Tom Snyder Brought Us Tomorrow Tonight

As we continue learning about popular talk shows of the past, today we look at one that was on really, really late: Tomorrow with Tom Snyder.

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Photo: postindependent.com

Often labeled as The Tomorrow Show, this program was on NBC from 1973-1982. After the light chatting and exchange of humorous stories on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, you could hear Snyder having in-depth conversations with his guests. He was not afraid to ask the hard-hitting questions and do a bit of interrogation with the person in the chair across from him.

This was back when everyone smoked on television. Turn on Match Game and you see smoke rising from almost every celebrity’s cubicle, catch an episode of The Andy Griffith Show and you might see Andy puffing away, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble advertised cigarettes, and the quintessential memory of Tom Snyder is him sitting in the chair, with a cigarette.

Photo: pinterest.com

Dan Aykroyd did a great impression of him on several Saturday Night Live episodes. Snyder’s catch phrase was “Fire up a colortini, sit back, relax, and watch the pictures, now, as they fly through the air.” Snyder was easy and tough to portray. He did not have the humor of Carson, the intelligence of Paar or the wit of Steve Allen, but his enthusiasm was contagious. His lack of polished and prepared questions often led to some incredible celebrity insights.

Dan Akroyd’s version of Snyder Photo: pinterest.com

You never knew what you were in for when you turned on this show. Perhaps it was an interview with Harlan Elison, Elvis Costello, John Lennon, Ayn Rand, Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols, Kiss with an obviously drunk Ace Frehley being corralled by the rest of the band members, or one of the most disturbing, Charles Manson.

Trying to Interview Charles Manson Photo: rollingstone.com

One of the most fun shows was his interview with Disney animator Ward Kimball discussing his full-size and toy train collections. I wish I could see the show from April 4, 1978 when he interviewed George Fenneman, Harry von Zell, Don Wilson, and John Reed King, several of the most amazing announcers ever. (I have done blogs on Fenneman, von Zell with the Burns and Allen Show, and Wilson; I was not familiar with King but he hosted a lot of television and radio games shows, but I’m sorry to say I did not recognize any of the titles.)

A few other shows that looked interesting included his interview with Alfred Hitchcock about his fifty-year film career; his discussion with producer-creator Gene Roddenberry, actors DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig and convention organizer Al Schuster about Star Trek; and his talk with singers Ella Mae Morse, Margaret Whiting, Lina Romay, and Kay Starr about life in the big-band era.

With favorite guest John Lennon Photo: wikipedia.com

Snyder often cited his most embarrassing moment of the show as his interview with Meat Loaf, whose real name is Marvin Lee Aday. Snyder said for the first ten minutes of the interview, he referred to the singer as “Meatball.”

When the ratings began to decline, the network opted to put David Letterman in the 1:30 EST slot and offered Snyder the 2:30 spot which he declined.

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Kiss Photo: fanpop.com

I’m not sure if it was Snyder’s call or the network’s but he never had an original theme song. He started with “Love’s Theme” by the Love Unlimited Orchestra, used Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” for a time, and later used “Love is the Message” by T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia).

Snyder was born in 1936 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Although he had a life-long love of radio, his plan was to study medicine. Eventually, he switched his major to journalism and was hired as a radio reporter at WRIT in Milwaukee.

In the 1960s Snyder transitioned to television, and one of his jobs was where else but Cleveland, Ohio. (If you read all my blogs this month, you’ll see Mike Douglas and Phil Donahue also started tv careers in Ohio.)

In 1970, Snyder moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia to anchor the 6 pm newscast. He continued to broadcast the news along with the Tomorrow show. When the show was cancelled, he moved back to New York to continue his news career with ABC. He finished his career with ABC back in Los Angeles where he returned in 1985.

5 Tom Snyder Clips That Will Make You Wish We Still Had "The Tomorrow Show"  - Legacy.com
Photo: legacy.com

Don’t get me wrong—I love Jimmy Fallon, and he has some fascinating guests, but I miss real conversations because it’s hard to get to true portrayals of someone in a ten-minute chat. I don’t know if viewers would be willing to sit through an hour-long interview these days; everyone wants the quick clips, but it’s like forgoing reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to read the cliff notes. You might get the highlights but you miss the small pleasures and the “aha moments.” I guess I miss “aha moments.”

Say Jell-o to Don Wilson

As we continue with our “They Call Me Wilson” series, today we learn about the career of Don Wilson.  With 33 movie credits, he only starred in seven television shows, but if you were a fan of Jack Benny or Batman, you will recognize him immediately.

Photo: oldtimeradio.com

Wilson was born in 1900 in Nebraska. Not much is known about his early life, but in one interview in 1980, he mentioned he went to high school in Boulder, CO. He played football at the University of Colorado and was an excellent golfer.

Denver was also the place he began his radio career, singing on KFEL in 1923. Wilson talked about a group he was part of, the Columbia Trio, in Denver beginning in 1925; they played on the radio and appeared in clubs when they needed a late substitute. One of their clients for commercials was for Piggly Wiggly and the store brought the three musicians to California when the company decided to open up new stores in California and renamed them the Piggly Wiggly Trio.

By the end of the decade, he was working full time at station KFI and later at KHJ both in Los Angeles. In an interview later in his life, he said he bought a Packard from Earle C. Anthony, and the Cadillac sponsor Don Lee, who owned KFI did not take it kindly and fired Wilson.

Apparently, he couldn’t decide which direction he wanted his career to go. During the early thirties, he worked as a sportscaster and covered the opening of the 1932 Summer Olympics for NBC. He also announced five Rose Bowls. He was mentored by Ted Hussey and said he was the greatest sports announcer bar none as well as a generous and knowledgeable man.

He took on Broadway roles in 1932 and 1934. He also began radio announcing for programs in the mid-thirties, first working with Benny in 1934.

Being perhaps indecisive, he also had a hard time with his love life. His first marriage was to Lucy Saufley in 1927; in 1940, he divorced Saufley and he married Peggy Kent whose father was president of 20th Century Fox. In 1942, the same month his divorce became final , he married a Polish countess, Marusia Radunska and this relationship lasted seven years. When he married his fourth wife, Lois Corbett in 1950, he finally found a lifetime partner.

