laugh. Whenever Willis said something Arnold didn’t want to do or thought should not happen, he would look at his brother and say, “What you talkin’ ‘bout Willis?”
Rating: Overdone, Red– Ok, I know I have a bias because this was one of those Norman Lear shows my readers know I don’t care for, but I do remember at the time, it was used a bit too often on the show. There is a fine line between defining a character and stereotyping a character.
Friends – How you doin’?
Joey was definitely the ladies’ man on Friends. He was always searching for his next social conquest. When he met a girl he wanted to get to know better, he often drawled, “How you doin?” It was a basic pick-up line, but he was so good looking, it almost always worked. While it became his catchphrase, it was not used for the first time until Season 4.
Rating: Fun, Yellow – It was a fun expression that is still used today but it was getting close to being overused.
Full House – Have mercy
Typically, it was Uncle Jesse who said, “Have mercy,” but occasionally another character would use it. He says Garry Marshall always told him he needed a catch phrase. He took on “Have mercy,” and it was probably one of the most-used phrases ever during the run of the show.
Rating: Fun, Green– I can still hear the exact tone of his voice whenever he used the line.
Get Smart – Missed it by that much
Maxwell Smart often messed up a spy mission, and 99 always saved the day. Often when the bad guys were put away and he was analyzing what had gone wrong, he would say, “Missed it by that much” which usually meant he was nowhere near to taking care of business.
Rating: Fun, Green– Everything on this show was fun and there were enough catch phrases that none of them took over.
Good Times – Dy-no-mite!
The Evans were a close-knit family who lived in the projects. JJ was an artist and the class clown. His favorite expression was “Dy-no-mite!”
He revived his catch phrase in several Panasonic commercials in the mid-1970s.
Rating: Overdone, Yellow– Sorry, it’s my Norman Lear bias again, but I feel like not only did JJ Evans overuse this phrase, but you heard it from viewers everywhere you went. I agree that imitation is the sincerest from of flattery, so it worked, and people liked it, but I thought it was overdone.
Happy Days – Sit on it
I think every cast member used the phrase “Sit on it” at one point or another. It was said when someone said something or insinuated something a character didn’t like.
Rating: Overdone, Yellow– This was a fun phrase when it started but it was overused and overused by everyone on the show.
Hawaii Five-O – Book ‘em Danno
The original Hawaii Five-O would end each arrest with Steve saying “Book ‘em Danno.” They did not resurrect the phrase for the current Hawaii Five-0. However, if you were watching the November 30th episode in 2018, you saw the conclusion of an older cold case homicide and a comic book created the ending to the mystery and in the book, McGarrett did say, “Book ’em Danno.”
Rating: Overdone, Green– It was over used although it did not occur on each episode, but I gave it green because it worked and fit the situation when it was used.
Hogan’s Heroes – I know nothing
Sargent Schultz began saying “I know nothing” when he didn’t want to answer questions Hogan asked him. He realized Hogan could always get him to talk by offering him food of some type. Later, the prisoners were not afraid of telling Schultz things they were doing or planning to foil the Nazis’ plans, and whenever he heard them talking about an upcoming mission, he also emphatically said, “I know nothing.”
Rating: Fun, Green– Schultz said it a lot but that was fitting for his character.
The Honeymooners – Bang, zoom, to the moon, Alice
This particular phrase is quoted a lot. Actually, Ralph Kramden had many similar expressions such as Bang, zoom” or “To the moon Alice,” but they all had similar wording and inferred that he was threatening her. The phrase would not go over well in a show today. However, Alice was never worried. She knew Ralph loved her and was all bark and no bite. Of course, one of the expressions he also used in a lot of shows was “Baby, you’re the greatest.”
Rating: One, Red – I only saw one episode that used the exact wording that has become a quote of the show. While I know it was innocent fun back then, I can’t say I was ever fond of the expression.
I Love Lucy – Lucy, you got some ‘splaining to do
Lucy always had some type of scheme in the works to get something she wanted. Often, it was something her husband had forbidden her to do. When he found out what she was up to, he often said, “Lucy, you got some ‘splaining to do” in his Cuban accent. Like Ralph Kramden, he rarely said this exact phrase; instead, he would tell her to “splain what happened” or “try to splain why you are here” or something along those lines. Viewers picked up on the exact wording that gets repeated still.
Rating: One, Green – Desi used similar words but not this exact phrase. However, when he used it, it was always an appropriate use because Lucy had done something that did need to be explained.
