As we wind up our up close and personal blog series, we are focusing on Gavin MacLeod. I have mentioned Gavin MacLeod’s name a lot in my blogs, but I have never devoted an entire to blog to him, so today is the day. Gavin had an impressive career; he starred in three sitcoms but those three garnered him almost 500 episodes. In addition, he took on more than a hundred guest roles on both the small and big screen.
MacLeod was born Allan George See in 1931 in New York. His mother worked for Reader’s Digest, and his father was an electrician. In 1952, MacLeod graduated from Ithaca College with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, studying acting.
He served in the US Air Force where he wrote, produced, and directed plays. After his service, he moved to New York City. While tackling acting auditions, he worked at Radio City Music Hall. While working as an usher there, he met Joan Rootvik, a Rockette. They married in 1955 and had four children. About this time, he took on the name Gavin MacLeod. MacLeod was a tribute to his acting coach at Ithaca, Beatrice MacLeod.
His movie career began with three movies in 1958. He would make 20 more before 2005, including Operation Petticoat and The Gene Krupa Story.
His television appearances began in 1957 on The Walter Winchell File. He would make another lucky 13 performances during the fifties including The Thin Man and Whirlybirds.
The sixties kept him busy. He took on comedy in The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Munsters, Gomer Pyle USMC, The Andy Griffith Show, My Favorite Martian, The Flying Nun, and several different characters on Hogan’s Heroes. Westerns called him for Rawhide, The Iron Horse, Death Valley Days, and The Big Valley. He landed dramas including The Man from UNCLE, Perry Mason, Ironside, Hawaii Five-0, and Ben Casey.
From 1962-1964 he starred as Happy in McHale’s Navy. The show continued until 1966, but Gavin left the show halfway through. He was dealing with alcoholism, and he received an offer to make the movie The Sand Pebbles with Steve McQueen. However, he remained close friends with Ernest Borgnine, the star of the show, until his death in 2012. (He quit drinking in 1974.)
During the 1970s, he appeared on Love American Style, Charlie’s Angels, and Wonder Woman, but the character we loved best during that decade was Murray Slaughter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. From 1970-1977, Murray sat next to Mary, helping her through the ups and downs of life. Gavin was originally auditioning for the role of Lou Grant, but ended up reading for Murray. He and Ted Baxter were enemies on the show, but he and Ted Knight were dear friends in real life. They had lived near each other before being cast in the show.
During the run of the show, Gavin and his first wife divorced, and he married his second wife Patti Steele. That marriage also ended in divorce in 1982. Patti became part of a Bible Study group after their divorce and became a Christian. Gavin reached out to her, also became a Christian, and they remarried in 1985.
Upon the ending of Mary’s show, he was immediately hired as Captain Stubing on The Love Boat. This time he was in charge of his coworkers. One of his best friends was Bernie Kopell who played Dr. Adam Bricker on the show. Gavin was on the seas for a decade. His best friend Telly Savalas (the lollipop-loving Kojak star) popped up on The Love Boat; the two were very close until Telly’s death in 1994.
When the show ended in 1987, he got a well-deserved break, but he still managed to find time to tour with Michael Learned in “Love Letters.”
He landed a variety of television show appearances in the 1990s and 2000s, including Murder She Wrote, King of Queens, JAG, and That 70s Show. His final appearance was in 2014 on The Comeback Kids; then he decided to retire. He also did several musicals after The Love Boat including “Gypsy,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” and “Gigi.”
MacLeod and his wife hosted a show on marriage on Trinity Broadcasting Network for 17 years. He also served as the honorary mayor of Pacific Palisades from 2006-2011 when Sugar Ray Leonard took over.
The Love Boat was a big part of his life. Instead of being bitter about being typecast, he embraced the role. He celebrated his 80th birthday in 2011 aboard the Golden Princess with his family, celebrating with a 3D replica cake of The Pacific Princess, his boat on the show.
In 2013, MacLeod joined his former coworkers on The Talk for a cast reunion. Several members of the cast including Gavin took part in The Rose Bowl Parade in 2015.
The cast apparently was very close. Ted Lange who played bartender Isaac Washington mentioned the crew in an interview in 2017 with “The Wiseguyz Show,” saying “Oh yeah, sure, Gavin was wonderful. Gavin lives down here in Palm Springs and we’re still tight, all of us, Gavin and Bernie and Jill; we still see each other. Fred [who played Gopher] lives in a different state, we’re still close, we’re still good friends.”
In his spare time, Gavin enjoyed traveling, playing tennis, dancing, golfing, sailing, reading the Bible, and watching movies. Gavin passed away in May of 2021 at his home.
During the past decade, he released a memoir, This is Your Captain Speaking: My Fantastic Voyage Through Hollywood, Faith & Life. He explained his goal for writing this book: “My life has taken one incredible turn after another,” writes MacLeod. “I’ve gotten to do what I wanted to do. I’ve been a captain! I’ve been given this incredible gift of life and now I want to use it to give back. That’s why I’m sharing my story here, the fun parts and even some not-so-fun parts, in the hopes that maybe someone will take a nice walk down memory lane with me – and maybe I’ll even give someone a little bit of hope.”
Good memories and a little bit of hope is all we can ask for; thanks, Gavin, for giving that to us.
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.
We are three-quarters through our new blog series, “One-Named Detectives,” and today we are looking at a show that began in 1967 and aired until 1975, producing 194 episodes.
Created by Richard Levinson and William Link and produced by Bruce Geller, Mannix was one of the most violent television shows during the sixties. Private investigator Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) began working at Intertect which relied on computers and a large network of operatives to help them solve crimes.
CBS was planning on cancelling the show after its debut year, but somehow Lucille Ball convinced them to renew it for another season. (Desilu produced the show.) In season two, Mannix decides to leave and open his own agency. He prefers to solve crimes the old-fashioned way, with his own brain, or as he described it, “A private eye—in the classical tradition.” Peggy Fair (Gail Fisher), a widow whose policeman husband was killed in action, became his secretary. Joe was also a father figure for her son Toby. The role of Peggy was planned for Nichelle Nichols but she had to decline due to receiving her role on Star Trek.