He would be a member of the Jack Benny television family for 31 years, but when he was hired, although it was as a permanent cast member, he was at least the fourth announcer in two years to work on the show. Wilson said he thinks he was chosen partly because he laughed at all the right lines. He said luckily, in person, Benny was much more generous with his salary than was portrayed on the show.

When Benny made the foray into television in 1950, Wilson went along and would continue to costar on the show until it ended in 1965.

The cast of The Jack Benny Show-Photo: tvtropes.com

Although Don was listed as announcer for the Benny show, like Harry Von Zell on Burns and Allen, he was really part of the cast. His good-natured, friendly manner and booming Midwestern voice made him a pleasant person who often took the brunt of jokes by Benny, often due to his 6 foot, 300-pound physique. Wilson’s wife Lois appeared as his wife on the show for fifteen years, so it was a family affair. She also acted on other radio shows.

Benny producer Irving Fein, said Don “was a great foil for Jack. He was the hearty announcer who tried to get the commercial on the air and Jack would try to thwart him. Sometimes Don would have the Sportsmen Quartet sneak in the commercial. Don would tell Jack the Sportsmen were going to do a song. Then they would sing a chorus of a song and the final chorus would be the commercial.” The first commercial Wilson pitched on the show was for General Tires. Jell-O, part of General Foods, sponsored the show for ten years, and Lucky Strike then took over for another fifteen years.

Photo: jackbennypodcast.com

His coworkers said he rarely misspoke his lines, but when he did, they took advantage of it. In an interview on speakingofradio.com, Don told a story that during one 1950 broadcast, he relayed a bunch of information and Jack asked him when he learned all that and Don said he read it in columnist Drew Pearson’s article, but he mistakenly said Dreer Pooson. Later during the murder-mystery story, Benny approached Frank Nelson and asked, “Pardon me, are you the doorman?” Instead of the written line, Nelson asked, “Well who do you think I am, Dreer Pooson?” That line got a lot of applause and laughter.

He said Benny was a quiet listener and preferred to stay in the background reacting to other actors. However, Wilson said that “when he was eventually on, he could top everybody. . . He wasn’t a one-liner comedian . . . he was a real thoroughbred professional, start to finish.  He always demanded the very, very best that he could possibly get and if ever there was an irreplaceable man, Jack Benny would be that man.”

Wilson with Jack Benny and Dennis Day–Photo: radiospirits.info

Don discussed how the show worked. He said “Jack’s philosophy was that the bigger he could make the supporting people, the bigger the Jack Benny Show became and the bigger Jack Benny therefore became.”  Wilson said he was thoughtful and generous and would not allow anything off-color in the show, so it was fit for family watching. He said in one episode, Benny sat off to one side and the cast spoke to him, but he didn’t actually utter a line until the last few minutes of the show. He said Jack often came up with the idea for a show but then turned it over to the writers and let them do their part.

He said some of his most enjoyable shows were when he traveled with Jack performing for military audiences. Jack would try to move the brass, so the enlisted men could have front-row seats.

Wilson did announcing work for a variety of programs in the heyday of radio. He worked with Bing Crosby, Fanny Brice, and Alan Young. He also worked for Chesterfield when they sponsored a show with Glenn Miller.  When Miller went into the war, Harry James took over that spot, and Don continued working with him.

Wilson said in the early years of television, they did two live presentations, one for the east coast and one for the west coast.  In between they would tweak lines and rehearse those changes. Eventually, the show was taped, so the cast did not have to do two live performances.

Radio Guide, in addition to other award groups, awarded Don the Announcer of the Year Award for fifteen years straight.

While on Benny’s show, Don also made several appearances on other television shows in the fifties and sixties. He showed up on Screen Directors Playhouse in 1955 and on The Red Skelton Show in 1959. He was a preacher on Death Valley Days in 1959.

Photo: radiospirits.com

In the sixties, he could be seen in the Mel-O-Toons in 1960 which presented short, five-minute stories often based on fairy tales. He was also on Harrigan and Son in 1961. His last role was after Jack Benny went off the air. He was Walter Klondike, a newscaster spoof on Walter Kronkite, on Batman in 1966.

Watch Batman Season 2 Episode 18 - Dizzoner the Penguin Online Now
Photo: yidio.com

Don passed away due to a stroke in 1982.

I really enjoyed listening to several interviews with Don. He was so appreciative of his career and the people he was able to work with during his entertainment opportunities. Listening to someone who was able to get in on the beginning of radio and then do the same thing with television was very interesting and informative. I hope he realizes how much we all appreciated him.

The Secret Word is George Fenneman

I am cheating just a bit with this post. During this Oddly Wonderful series, I think I can push the envelope enough. You Bet Your Life was a very different type of game show. If ever there was a person who personifies oddly wonderful it was Groucho. But I really wanted an excuse to write about George Fenneman.

George Fenneman is best remembered for his role on Groucho Marx’s quiz show, You Bet Your Life which began on radio in 1947 and transitioned to television in 1950. The show went off the air in 1961, the year I was born. Obviously, I don’t remember the original show, but I saw it in reruns and always had a crush on George; I think it was his smile that always got me.

Photo: imdb.com

George was born in Beijing (then Peking), China in 1919. His father was in the importing/exporting business. When he was not quite one, his parents moved to San Francisco where he grew up. After high school, he attended San Francisco State College. He graduated in 1942 with a degree in speech and drama. He took a job with a local radio station KGO for a short time. He married his college sweetheart Peggy Clifford in 1943 and they would stay married until George died. The couple had two daughters and a son.

Photo: collectors.com

Poor eyesight and asthma prevented Fenneman from military action in World War II, but he was able to become a broadcast correspondent for the War of Information. In 1946 he was back in California, in the radio industry again. One of the shows he announced for was Gunsmoke. After the episode concluded, he would introduce Matt Dillon (William Conrad) to discuss the sponsor’s products which often was cigarettes such as L&M or Chesterfield.

Some of the other radio shows he announced for included The Orson Welles Show, The Eddie Albert Show, and the Hedda Hopper Show.

Photo: aveleyman.com

He and Peggy were neighbors of Christian Nyby. In 1951, Nyby was hired as director for the film, The Thing from Another World. George joined the cast as in the minor role of Dr. Redding who has an important scene at the end of the film. It took 27 takes for him to get the speech right, and he realized he was better suited for radio. However, he would appear in two additional films, the little-known Mystery Lake in 1953 and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 1967. While his voice was part of several other films, most notably in the original Ocean’s 11 as the man talking on the phone to Sheriff Wimmer.

