We are starting off the new year with a blog series taking a closer look at some of our favorite families. Between Mary Poppins and The Nanny, we had Nanny and the Professor. A lot of my friends don’t remember this show, but it was part of the ABC lineup for two years. It began its life on Wednesday nights in 1970 followed by The Courtship of Eddie’s Father and then Room 222. The second season, it moved to Friday nights airing after The Brady Bunch and before The Partridge Family. The short third season found the show on Monday nights up against Gunsmoke and Laugh In which surely set it up for failure.
AJ Carothers and Thomas Miller created the show for 20th Century Fox Television. Carothers was best known for his Disney movies, and this show has that same type of atmosphere. English-born Phoebe Figalilly (Juliet Mills) is hired by Professor Harold Everett (Richard Long) to be the housekeeper and nanny for this three children: very intelligent Hal (David Doremus), prankster Butch (Trent Lehman), and musical prodigy Prudence (Kim Richards) who had a pet rooster named Sebastian. Juliet Mills, sister to Parent Trap star Hayley Mills, was offered the role after auditioning in England. An open casting call was done for the role in London.
Nanny became very close to the three children, and she and Professor Long had a subtle romance. You could tell there was chemistry, and he began working less and hanging out with the family more often.
Nanny had a great intuition, but we were always left wondering if there was more to her secret knowledge than we were aware of. While the Professor hired her, she showed up unannounced for the job. Sometimes she hinted at being much older than she looked. One of the running gags of the show was that she always knew when people were at the front door or on the phone before the doorbell or phone rang. She also seemed to be able to communicate with animals including the kids’ dog Waldo. She also fixed up and drove around in a 1930 roadster which she named Arabella in honor of her favorite aunt.
Nanny had a lot of relatives who showed up at the Everett household from time to time. Uncle Alfred (John Mills, Juliet’s father) entertains the children with this stories and human flying act. Aunt Justine (Ida Lupino) and Aunt Agatha (Majorie Bennett) arrive in a hot air balloon. Uncle Horace (Ray Bolger) claims to be able to make it rain. Aunt Henrietta (Elsa Lanchester) comes with the circus; in another episode she helps get rid of a ghost.
Fun fact, the background music was taken from My Favorite Martian. The theme song was called “Nanny” and was written and sung by The Addrisi Brothers. The song is:
Soft and sweet Wise and wonderful Oooh our mystical magical nanny
Since the day that nanny came to stay with us Fantastic things keep happening
Is there really magic in the things she does Or is love the only magic thing that nanny brings
You know our nanny showed us you can make the impossible happen Nanny told us have a little bit of faith and lots of love
Phoebe Figalilly is a silly name And so many silly things keep happening What is this magic thing about nanny Is it Love Or is it Magic
The show might be done, but much of the merchandise that was used to promote the show still exists. Colorform sets, coloring books, paper dolls, comic books, View Master reels, and several books are available on ebay.com
Even though the move to Monday night could not have been good for ratings, Mills said the cast was stunned when the show was canceled. In a July 22, 2019 interview with foxnews.com, she said, “I think we were all shocked, actually, and not ready to move on.” She said she does not regret starring in the show, and that the cast was “wonderful, really, very professional and very good. She said the show had a special place in her heart. “I’m proud of it and have very, very happy memories of it, she said. “I’m still recognized all over the place for that as much as anything I’ve ever done, which is extraordinary. People just hear my voice and they turn around, ‘Hey Nanny.’”
Although Nanny and the Professor might not be as well known as other shows of its decade, it deserves to be remembered. Even though it never hit the 100-episode target for syndication, the show was played on other networks after it was canceled. I could not find any network showing reruns or anywhere to stream the show, and the DVDs are currently not available on Amazon but they are available on other DVD websites. It might be worth searching for to have a marathon weekend binge some cold, winter weekend.
We are up close and personal this month with some of our favorite male television stars, and Pernell Roberts is definitely on that short list. Pernell Roberts was well known to television viewers in the early sixties and the early eighties. Some fans might not even realize the two characters he was best known for, Adam Cartwright on Bonanza and Dr. John McIntyre on Trapper John, MD were played by the same man.
Pernell Elven Roberts Jr. was born an only child in 1928. He was named for his father who was a Dr. Pepper salesman. During high school, Roberts played the horn, acted in several school and church plays, played basketball, and sang in the local USO shows. He enrolled at Georgia Tech but then enlisted in the US Marine Corps. He played both the tuba and horn in the Marine Corps Band while sometimes tackling the sousaphone and percussion parts. After his time in the Marines, he enrolled at the University of Maryland where he enjoyed participating in classical theater. He left college to continue his acting career.
In 1949, he had his professional stage debut in “The Man Who Came to Dinner” with Moss Hart and Kitty Carlisle. He then took on several roles in Philadelphia.
In 1951, Roberts married Vera Mowry; she was a professor of theatre history at Washington State University. They divorced in 1959. They had one son who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1989.
In 1952, Roberts made the big move to New York City appearing in off-Broadway shows. Several of his costars were Joanne Woodward and Robert Culp. He performed several Shakespeare roles.
In 1956, Roberts made his television debut in Kraft Theatre. In 1957, he signed with Columbia Pictures. His first big-screen role was as Burl Ives’ son in Desire Under the Elms. His second role was with Glenn Ford and Shirley MacLaine in The Sheepman.
Roberts continued to accept television roles with ten appearances in 1958 and six in 1959.
From 1959-1965 he would portray Adam Cartwright, Ben’s oldest son on Bonanza. Each of the brothers had a different mother, and Adam was the only Cartwright to attend college, studying architectural engineering. After acting in classical theater for so much of his early career, the transition to a weekly series was a difficult one for Roberts. He thought it a bit ridiculous that the independent sons had to get their father’s permission for everything they did. He wanted to act in a show with greater social relevance. So, although the show would continue until 1973, he left in 1965 after appearing in 202 episodes. The storyline was that Adam was traveling in Europe or living on the east coast. Bonanza producer David Dortort said Roberts was “rebellious, outspoken . . . and aloof, but could make any scene he was in better.”