The cast was rounded out by Lt Art Malcolm (Ward Wood), Sergeant Charley (Ron Nyman), and Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella), and police contact Tobias (Robert Reed). Every episode was filled with violent fistfights, car chases, and shoot-outs. During the course of the series, Mannix was knocked unconscious 55 times, drugged about 38 times, and shot 17 times. Connors actually broke his collar bone filming the pilot. The character of Mannix survived many of these situations because he was an expert fighter. He was said to have been a POW during the Korean war. Mannix was also a race car driver and a pilot. He sailed, skied, golfed and was an accomplished pool player. He was said to have grown up in Summer Grove where he excelled in football and basketball.
Like Cannon, Joe Mannix relied on a car phone during his investigations. Many viewers felt the scripts were well written and the endings were not easy to predict. The plots relied more on crime-solving techniques but several tackled relevant social topics including compulsive gambling, racism, returning Vietnam War veterans issue, and professionals with physical disabilities such as deafness or blindness working to solve crimes.
The scripts were written by some of the best writers in the business. There were more than 85 writers credited with stories, one of them being Mel Tormé, yep that Mel Tormé. Other writers were John Meredyth Lucas who wrote for fifty shows including Harry O, Kojak, Ben Casey, and Star Trek; Stephen Kandel who wrote for many shows including Hart to Hart, MacGyver, Hawaii Five-0, and Cannon; and Donn Mullally who also wrote for fifty shows including Ironside, The Virginian, Bonanza, and The Wild Wild West.
There were a lot of creative shows using visual effects in the sixties and Mannix was one of them. It employed many cutting-edge gimmicks to appeal to fans. Technical filming skills included zooms (moving in for a close-up or out to show something the viewer did not realize was in the scene), rack focuses (a rack focus is the filmmaking technique of changing the focus of the lens during a continuous shot. When a shot “racks,” it moves the focal plane from one object in the frame to another), lens flares (a lens flares adds a sense of drama and a touch of realism to a shot), Dutch angles (which produce a viewpoint of tilting one’s head to the side), both low and high angles, and cameras that could move 360 degrees during filming.
For you car afficiandos, Mannix had a lot of cool automobiles during the series. For season one, he primarily drove a 1967 Oldsmobile Toronado customized by George Barris who built the Batmobile. For season two, Barris worked on a 1968 Dodge Dart for him.
Season three found him driving another Barris car, a 1969 Dodge Dart. Seasons four through six he drove Plymouth Cudas (a 1970 for four, a 1971 for five, and a 1973 for six). For season seven, he was given a 1974 Dodge Challenger and for the final season, he drove a Chevrolet Camaro LT.
An interesting story about his season two car is that it was sold to a secretary at Paramount Studios and then disappeared for a few decades when it was located near a ranger station in California. It was restored to the Barris condition it had on the show. It was featured in Muscle Machines in December of 2009 and on the show Drive on Discovery HD Theater in 2010. The car is currently owned by C. Van Tune, former editor of Motor Trend magazine.
In addition to special cars in the shows, a lot of celebrities guest starred including Hugh Beaumont, Robert Conrad, Yvonne Craig, Sally Kellerman, Burgess Meredith, Lee Merriwether, Vera Miles, and Diana Muldaur. Some of the more unusual guest spots were filled by musicians Neil Diamond, Buffalo Springfield, and Lou Rawls; comedians Rich Little and Milton Berle; and journalists Art Buchwald, and Rona Barrett.
The theme song was composed by Lalo Schifrin. Titled, “Mannix,” it was released as a single in 1969 with “End Game” on the B side.
Connors was nominated for an Emmy four times, Fisher was nominated for four as well, and the series was nominated twice. In 1970, Connors was beat by Robert Young in Marcus Welby, in 1971 Hal Holbrook won for The Bold Ones, Peter Falk won for Columbo in 1972, and in 1973 Richard Thomas won for The Waltons. Fisher lost to Margaret Leighton for Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1971, Ellen Corby for The Waltons in 1973, and Jenny Agutter in The Snow Goose Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1972. The show lost out as best drama to Elizabeth R Masterpiece Theater in 1972 and The Waltons in 1973.
I do remember watching and enjoying the show when I was in grade school. I’m guessing I watched it because it was something my parents watched. I think the show has held up well and, considering it was in the midst of the sixties, is not too dated. It would definitely be fun to check out a season or two of the show to see if you can figure out just “who done it.”
For those of you who are big fans of the “National Day of” calendars, you know that there are celebrations for National State Days. In my blog this month, we are learning about celebrities from those National State Days. We begin with National Minnesota Day and one of the stars born there is Marion Ross.
Marion was born in Watertown, MN in 1928. She moved from Waconia to Wilmar and then to Albert Lea. She must have always had stars in her eyes because at age 13 she changed the spelling of her name from Marian to Marion because she thought it would look better on a marquee. After her sophomore year in high school, she enrolled at the MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis. A year later, her family moved to California where she graduated from Point Loma High School.
Ross was named Most Outstanding Actress at San Diego State University; however, her major was archeology. After graduating in 1950, she did some summer theater in California and then began auditioning for films. The year she graduated, she eloped with Freeman Morse. They were married for 18 years.
Marion was successful in her movie career. Her first film was Forever Female with Ginger Rogers and William Holden in 1953. She would appear in 26 movies including The Glenn Miller Story and Sabrina. Ross recalled her time in Hollywood. She says it was a great time to be an actor. “All the stars ate in the studio’s dining room. Marlene Dietrich would come swooping into the room, and a hush would fall over the place. Those early days in Hollywood were just so thrilling, almost more than I could bear.”
Ironically, her first television role on Calvacade of America also took place in 1953. She would go on to have an amazing television career with more than 140 different roles on the small screen. While most of her appearances in the fifties were on the drama shows or westerns, she did show up on Life with Father as an Irish maid from 1953-55. She also was a teacher on The Donna Reed Show.
Ross on Perry Mason
The sixties found her primarily on dramas such as Outer Limits, Dr. Kildare, and The Fugitive. However, she also received recurring roles on three series: The Gertrude Berg Show, Mr. Novak, and Paradise Bay. She was Mary Morgan on Paradise Bay, a soap opera set in California. Although the show was only on for a year, she appeared on 158 episodes before it ended.
Her last role of that decade landed her on The Brady Bunch. When the kids get sick, Mike calls the boys’ male doctor and Carol calls the girls’ female doctor. Instead of choosing one, they decide to keep seeing their same patients.
The early seventies kept Ross busy on shows such as Hawaii Five-0, Love American Style, and Marcus Welby. In 1974 that Love American Style skit led to the show Happy Days where Marion reprised her role as Marion Cunningham. She continued her role as biological mother to Richie and Joanie (and poor Chuck occasionally) and as a surrogate mother to Fonzie for eleven years.