Laugh In – Sock it to me
Because so many people on the show say, “Sock it to me” started by Judy Carne, it has become a famous line. Of course, the celebrity who got the most attention saying it was Richard Nixon.
Rating: Fun, Yellow– It was still fun because it was used in different situations and with different celebrities but if the show had continued, it might have been overdone.
Lost in Space – Danger Will Robinson
Even kids who never heard of Lost in Space, quote “Danger Will Robinson” when they want to warn someone about an issue. The funny thing is it was only said one time on the show, but like The Brady Bunch, viewers have made it their own and it is now part of our lexicon.
Rating: One, Green– Although it was only said once, viewers have made it into a well-loved expression.
Welcome Back Kotter – Up your nose with a rubber hose
This was probably one of the most unusual catch phrases. The Sweathogs gave the image that they would not put up with nonsense and they made the rules. One of Vinnie Barbarino’s favorite insults was “Up your nose with a rubber hose.”
Rating: Fun, Green– I was not a huge fan of Welcome Back Kotter, but the phrase fit Barbarino, and he had enough other expressions, it was not overused.
I hope you had fun looking back at some of the expressions we grew up with in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. It’s interesting to think about what current shows will produce catch phrases that kids will still be using in 2050.
During my research for one of my blogs, I encountered a reference about Webster. I was surprised to learn that Webster was on the air for six years. It was a show I had watched a bit in the 1980s but have rarely seen since then.
Webster chronicles how life changes for three people when a young boy is adopted by his godfather, a former NFL player, and his new wife. Webster has lost his parents, and George was his father’s best friend. The show ran for 6 seasons, resulting in 150 episodes.
Set in Chicago, Webster’s (Emmanuel Lewis) parents are killed in a car accident. George Papadopolis (Alex Karras) is retired and recently married to Katherine (Susan Clark), who comes from a wealthy family and has few domestic skills. Katherine is a consumer advocate in the first season but later works as a family psychologist. George is now a sportscaster at a local television station. Karras and Clark were married in real life also. Both of them had acting roles in movie and television series before they starred in Webster. Karras was also a favorite Tonight Show guest. Everyone seemed to like him. Former teammate Greg Barton described his humor: “He is one of the funniest men I have ever been around.”
After living in a high-rise apartment that was burned down during one of Webster’s science experiments, the family moved to a large Victorian house which is on Chicago’s Gold Coast. In 2016 the Chicago home was for sale for 9.5 million dollars.
Webster called his “dad” George and his “mom” Ma’am. When she asked Webster why he was so formal with her, he explained that the name was as close as he could get to Mom without replacing his birth mother.
In addition to these three characters, the show featured Katherine’s secretary and confidante Jerry (Henry Polic II) and Webster’s uncle Phillip (Ben Vereen), who doesn’t approve of Webster’s adoption by a white couple.
We also got to know many of Webster’s classmates. During the second season, George’s father, George Sr. (Jack Kruschn) appears. He would make more regular appearances in 1985.
After Karras and Clark married, they started a production company called Georgian Bay Ltd. ABC wanted to create a romantic comedy series for them. After signing the couple, ABC’s programming chief Lew Erlicht saw a Burger King commercial featuring Emmanuel Lewis and wanted to develop a show for him as well.
With the fall schedule quickly filling up, it was decided to combine the two shows into a new one, Then Came You. In September 1983 when the show premiered, the title had become Webster. After much infighting among the creators, the show focused both on the romantic angle of George and Katherine as well as Webster’s plots.
The show was often compared to Diff’rent Strokes, where a white family adopted two black brothers. Personally, I found Diff’rent Strokes grating and predictable. I did not enjoy many of the shows or the spinoffs developed during this time, including All in The Family, The Jeffersons, Maude, Good Times, and Facts of Life. I think Webster was well written and the dialogue was more sophisticated. Webster was a little boy, but he was very intelligent, and the writers gave him credit for that.
Karras became a surrogate father to Lewis. The relationships between the major cast members were very close. When Karras passed away, Lewis said “He was a giant of a man with a big heart, a great sense of humor, and very grounded outlook on life. He might have towered over you . . . but he had a knack of being able to get down to your level without being small about it.”
The show sustained high ratings the first three years, but in season four, they dropped significantly. After landing in the top 30, it plummeted to 46. ABC made the decision to drop the show. Webster would continue two more years in syndication but never achieved the ratings of those first three years. In 1989, Emmanuel was outgrowing the show and he was beginning to get bored playing a younger child while in real life he had already graduated from high school.