During this time on the show, Roberts married again in 1962; he wed Judith Roberts and they would divorce in 1971.
After leaving Bonanza, Roberts returned to theater, playing a variety of roles. He toured with many musicals including “The King and I”, “Kiss Me Kate”, “Camelot”, and “The Music Man.”
Pernell also became involved in the civil rights movement, joining Dick Gregory, Joan Baez, and Harry Belafonte in the sixties demonstrations including the March on Selma.
From 1972-1996, Roberts was married to Kara Knack. They also divorced.
Throughout the late sixties and seventies, Pernell continued appearing in television series and made-for-tv movies. You’ll see him in westerns such as Gunsmoke, The Big Valley, and The Virginian; spy genres including Wild Wild West, Mission Impossible, and The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.; crime shows including Hawaii Five-0, Mannix, Police Story, Ironside, Cannon, and TheRockford Files; and several medical series—Marcus Welby, West SideMedical, and Quincy. He even showed up on The Twilight Zone and The OddCouple.
Perhaps he enjoyed those medical shows because he returned to television to star in his own series in 1979, playing Trapper John, MD. The plot was featured Trapper John from M*A*S*H later in his career at San Francisco Memorial Hospital where he was Chief of Surgery. He worked with a young surgeon who had also served in a MASH unit, Alonzo “Gonzo” Gates (Gregory Harrison). The series lasted seven seasons.
In 1979, he told TV Guide that he chose to return to a weekly show because he had “seen his father age and realized it was a vulnerable time to be without financial security.” Roberts felt the role allowed him to use his dramatic range of acting skills and to address important social issues.
In the 1990s, Roberts took on very few television appearances; his last television performance was in Diagnosis: Murder in 1997.
Roberts would attempt marriage one last time in 1999 when he wed Eleanor Criswell. When Pernell passed away in 2010 from pancreatic cancer after being diagnosed in 2007, they were still together.
Pernell also enjoyed golfing, swimming, playing tennis, running, reading, cooking, and singing. He appeared on two record albums during his career. The cast of Bonanza recorded an album in 1959 and he released a folk music album in 1962, titled “Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies.”
He certainly had a long and varied career: music, movies, Broadway, and television. He also used his fame to help causes he believed in. I don’t think he is remembered as well as he should be. Maybe it’s because he left Bonanza too early to be included on a lot of the memorabilia that came out of that show or because there was such a gap between his two series that he starred in. Whatever the reason, I hope this blog has helped recall some of our memories of the three decades he spent entertaining us.
This month we are getting up close and personal with some of our favorite television stars. Today we are getting to know one of the most prolific actors to appear on classic television: Denver Pyle. Denver amassed acting credits for 263 different television series and movies during a fifty-year career.
Denver was born Denver Dell Pyle in 1920 in Colorado, but not in Denver, in Bethune. His father was a farmer. His brother Willis became an animator who worked at the Walt Disney Animation Studios and UPA. Also, an interesting note is that Ernie Pyle, the famous journalist and war correspondent, was his cousin.
After his high school graduation, Pyle enrolled at Colorado State University but dropped out to pursue a show business career. He was a drummer for a band and then bounced around in different jobs including working in the oil fields, working shrimp boats in Texas, and as an NBC page. When WWII began, he joined the Merchant Marine. He was injured in the battle of Guadalcanal and received a medical discharge. Following his stint in the war, Pyle worked as a riveter at a Los Angeles aircraft plant. While there, he was spotted by a talent scout in an amateur theater production. Pyle decided he wanted a career in the entertainment business and trained under Maria Ouspenskaya and Michael Chekhov.
His first movie roles occurred in 1947 in The Guilt of Janet Ames and Devil Ship. He would continue polishing his film career for the next fifty years, with his last big-screen feature being Maverick in 1994.
When he was filming The Alamo with John Wayne in 1960, Wayne realized Pyle had an eye for photography. He made arrangements with the PR office to hire Pyle as the official set photographer for the film.
He received his first television role in 1951 in The Cisco Kid. He gravitated toward westerns and in the fifties would appear in many of them including Roy Rogers, Gunsmoke, The Range Rider, Hopalong Cassidy, Annie Oakley, The Gene Autry Show, The Adventures of Kit Carson, The Lone Ranger, The Adventures of Jim Bowie, and The Tales of West Fargo.
In 1955, Pyle married Marilee Carpenter. They had two children and divorced in 1970.
The sixties still provided many roles in westerns (The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Have Gun Will Travel, Bonanza, The Rifleman, Gunsmoke, and Death Valley Days among others), but he also began appearing on dramas and sitcoms: to name a few, Route 66, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Dr. Kildare, The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, and Gomer Pyle USMC.
In many of these shows, he returned nine or ten times to guest star in episodes. During the run of Perry Mason, Pyle would play a victim, a defendant, and a murderer on the show.
He received the first recurring roles of his career during this era on sitcoms. On Tammy, he played Grandpa Tarleton in 1965-66, and from 1963-66, he portrayed Briscoe Darling on The Andy Griffith Show. He only appeared in Mayberry six times but left a lasting impression on fans.
After playing Briscoe, Pyle invested in oil, buying oil wells thought to be near the end of their production. In the eighties, technology allowed the wells to produce more oil; Pyle made much more from oil than he did acting. However, he continued his career because he said, “I look at it this way, acting provides the cash flow I need for oil speculation, and besides that, I like acting. It’s fun.”
His career did not slow down too much throughout the seventies and eighties. In the seventies, you could watch him in The Waltons, Streets of San Francisco, Cannon, and Barnaby Jones. The eighties featured him in The Love Boat, Murder She Wrote, Dallas, and LA Law.