In May of 2020, Ross did an interview on TVLine.com with Matt Webb Mitovich. He asked if she had a favorite episode from the show. She said there were two that were definitely favorites. One was when Marion gets mad at the family because they expect so much. She stood up for herself, told Howard he could have his food and took it out uncooked and put it in front of them, then storms out the door and went to work at Arnold’s. Her other favorite was the scene when she did the tango with Fonzie. She said Henry Winkler caught on right away but she had to work with a coach for a week to get it down right.
She also discussed the softball team Garry Marshall put together to keep everyone out of trouble in the off season. She said they played all over the US and continued, “And then at one point, we were invited to go to Europe. We went to Germany and played softball with the US infantry which was incredible. And then once our show was totally over, after we did our last show at Paramount, we all got on a plane at the crack of dawn and flew to Okinawa and played softball with the US infantry there.” She played rover but said she could hit. Her strategy was to hit the ball and then run with her arms raised up. Everyone was so afraid of hitting “the old lady” she would make it on first base.
After the demise of Happy Days, Marion wasn’t content to sit back and enjoy life. She continued her television appearances and from 1984-2018 you could catch her on a variety of shows including Night Court, MacGyver,Grey’s Anatomy, and Hot in Cleveland. She had recurring roles on another six series. She played several different women named Emily on The Love Boat, as the iron-willed Jewish matriarch on Brooklyn Bridge, mean Grandmother Forman on That Seventies Show, Drew’s mother on TheDrew Carey Show, Marilyn Gilmore on The Gilmore Girls, and Ida Holden on Brothers and Sisters.
Marion was also able to get back on the stage. She took roles in “Arsenic and Old Lace”, “Steel Magnolias”, “Long Day’s Journey into Night”, “The Glass Menagerie”, “Pippin”, and “Barefoot in the Park.” She also toured the country in a one-woman show as poet Edna St. Vincent Millay in “A Lovely Light.”
In 2008 the Albert Lea Civic Theater in Albert Lea, Minnesota changed the name of its venue to the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center. Marion retired in 2018. She could then concentrate on some of her hobbies which include gardening, reading, spending time with family, watching movies, listening to the radio, praying, and singing. Marion’s two children are also in the entertainment business, Jim as an actor and Ellen Kreamer as a writer/producer on many shows including Friends and one of my recent favorites, Trial & Error.
In 2018 Ross published her memoir, My Days, Happy & Otherwise. The book is described as “funny, poignant, and revealing.” It features Garry Marshall’s final interview, a foreword from Ron Howard, conversations with her own children, and her entire story.
With the Covid pandemic continuing, Ross is happy to be spending her time at her California home being in her garden and spending time with family. As she put it, “It is such a wonderful time to bond and connect with family even if we are not together. I also have been calling friends to see how they are and have a little chat.” Some good motherly advice for all of us.
Currently, we are in the series, “Crime Isn’t Funny . . . or Is It?” Today we get to learn a bit more about a show which, along with MASH and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, had one of the best roster of characters ever written. I like to describe Barney Miller as a sitcom with a flair for drama. It debuted in January of 1975 and left the airwaves in May of 1982.
It was set primarily in a New York Police Department station, supposedly the 12th precinct. NYPD has not had a 12th precinct since 1910. If you were a fan of Castle, you’ll notice that the set was refurbished for that show in 2009.
Most of the action took place in the squad room and Captain Miller’s office. Typically, there were two to three subplots surrounding the suspects that were brought into the station or something one of the detectives were dealing with personally.
Captain Barney Miller (Hal Linden) is the practical and calm one in the precinct. His sense of humor allows him to deal with his staff and the city. He gets frustrated by all the red tape the city requires but is able to maintain peace and discipline in his precinct.
Sergeant Philip Fish (Abe Vigoda) is the oldest member and is getting close to retirement at the beginning of the show. Fish leaves the show and gets his own spinoff for a few years before returning to the show in season 7.
Detective “Wojo” Wojciehowicz (Max Gail) is a bit naïve but has a heart of gold. He sticks to the rules which sometimes causes conflict with his coworkers.
Detective Ron Harris (Ron Glass) is the intellectual of the office. He often seems more concerned with his private life and his appearance than his job. He is also a writer. Later in the series he produces a best seller, Blood on the Badge.
Sergeant Nick Yemana (Jack Soo) is philosophical and sarcastic. During the run of the show, he often makes wry observations about life and the station as other things are going on. Soo passed away during the run of the show and was not on the last three seasons.
During seasons 1 and 2, Sergeant Miguel Amanguale (Gregory Sierra) was part of the cast. He gets worked up easily when things don’t go well and then rants in rapid Spanish.
Appearing first in season 2, Sergeant Arthur Dietrich (Steve Landesberg) loves to share his knowledge of pretty much everything. However, he can’t seem to decide on the perfect career. He comes to police work after leaving both the law and medical fields.
Inspector Frank Luger (James Gregory) is the thorn in everyone’s side. He is often rambling and old-fashioned, if not worse, in his views.
Officer Carl Levitt (Ron Carey) is a hard-working employee who aspires to being promoted. Levitt is brought on board in season three.
Originally Barney’s wife Elizabeth (Barbara Barrie) was a regular character, but after season two she is seen in infrequently, even though Barney refers to her a lot. Once Barrie realized the show was focusing on the precinct, she asked to be released from her contract.
The show was created by Danny Arnold and Theodore J. Flicker. Noam Pitlik directed the majority of the episodes. The pilot originally was unsold. It appeared in a summer anthology series, Just for Laughs, as “The Life and Times of Captain Barney Miller” and only Linden and Vigoda carried into the series. While the pilot was never shown in syndication, it is part of the Shout Factory’s DVD set and was rewritten as the episode, “Ramon.”
The theme song which had several versions during the run of the show was an instrumental jazz piece written by Jack Elliott and Allyn Ferguson.
Because most scenes were shot in the precinct, the show was filmed like a play. Only about a dozen of the episodes (out of 171 total) were shot outside that set. The way the show was filmed was compared to a marathon session. Seasons one and two were taped in front of an audience and a laugh track was used for additional scenes. Arnold would often rewrite or restage scenes after the audience left to allow for quiet moments. It was not uncommon for a taping to begin in the afternoon and continue late into the night or into the early morning hours.