One fun fact about Webster is that Jerry Seinfeld was employed as a writer for exactly one week. None of his material made it to the air.
Webster seems to be one of those forgotten shows from the 1980s. While it appeared in reruns for a short time, I don’t hear much about the show anymore. It was heart-warming and tackled both social issues occurring at the time and private family issues that adoptive parents would face. George and Katherine had a great relationship, but it was different from most parents on television. They were equals in every way. Webster assumed an equal footing with them, even though he was their child. George was a nurturing and caring father, while Katherine often provided the practicality that Webster needed to learn life lessons. You can currently watch Webster Sunday mornings on Antenna TV.
With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, I have been reflecting on what I am thankful for this year. Of course, I am most thankful for my faith, family, friends, and good health like most people. But I have been looking deeper, exploring gifts I don’t always appreciate.
Kids today are growing up in a digital society, and social media has always been part of their lives – that will shape them and the way they learn and interact. When I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, our technology was television. I have been thinking about the way that shaped who I am, and I have been meditating on what I have learned from being a pop culture kid.
Here are some of the things I am thankful for that I have learned from sitcoms.
Gracie Allen and Blanche Morton taught me having a best friend you can sit down and talk with over coffee is important. On Burns and Allen, every good or bad thing that occurred in their lives was shared and analyzed over a cup of quality roast coffee. Most of the time, these two women shared laughter, but your closest friends understand when it’s the time for tears as well. Having someone to navigate life with who totally gets you and never judges you (but can pull you back to reality with a loving reprimand when necessary) makes the journey much easier.
Ann Marie taught me fashion is fun, and you can develop your own fashion sense. The last seasons of That Girl coincided with my middle grade school years when clothes were beginning to take on new importance. Before that, we basically had Sunday clothes, school clothes, and play clothes and didn’t give much thought to what was in our closet. During these years I was lucky to have a grandmother who bought me beautiful Sunday dresses and a friend who passed her clothes down to me. I remember that one of my Sunday best was a pink and white gingham skirt (with suspenders!) and a matching blazer. It came from Sak’s Fifth Avenue, and made me feel like a model when I wore it. I didn’t understand the cost of expensive clothing, but I did know that Sak’s Fifth Avenue and Tiffany boxes were very desirable. Thank you Lisa Spahr. School clothes were always a dress or skirt with high knee socks until fourth grade. That was the year that forced us to think more about our daily outfits because, for the first time, we were allowed to wear pants to school. Not any pants, however; it had to be a pantsuit. For Christmas that year I received a navy combination with red trim around the collar – a bit of a naval theme. Play clothes also began to change that year because our play changed. No longer were we only running through the neighborhood; we were going to the movies, the Y, and other places where we might run into certain people – people like boys. My favorite outfit that year was a pair of ecru bell bottoms that had navy and maroon flowers splashed across them, paired with a navy blouse with a very straight collar and three buttons on the cuff. I was convinced if I ran into Keith Partridge or Bobby Sherman in that outfit, they would notice me for sure. I also remember hot pants coming into fashion, and I had a pair of striped brown, tan, and orange ones that I wore with an orange tank with a zipper. Be still my heart. But my most special purchase was a black maxi coat that made me feel just like Ann Marie. Yes, she was a great fashion coach. I still love to watch the show to see what she is wearing.
The Collins family helped me develop several interests.Dark Shadows came on not long after we arrived home from school, and we never wanted to miss it. As a neighborhood clan, we often played Dark Shadows, and all the girls wanted to be Daphne or Laura. I have not remained an avid Dark Shadows fan, but it did spark two passions for me. No, not vampires and ghosts but mysteries and Maine. Mysteries were my favorite books to read during grade school and junior high. My first memory of the Bookmobile coming to our school was seeing several Nancy Drew books on the library carts. I checked them out, and I was hooked. I read through many series after that – The Dana Girls, Ginny Gordon, and Donna Parker – and then I moved on to reading adult authors that our local librarian had to approve for me to take out. I especially loved Phyllis Whitney. I must have loved books more than clothing, because one year I received a pair of jeans for Christmas that I didn’t really like. I was allowed to take them to Leitzinger’s Department Store myself to exchange them. Exchange them I did for 8 Trixie Belden books. That was not my mother’s expectation, but I thought it was a much better deal. Dark Shadows also gave me a fondness for Maine. I’ve only been there once, but I am looking forward to returning to New England next fall. I loved the large, old homes, the rocky beaches, and the quaint little towns. Something about that area spoke to my soul and drew me in.