During this time, he also received three other regular cast roles. From 1968-1970, he played Doris Day’s father in The Doris Day Show. From 1977-78. He was Mad Jack in The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, and in 1979-85, he took on Uncle Jesse in The Dukes of Hazard. In fact, his last acting credit was for a made-for-tv movie where he once again portrayed Jesse in The Dukes of Hazzard Reunion! in 1997.
In 1991, Pyle married a second time. He wed Tippie Johnston and they remained married until his death. The couple did a lot of fundraising for charity including Special Olympics and Denver Pyle’s Children’s Charities. In addition, Pyle sponsored Uncle Jesse’s Fishing Tournament in Texas. For the ten years, he ran it, it raised more than $160,000 to support children’s needs.
In 1997, Pyle died on Christmas from lung cancer.
If you watch reruns from any decade of classic television, you will be very familiar with Denver Pyle. Although he was part of the cast in five very popular shows, it would have been fun to see him get the starring role in a show. It’s amazing to realize how many shows he was a part of. Considering he was in the television business for forty years and for almost fifteen of those years, he was busy being part of the cast of a weekly show, that left 25 years to amass 250 other series that he found time to appear on; that is almost one a month for 25 years—very impressive.
As we look at some of our favorite character actors, today we learn more about Hazel’s friend Rosie: Maudie Prickett. Prickett had a prolific career with more than 300 credits between the stage, film, and television.
Maudie was born in 1914 in Oregon. Her birth name was Maudie Marie Doyle; she married Charles Fillmore Prickett II in 1941 and used her married name for her career. Charles was the co-founder and manager of the Pasadena Playhouse and later became an orthopedic surgeon. They remained married until his death in 1954 and had two children.
Prickett would amass 64 movie credits, with her first being Gold Mine in the Sky in 1938. Her last three movies were made in 1969: The Maltese Bippy, Rascal, and Sweet Charity. She typically played maids, secretaries, spinsters, or nosy neighbors. One of her most recognized movie roles was as Elsie the Plaza Hotel maid in North by Northwest.
In 1952 she received her first television roles, appearing on This is the Life, Hopalong Cassidy, The Doctor, and The Adventures of Superman. While most people are familiar with Hopalong Cassidy and Superman, they may not recognize the other shows. This is the Life was a religious show that began in 1952 and ended in 1988; each episode was a mini-drama that ends with someone becoming a Christian. The Doctor was a medical show where Warner Anderson as the doctor presented a story and then provided comments after the episode. Most of the series dealt with some type of emotional problem.
For the next two decades, Maudie was quite busy with her television career. She often made multiple appearances on a show as different characters. She had a nice blend of both dramas and comedies on her resume.
In 1961 she married Dr. Eakle Cartwright who died in 1962. In 1966 she would try marriage one more time when she wed the mayor of Pasadena, Cyril Cooper who lived five more years.
While watching your favorite classic television shows, you will see her on westerns including Wagon Train, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke. She made her mark on medical series including Ben Casey and Marcus Welby MD. She also appeared in quite a few dramas including The Millionaire, The Untouchables, Lassie, Daniel Boone, The Mod Squad, and McMillan and Wife.
However, it was the sitcom genre that kept her busiest. During the fifties, she could be seen on Topper, Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, and The Donna Reed Show. The sixties found her on Dennis the Menace, Bachelor Father, The Danny Thomas Show, Mister Ed, My Three Sons, Petticoat Junction, The Andy Griffith Show, The Doris Day Show, Gomer Pyle USMC, and Get Smart. During the seventies, she took roles on Mayberry RFD, Bewitched, Love American Style, and Room 222.
All of her recurring roles were on sitcoms: Date with the Angels, The Jack Benny Show, and Hazel. Date with the Angels was Betty White’s second sitcom, and Maudie played Cassie Murphy, a neighbor of the newlyweds. On The Jack Benny Show, she played Mrs. Gordon, the secretary of the Jack Benny Fan Club. Many people remember Prickett from Hazel where she played Rosie. Hazel and Rosie were best friends and always came through for each other but were also very competitive, especially when an eligible bachelor was involved.
In 1976, Maudie passed away from uremic poisoning at the young age of 61. Uremia occurs when there is an increase of toxins in the blood and usually occurs when the kidneys no longer filter them out. It can be treated with medication, dialysis, and transplant surgery, but for some reason, hers must have been untreated which lead to her death.
Maudie was a very busy lady, accumulating 164 acting credits between 1938 and 1974. I’m not sure if she was okay with being typecast or if she would have liked some other types of roles, but she certainly made the roles her own. You have to wonder how much more she would have accomplished if she had lived another twenty or thirty years. Her personal life was sad, having three husbands die before her and then she herself dying as middle age was beginning.
I know you read this comment a lot if you follow my blog, but we have another one of those character actors I wish we knew more about. The Television Academy rarely interviews them, and it is tough to find much information beyond their professional resume. One day I will make good on my promise and write a book about these wonderful people who made classic television so fun and believable.
One of my favorite blog series is beginning again today: “What a Character !” Our first character actor is Ruth McDevitt. You might not recognize her name, but the minute you see a photo of her you will definitely recognize this busy television star. Her on-screen personality is perfectly captured in her imdb biography where she is described as “delightfully daffy and quite an apple dumpling of a darling, a cheerfully wizened character.”
Ruth was born in Michigan but she spent most of her early life in Ohio. Her father was the county sheriff and both of her parents were musicians. After graduation, she attended college (some sites give her college as Bowling Green and others Wooster) and after her graduation, she studied at the Toledo Dramatic Academy. She then moved to New York to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Art.
When she married Patrick McDevitt in 1928, she decided to devote her time to her husband, giving up her career. Her husband was a widowed contractor who lived in Florida, so she made the move south and participated in a variety of women’s clubs and community groups. Unfortunately, her husband passed away in 1934, and she then returned to her acting profession in her forties. She made her debut on Broadway in 1940 in several shows and later appeared in “Arsenic and Old Lace” in 1942 and “The Solid Gold Cadillac” in 1954.