“The day a show was taped, the actors would hang around on the stage waiting for pages to be sent down. Then—sometimes at 2 a.m.—they would have to learn new scenes. Ron Carey (Officer Levitt) would get his fairly quickly: ‘Here’s your mail, Captain.’ On the other hand, poor Steve Landesberg (Dietrich) might have to memorize long speeches explaining how nuclear fission works. Employing a live audience became impractical as lengthy reshoots became commonplace.” By Season 4, only a quiet laugh track was used when necessary.
Barney Miller received praise from police officers, who appreciated the realistic dialogue and quirky characters. In 2005, The New York Times published an op-ed by New York detective Lucas Miller about his view of the show:
“Real cops are not usually fans of cop shows. […] Many police officers maintain that the most realistic police show in the history of television was the sitcom Barney Miller, […] The action was mostly off screen, the squad room the only set, and the guys were a motley bunch of character actors who were in no danger of being picked for the N.Y.P.D. pin-up calendar. But they worked hard, made jokes, got hurt and answered to their straight-man commander. For real detectives, most of the action does happen off screen, and we spend a lot of time back in the squad room writing reports about it. Like Barney Miller’s squad, we crack jokes at one another, at the cases that come in, and at the crazy suspect locked in the holding cell six feet from the new guy’s desk. Life really is more like Barney Miller than NYPD Blue, but our jokes aren’t nearly as funny.”
The show took a while to become a hit. During an interview in November of 2018 with Hal Linden on CloserWeekly.com’s Classic TV & Film Podcast, Linden discussed why there was a lag time till the show found its audience. “ ‘It took a long time for people to catch onto it and become fans,’ Hal tells us during our exclusive conversation. ‘The reason? It wasn’t in your face. It was very subtle, basically. It was relationship, not punchlines. And everybody played it relatively realistically. All the comedy came from outside, in our reaction to the people coming in from outside, and that was not something that was expected in that time. Everything else was more straight line/punchlines. It was more sketchy than realistic. Happy Days, that’s what was expected. And there’s a lot of shows today that are quite sketchy. But [series creator] Danny Arnold envisioned it very differently, and he put the limitations on our doing shtick. His limitation was, ‘Would you go to a police officer for help who behaved like that?’ There was a lid on everything. You could never go too far just to get a laugh. You had to be a police officer, a real police officer that could do his job. Actually, that lesson stood me in good stead for the rest of my television career in terms of what works, how far you can go, or how far not to go.’ ”
It also probably did not help that in its first four and a half seasons it was up against fan favorite Hawaii Five-0.
The show garnered a lot of awards. It was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series every year from 1976 to 1981 and won in 1982. It also won for writing in 1980 and directing in 1979 in addition to other nominations. It also won a Peabody in 1978.
The show was not cancelled by the network. Arnold ended production because he was worried about repeating storylines after eight seasons.
After the show ended, the chalkboard which listed whether the policemen were on or off-duty, and the cell door were given to the Smithsonian Television Museum. In addition to the cast of actors in the show, the duty board listed the names of the technicians who worked on the show. The museum also has the police badges used by the actors and Yemana’s coffee mug.
In an article by Ed Gross from February 26, 2018, Hal Linden reflects on his time with the hit series:
“I have nothing but fond memories of Barney. It was certainly the best television experience I ever had, and I mean that from a creative standpoint, because it was like being in a stage company. Like a repertory company that would work together; we knew each other, and we were able to contribute to each other. I have never had as creative an experience in television since.”
The character-driven scripts are what makes the show memorable today. There have been technological advances in procedures and detective work, but the fact that people are still the same make the show fun to watch almost fifty years later. In an article in Today.com by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper from October of 2011, several scenes from the show were discussed that capture the characters’ personalities.
“Jack Soo’s Nick Yemana was known for his bad coffee, but in one episode he reveals to Barney that he is using rain water that’s leaking through the ceiling to make a fresh pot. ‘It’s coming through the ceiling, that moldy, termite-infested ceiling!’ protests Barney. ‘It filters out the impurities,’ Yemana insists. Abe Vigoda, played Phil Fish. But even in the 1970s, Fish was the oldster of the precinct. In a touching scene, Barney tells him he doesn’t think of him as old, but as experienced. ‘In an emergency, you’d be the first one I’d call,’ the captain says loyally. ‘You should call me first, I need time to put my teeth in,’ Fish responds. Steve Landesberg’s brainy Arthur Dietrich always had a little too much information. When a young black teenager called him “honky,” he’s not offended, instead he explains the word’s etymology. (Who knew it derived from the nasal tone African-Americans believed Caucasians speak with?) His explanation unnerves the kid more than a deluge of profanity ever could have. Hal Linden’s calm and cool Captain Barney Miller held the entire station together, but when he erupted, stand back. He once threatened to stuff a towel in the mouth of a loud-mouthed guy in the jail cell. When the guy blasted back that he wasn’t scared, Miller’s response was ‘You haven’t seen our towel!’ Max Gail’s Stan Wojciehowicz’s was a gentle soul, one who often seemed too kind for a police job. In one episode, Miller tries to explain racism to Harris by using a Polish joke. The gag is funny, but the scene itself is less humorous than it is sweet. ‘Well I thought (racial) differences weren’t important,’ Wojo says. ‘They’re not, but they are.’ Miller responds, only confusing the matter further. In a classic episode, Wojo’s girlfriend made brownies for the squad, but this being the 1970s, they were hash brownies. When Miller finds out, he orders Ron Glass’ always cool and classy Nathan Harris to have them analyzed. Which he does, by tossing another one in his mouth. ‘NOT THAT WAY!’ howls Miller. He later tells Harris to ‘stay home till you feel better.’ ‘OK, Barn, I’ll stay, but I ain’t never gonna feel no better,’ a herbally happy Harris announces.”
I love the pictures that each of the above snippets portrays of the cast. I’ll end with a quote by Yemana, who may have been my favorite character on the show. In the episode “Copy Cat” from season 4, Yemana is asked if he likes cop shows:
Det. Sgt. Yemana: No, I don’t watch shows like that. I can’t enjoy them because, being a cop myself, I spot the mistakes and inaccuracies and the fantastic things that in real life never happen. Victim: On the show they caught him! Yemana: Good example!