Jack Webb had worked on broadcasts with George during the war. He hired Fenneman as announcer for his radio show, Pat Novak, For Hire. When Dragnet aired the same year, Jack took George with him. George, along with Hal Gibney took on the role of narrator for the show. They both continued with the show in 1951 when it moved to television. Dragnet was off the air for a number of years and returned to television in 1967. Fenneman was again hired as narrator with John Stephenson for that version. George was the one who was heard saying, “The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.” Stephenson handled the closing narration. Fenneman was also cast as a news reporter in a variety of shows including Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Name of the Game, and on Batman in 1966 in the episode, “The Yegg Foes in Gotham.”

Photo: pinterest.at
On Batman

In addition to appearing on Groucho’s show on television, Fenneman was the host or announcer for several other shows. He emceed two games shows during his time with Groucho: Anybody Can Play in 1958 and Your Surprise Package in 1961. In 1963, He hosted a show on ABC titled Your Funny, Funny Films which was a cousin to the later Candid Camera and America’s Funniest Home Videos.

He was usually an unseen announcer on The Ed Sullivan Show, but in 1964, the night the Beatles were on the show for the second time, he did a spot on the air for Lipton Tea. From 1978-1982 he hosted a show on PBS, Talk About Pictures. In this show, Life magazine photographer Leigh Weiner and George interviewed respected photographers and looked at their best photos.

Photo: pinterest.com
With Leigh Weiner on PBS

He also was the voice for Home Savings & Loan commercials from the late 1960s until his death from emphysema in 1997. He also acted as announcer for shows such as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Donny and Marie, The Jim Nabors Show, and The Life of Riley.

Photo: hollywoodphotographs.com
With Martin and Lewis

In 1993, The Simpsons aired an episode that spoofed Dragnet, and Fenneman can be heard on the show delivering his famous line about names being changed to protect the innocent.

Despite his large cannon of work as an announcer and emcee, Fenneman became a household celebrity when he went to work for Groucho on You Bet Your Life. One day George was standing on the corner of Hollywood and Vine. Robert Dwan, who had hired him at KGO Radio, came up and told him he was holding an audition for a new show for Groucho. Fenneman went up against thirty other announcers and won the job which paid $55 a week. He was hired just to do commercials. At some point, Groucho decided he should also be scorekeeper, as well as his straight man.

Photo: usawoopro.blogspot.com

When discussing Groucho, George said, “I have to say he was unique, and he was fearless. It was a great privilege to work with him for 15 years and to be his friend for 30.” After Fenneman’s death, Peggy did an interview for an article by Lawrence Van Gelder for the NY Times in June of 1997. She said that George was always a fan of Groucho and the Marx Brothers. She remembered them often going to the Golden Gate Theater when they were in college. They went to watch the Marx Brothers rehearse future movie scenes for comic timing. She remembered watching scenes from A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races.

Groucho, known for his quick wit and acid tongue, found an agreeable and attractive man in Fenneman. When viewers queried George whether the show was scripted or ad-libbed, he always said yes. Actually, it was about 50/50.  Groucho was fed some lines from the interviews with the contestants, but he never met them ahead of time and was given the freedom to interject whatever comments he chose.

Photo: mptvimages.com

George often took the brunt of Groucho’s humor. One time he had to inhale helium, one day he came down from the ceiling when the secret word was said in place of the usual duck, or he would be questioned about something on the show. For example, one evening each of the contestants was a very attractive woman and Groucho made it seem that Fenneman had set that up on purpose. One contestant mistakenly referred to George as Mr. Fidderman, and Groucho called him out to discuss his double life.

Photo: popflock.com

George never knew what Groucho had in store for him. Often Marx would summon George from behind the curtain, and he always looked uncomfortable which was quite genuine. But Groucho had great affection and appreciation for him, calling him the perfect straight man.

At times on the show, George could also be quite funny, but he knew his main role was straight man, and he usually toed that line carefully.

George and Groucho remained friends long after the show was cancelled. They often got together before Groucho’s death in 1977 at age 87. Groucho never lost his sense of humor. At one of their last visits, Groucho was in very frail health. Helping Groucho get across the room, George lifted him out of his wheelchair and carried him. He had his arms around his torso and began to shimmy him across the floor. Groucho’s rasping voice said, “Fenneman, you always were a lousy dancer.”

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Although the shows have never been released in a chronological DVD collection, they are available. The programs were recorded in full and then edited to the desired length. On MP3 discs, some of the unedited tapes are available which provide a very different perspective than the aired show.

There are a few announcers still well known in the business. I think of Rod Roddy, Johnny Gilbert or Johnny Olson who have game show fame, but it is a career that is being phased out. There is something charming about watching the former announcers for shows promoting products and interacting with the stars. Harry Von Zell from the Gracie Allen and George Burns Show comes to mind or Don Wilson from the Jack Benny Show. Like rotary phones, transistor radios, and Polaroid cameras, they are fondly remembered from a slower and less technological period in history.

With this series being Oddly Wonderful, I am stretching it a bit by focusing on George. In our definition of oddly wonderful, he was definitely the wonderful.

We All Love Gracie: The Burns and Allen Show

I am excited that today is my 100th blog, and I have saved a very special show for the occasion. Today you learn everything you ever wanted to know about the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, one of my all-time favorites.

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The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, which premiered on 12 October 1950, was one of the first comedy series to make the successful transition from radio to television. When George and Gracie started in show business, Gracie was the “straight man,” but George figured out quickly that the audience responded to her immediately. They switched roles and they never veered from the formula again. The Burns and Allen Show was the first domestic comedy set in a real couple’s home and the first television series to depict the home life of a working show business couple.

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CBS was lucky enough to have Burns and Allen on their radio and television networks. In 1930, an NBC executive told them the public would not accept them and Gracie’s voice was too squeaky! William Paley was a huge fan of their comedy and wanted them to try this new medium. The television show was very similar to their radio show. One of the first tag lines for the show was “You’ve HEARD them on radio, now SEE them on television.”