In the thirties, Ruth also began her radio career, taking on the roles of Rosemary’s mother in “Keeping up with Rosemary” and Jane in “This Life is Mine.”
Ruth also found success on the big screen. Her first movie role was in The Guy Who Came Back in 1951. She would appear in a variety of movies during her career including The Birds, The Parent Trap, The Shakiest Gun in the West, Mame, and Angel in My Pocket.
It was in television that she found most of her fame. Her first appearances were in 1949 when she was cast in A Woman to Remember, The Ford Theater Hour, and Suspense. She continued to receive dramatic roles throughout the fifties. From 1953-54, she appeared in seven episodes of Mister Peepers as his mother.
Ruth began the 1960s in several medical shows and then transitioned to comedies appearing in The Andy Griffith Show, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Debbie Reynolds Show, I Dream of Jeanne, and Mayberry RFD. She received a recurring role in The Doctors in 1963 as Mrs. McMurtrie. She also became a cast member of Pistols and Petticoats in 1966. She was described as pistol-toting grannie, Effie Hanks. The show was set in Colorado in 1871 where the Hanks family are beloved residents and run things better than the sheriff does. It was canceled after its first season. Ann Sheridan starred in the tv series and she passed away a couple of months before the show was canceled.
The 1970s was Ruth’s busiest decade. She showed up in various dramas including Ironside, McCloud, Mannix, and The Rookies. She popped up in Gunsmoke and Little House on the Prairie and took part in the medical shows Marcus Welby and MedicalCenter.
However, comedies kept her employed. She accepted roles on My World and Welcome to It, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, That Girl, Here’s Lucy, Love American Style, Nanny and the Professor, Bewitched, Room 222, and Phyllis. among others.
She accepted a recurring role on All in the Family as Jo Nelson from 1973-1975. Her last starring role was in Kolchak: The Night Stalker from 1974-1975. Darren McGavin plays a newspaper reporter who specializes in solving supernatural mysteries. His only friend was a coworker who also had a column in the paper played by McDevitt. The show supposedly inspired the X Files in part.
Ruth’s last two roles were in 1976 in made-for-tv movies. She passed away the same year from natural causes at age 80.
Whenever I write about these character actors, it makes me happy and sad. I respect them so much and appreciate the depth they add to make our television series better, but I am always disappointed that there is so little information available about their lives and careers. I very much enjoyed getting to know Ruth McDevitt a little better—she certainly was a character and we all benefit from that.
Before we get into this month’s series, I just wanted to say a big THANK YOU to all of you who read my blog. Today is my 300th blog post. I have absolutely thoroughly enjoyed getting to know so many classic television cast and crew members, and I have learned so much the past six years. This month we are looking at “Life with Pets” blog series by learning a bit more about some of the classic shows about families and their pets. So far, we have learned about some unusual pets: monkeys, dolphins, and bears. Today is no exception; we are looking at the series Born Free which featured a lion.
Like Flipper and Gentle Ben, Born Free was also based on a movie titled Born Free. which was released in 1966. In 1974, it became a television series. The film was based on a true story. Considering how many people fondly remember the show, I was surprised to learn that it only was on the air from September to December.
The show tells the story of George (Gary Collins) and Joy Adamson (Diana Muldaur) who lived in Kenya with their lioness Elsa. George and Joy were game wardens who helped care for wildlife. They primarily protected them from weather disasters and poachers. Part of the show’s mission was to educate viewers about animal conservation. Other cast members included Hal Frederick as Makedde; Dawn Lyn, Dodie from My Three Sons, as Reagan one of their friend’s granddaughters who lives with them for a while; and Peter Lukoye as Nuru.
In the Adamsons’ true story, Elsa and her sisters who were orphaned were treated like pets by the couple. George was forced to kill their mother when she charged him, but he later said he understood she felt threatened. Joy fed the four-day-old cubs unsweetened milk mixed with cod liver oil, glucose, bone meal, and salt. After the first couple of weeks, they took their food from baby bottles. They were allowed to roam like house pets but at night they were put into a pen of rock and sand to protect them from hyenas, jackals, elephants, and other lions.
Eventually, Elsa’s two siblings were sent to a zoo in the Netherlands, but Elsa being a runt, could not make the trip. Joy then taught her how to behave like a wild lion so she could survive with the other animals.
On the show, the episodes were a bit different. In “Maneaters of Merti,” two lions have begun killing humans, so George leads a search with villagers and game wardens to find them.
In the middle of the season, “The Flying Doctor of Kenya” aired with Juliet Mills starring as Dr. Claire Hanley who is making her first village medical tour. She needs to learn the customs of the villagers as well as how to adapt to the tough living conditions. Joy helps her get acclimated to the new job.
The theme song was composed by John Barry which was the same song used in the movie. Barry won an Oscar for the film’s soundtrack. Lyrics were provided by Don Black. Most of us remember the words to the song from hearing it on the radio. They were:
Born free, as free as the wind blows As free as the grass grows Born free to follow your heart
Live free and beauty surrounds you The world still astounds you Each time you look at a star
Stay free, where no walls divide you You’re free as the roaring tide So there’s no need to hide
Born free, and life is worth living But only worth living ’cause you’re born free
(Stay free, where no walls divide you) You’re free as the roaring tide So there’s no need to hide
Born free, and life is worth living But only worth living ’cause you’re born free
I was also surprised to learn that the show was actually filmed in Kenya. NBC put the show on Monday night against The Rookies and Gunsmoke which were both in the top 20-30% of popular shows. After 13 episodes, the show was canceled due to low ratings.
Although Joy and George were divorced by the time the television series was created, she served as a consultant for the show and supervised the stories. Sadly, she was stabbed to death in 1980, and George was shot by poachers in 1989 while trying to help a tourist.