In a recent blog (August 10, 2020), we learned a bit about Kate Jackson and some of the successful series she was a part of. One of those shows was The Scarecrow and Mrs. King. No, it’s not a dream sequence where Mrs. King travels around Oz with her best friend. In this case, Scarecrow (Bruce Boxleitner) was a spy. Amanda King (Kate Jackson) was an ordinary divorced housewife and the mother of two young boys. They worked together in covert operations.
Created by Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming, The Scarecrow and Mrs. King ran for four seasons, producing 89 episodes. Rounding out the cast was Dorothy West (Beverly Garland), Amanda’s mother whom she lives with; Francine Desmond (Martha Smith), another secret agent; Billy Melrose (Mel Stewart), Scarecrow’s boss; and Amanda’s boys Jamie (Greg Morton) and Philip (Paul Stout).
The way they begin working together was a bit unlikely, but that is the way most spy shows go. The show is set in the Cold War era and is full of James Bond components and witty repartee. Scarecrow a/k/a Lee Stetson in real life, hands Amanda a package at the train station and tells her to give it to the man in the red hat. Unfortunately, at the time, there are a bunch of men wearing red fezzes there so she is unable to deliver it. Scarecrow later tracks her down to recover the package. When he is taken by bad guys, she solves the secret about the package and rescues Stetson before they can kill him.
At the time they met, Amanda was unemployed and looking for a job. She majored in photojournalism. She had a boyfriend named Dean, and she volunteered at the local hospital as a Bedside Bluebell. She liked to read romance novels and was allergic to horses.
Amanda becomes more involved with the agency and eventually becomes a trained agent, considered a seasonal employee. The team travels around the world, often posing as other people. Of course, Scarecrow and Amanda fall in love. Her ex-husband Joe is still around and they are good friends. Sam Melville played Joe; he had some experience because he played her husband Mike in The Rookies.
Amanda already has to keep her spy career a secret from her mother and boys. When Scarecrow and Amanda get married, they must keep the marriage a secret from their friends, families, and coworkers as well.
The show aired on CBS. For season one, it was up against That’s Incredible on ABC and Boone early in the year with TV Bloopers later in the year on NBC. Season two found it competing with Hardcastle and McCormick on ABC and TV Bloopers again on NBC. It finished in the top twenty for its first two seasons. Season three it dropped to 28th. Hardcastle and McCormick was still its competition on ABC. On NBC it started against TV Bloopers which was replaced by You Again? and Valerie. Both You Again? and Valerie were in the top 30 as well.
Season four the show was moved to Friday nights. Even coming on the heels of Dallas which was the only top 30 show airing Fridays, the ratings were not great. It had some tough competition with Webster and Mr. Belvedere on ABC and The A-Team on NBC.
In addition to the move to Fridays, during season four, Kate was diagnosed with breast cancer and her treatments required her to have limited shooting time. The show was cancelled without the series’ ability to film a finale that would have wrapped up the storylines. In hindsight, the network should have let it finish out because they replaced the show with two mundane sitcoms: Nothing is Easy, a Dee Wallace show in which she and her husband adopt a daughter and then are asked to adopt an Asian boy and an African American girl; later her husband is killed in a car accident and she is a single mother. The Popcorn Kid was about a wannabe movie star who works in a theater.
In addition to viewers enjoying the show, critics also liked it. The show won and Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Series in 1986. It was also nominated for three other Emmys: Outstanding Cinematography for a Series in 1985 and Outstanding Costuming for a Series for both 1985 and 1986. Jim Lapidus and Molly Harris Campbell were nominated in 1985, and Andrea Weaver and Lapidus were nominated in 1986. Weaver would go on to do costuming for movies. Lapidus did costuming for movies after the show including Witches of Eastwick and Jerry Maguire and became a costume designer for shows such as 24, Dexter, and Hawaii Five-O. Harris continued her career as a wardrobe designer for RemingtonSteele, Night Court, and LA Law before becoming a designer on Beverly Hills 90210, Charmed, The X-Files, and She Spies.
In the era of couples working as a team to solve crimes, a la Hart to Hart and Moonlighting, this was a decent show. It featured humor, romance, drama, clever dialogue, intrigue, and a great chemistry between its co-stars. The characters go through a bit of growth during the four seasons. Scarecrow morphs from a risk-taking, arrogant, lady’s man to a more thoughtful person and a smarter agent. Amanda becomes more confident and capable as an agent and a working woman.
The entire series was out on DVD by March of 2010. If you’ve never watched it, give it a try. You won’t be bored solving crimes with The Scarecrow and Mrs. King.
As we continue our “Don’t Judge Me” series, we check out a show full of mystery: His Honor, Homer Bell.
This show seemed to be unsure what genre it wanted to be. Was it a drama? A comedy? A western? Some shows were written by Si Rose who wrote for Bachelor Father and McHale’s Navy, but other writers included Michael Cramroy, a Dragnet writer and Jerome Coopersmith who wrote for Hawaii Five-0.
It also didn’t have a definite home. The show was made to go directly into syndication by NBC Films and taped in Brooklyn. There are different statistics about how many episodes were made of the show. Imdb lists only one episode. Some other sites indicate 38 episodes were made. To the best of my research ability, I believe there were 39 episodes including the pilot. It had a budget of one million dollars and episodes were listed in TV Guide.
Those TV Guide descriptions lead to another mystery. The show talks about being in the West but it must be a more contemporary west. In one episode, Judge Bell tries to acquire tickets for a sold-out football game and in another one he delivers a speech to the town traffic commission.
What we do know for sure is that the show debuted in 1955. The show followed the ups and downs of Homer Bell (Gene Lockhart) who was a respected and much-loved justice of the peace living in a small western town of Spring City. Bell was a widower who lived with Casey (Mary Lee Dearing) and their housekeeper Maude (Jane Moultrie).
Adding to the mystery is whether Casey was his daughter or an orphaned niece he was raising. I found several descriptions listing both cases. However, Casey was a tomboy, and her antics often caused problems for the judge. He was a caring man who went to great lengths to help others. He relied more on good old common sense than legal technicalities to make his decisions. The show was produced by Hy Brown and directed by Derwin Abbe.
Gene Lockhart, father of actress June Lockhart, transitioned from the big screen to the small screen for this series.
He was born in Ontario, Canada in 1891. His father was musical, and when a band he played with went overseas on tour, he took his family along with him. During most of that time, Gene went to school in London. When the family returned to Canada, Gene’s mother encouraged him to try out for a Broadway play. He moved to New York and received his first offer in 1917 as part of the cast in “The Riviera Girl.” He also began to write for the stage. One of his projects, “The Pierrot Players” toured Canada.