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Ralph Levy was the first producer/director. Previously he had worked on variety shows and sports events. When he and George first met, it was not a great first impression. He thought it was the craziest concept he had ever heard for a show. George considered him a bit of a young punk. They put aside their differences and not only became close friends but greatly respected each other’s business decisions. Ralph would leave in 1953 to work for Jack Benny. When Jack did not have weekly shows, Ralph was working for both comedians, but the jobs became too much for one person.

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Ralph Levy with George and Gracie

The show was broadcast on Thursdays from October of 1950 until March of 1953. From March of 1953 until September of 1958 when it went off the air, it was on Monday nights. Originally, it was staged live and broadcast every other week. In the fall of 1952, they decided on a weekly format. Shows debuting in New York were considered better commercial successes, so the first six episodes were set in the Mansfield Theatre in New York. The West Coast would not see the show until two weeks after the East Coast did. A kinescope was filmed with a 16 mm camera. Duplicates were made, and these shows were sent on kinescopes across the country. In December of 1950, the cast was allowed to go back home to California to film the rest of the series.

In 1951, George would broadcast all over the US with the placement of coaxial cables. George realized filming the episodes would allow for syndication of the show. The show continued for eight years, producing 239 filmed episodes.

Burns and Allen started McCadden Productions. It was named for the street where George’s brother Willy, one of the writers of the show, lived on. Willy was also their manager. They employed more than 300 people and would go on to produce many shows including Mister Ed and the Bob Cummings Show. George truly valued everyone’s opinion and anyone, even the janitor, could make comments and suggestions for improvements.

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It was a grueling schedule to stick to for eight years. George and the writers met Monday morning. Gracie had wardrobe fittings and studied the newest script. They had rehearsals on Tuesdays, and Wednesdays were typically 12-hour days with filming beginning after another rehearsal. Thursday was Gracie’s only day off. The writers met Thursday as well as all day Friday. On Friday Gracie went shopping for her next show’s wardrobe. George devoted Saturday to narrowing down the script to fit the shooting time. On Sunday George and Gracie met with the director at 10 am to go over the script. Sunday afternoon and evening (as well as other scattered times during the week) Gracie studied and memorized the script.

Carnation Milk became a sponsor immediately and would stay with the show for all eight years. Carnation was like another character on the series. Actors were pitchmen for the products and commercial breaks were often part of the show. Gracie had their milk in full view in her kitchen. Their prop man who helped with this for all eight years was Nat Thurman.

George took his writers off to Palm Springs to work on the new show. The head writer was Paul Henning who would later go on to write, produce, and direct many classic sitcoms including The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction. The other writers were Sid Dorfman, Harvey Helm, Willy Burns and George. The writers were truly funny.  One day Jack Benny sent George a telegram from London.  It just read “What’s new?” George and his writers took an entire afternoon to answer it. They told Jack everything that was new including restaurant menus.

photo posted on post-gazette.com

Paul Henning

The show would often begin with George doing a monologue with his trusty cigar that would explain the beginning of the plot to the viewers. George frequently spoke to the audience during the show. In later years, he would retire to his study to watch the show on his television, therefore knowing what was going on in his absence. The rest of the cast was oblivious to the fact he could do so.

The first show had a very simple plot which was the key to many of their episodes. Gracie and Blanche want to go to the movies. The boys want to go to the fights. George makes up a complicated card game that doesn’t really make sense. He thought the nonsense rules would confuse the girls who would get mad and quit. Instead, Gracie thought the rules made perfect sense and she won the game, dragging the boys to the movies.

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The Burns lived at 312 Maple Drive in Beverly Hills and their best friends and next-door neighbors, Blanche and Harry Morton, lived at 320 Maple Dr. The sets were copied from the Burns’ actual home. A shot of their real home was used on the show for exterior scenes. George continued to live in the house even when they became quite wealthy and George was still living there when he passed away at age 100.The house still exists today. They were not arrogant people. Gracie continued to wear the same $20 engagement ring George bought for her when they had no money.

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The edge of the Burns’ swimming pool which was sometimes seen in the live episodes was an eighteen-inch tank of water which was designed to be quickly rolled on and off the stage. Lighting tricks were employed to create the illusion that the shallow tank had depth. George used the pool in his asides to the audience. One time he was supposed to have fallen in, and he showed up dry and made a comment about how quick things happen on television. Later he has to go into the pool again. He once again is seen completely dry, but this time he says nothing and he wrings a bunch of water out of his cigar.

Starting in the fall of 1955, Burns and Allen would often reappear after the end of the episode, before a curtain decorated with the names and locations of the various theaters where they headlined in their vaudeville days. They would perform one of their routines, often discussing Gracie’s relatives.

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The theme music was “Love Nest,” composed by Otto Harbach and Louis Hirsch. It was written for a musical comedy show, “Mary.” There are lyrics, but only the instrumental version was used on the Burns and Allen Show.

Bill Goodwin and Harry Von Zell

Several staff members transitioned from radio with George and Gracie. Bill Goodwin continued to play himself, providing announcing duties. When he left in the second season to host his own show, Harry Von Zell took over the announcing duties. In real-life, Harry Von Zell had written several episodes of Wagon Train in 1957. The writers incorporated it into the show by having Harry pitch George ideas for western-themed shows. That year, George dressed like a cowboy from time to time and would say things like, “Meanwhile, back at the ranch.”

Bea Benaderet and Larry Keating

Bea Benaderet also moved from radio to television. She was Blanche Morton for the run of the show, but she went through several husbands (Hal March, John Brown, Fred Clark, and Larry Keating). George was extremely creative in his interaction with the audience. Hal March did the first seven shows; John Brown took over the for the next ten months; and Fred Clark was Harry through 1953 for 74 episodes. In a program “Morton Buys Iron Deer/Gracie Thinks George Needs Glasses,” Blanche is holding a catalog ready to hit Harry who spent $200 on an iron deer. George walks on stage and stops the action. He introduces Larry Keating and tells Bea that he is her new husband. They have a small chat about each other’s work. George stops them and says if they are that nice to each other, no one will believe they are married. He gives a cue, Blanche resumes her position, and hits Harry when he re-enters the scene.

Fred Clark, Hal March and John Brown

Bea and Gracie were close friends. Blanche truly loved Gracie and was extremely loyal to her. They laughed continuously. Bea also loved Gracie in their personal lives.