MY THREE SONS – Gallery – Season 5 – 1965 Fred MacMurray (right) stars as widowed aeronautical engineer Steve Douglas, raising his three sons with the help of William Demarest (left) as Uncle Charley. Don Grady (as Robbie Douglas-top center),Barry Livingstone (as Ernie Thompson Douglas -bottom left) and Stanley Livingstone (as Chip Douglas). CREDIT: ABC
Steve Douglas provided me with sage advice and security. My dad and I had a great relationship when I was very little and later when I was an adult and a parent myself, but those years in between were a bit unpleasant at times, due to some personal demons he was dealing with. My Three Sons began the year before I was born and continued on the air until I was 12. After that, it was on television in reruns for most of my school life. In his sweater and holding a pipe, Steve Douglas became a surrogate father for me. I felt like I was a member of the Douglas family. Steve always had time to listen and had great wisdom. He also understood kids would be kids and you had to pick your battles. He was kind and gentle. When I was dealing with a difficult issue, I would often consider what advice he might give me. When I was pregnant with our first child, a boy it turns out, I gave Dan a Steve Douglas cardigan to announce it. I think it was fitting that I ended up with three children – all boys. Spending time with the Douglas family while growing up helped me understand what it was like to raise three boys. This show has always tugged at my heart. On our first date, the show just happened to be on when we got back to my apartment. Then we had three boys. Our youngest was named Seth for several reasons, one of them being that Seth Bryant had founded the town of Bryant Park where the Douglas clan lived. Somehow, I think I always knew I would have my own three sons.
Hawkeye Pierce and BJ Hunnicutt taught me laughter is an essential part of life. During my formative tween years, especially in dealing with my father, I began to realize that life wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows. I learned that life held some highs and some lows, but most of life is lived on the bridges between the mountains and the valleys. M*A*S*H taught me the importance of joy and laughter during these times. Humor became an important life skill which helped in making friends and getting through bumpy times. We moved a lot between 8th and 11th grades – I was basically in five different high schools in three different cities and having a sense of humor helped me develop friends in each new place. My closest friends and my family understand that being able to laugh at ourselves and find humor in the mundane keeps life fun. Our family conversations often sound like a M*A*S*H script. Life without humor would be very unpleasant.
Rob Petrie, Mary Richards, and Michael Scott taught me that work would be much smoother if you accepted everyone and made the best of situations rather than dwelling on the negatives. From Rob Petrie, I learned that developing close relationships at work helped you be more creative and reduced stress. He probably also influenced me to love comedy and writing. Mary Richards taught me that for every Murray Slaughter you bonded with at work, there would be a Ted Baxter you had to put up with, and hopefully you would develop some affection for them by doing so. Michael Scott taught me that we all have our quirks, and if we accept others, they will usually accept us. If we wait for the perfect friend or coworker, we will be waiting a long time. The work has to get done, so stay positive. We all have professional gifts and talents, but our people skills are often what make us a success or a failure at our jobs.
Shirley Partridge and Bentley Gregg taught me it was okay to love a show simply because you love it, without trying to reason why. There were a lot of shows on when I was growing up that I watched and thought were okay, but they didn’t capture my heart – shows like Gilligan’s Island, Hazel, or The Flying Nun. There were also shows I thoroughly disliked for whatever reason – shows like All in TheFamily, Good Times, and The Beverly Hillbillies. However, some shows like ThePartridge Family and Bachelor Father drew me in and became life-long love interests. Okay, it might have something to do with the fact that I was secretly in love with Keith Partridge and Bentley Gregg. There was just something about the series that would cause me to get up two hours early or stay up three hours later just to watch reruns when I could. And I learned that was okay. I don’t have to analyze why they have become important in my life; I just accept that they are.
Many people criticize sitcoms as fluffy and say that they don’t portray the reality of life. I disagree. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of mediocre and just plain awful shows out there. There always have been. But there are those shows that touch our lives in some way. We learn from them. We laugh with them. We develop an appreciation for people that we otherwise would never come to know. So, I am grateful for the lessons I have learned watching sitcoms. I am also thankful for the passion I developed in sharing these shows with other people. After all, that is what this blog is all about. And I am thankful to you for reading it and keeping these shows alive for another generation. Have a blessed Thanksgiving.