Elsa did acclimate to the wild but visited George and Joy from time to time. She brought her three cubs to show the couple. Elsa was five when she contracted a tick-borne blood disease similar to malaria. She passed away and was buried in the Meru National Park. When Joy died, she was buried next to Elsa. George was buried in the Kora National Park in northern Kenya where he was working. He was buried near his brother and Boy, another lion featured in the film version.
The legacy of the film and television show is that the Born Free Foundation has a mission to protect the lions of Meru National Park.
Although I was surprised by a few things in this show, one thing I was not surprised by was its quick cancellation. For some reason, so many shows in the sixties were adapted from movies and could not be sustained as a weekly show. M*A*S*H was one of the few shows to do this well. It seems though it would be a tough thing to sustain interesting shows when you are limited to natural disasters and poachers. Here again, you would assume the scenery would almost be a character you could develop. I’m also sure it was not cheap to film the show in Africa which would make it harder to keep if it was not producing decent ratings.
While none of the shows we have learned about in the series became long-running shows, next week we wind up our series with a look at one of the enduring pet shows.
We are in the midst of our “It’s the First” blog series, and today we are talking about a show that debuted in 1947 to bring us the news: Meet the Press (although the show actually began on radio in 1945). Although we hear a lot about Gunsmoke and The Simpsons being on air for so many years, rarely do people talk about the fact that Meet the Press was one of the first television shows and is still going strong. Of course, it looks a bit different than it did when it first began.
The show, which will be celebrating its 75th anniversary next year, features interviews with national leaders about politics, economics, foreign policy and other critical global topics. Noted journalists and experts provide analysis, discussion, and reviews of the past week’s events. The show began during the second official television season. It was the first live network news show, and was the first live news show that a sitting president appeared on; in this case it was Gerald Ford.
The program has had twelve different hosts during its history beginning with Martha Rountree. The first guest was James Farley who had served as postmaster general, Democratic National Committee chairman, and campaign manager for Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Meet the Press is on the air in most markets on Sunday morning on NBC. It is also on Sirius/XM and syndicated on Westwood One, and is often replayed on C-Span.
For the first forty-five years of its airing, it was a 30-minute program but was extended to an hour in 1992. General Foods was the sponsor for the first television seasons. Rountree, the only female, hosted until 1953 when Ned Brooks took over for 12 years. Lawrence Spivak, who had hosted the radio version was the moderator until 1975. Bill Monroe stepped up to the plate next, hosting until 1984. The next seven years had a revolving door of hosts including Roger Mudd and Marvin Kalb, cohosts; Chris Wallace; and Garrick Utley.
Tim Russert, network bureau chief in Washington DC took over in 1991 and remained with the show until his death in 2008. After his death, Tom Brokaw had a special edition of the show dedicated to Russert, leaving his chair empty on the set.
NBC news anchor Brian Williams hosted the next regularly scheduled show following Russert’s death and Brokaw became interim host through the 2008 general elections. Following the elections, Brokaw continued the first half hour with David Gregory taking over the second half hour. Gregory became the sole host in December of 2008.
In an attempt to gain viewers, a new set and theme song were introduced in 2010. Ratings continued to decline, and in 2013 the show, which had typically been the number one Sunday news program, dropped to third place.
In 2014, Chuck Todd, NBC’s chief White House correspondent took over the reins of the show. The show never regained its former numbers, but its Facebook ratings have skyrocketed.
Some of the most-watched episodes included Elizabeth Bentley, a courier with a Community spy ring, in 1948; Fidel Castro in 1959; and Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963.
Every US president since JFK has appeared on the show, although most after their presidencies.
Todd, who is still running the show, shared some of his thoughts about why Meet the Press has been so influential. About the Sunday time slot, he said that “I think that the reason it has survived is because the idea of using Sunday as a day of reflection is sort of ingrained in the news business, too,” Todd said. “We continue to believe that Sunday mornings are when we’re going to sit down and try to figure out what the heck’s going on in the country.”
Todd also discussed Russert’s relevance on the show when he said, “Every moderator leaves an imprint. Tim has two giant imprints. He took Meet the Press to an hour. And he made the round table a vital and regular part of the show. Tim also made it seem less like an insider show. He realized it was at its best when explaining Washington to America but also bringing America to Washington.”
It’s hard to fault the show too much for its decline in ratings. When you consider, how many news choices there currently are, I think it is amazing that any news show has been able to remain on the air for almost 75 years.
The combination of Trump as president and the Covid pandemic has helped the show’s ratings a bit. In March of 2020 Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared on the show. According to Nielsen data, 4.657 million views tuned in making the show the most-watched one on that day. An additional 952,000 people watched rebroadcasts on NBC and MSNBC, the highest-rated show since January 2009.
It will be interesting to learn what celebrations are planned for 2022. If you have not checked in to see what Meet the Press is all about, take a listen this month.
From 1952-1961, you could tune into Gunsmoke on your local radio to hear the adventures of the folks in Dodge City, Kansas created by Norman Macdonnell and John Meston. The primary characters were Marshal Matt Dillon (William Conrad), Doc Charles Adams (Howard McNear), Miss Kitty Russell (Georgia Ellis) and Chester Wesley Proudfoot (Parley Baer). Three years after its debut, the series shifted to television as well, running on CBS from 1955-1975, producing an incredible 635 episodes. For television, Macdonnell took over the reins as producer with Meston the head writer.
James Arness was offered the role of Dillon on television. The network wanted John Wayne who turned it down. He did, however, introduce the first episode. Both Raymond Burr and Denver Pyle were also considered for the role. Matt Dillon spent his youth in foster care, knew the Bible well, and at some point was mentored by a caring lawman. He also talks about his time in the Army in some episodes.