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George and Gracie’s daughter Sandra and son Ronnie also appeared in the show. In later years, Ronnie would become a regular. Ronnie became very popular; he and Gracie often covered for each other with George, and Ronnie was often busy trying to get her out of a bad situation. When he joined in 1955, the show moved back to New York. Harry Morton gets a temporary job there, so the Burns family went too. This change called for new sets, including the hotel where they all were living and Rumpelmayer’s sandwich and ice cream shop.

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Ronnie Burns

In the seventh year, the cast went back to Los Angeles. Fred de Cordova, who had taken over for Ralph Levy, left after three years to direct movies. Rod Amateau was brought on for the final two years.  In many ways, the seventh season was their most creative—this is when the “magic” TV screen appeared.

While the ensemble around them was incredible, the heart of the show was Gracie. Gracie always said that her character believed she was the smart one and everyone else was a little off. There was always a touch of reality in her logic. Gracie played her that way and the audience felt protective of her.

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Gracie was a bit of a perfectionist, but no one worked harder than she did. If she had to perform a task on the show, she did it. In a New York Times article, she commented, “It makes me furious to see an actor go through the motion of writing an address on a piece of paper. They scribble it off in a second and you know they couldn’t have written anything.” Whenever Allen performed a task on the show, whether it was writing a name, sewing a handkerchief, or chopping up vegetables, she meticulously performed the duty while reciting her dialogue.

Everyone around her said she never blew her lines and was in almost every scene. George described her work ethic in his book I Love Her That’s Why: “On the set she gives absolutely no trouble and makes no demands. She arrives on time, does the job, jokes with the crew, and in general behaves less like a star than any actress I know.”

During the eight years that the show was on the air, Gracie Allen never appeared in the same outfit twice, and she had three costume changes in some episodes. Gracie Allen chose her own wardrobe. Jane Vogt was the wardrobe mistress for the rest of the cast. Bertha French was the show’s hair stylist and Gene Roemer did make-up. Gracie trusted Gene so much she typically slept while he got her ready.

The writers knew there were a few rules for writing for Gracie. Cheryl Blythe and Susan Sackett sum them up in their book Say Goodnight Gracie!: “(1) She thinks she is smart. (2) Keep her reactions consistent from week to week. (3) Her logic was illogical and her illogic was logical and then her reasoning worked.” Examples of her logic are: “Shorter cars use so much more gas. With a short car, you have to travel further to go the same distance.”  When the delivery boy tells Gracie he’s in a hurry because Mrs. Vanderlip is waiting for a chicken to make sandwiches, Gracie tells him she’ll wait a long time because it took her 2 years to teach their canary to sing.  Gracie keeps her clocks unplugged to save electricity. When she wants to know the time, she plugs it in.  Or take the time she froze a bunch of water; it will save her time when she needs it because she just has to defrost it.

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George gave Gracie most of the credit. Once he commented “You see, to be a straight man you have to have a talent, you have to develop this talent, then you gotta marry her like I did.” The audience liked George because they intuitively realized he adored Gracie.

George was the calm in the middle of the storm around him. Because he always knew what was going on, he remained relaxed when everyone else was confused. And the audience loved the fact that he shared information with them, so they were in on the fun.

Allen announced her retirement on February 17, 1958—effective at the end of the current season. Burns and Allen filmed their last show June 4, 1958.  The plot of the final program was Ronnie fearing he was going to lose his girlfriend to an exchange student. The filming was an emotional experience, although nothing was said about it being Allen’s last performance in the show itself. At the wrap party, Allen took a token sip of champagne from a paper cup, hugged her friend and co-star Bea, and said “Okay, that’s it.” After a brief last look around the set, she said, “And thank you very much, everyone.”

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“She deserved a rest,” Burns said. He explained that she had been working all her life and her lines were the hardest to learn. She had to memorize every word because some lines didn’t make sense.

Although Burns and Allen was never among the top-rated series, it maintained consistently high ratings throughout its eight seasons. The show received a total of twelve Emmy nominations: four for best comedy series, six for Allen as best actress and comedienne, and two for Bea Benaderet as best supporting actress.

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Inspired writing complemented the comic performances, making Burns and Allen an all-time classic. The show holds up remarkably well. The writers purposely kept topical and political humor out of the scripts. They also made sure there were no specific references to the 1950s, so the show did not sound dated in reruns. Their words can say it much better than I ever could, so here are some examples of their creative scripts.

Ralph Hanley: I’m here to help you with your income taxes.

Gracie: Oh, we’re glad, we got tired of paying them all ourselves.

Ralph: For medical you put down a full-length mirror, $50.

Gracie: That’s right, I got it for my father, so he won’t get pneumonia.

Ralph: How’s that?

Gracie: Well, you see, before he only had a half-length mirror, so when he went outside he forgot his pants.

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George: Would you ever think that such a beautiful mink coat would come from such an unattractive little thing that looks like a weasel?

Gracie: Oh, George, you’re just fishing—you know I think you’re handsome.

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Blanche: I just got a phone call from Lucille Vanderlip and she told me Margie Bates got a beautiful diamond bracelet from her husband.

Gracie: I can’t believe it.

Blanche: Why not?

Gracie: If Lucille’s husband gave another woman a diamond bracelet, you’d think she’d be the last one to mention it.

Blanche: Er . . . Gracie . . . you misunderstood me.

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Gracie: The night before last, George came home from the office feeling terrible.

Blanche: Probably flu.

Gracie: No, he drove the car.

My top ten favorite shows are:

#13, March 15, 1951: The Vanderlips are having a party. Gracie was hoping they would invite the Mortons but there is no room, so she and George decide not to go so they can spend time with Blanche and Harry. Once Burns and Allen decline, the Vanderlips call the Mortons because they now have room, so the Mortons happily attend.

#17, February 12,1953: On the train home from San Francisco, Gracie thinks one of the passengers is planning on murdering his wife. She reports it and confuses the cops who believe Harry Morton has killed Blanche who is missing. Blanche actually is off on a shopping trip.

#38, August 3, 1953: Gracie is a witness to a bank heist. Johnny Velvet, the gangster behind the crime (played by one of my favorites, Sheldon Leonard), kidnaps Gracie so she cannot testify in court. After a couple hours, he takes her back because she is driving him crazy. He decides to kidnap George instead, but his men keep nabbing the wrong guy.