In 1924, Gene married Kathleen Arthur, an English actress and musician. Gene stayed busy. He continued to appear on the stage, he could be heard on radio, he became a writer for theatrical magazines, and he lectured on drama techniques at the Julliard School of Music.
In 1933, he was offered the role of Uncle Sid in “Ah, Wilderness.” His great reviews in the play led to a contract with RKO Pictures. While he occasionally returned to Broadway, notably in 1949 as Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman,” he found his true calling as a Hollywood actor. He appeared in more than 125 films and was nominated for an Oscar for his work in Algiers in 1938. With 146 acting credits, he had about ten appearances on theater shows in the fifties on television.
Lockhart suffered a heart attack in his sleep in 1957.
Mary Lee Dearing (another mystery was her last name; most places credit her as “Dearing” but I’ve seen “Dearring” and “Deering”) was born in 1939 in New York City. She only has eight acting credits in addition to Homer Bell. She began her career on several theater dramas in the fifties, was on The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Danny Thomas Show, and The Brian Keith Show. I could find very little about her; most of her fame stems from appearing on the episode of Dick Van Dyke as a babysitter when Rob talks Laura into going to a party, leaving a sick Richie with the sitter.
Very little is known about Mary Moultrie as well. She was born in 1903 in Los Angeles. Her only other acting credits occurred in the fifties in several theater drama shows and on Mister Peepers and The Goldbergs.
By this time, you might be asking yourself—If there is more unknown than known about this show, why even write about it? We are losing so much information about the classic age of television. My philosophy is that if we keep the shows in the conversation, they won’t become totally lost. If anyone has any of the answers to the many questions about this show, I would love to hear from you. Besides, what television fan doesn’t love a mystery?
Note: In January of 2021, I received this information in an email from Diane Dearring and wanted to share it with you for an update on Mary:
I found the info on your site about Mary Lee Dearring (https://thewritelife61.com/tag/mary-lee-dearing/). Mary Lee was my dad’s first cousin. You mentioned on your site that you couldn’t find much info about her, so I thought I would share what I have with you. Her maiden name was indeed Dearring. However the spelling was originally Doering. Her ancestors came to the US from Germany in 1853 and settled in Ohio, Her father, my grandfather’s brother, was Ernest “Ernie” Dearring and her mother was Lene (Belisario) Dearring. They owned a dance studio in NYC. I haven’t been able to find out any information on the dance studio, but would dearly love to know more. Mary Lee married Wallace Foster Tracy in 1966. They had no children.
Today we are taking a peek at what goes into being a background performer. Like the composers, costumers, and cameramen, the group of people surrounding the stars is a critical element for every television show.
If you were a fan of Friends, think back to Central Perk. While the group of friends on the show held court on the orange sofa, there were people all through the coffee shop chatting and drinking tea or lattès that you might not have paid much attention to. If you watched The Big Bang Theory, you’ll remember the cafeteria scenes when the guys had lunch together. The room was full of other staff members enjoying their lunch as well.
While you can relate to these scenes, you probably can’t give me any details about specific characters who appeared in them. That’s what a good background actor is; someone who has a nonspeaking role and is in the setting to make the scene appear more realistic. Although you don’t notice the actors in the background, you definitely notice when they’re not there.
There are many people who choose to become background actors. Perhaps they are waiting for their acting career to escalate, and this is how they are making a bit of extra money. Maybe they are a fan of television and just enjoy being behind the scenes. Behind the scenes is definitely where you’ll spend most of your time waiting and waiting and waiting. Usually the 2nd Assistant Director or Background Production Assistant will let you know what your instructions are.
Typically background actors who aren’t part of SAG or other unions earn minimum wage. There are a few situations where you get a bit of extra money which is called a “bump.” For example, you get a bump if you are required to smoke, if your car is used in the filming, or if you have to bring some personal effects with you such as sporting equipment or a unique costume.
You can take a look at Central Casting’s website. They cast hundreds of roles daily, including stand-ins and doubles. They have offices in Los Angeles, New York, Louisiana, and Georgia.
On the day I wrote this blog, some of the positions they were trying to fill included men who owned a snake that they could be booked with; men who were okay getting a very short, military-regulated haircut; men and women in their 20s to 50s who are familiar with a variety of firearms to play law enforcement roles; and Hispanic house painters ages 28-40.
This is not the glamorous life most people envision when they think of filming television shows or blockbuster movies. Often you are waiting for an upcoming scene or you have to repeat a single shot, perhaps dozens of times. It’s not unusual that after a fifteen-hour day, your part is cut from the episode.
When you’re on the set, it’s like a long game of “Don’t Break the Sugar Bowl.” You have to appear to be realistically having a conversation or reading, or whatever, but you cannot make any noise that could interfere with the dialogue occurring on the set.
The conditions you are working in are not always comfortable. It might be a beautiful 85-degree summer day, and you find yourself standing around in a parka and mittens, filming a snow scene for a long, long time.
While stars might have access to an amazing food banquet, extras have more limited choices. You are encouraged to bring snacks for the day.
Some people might think that a perk of working on a television show is getting to talk to your favorite star. Think again. Most of the time, stars are considered off limits for background extras. It probably goes without saying that phones are not allowed on set and photos are a big no-no.
I talked with an actor friend of mine who lives in New York. She did background work at the beginning of her career. I asked her for an honest assessment of what the work was like. She said if you are in the union, the wages are actually not bad and you earn health and pension credits. If you’re not in the union, it can still be beneficial; you just have to understand the reality of the job. She said first of all, “be on time and bring whatever they tell you to bring.” Understand if you want to make a living this way, it is hard work. “You will always be hustling for the next job. Your days will be long ones.”
She said another downside to the job is that “a lot of your time is spent in holding; it can be exhausting because some people want to talk constantly.” That might be okay for an hour but not so much for a ten-hour day. She often took earbuds and a book along for quiet time.
Know that you are being hired to be insignificant. You will wear drab clothing, you might work in the rain, you might work overnight. My friend mentioned that sometimes you have to realize that you are “a walking hanger,” because they need you because of a specific item you have, perhaps a blue-sequined evening gown or a gorilla suit.
