Honey West: Quality Over Quantity

As we look back at some favorite crime dramas, this week we are traveling back sixty years. From 1965-1966, Honey West appeared in our living rooms. Only thirty episodes were produced, but the show was respected and worth remembering.

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The show was based on a novel series. Married couple, Gloria and Forrest “Skip” Fickling wrote the books. Skip had been a gunner in the US Army Air Force. According to Skip, they combined Marilyn Monroe and Mike Hammer for the character of Honey West. The novels were published from the late fifties to 1971, with eleven total.

West was one of the first female private eyes on tv. In an episode of Burke’s Law, Ann Francis showed up as Honey West which led to a spin-off. The series was developed by Gwen Bagni and Paul Dubov, writers on Burke’s Law. Aaron Spelling was listed as the producer.

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West has a partner Sam Bolt (John Ericson). Ericson never received another starring role in a series, but he was a successful actor, amassing 105 acting credits.

Honey is an interesting character. She has a hidden radio in her lipstick case, has a pet ocelot named Bruce, a colorful animal-print wardrobe, and a Cobra convertible. She shares an apartment with her Aunt Meg (Irene Hervey) who shows up in about half of the episodes.

West owns her own investigation firm which she inherited from her father. Her base of operations was behind a fake wall in her living room. She’s very smart and experienced in electronic surveillance. Bolt creates many of the gadgets she uses. They go undercover in a specially equipped van which had a sign “H.W. Bolt & Co., TV Service.” She and Sam could be the inspiration behind Maddie and David from Moonlighting.

Like James Bond, or Max Smart, she uses a number of high-tech instruments: an exploding compact, a garter belt gas mask, tear gas earrings. You don’t have to worry about Honey’s safety. Sam is an ex-Marine, and Honey attained a black belt in judo.

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Several of the episodes were written by Richard Levinson and William Link who would go on to write for Columbo and Murder, She Wrote.

The show was canceled after the first year for two primary reasons, one understandable and one which makes me shake my head. I understand that the network determined that it would be cheaper to import The Avengers and show it in the time slot. The second reason is a bit harder to understand: the show was in competition with Gomer Pyle USMC and could not hold its own in the ratings war. I say this with great respect to Jim Nabors whom I love and while Gomer Pyle was an ok show, it’s hard for me to picture it as a show that would draw more viewers than a crime drama.

Francis did receive Golden Globe and Best Actress Emmy nominations that year. She was beat out by Barbara Stanwyck for The Big Valley. The show was described as “sexy, sophisticated and delightfully funny.” According to most of the reviews of the DVDs, it holds up very well after sixty years and is still fun to watch.

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They had some clever details in the show. There is often at least one instance when the last word of a sentence leads into a funny new scene. The actors often discuss television shows, wondering about their ratings. Honey pulls down an imaginary shade, so viewers won’t watch her sleep. It also had a jazzy theme written by Joseph Mullendore. He had created a lot of the music for Burke’s Law and would go on to provide music for other series, including Land of the Giants and Daniel Boone.

There were several drawbacks mentioned, most notably the lack of color. Not only was color becoming the norm by this time, but Honey West was a show that would have been enhanced by color. It was also criticized for being a 30-minute show. There was not enough time to truly develop both the plot and the characters’ relationships in such a short time.

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This show reminds me a bit of Barbara Eden’s show How to Marry a Millionaire and Bachelor Father, starring John Forsythe, in that both debuted in 1957; two series that I thought had clever writing, fun characters, witty dialogue, and elegant interiors. On one hand, it is sad it wasn’t given more of a chance to get established with viewers. On the other hand, it sounds like it has thirty mostly great episodes to watch. Maybe an early cancellation allowed the best shows to be saved. I think about I Dream of Jeannie which was released the same year as Honey West. The shows from the first year are fun to watch. Jeanne is witty, clever, mischievous, and smarter than she lets on. During the following years, the episodes were average at best and often sub-par. If I only had the first year’s episodes to watch, I would not feel like I was missing anything.

For less than $20, you can buy the entire DVD season of Honey West. And if it makes you want to go out and get a pet ocelot, who am I to judge?

Ruth McDevitt: What a Character – Delightfully Daffy

One of my favorite blog series is beginning again today: “What a Character !” Our first character actor is Ruth McDevitt. You might not recognize her name, but the minute you see a photo of her you will definitely recognize this busy television star. Her on-screen personality is perfectly captured in her imdb biography where she is described as “delightfully daffy and quite an apple dumpling of a darling, a cheerfully wizened character.”