#40, August 17, 1953: Gracie is shopping in a department store when she trips. The store wants to settle quickly before it turns into a big lawsuit. Gracie thinks they are trying to sue her for putting a hole in the carpet. The adjustor meets her and assumes the store is in bigger trouble because she now has a head injury.

#79, April 5, 1954: Gracie, known for denting the car, explains the new ding when she tells him an elephant sat on the car. No one believes her. When the circus owner comes to the house to bring her a check for damages, George thinks it’s a prank to convince him, so he tears up the check. George finally realizes an elephant did indeed sit on the car.

#90, August 2, 1954: George and Gracie decide they want to see a movie with some friends. They are having a tough time coming up with a movie that someone in the group has not already seen. They finally find one everyone can agree on, but then someone else stops by to go with the group and they have seen it.

#118, January 3, 1955: Gracie is talking with a woman in the post office. She wants to retrieve a letter she mailed asking her husband for a divorce. She wrote it when he refused to let her mother come visit. Harry Von Zell overhears part of the discussion and assumes Gracie is divorcing George because he won’t let her mother come. He finally convinces George to invite Gracie’s mother. When George learns the actual story, he fires Harry again.

#192, June 4, 1956: George has given his coat to Harry Von Zell to use because he’s taking a date to the Stork Club. George gets locked into the steam room at the club and can’t get out till morning. He tells Gracie why he didn’t come home, but someone returns his coat from the Stork Club, so she thinks he is lying. He has to bring over everyone who had been involved in getting him out of the steam room to convince her he is telling the truth.

#213, October 29, 1956: Gracie misunderstands a conversation, thinking that the Mortons are moving to Pasadena. Gracie decides she and George will move too and tries to sell their house. As a subplot, Ronnie’s fraternity initiation requires him to say the exact opposite of what people expect to hear for a day. Having Gracie and Ronnie there all day truly confuses George.

#219, Ronnie is dating a girl he met at the store where he works. He leaves his coat at her house and her mother drops it off for him. Gracie assumes the mother is Ronnie’s girlfriend. She decides to get Ronnie fired from his job so he is no longer working with the older woman. She also mentions his seeing an older woman to his real girlfriend, not knowing who she is. Luckily, George sees this on his study television, so he is able to straighten out the mess.

If you have never seen the show, you might want to check out some of these on YouTube. There are also numerous DVD collections from their show specifically to sets of golden age classics variety packs. You can also catch their show on Antenna TV from 5-6 am every weekday, 4-5 am Saturday and Sunday mornings, as well as 9 pm Saturday night and 11 pm Sunday night.

A Bachelor Party For Everyone

Each month I would like to take a look at one of my favorite sitcoms.  November’s show is Bachelor Father which ran from 1957-1962. Bachelor Father is one of my all-time favorite shows. With its sophisticated writing, realistic relationships, and elegant lifestyle, I can find something new each time a re-watch an episode. Before Steve Douglas (My Three Sons), Andy Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show), Bill Davis (Family Affair), Phil Drummond (Different Strokes), and Danny Tanner (Full House), Bentley Gregg took on the responsibility of raising his niece after her parents were killed in a car accident. Somehow he was a lucrative lawyer in Beverly Hills, raised a respectful and intelligent niece, participated in civic affairs, and never let any of it cramp his dating life, well rarely. Part of his success can be attributed to Peter, his houseboy who was the “Mother” of the family and kept the household running smoothly.

Starring John Forsythe as Bentley Gregg, Noreen Corcoran as Kelly, and Sammee Tong as Peter, the series debuted on CBS in September 1957, airing alternate weeks with The Jack Benny Show.  In 1959, the show moved to NBC, and the final season in 1962 it aired on ABC. The program was based on a radio episode, “A New Girl in His Life,” which was heard on General Electric Theater in May of 1957. During the show’s run, 157 episodes were filmed, all in black and white. While there was a revolving cast of beautiful women on the show, the other regulars were Kelly’s best friend Ginger played by Bernadette Withers, Kelly’s boyfriend Howard Meecham played by Jimmy Boyd, and their dog Jasper.

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The character of Bentley Gregg was based on two well-known Beverly Hills bachelors.  Their names were combined for this character. No serious thoughts were given to creating a steady relationship for Bentley by the writers because he had an aversion to marriage, so Kelly was the only permanent woman in his life.

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John Forsythe was born Jacob Lincoln Freund in Penns Grove, NJ the son of a Wall Street businessman.   He later moved to Brooklyn and went on to school at the University of North Carolina. After college he was hired as the announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He signed a contract with Warner Brothers in 1943. Eventually he moved his family to California in order to give them a stable home life. He starred in two other sitcoms in the 60s, The John Forsythe Show in 1965-66 and To Rome with Love in 1969-71. He is best known as the voice of Charlie on Charlie’s Angels and the role of Blake Carrington on Dynasty. He died April 1, 2010 of pneumonia at 92.

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Noreen Corcoran was suggested by Ronald Reagan for the character of Kelly, because he felt she was believable as a typical 13-year-old. She began appearing in films in 1951 and was on various television episodes before getting the role of Kelly. After the show ended, she made a few appearances on shows including Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, and The Big Valley and appeared in the movie Gidget Goes to Rome. In 1963 she released the musical single “Love Kitten.” In 1966 she began an 11-year association with the Lewitzky Dance Company. She passed away January 15, 2016 of cardiopulmonary disease at 72.

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Sammee Tong had been a stand-up comedian. Forsythe insisted that Tong be a major character on the show, and the banter between Bentley and Peter was similar to that of Steve Douglas and Uncle Charlie or Bills Davis and Mr. French. Although “Peter” spoke broken English, Sammee Tong spoke excellent English. Tong’s first film was Happiness Ahead in 1934. He appeared in more than 30 films and 40 television programs between 1935 and 1965. He was a good friend of Mickey Rooney’s and played his friend on the sitcom Mickey which was cancelled in 1965. By that time Tong was deeply in debt due to a gambling problem, and he committed suicide October 27, 1964 at age 63. His last appearance was posthumously as Cook in the 1965 film Fluffy.

Some of Bentley’s women were played by actresses who would go on to become famous including Whitney Blake, Donna Douglas, Barbara Eden, Sally Kellerman, Sue Ane Langdon, Joyce Meadows, and Mary Tyler Moore.