My friend recalled one of her first jobs when she was a stand-in for a movie. She didn’t get breaks because she had to watch the star in rehearsals, so she knew what would be required of her. When the star went to rest or to eat or to make-up, my friend would stand in. The crew would figure out lighting and blocking and sometimes she had to be in the same position for more than half an hour. She did this for two weeks, and it was a long, arduous process; however, she said the knowledge she gained made the experience worth it. She learned so much about the filming of a movie and all the different crew members and what their specific roles were.
Mark Falvo is an attorney and sports broadcaster in Pennsylvania. He has a lot of experience in background acting both on television and in movies. You will see him on the big screen in Slap Shot, Hoosiers, Bull Durham, Happy Gilmore, Twister, and Remember the Titans among many, many other films. Tune into the small screen to see him in Veep, House of Cards, and Law and Order. His experience was that every job was positive because he learned something on each project. He said that “after a while, the crowd scenes in sport movies became tough because you had to continue to move around, but they were jobs.”
Falvo said he was able to get to know other actors. “Meeting old friends and getting a chance to talk to them even while waiting was good. Hurry up and wait is part of the job, so bring a book or some work to do.”
His advice to beginners is “Don’t have high expectations!!! You are there to do a job, no matter what the director wants, keep your energy high and always be ready.”
Let’s take another look at that group of coffee drinkers at Central Perk. When you place your order, most likely Gunther (James Michael Tyler) will be your barista. Gunther is a permanent member of the show, working at Central Perk and in love with Rachel. He never really becomes part of the group, but he is invited to some of their parties and get-togethers. Tyler got the part because he was the only extra who knew how to use an espresso machine; he received his first speaking line in episode 33.
So, every once in a while, there is a happy-ever-after ending. You just might be the person who finds it.
The late 1960s and early 1970s might have contained the most diverse television shows than any other era. In 1968, there were the rural comedies like Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies; there were the standard sitcoms, My Three Sons, Get Smart, That Girl, Bewitched; there were the remains of a few westerns including The High Chaparral, The Virginian, and Gunsmoke; there were crime and thrillers such as Hawaii Five-0 and Mission Impossible; there was the crime/western in The Wild, Wild West, there were gameshows on at night including Let’s Make a Deal, The Dating Game, and The Newlywed Game; there were sci-fi shows like Star Trek and The Land of the Giants; family shows like Lassie; and even Lawrence Welk.
In addition, there were a couple of shows that were a bit edgier and introduced more provocative concepts and themes. The Mod Squad featured three teens who were helping solve crimes in lieu of jail time, and then there was the almost-impossible-to-describe Laugh In.
Similar to Laugh In was The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour which also debuted in 1967 featuring Tom and Dick Smothers. It had more of a variety format to it but it had the same topical and satirical humor.
In addition to poking fun at politics, the war, religion, and current issues, you could tune in to the Smothers Brothers for some of the best and sometimes controversial music in the industry. Performers such as Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf, Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Cream, Pete Seeger, and The Doors appeared on the show.
The show aired Sunday nights against Bonanza on NBC; ABC aired The Sunday Night Movie in its first season and Hee Haw in its second season.
The series had some of the best writers on television: Alan Blye, Hal Goldman, Al Gordon, Steve Martin, Lorenzo Music, Don Novello, Rob Reiner, David Steinberg, and Mason Williams. Reiner and Martin both commented on the show in an interview by Marc Freeman in the Hollywood Reporter 11-25-2017 (“The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour at 50: The Rise and Fall of a Ground-Breaking Variety Show”).
Reiner relayed that “you had two cute boy-next-doors wearing red suits, one with the stand-up bass and the other with his guitar. They looked like the sweetest, most innocent kids. You got drawn to them, and then they hit you with the uppercut you didn’t see coming.”
Martin elaborated “When you have the power wrapped up in innocence, it’s more palatable. They were like little boys, but you also had Dickie there to reprimand Tommy when he would make an outrageous statement. It’s like the naughty ventriloquist dummy who can get away with murder as long as the ventriloquist is there to say ‘You can’t say that.’ It’s the perfect setup for getting a message across.”
In addition to the musical acts, hundreds of celebrities appeared on the show between 1967 and 1969, including Jack Benny, Carol Burnett, George Burns, Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, Barbara Eden, Nanette Fabray, Eva Gabor, Shirley Jones, Don Knotts, Bob Newhart, Tony Randall, Ed Sullivan, Danny Thomas and Jonathan Winters, along with so many others.
Part of the show was the brothers’ ongoing sibling rivalry about whom their parents liked best. They also began to add political satire and ribald humor. Pat Paulsen delivered mock editorials about current topics such as the draft and gun control, and in 1968 he had a mock presidential campaign.
Church sermon sketches poked fun at religion. The show lampooned many of the values older Americans valued, often delivering anti-establishment and pro-drug humor. No one was given an exception, and the show lambasted the military, the police, the religious right, and the government.
Battles over content were ongoing with the network. The network pulled Pete Seeger’s performance of his anti-Vietnam War song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.” They nixed Harry Belafonte’s song, “Don’t Stop the Carnival” because it had a video collage behind him of the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots.
Younger viewers were tuning in, and despite the conflicts, the show was picked up for a second season. The network insisted they receive a copy of the show at least ten days in advance for editing. In April of 1969, William Paley canceled the show without notice. Some sources contend it was canceled by CBS president Robert Wood. Some sources cite the issue with unacceptable deadlines and others mention Tom Smothers lobbying the FCC and members of Congress over corporate censorship that brought about the firing. The brothers filed a breach of contract suit against the network and after four years of litigation, a federal court ruled in their favor, awarding them $776,300.
Here’s a typical joke from the show that was not as controversial.
Tom: You can tell who’s running the country by how much clothes people wear, see?
Dick: Do you mean that some people can afford more clothes on, and some people have . . . less on? Is that what you mean?
Tom: That’s right.
Dick: I don’t understand.
Tom: See, the ordinary people, you’d say that the ordinary people are the less-ons.
Dick: So, who’s running the country?
Tom: The morons.
The Smothers Brothers elicited humor that was as topical, influential, and critical as anyone had ever heard before on television. Fifty years later, both the network and the brothers realized everyone over-reacted. If the Smothers Brothers had tried to play by the rules a bit, they would not have lost their platform to continue to help change what they saw as a messed-up culture.
The CBS executives felt the program created too much controversy. In their defense, politicians, especially Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, exerted a lot of pressure on the network. Remember this was a time of three networks and ads are what produced the profits to fund shows. The network received a boatload of hate mail daily about the program and, when viewers begin talking boycotting advertisers, executives sit up a bit straighter and listen.