The role of Chester, with a new last name of Goode now, was played by Dennis Weaver. Chester was not only a loyal employee to Marshal Dillon, but he brewed a mean pot of coffee. He had a noticeable limp which apparently resulted from an injury in the Civil War. Weaver later said if he realized how hard it would be to film that long with a fake limp, he would have not used it. Other sidekicks to the Marshal included Ken Curtis as Festus Haggen, Burt Reynolds as Quint Asper (1962-65), Roger Ewing as Thad Greenwood (1966-68), and Buck Taylor as Newly O’Brien (1967-75).
Doc was now Galen Adams and played by Milburn Stone. Doc was an interesting guy. He apparently was educated in Philadelphia and spent some time as a ship doctor on gambling boats on the Mississippi River where he met Mark Twain. His young wife died from typhus two months after their marriage. He finally settled in Dodge City after wandering a bit.
Miss Kitty was portrayed by Amanda Blake. Perhaps the closest bond she had with Dillon was that she also grew up in foster care in New Orleans. She was in more than 500 of the television episodes. In addition to her role as “entertaining men” in Dodge City, she is half owner of the Long Branch Saloon. Kitty and Matt obviously are attracted to each other and are very close. Kitty was a successful business owner and had a cold demeanor about professional matters but had a soft heart in other matters. Blake was ready to leave the show in 1974, and her storyline was that she finally returned to New Orleans.
During its twenty-year stint, the show had some notable guest stars. Just a few celebrities who graced the set include Jack Albertson, Ed Asner, James Backus, Beau Bridges, Charles Bronson, Bette Davis, Angie Dickinson, Richard Dreyfuss, Buddy Ebsen, Barbara Eden, Jodie Foster, Mariette Hartley, Ron Howard, June Lockhart, Jack Lord, Rose Marie, Howard McNear, Harry Morgan, Leonard Nimoy, Carroll O’Connor, Denver Pyle, Wayne Rogers, William Shatner, Cicely Tyson, and Adam West.
While the show portrayed the hard life in the West, it was also a warm and humorous celebration of a group of people making a new life together.
The opening of the show is a gunfight between Matt and a “bad guy.” It was shot on the same Main Street set used in High Noon, the Grace Kelly/Gary Cooper classic. The scene was dropped in the 1970s when a nonviolence emphasis was placed on television shows and the opening was Matt riding his horse.
The show began its life on Saturday nights at 10 pm ET. In 1961 when the radio show left the air, the television show switched from half an hour to an hour. For season 13, it moved to Monday nights at 7:30 for four years, and then at 8 pm for four years. By season two it was a top ten hit, rising to number one where it remained until 1971.
The first seven seasons were sponsored by L&M cigarettes and Remington shavers.
The well-known theme from the show and radio was “Old Trails” composed by Rex Koury. Lyrics were later recorded by Tex Ritter in 1955 but not used in either radio or tv. Although I could not confirm it, I read several mentions that Koury was so busy, he actually penned the song while using the bathroom. William Lava composed original theme music for television; other composers who contributed music during the twenty years were Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herrmann, Jerome Moross, and Franz Waxman.
Surprisingly, the show was only nominated for fifteen Emmys during its reign. Of those, there were only three wins: one for best dramatic show in 1957, one for Dennis Weaver as supporting actor in 1958, and one for Milburn Stone in 1967.
After surviving the rural purge Paley conducted, the cast thought they were not in jeopardy and were all stunned by the cancellation in 1975. CBS had not prepared them that they were debating ending the show. They assumed the show was continuing till it had 700 episodes and many of the stars read about the cancellation in the trade magazines.
The show has appeared in syndication in three different versions. One package is half-hour episodes from 1955-1961, one package contains hour-long black and white episodes from 1961-1966, and the final package contains one-hour color episodes from 1966-1975. Me TV currently airs the one-hour color shows.
Arness would appear in five made-for-television movies after the show went off the air. In 1987, Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge featured Blake as Miss Kitty and Taylor as O’Brien. Stone had passed away in 1980, so his role was not part of the new film. Gunsmoke: The Last Apache premiered in 1990 without Blake who had died in 1989. In 1992-1994, Gunsmoke: To the Last Man, Gunsmoke: The Long Ride, and Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice would appear before the series rode off into the sunset for good.
After being on television so long, it’s not surprising that there were a lot of merchandising opportunities for the show. In addition to typical items like lunch boxes, there was Gunsmoke cottage cheese. A Matt Dillon figurine was available with his Horse Buck.
There were also board games, puzzles and a variety of books including numerous paperbacks and comic books from Dell and Gold Key.
Fans had an affinity for the show. During its time on the air more than thirty westerns came and went, but Gunsmoke continued, in the top ten for most of its two decades. Few series have their own museum, but you can visit Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City to learn all about the show. Furniture from the series is included, as well as signed photos from the cast and other memorabilia including one of Miss Kitty’s dresses.
When you hear someone say “Get outta Dodge,” you can fondly remember Gunsmoke which is where this phrase began. Perhaps being cancelled was a blessing in disguise. After two decades, maybe it was time to get outta Dodge, maintaining the high standards and high ratings that made the show such a long-running success.
As we check out some of my favorite actresses this month, this week we learn about one of the most prolific actresses on the small screen. With more than 170 credits between 1938 and 2004, June Lockhart had a very successful career.
Perhaps destiny planned for June to become an actress. Both her parents, Canadian-born Gene and English-born Kathleen Lockhart, were actors and she traveled with them as a young child while they performed. Although she was born in New York City in 1925, she was brought up in Beverly Hills.
She was only 8 when she took the role of Mimsey in “Peter Ibbetson” at the Metropolitan Opera.
In 1938, at age 13, June made her film debut in A Christmas Carol with her parents. She appeared in more than thirty movies, including Meet Me in St. Louis, Sergeant York, All This and Heaven Too, and The Yearling.
In 1948, she won a Tony for Outstanding Performance by a Newcomer for her role in “For Love or Money.”