Male guest stars included Jack Albertson, Parley Baer, Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen, Bill Bixby, Ronnie Burns, Richard Deacon, Joe Flynn, Howard McNear, Sid Melton, Ryan O’Neal and Harry Von Zell.

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Harry Ackerman produced the first season and was replaced by Everett Freeman for the rest of the series’ life when Ackerman went on to work for other sitcoms, including Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. The show was sponsored by American Tobacco which made Tareyton cigarettes and American Home Products which marketed Anacin, Dristan, and the Chef Boyardee line.

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The show was filmed at Revue Studios and produced by Forsythe’s Bachelor Productions. The episodes were filmed at 4024 Radford Avenue in Studio City and the exteriors were shot at 120 Colonial Street, Backlot at Universal Studios. The end of Colonial Street was also known as New England Street. In the photo below, the house at the right was the Bachelor Father house.  The Cleaver house from Leave It to Beaver was across the street. The Gregg family lived at 113 Rexford Drive in Beverly Hills.  Bentley’s office was Room 106 in the Crescent Building on Crescent Drive in Los Angeles.

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The theme song, “Bachelor Father” was written by David Kahn and Johnny Williams, today known as John Williams, the famous movie composer.

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Vincent Dee was the costume supervisor, Florence Bush was the hair stylist, and Leo Lotito Jr. was the make-up artist.

Dialogue From Bachelor Father

Season 2 / Episode 1: – Bentley and the Finishing School

Kelly Gregg: Peter, I cleaned my room.
Peter Tong: What you tryin’ to do – ruin your reputation?

Season 5 / Episode 36: – Bentley Takes it Easy

Bentley Gregg: [regarding his upcoming home vacation] First and foremost, I’m going to do absolutely nothing.
Peter Tong: If you get tired doing nothing, I’ll be glad to help out.
Bentley Gregg: It’ll be nice to have an expert around.

Season 4 / Episode 33: – Kelly’s Charge Account

Kelly Gregg: I’ll have you know I walked right through Kessler’s this afternoon, and all I bought was a hair net. I just wanted the thrill of signing for something.
Peter Tong: You be careful. Remember, charge account like ocean. One step too far – you go under.

Season 4 / Episode 2: – Kelly Learns to Drive

Bentley Gregg: Don’t you think that you’ve been vacillating enough?
Peter Tong: That depend.
Bentley Gregg: On what?
Peter Tong: What vacillating mean.

Season 3 / Episode 5: – Kelly’s Idol

Peter Tong: Hello, Mr. Gregg. You’re home early.
Bentley Gregg: Peter, I’ve just spent eight of the most miserable boring hours of my life with one the most beautiful girls in this town.
Peter Tong: Sometime even Mickey Mantle don’t get to first base.

Fun Facts

Jimmie Boyd (Howard) recorded the 1952 Christmas song “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”

Ginger’s last name changed three times during the run of the show.  She was referred to as Ginger Farrrell, Loomis, and Mitchell.

Ginger was played by Bernadette Withers. Jane Withers was her aunt, and Jane was best known as Josephine the Plumber.

In Episode 5 of Season 4, Linda Evans (then Linda Evenstad) played one of Kelly’s girlfriends who had a big crush on Bentley. She would later play his wife on Dynasty.

During the five years of the show, Bentley had five different secretaries: Vickie, Kitty 1, Kitty 2, Suzanne, and Connie; could he have been related to Murphy Brown?

Some of the episodes can be seen on youtube.com. Antenna TV had Bachelor Father on its schedule but it was replaced in 2015. We can only hope they will bring it back soon and that the show will finally be given its due and released on DVD so we can once again enjoy the Gregg family and friends.

Below is the list of episodes by season.

Season 1

  1. Bentley And The P.T.A. (9/29/1957)
  2. Bentley versus The Girl Scouts (10/6/1957)
  3. Bentley And The lady Doctor (10/13/1957)
  4. Date With Kelly (10/20/1957)
  5. Uncle Bentley keeps His Promise (10/27/1957)
  6. Bentley And The Baby Sitter (11/3/1957)
  7. Uncle Bentley And The Aunts (11/10/1957)
  8. Bentley And The Revolving Housekeeper (11/24/1957)
  9. Bentley And The Talent Contest (1/5/1958)
  10. Bentley, The Homemaker (1/19/1958)
  11. Bentley And His Junior Image (2/2/1958)
  12. Uncle Bentley Loans Out Peter (2/16/1958)
  13. Bentley And The Social Worker (3/2/1958)
  14. A Sister For Kelly (3/16/1958)
  15. Waiting Up For Kelly (3/30/1958)
  16. Woman Of The house (4/13/1958)
  17. Peter falls In love (4/27/1958)
  18. Bentley’s Prospective Son-In-Law (5/11/1958)
  19. Bentley’s Clubhouse (5/25/1958)
  20. Uncle Bentley And The Matchmaker (6/8/1958)

Season 2

  1. Bentley And The Finishing School (9/14/1958)
  2. Parent’s Night (9/28/1958)
  3. Bentley Leads A Dog’s Life (10/12/1958)
  4. Bentley & the Teenage Siren (10/26/1958)
  5. Bentley & Peter’s Teacher (11/9/1958)
  6. Bentley And The Wedding Bells (11/23/1958)
  7. Kelly’s Mad Crush (11/7/1958)
  8. Bentley’s Big Case (12/21/1958)
  9. Bentley’s Economy Wave (1/4/1959)
  10. Decisions, Decisions (1/18/1959)
  11. Bentley And The Kleptomaniac (2/1/1959)
  12. A Phone For Kelly (2/15/1959)
  13. Bentley, The Proud Father (3/15/1959)
  14. Bentley’s Aunt Caroline (3/29/1959)
  15. Bentley, Man Of Steel (4/12/1959)
  16. Bentley And The Motorcycle (4/26/1959)
  17. Bentley The Star Maker (5/1/1959)
  18. Bentley, The Organizer (5/10/1959)
  19. Bentley And The beauty Contest (5/24/1959)
  20. Bentley, The Hero (6/7/1959)