The Smothers Brothers Show, a less controversial series, debuted in 1975. They had two specials on NBC later and another CBS series in 1988 but never regained the influence they had in the sixties. However, the show did help pave the way for a future that permitted, and later embraced, shows with controversy beginning with All in the Family, continuing with Saturday Night Live, and recently seen on shows such hosted by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Although the comedy spouted on the show would seem quite tame by today’s standards, the show had an important part in the history of television and the rights of free speech.
I have seen some DVDs out there from this show, but they are pricey. Recently I saw season two going for $190. I do see Laugh In on Decades quite often, so perhaps The Smothers Brothers might show up somewhere too, although I’m not sure this show would hold up as well as Laugh In, but the musical performances would be fun to see.
continue our series, Just A Couple of Characters, about character actors we
recognize but might not know much about. Hope Summers and Madge Blake are two
actresses you will recognize if you watched sitcoms in the 1960s or 1970s.
Born Sarah Hope Summers in 1902 in Mattoon, Illinois, Hope Summers often played the friendly, but nosy, neighbor. She’s best recognized as Clara from The Andy Griffith Show.
became interested in theater early in her life. She attended Northwestern,
majoring in speech. After graduation she stayed at the University and taught
speech and diction. She then moved to Peoria and headed the Speech Department
at Bradley University. She joined a few community theaters, putting on
one-woman shows. She also acted in a few dramatic radio shows.
She married Claude Witherell in 1927, and they were married until his death in 1967. The couple had two children.
In 1950, she transitioned to television. She appeared in an early comedy series, Hawkins Falls: A Television Novel. Like Edward Andrews, she was often cast in roles older than her actual age. She became a popular actress quickly. She continued to appear in a variety of shows throughout the 1950s including Bachelor Father, Private Secretary, Wagon Train, Dennis the Menace, and the Loretta Young Show.
1958-1960, she would appear in The
Rifleman as Hattie Denton.
In 1961, she received the role she would become most famous for, Clara, Bee’s best friend on The Andy Griffith Show. When Andy Griffith left the show in 1968, Hope continued with Mayberry RFD in her role of Clara for five episodes. Clara was a lonely spinster who lived next door to Andy and his family. She and Bee had fun sharing bits of gossip and talking about current events. Clara had a good heart and though she and Bee could get upset with each other, they truly cared about each other.
While playing the role of Clara, she continued to guest in series throughout the 1960s. She appeared on many of the hit shows of that time such as Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, Make Room for Daddy, Hazel, My Three Sons, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Petticoat Junction, The Phyllis Diller Show, Marcus Welby, That Girl, and Bewitched.
During the 1970s, Summers kept her career going strong, appearing in Hawaii Five-0, M*A*S*H, Little House on the Prairie, and Welcome Back Kotter.
Summers began her acting career during the second half of her life, she was
also featured in several well-known movies. In 1960, she was in Inherit the Wind, The Shakiest Gun in the West, and Rosemary’s Baby in 1968, among others.
Summers also was famous as the voice of Mrs. Butterworth in commercials.
In 1978 she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and quit acting. She passed away from the disease in 1979.
Summers was part of the cast of The Andy
Griffith Show, Madge Blake was busy portraying Aunt Harriet on Batman.
Born Madge Cummings in 1899 in Kansas, she, like Hope Summers, became interested in acting at a young age. Her father was a Methodist minister and he refused to allow her to give it a try. Oddly enough, Madge’s maternal uncle was Milburn Stone, Doc on Gunsmoke.
Although they later divorced, Madge married James Blake and they had one child. She had a fascinating career. Both she and James worked for the government during the war. They had top secret clearance for their project working on the construction of the detonator for the atomic bomb in Utah. They also performed tests on equipment used in the Manhattan Project.
Also, like Summers, Blake turned to acting at a later age. When she was 50, she enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse to study acting. She only had twenty years in the business, yet she managed to achieve an impressive 124 acting credits.
Blake would appear in 47 films in smaller, but impressive, roles. Some of her movies included An American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain, Brigadoon, The TenderTrap, Bells Are Ringing, Ain’t Misbehaving, and The Solid Gold Cadillac.
Beginning her television career in 1954, she racked up an impressive amount of guest star roles and several recurring roles. She played Tillie, the president of the Jack Benny fan club on The Jack Benny Show. She played Larry Mondello’s mother on Leave It to Beaver. An interesting aside is that she was asked to play Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show where she would have worked with Hope Summers. Because she was locked into the role of Mrs. Mondello, she declined. She took the role of Mrs. Barnes, Joey’s mother, on The Joey Bishop Show. On the Real McCoys, she played Flora MacMichael, Grandpa McCoy’s love interest; Nurse Phipps on Dr. Kildare; and the role she became best known for, Aunt Harriet on Batman.
The network was worried about Batman and Robin living alone together on Batman, so the role of Aunt Harriet was added. The story line was that she raised Bruce Wayne in the family mansion. Their interaction with Aunt Harriet was also a reason for the dynamic duo to appear in their non-hero roles more often.
It would seem that coming into acting later in life and then appearing in so many movies and recurring television appearances would have kept her quite busy. But in addition to these appearances, she was cast in many of the most popular shows during her twenty years on television. During that time, you can find her on dramas like Public Defender, Lassie, The Restless Gun, and the Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Of course, she was meant to play comedy and she appeared on an incredible number of sitcoms. Just to name a few, there of them: George Burns and GracieAllen Show, I Love Lucy, Private Secretary, Father Knows Best, Bachelor Father, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Donna Reed Show, Make Room for Daddy, Bewitched, The Addams Family, My Favorite Martian, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gomer Pyle, and The Doris Day Show. Pretty amazing.
I read over and over that one of her best performances was in the pilot for Dennis the Menace where she plays Dennis’s babysitter. I have not been able to watch that show, but I will definitely check that out.
In 1969, Blake passed away from a heart attack after she broke her leg. She was only 70, or we might have had a much longer list of television series for her.
Hope Summers and Madge Blake had a lot in common. They both became interested in acting at an early age, they both had major careers before acting, they both began acting in the second half of their life, they both played neighborly types–Summers, nosier, and Blake, more ditzy. They also both had respectable film careers paralleling their television ones. Their television roles may have been smaller, but they were memorable, they are definitely two characters worth watching.