Although her appearances in film and on Broadway would have been a lucrative career n themselves, it was in television that she found most of her fame. In 1949 she accepted a role on The Ford Theater Hour. During the 1950s she would make 56 appearances on drama theater shows. In addition, she was in Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Rawhide, and Wagon Train.
In 1951 she married John Maloney. In 1959 they divorced and that same year, she married John Lindsay whom she was married to until 1970.
But it was in the television show, Lassie from 1958-1964 that she became a household name as Ruth Martin, Timmy’s (Jon Provost) mother. The show was about the Martin family’s life on the farm and the heroics of Timmy’s dog Lassie.
The 1960s continued to be very productive for her as an actress. She appeared in a variety of television shows, including the dramas Perry Mason, The Man from UNCLE, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and the comedies Bewitched, Family Affair, and The Beverly Hillbillies.
She also starred in two long-lasting sitcoms. From 1965-1968 she was Maureen Robinson on Lost in Space. On the show, a family with three children travel with Major Don West to colonize a new planet. Dr. Zach Smith is a stowaway who tried to sabotage their mission by throwing their ship off course and ends up having to live with the people he thought were his enemies.
In an interview with Bill Mumy who played her son Will on Lost in Space, he said that Lockhart always made time for the kids on the set. He said she kept them occupied between takes which she didn’t need to do. He said “she spent a lot of time nurturing Angela’s and my developing thought processes. Teaching us.”
In 1968 she was offered a role as Dr. Janet Craig for the final two seasons of Petticoat Junction. Bea Benaderet, the star, passed away in 1968, and Janet filled in as a “mother” to the girls.
Although she would not take on any additional regular roles for sitcoms, she continued to keep busy through the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. During these decades , she could be seen on Love American Style, Marcus Welby, Adam-12, Police Story, ElleryQueen, Happy Days, Magnum PI, Falcon Crest, Quincy, Murder She Wrote, FullHouse, Roseanne, Drew Carey, Grey’s Anatomy, and in Beverly Hills 90210 where she had a recurring role, along with 33 other series.
Her last acting role was an animation movie, Bongee Bear and the Kingdom of Rhythm, in 2016. She passed away in 2019, apparently from old age.
Lockhart was an interesting person as well as a successful actress. She hosted the Tournament of Roses parade for eight years and the Macy Thanksgiving parade for five years.
During my research, I learned several surprising things about her. She was an Ambassador for the California State Parks system. She won the NASA award for Exceptional Public Achievement Medal for inspiring the public about space exploration in 2013. She served as a panelist with several White House correspondents on a quiz show Who Said That in the fifties. That job provided her with an open invitation to attend White House briefings which she did and said were fun.
Her hobbies included gold mining, antique motorcars, lighter-than-air aircraft, and learning about the Old West. She kept medical texts near her bed for nighttime reading. She was a member of a kite-flying club. She also loved old steam engines.
Her husband bought her a 1923 Seagrave pumper fire engine named “Cordelia Delilah Lindsay” which she drove around even though it got two miles to the gallon. She actually had the largest parking space at the studio.
If all those facts aren’t interesting enough, in an interview with Bill Mumy by the Archive of American Television, he relayed that she loved rock and roll. In 1967, she hired the Allman Brothers Band (then called Hour Glass) to play at her house. She took Angela Cartwright and Bill to the Whiskey-A-Go-Go. He also said that “in the 1980s she carried a picture of only one person in her wallet and it was David Bowie.”
I’m truly impressed that with as busy as she was as an actress, she made time for both her two daughters and her television children, and enjoyed a ton of hobbies as well. It seems she had a joy for learning about new things and continued to add interests to her life. She was a great role model for all of us.
Those of you who have been with me for a while know I have a bit of a different definition for “classic tv.” My view of “classic” is a show that was a great show and is no longer on the air. Typically, I am writing and researching shows from 40-70 years ago, but every once in a while, I sneak in a more recent series.
That’s the case today. In 2017 a very different type of show aired called Trial & Error. For those of you who didn’t watch it, it was a spoof of documentaries and reality legal shows. Its humor is hard to describe. Created by Jeff Astrof (he was producer for a variety of shows including The New Adventures of Old Christine and Veronica’s Closet) and Matt Miller (supervising producer for Las Vegas) for NBC, the show was produced by Warner Brothers Television.
Astrof discussed how he got the idea for Trial & Error. He was watching The Staircase, a show documenting the trial of Michael Peterson, accused of murdering his wife. He thought he could turn it into a comedy/mockumentary. Peterson is a novelist who lives in North Carolina and was accused of pushing both his wife and a family friend down staircases.
I know that doesn’t sound like an idea for a funny show, but that’s what happened. I’m not one for the Dumb and Dumber type movies, so this is not that. It was based on character and the little town where the action takes place.
Trial & Error followed New York attorney Josh Segal (Nicholas D’Agosto) when his firm sends him to the small town of East Peck in South Carolina to represent Larry Henderson (John Lithgow) who is accused of murdering his wife. Henderson is a poet who lives in South Carolina and was accused of pushing both his wives through windows.
The first season introduced us to Josh’s “legal” team of Anne Flatch (Sherri Shepherd) and Dwayne Reed (Steven Boyer).
Reed is a fumbling former police officer and the lead investigator. Flatch is the researcher and assistant. She is very smart and often solves many mysteries, but she is plagued with dozens of syndromes which affect her health, sometimes at the worst times for trials. Some of her disorders include prosoapamnesia, dyslexia, involuntary emotional expression disorder, Stendhal syndrome (this causes her to faint when witnessing great beauty), foreign accent syndrome, nocturnal lagophthalmos, backwards cheerleader syndrome, and a strange condition where her left hand operates independently of her wishes. She also suffers from face blindness and she can’t see who the person is talking to her and when she is upset, she laughs hysterically.
The eccentric poetry professor Henderson is portrayed by the amazing John Lithgow and his daughter Summer by Krysta Rodriguez. Josh and Assistant District Attorney Carol Ann Keane (Jayma Mays) butt heads and eventually succumb to the attraction that surrounds them when they get together.