Season 3

  1. Peter Meets His Match (9/17/1959)
  2. Bentley & the dog Trainer (9/24/1959)
  3. The Case Against Gisele (10/1/1959)
  4. Bentley And The Gullible Guitarist (10/8/1959)
  5. Kelly’s Idol (10/15/1959)
  6. East Meets West (10/22/1959)
  7. Bentley And Grandpa Ling (10/29/1959)
  8. Kelly, The Golddigger (11/5/1959)
  9. The Rescue Of Rufus (11/12/1959)
  10. A Key For Kelly (11/19/1959)
  11. Bentley’s Double Play (11/26/1959)
  12. Bentley And The Brainy Beauty (12/3/1959)
  13. Bentley Plays Cupid (12/10/1959)
  14. Kelly’s Secret (12/17/1959)
  15. Bentley Goes To Washington (12/24/1959)
  16. Kelly, The Politician (12/31/1959)
  17. Bentley, The Gentleman Farmer (1/7/1960)
  18. Bentley And The Combo (1/14/1960)
  19. Bentley And The Bartered Bride (1/21/1960)
  20. The Blonde Issue (1/28/1960)
  21. Bentley And The Majorette (2/4/1960)
  22. Bentley, The Model Citizen (2/18/1960)
  23. The Fishing Trip (2/25/1960)
  24. The Fortune Cookie Caper (3/3/1960)
  25. Kelly And The College Man (3/10/1960)
  26. Kelly, The Career Woman (3/17/1960)
  27. Bentley’s New House (3/24/1960)
  28. Bentley, The Stage Mother (4/7/1960)
  29. The Woman’s Angle (4/14/1960)
  30. Bentley Meets The Perfect Woman (4/21/1960)
  31. Bentley And The Travel Agent (4/28/1960)
  32. The Very Friendly Witness (5/5/1960)
  33. Bentley And The Blood Bank (5/12/1960)
  34. A Man Of Importance (5/19/1960)
  35. Bentley And The Beach Bum (5/26/1960)
  36. Where There’s A Will (6/2/1960)
  37. Bentley’s Birthday Gift (6/9/1960)

Season 4

  1. Kelly, The Matchmaker (8/26/1960)
  2. It Happens In November (9/7/1960)
  3. Jasper The Second (9/15/1960)
  4. Kelly Learns To Drive (9/22/1960)
  5. Trail Separation (9/29/1960)
  6. Mystery Witness (10/6/1960)
  7. A Crush On Bentley (10/13/1960)
  8. Peter Gets Jury Notice (10/20/1960)
  9. Hilda The Jewel (10/27/1960)
  10. How To Catch A Man(11/10/1960)
  11. Bentley Cracks The Whip (11/24/1960)
  12. Bentley And The Big Board (12/1/1960)
  13. Dear Bentley (12/15/1960)
  14. Bentley And The Lost Chord (12/22/1960)
  15. Ginger’s Big Romance (12/29/1960)
  16. Bentley The Angel (1/5/1961)
  17. Bentley Goes To Europe (1/19/1961)
  18. Bentley And The Woodpecker (1/21/1961)
  19. The Greggs In Rome (1/26/1961)
  20. The Greggs In London (2/2/1961)
  21. The Greggs In Paris (2/16/1961)
  22. Encore In Paris (2/23/1961)
  23. There’s No Place Like Home (3/2/1961)
  24. Bentley Swims Upstream (3/9/1961)
  25. A Man Among Men (3/16/1961)
  26. Peter’s China Doll (3/23/1961)
  27. Bentley And The Counterspy (3/30/1961)
  28. Peter Plays Cupid (4/6/1961)
  29. Bentley And The Great Debate (4/13/1961)
  30. Bentley And The Nature Girl (4/20/1961)
  31. Bentley’s Mad Friends (4/27/1961)
  32. Hilda Rides Again (5/4/1961)
  33. Kelly’s Charge Account (5/11/1961)
  34. Bentley Builds A Pool (5/18/1961)
  35. Bentley Slays A dragon (5/25/1961)
  36. A Favor For Bentley (6/1/1961)
  37. Kelly Gets A Job (6/8/1961)
  38. Kelly’s Tangled Web (6/15/1961)
  39. Bentley’s Barbecue (6/22/1961)
  40. Drop That Calorie (7/6/1961)

Season 5

  1. Kelly’s Graduation (9/21/1961)
  2. King’s English (10/3/1961)
  3. Rush Week (10/10/1961)
  4. Kelly And The Free Thinker (10/17/1961)
  5. A Party For Peter (10/24/1961)
  6. Never Steal An Owl (10/31/1961)
  7. Bentley’s Catered Affair (11/7/1961)
  8. House At Smuggler’s Cove (11/14/1961)
  9. Peter’s Punctured Wedding (11/21/1961)
  10. Star Light, Star Not So Bright (11/28/1961)
  11. Bentley And The Time Clock (12/5/1961)
  12. Birth Of A Song (12/12/1961)
  13. Deck The halls (12/19/1961)
  14. The Law And Kelly Gregg (12/26/1961)
  15. How To Throw Your Voice (1/2/1962)
  16. Kelly, The Yes Man (1/9/1962)
  17. Gold In Them Hills (1/16/1962)
  18. How Howard Won His “C” (1/23/1962)
  19. Pinch That Penny (1/30/1962)
  20. Blossom Comes To Visit (2/6/1962)
  21. Bentley And The Homebody (2/13/1962)
  22. Summer Romance (2/20/1962)
  23. Hong Kong Suit
  24. Will Success Spoil Jasper? (3/6/1962)
  25. The Twain Shall Meet (3/9/1962)
  26. Strictly Business (3/13/1962)
  27. On The Old Camp Ground (3/20/1962)
  28. A Visit To The Bergens (3/27/1962)
  29. The Richest Cat (4/3/1962)
  30. Bentley Goes To Bat (4/17/1962)
  31. Kelly’s Engagement (4/24/1962)
  32. Kelly, The Home Executive (5/1/1962)
  33. Blossom Time At The Greggs (5/8/1962)
  34. What Men Don’t Know (5/15/1962)
  35. Marry Thy Neighbor (5/22/1962)
  36. Bentley Takes It Easy (5/29/1962)
  37. Boys Will Be Boys (6/5/1962)
  38. Divided House (6/12/1962)
  39. Peter, The Medicine Man (6/19/1962)
  40. Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight (6/26/1962)