As Black History Month comes to an end, I wanted to look at the early years of television featuring African American characters. I don’t know if young people today realize how much culture has changed in the past fifty years. While there are a lot of negative changes that have occurred in the movie and television industry, there have been a lot of positive changes as well.
It’s hard for young adults to realize today how different things are. When I was growing up in the sixties, married couples on television had twin beds; you could not say “pregnant” on the air; black people and white people were not friends, and certainly did not date or marry; the “jobs wanted” ads in the newspaper were divided into jobs for men and jobs for women; and if a married woman wanted to join the armed forces, her husband or father had to sign a letter giving his approval.
Sometimes we get so caught up in how far we are from the journey’s end, we forget to appreciate how far we have traveled. Looking at the current television schedule we see a variety of shows about capable women. While certainly racism and gender discrimination exist, most people don’t think twice about whether a lead character is a man or a woman; is black, white, or Asian; or single or married.
Just a quick review of shows on the air reveal complex, intelligent characters who are African American. We see this in Black-ish, This Is Us, Empire, Scandal, House of Lies, Last Man Standing, and Gray’sAnatomy, just to name a few. This was far from the reality of early television.
We often think of that era as the golden age of television, but honestly, it was the white age of television.
In 1950, two shows debuted with main characters who were black: Amos ‘N Andy and Beulah. A radio transplant, Amos ‘N Andy dealt mostly with Kingfish’s schemes to gain wealth, often at the expense of his friends. Beulah also got its start on radio where she was a character in Fibber McGee and Molly. She worked for a well-to-do middle class white couple with one son. Both of these shows were demeaning and stereotypical. In 1953, they were both yanked from the air due to NAACP protests.
Unfortunately, it would take almost 20 years before another show would feature a black character as a star. In 1968, Julia debuted. Julia, played by Diahann Carroll, was a black woman with a young son Corey (Marc Copage). Her husband is killed in Vietnam and she moves to LA to start a new life in her nursing career. Like Tom Corbett on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, she is raising a son; like Doris Day she is a working mother; and like Ann Marie on That Girl, she has a fabulous wardrobe. She is hired at Astrospace Industries, an industrial-health office where she works with Dr. Chegley (Lloyd Nolan). Her life is normal. She goes to work, takes care of her son, and goes on a few dates, but the concept of an African American, or a woman, starring in a show as the sole breadwinner, intelligent and fashionable, was not normal for the times. The show was on for three seasons until 1971.
Julia was a controversial show at the time, but it scored high in the ratings and became a popular series. I think it gets a lot of unfair criticism today. The show gets complaints because during the time of the Watts riots, sit-ins, and so much racial unrest, it portrayed Julia living a fairly normal life. I think people forget how groundbreaking it was to have a working woman or a black character star in a show. I think the fact that she was able to live a “normal” life gives even more credit to not bowing to stereotypes of the late sixties. It’s like criticizing someone who is just learning to walk for not running and doing handstands. They might be small steps, but they are steps going forward. I am one of those people who actually prefer not to see too much “real life” in sitcoms. Honestly, I watch them to escape real life.
I also wanted to mention a few other shows that were featuring black characters in their cast during the time Julia was on the air: Hogan’s Heroes, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Barney Miller.
Hogan’s Heroes had a diverse cast, including Ivan Dixon as Sgt. James Kinchloe, striving to stay one step ahead of the Nazis. The Mary Tyler Moore Show included a quirky news staff including weatherman Gordy Howard played by John Amos. Barney Miller centered around a police department made up of personnel who each had their own dysfunctions. One of those members was Lt. Ron Harris played by Ron Glass. Each of these shows quietly featured black characters. The races of any of the characters could easily have been switched during an episode and the character would not change. It was just real people living real lives and some of them happened to be white and some black. After these creative and well-written shows, I prefer to ignore the Norman Lear era of shows. They may have their merits, but I couldn’t stand All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Maude, or Good Times. The Jeffersons was tolerable, but I would not choose to watch it either. In the mid-1980s, television began to get more diverse.
Don’t get me wrong. Things are far from perfect in the world of television and movies, but we have made a lot of progress. We have a lot of work to do, but just think how many choices Diahann Carroll would have today if she wanted to develop a television series. She could pick any career she wanted, including the military without anyone’s else’s approval; she could marry a white man and not sleep in twin beds; she could announce on the air she was pregnant—small steps but 5280 small steps turn into a mile. So, let’s devote one day to appreciate the hundreds of miles we have come before getting too caught up despairing about the hundred we still have to go.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.