No matter had hard Josh works, Larry always does or says something to make himself look guilty. Every time Josh figures out one mystery, it leads to another problem for his client. There is also a lot of subtle humor such as when Larry walks out of a room, we realize he is wearing an OJ Simpson jersey.
Not only does Josh have a pair of eccentric coworkers, but his office is part of the local taxidermy shop.
Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t watched the show and plan to, ignore this paragraph. Both the original Peterson case and the fictional Henderson case involved birds as a defense to murder. In Peterson’s case, his legal team was not willing to put their client’s life on the line with that defense. In Henderson’s case, Josh tells Dwayne and Anne to say the first thing that pops into their heads, and Dwayne says, “Bird. Birds fly into windows all the time.” The finale reveals that Margaret was killed by an owl.
Season two finds Josh let go by his firm and living in East Peck. He is hired by Lavinia Peck-Foster (Kristin Chenoweth) when she is also accused of murder. Lavinia, one of the town’s most beloved citizens, finds her husband’s body stuffed into a suitcase in her car. If you haven’t seen the series, the following description might give you a better indication of Lavinia; Chenoweth says she based the character on Lisa Vanderpump, Carol Burnett, Madeline Kahn, Julie Andrews, Dolly Parton, and Hannibal Lecter.
In season two, we see Carol Ann obviously pregnant. We assume Josh is the father, but you can’t assume anything in East Peck, because just when you think you have things figured out, a new twist appears. We also are introduced to Nina Rudolph (Amanda Payton) in season 2. She is a podcast host who also relocates from New York to East Peck to follow Lavinia’s trial. She ends up in a romantic triangle with Josh and Carol, with Josh is uncertain where his heart is being pulled.
A variety of other characters show up in seasons one and two who live in East Peck and have definite opinions on the guilt or innocence of the accused. In Larry’s case, it’s revealed the newspaper thinks Henderson is the fourth leading cause of death in East Peck; the third is cannonballs which are fired off at 5 am and 5 pm daily. The town itself has a lot of funny traditions and laws. For example, waterskiing with a cat is only a misdemeanor. Sometimes the coroner lists the cause of death as “just because.” Astrof described East Peck as a town of 600 residents where 400 of them are not quite right. One of the things that hit me as funny and should not be is that the town has a law that any woman driver must be preceded by a man on foot waving flags, yelling “Woman driver!”
Spoiler Alert 2: Unlike Larry, Josh realizes that Lavinia is actually the killer. However, we have an understanding of her and realize she is a victim too. She was molded into the golden debutante of East Peck and brought up to do whatever she wanted, and it was always fixed and okay. She is a sympathetic murderer. Her last speech is “At the end of the day, life is just a journey. If you’re lucky, you don’t have to take that journey alone. If you’re one of the blessed few, you take that journey with someone you love and you hold them forever. And we can take comfort in knowing all our journeys end in the same place: a hold in the ground.” It’s not the speech or series ending you anticipate, and much of the show is not what you anticipate. We also learn in the last episode that Josh is not the father of Carol’s baby but he still is with her when she is giving birth because he’s Josh.
Although the show received a lot of praise from critics, NBC declined to renew it for a third season, and there were no other networks willing to take it on. Rotten Tomatoes gave the first season an 86% rating based on 35 reviews. The second season jumped to 91% with 11 reviews.
I was on the fence when I heard that this show was on the fall schedule, but it was truly funny. It was created with great attention to detail and consistency. Like I mentioned last week about Night Court, you have to have the perfect cast for a show like this. It could so easily be over the top and stereotypical. Even Anne with all her syndromes is believable and likable. That’s one of the great things about the show. Josh is able to put aside his New York judgments of the people and the town. Their craziness becomes normal for him, and you can tell he truly likes his coworkers and his clients.
Astrof was interviewed for undertheradarmag.com by Steve King on January 29, 2019. In that article, Astrof discussed the actors in the cast. Astrof said “Nick was the glue that holds the show together.” He said Nick was able to project a goofiness without putting his legal ability in jeopardy. He continued saying, “Without him, everything would fall apart, because you need someone who can not only do the slow burn, but generate comedy and likeability and sexiness but in a goofy way. I have nothing but positive things to say about Nick.”
Astrof revealed his appreciation of the entire cast: “I’m so blessed to work with this group. You’ve never seen anything like it. You’ve never seen a nicer cast.” Of Lithgow, he said, “Nobody could have played Larry with the same pathos that John has, and the comedy.” He said of Boyer, “Well Steven is just a genius and when he auditioned, we had never even heard of him.” About Shepherd, “We just fell in love with her. Anne was written to be a bit of a hangdog, and when Sherri came in, we were like, ‘You can give this character any affliction and she’s going to be upbeat.’”
There are so many rapid-fire puns and great lines that it’s hard to catch them all. While most viewers found season two their favorite, there is something charming about Lithgow’s performance as Larry that makes season one my favorite, but not by a huge margin. This show was so unlike anything else on television. Its writing was so great, and its characters so likable and quirky. It made my brain think differently while watching.
Just so you don’t have to take my word on the show, I’ll end with a review from labman-40649 that was written on imdb March 26, 2017: The title was “Hilarious” and the review states: “This is the funniest television show I have seen in the last 25 years. My family and I laugh the entire length of the show until we are crying!!! Keep up the awesome work. You are the true Kings and Queens of Comedy!!!! The entire cast is beyond brilliant!!!! I truly hope this show will be on as long as Gunsmoke was.”
Unfortunately, in an era of so many shows that are underwhelming and unbearable with bad writing, this creative, unbelievably funny and well-written show couldn’t get the green light for a third season. Thankfully, the first two seasons are available on DVD, so you can check it out for yourself. They are definitely on my “must-buy to watch and re-watch” list.