On Love American Style with Meredith McCrae Photo: pinterest

Ruth was born in Michigan but she spent most of her early life in Ohio. Her father was the county sheriff and both of her parents were musicians. After graduation, she attended college (some sites give her college as Bowling Green and others Wooster) and after her graduation, she studied at the Toledo Dramatic Academy. She then moved to New York to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Art.

When she married Patrick McDevitt in 1928, she decided to devote her time to her husband, giving up her career. Her husband was a widowed contractor who lived in Florida, so she made the move south and participated in a variety of women’s clubs and community groups. Unfortunately, her husband passed away in 1934, and she then returned to her acting profession in her forties. She made her debut on Broadway in 1940 in several shows and later appeared in “Arsenic and Old Lace” in 1942 and “The Solid Gold Cadillac” in 1954.

In the thirties, Ruth also began her radio career, taking on the roles of Rosemary’s mother in “Keeping up with Rosemary” and Jane in “This Life is Mine.”

The Birds with Tippi Hedren Photo:

Ruth also found success on the big screen. Her first movie role was in The Guy Who Came Back in 1951. She would appear in a variety of movies during her career including The Birds, The Parent Trap, The Shakiest Gun in the West, Mame, and Angel in My Pocket.

With Frank DeVol in The Parent Trap Photo: imdb.com

It was in television that she found most of her fame. Her first appearances were in 1949 when she was cast in A Woman to Remember, The Ford Theater Hour, and Suspense. She continued to receive dramatic roles throughout the fifties. From 1953-54, she appeared in seven episodes of Mister Peepers as his mother.

Pistols and Petticoats Photo: pinterest

Ruth began the 1960s in several medical shows and then transitioned to comedies appearing in The Andy Griffith Show, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Debbie Reynolds Show, I Dream of Jeanne, and Mayberry RFD. She received a recurring role in The Doctors in 1963 as Mrs. McMurtrie. She also became a cast member of Pistols and Petticoats in 1966. She was described as pistol-toting grannie, Effie Hanks. The show was set in Colorado in 1871 where the Hanks family are beloved residents and run things better than the sheriff does. It was canceled after its first season. Ann Sheridan starred in the tv series and she passed away a couple of months before the show was canceled.

The 1970s was Ruth’s busiest decade. She showed up in various dramas including Ironside, McCloud, Mannix, and The Rookies. She popped up in Gunsmoke and Little House on the Prairie and took part in the medical shows Marcus Welby and Medical Center.

With Bert Mustin on All in the Family Photo:

However, comedies kept her employed. She accepted roles on My World and Welcome to It, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, That Girl, Here’s Lucy, Love American Style, Nanny and the Professor, Bewitched, Room 222, and Phyllis. among others.

She accepted a recurring role on All in the Family as Jo Nelson from 1973-1975. Her last starring role was in Kolchak: The Night Stalker from 1974-1975. Darren McGavin plays a newspaper reporter who specializes in solving supernatural mysteries. His only friend was a coworker who also had a column in the paper played by McDevitt. The show supposedly inspired the X Files in part.

Photo: wiki-fandom.com

Ruth’s last two roles were in 1976 in made-for-tv movies. She passed away the same year from natural causes at age 80.

Whenever I write about these character actors, it makes me happy and sad. I respect them so much and appreciate the depth they add to make our television series better, but I am always disappointed that there is so little information available about their lives and careers. I very much enjoyed getting to know Ruth McDevitt a little better—she certainly was a character and we all benefit from that.

Reta Shaw: Housekeeper Extraordinaire

I devoted this month to some of our favorite actresses from the golden age of television. This list would not be complete without Reta Shaw who popped up in almost every popular program during the fifties and sixties.

Reta Shaw - IMDb
Photo: imdb.com

Shaw was born in Maine in 1912. She was born into the entertainment business; her father was an orchestra leader and her younger sister Marguerite also became an actress (I could only find one credit for her; it was a 1959 movie titled The Ballad of Louie the Louse.) After graduation, Reta attended the Leland Powers School of the Theater in Boston.

She then headed for the bright lights of Broadway and in 1947 was cast in “It Takes Two.” In 1954 she was Mabel in “The Pajama Game” and later appeared in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, “Picnic”, and “Annie Get Your Gun.”

QUITE A CHARACTER: In Celebration of RETA SHAW | THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!
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Her motion picture career overlapped with her television career. She had feature roles in several big-screen successes including Picnic; The Pajama Game; Pollyanna; The Ghost and Mr. Chicken; Escape to Witch Mountain; one of my favorites as a kid, Bachelor in Paradise with Bob Hope; and most famously, the cook in Mary Poppins, as well as a maid in Meet Me in St. Louis.

In 1952 she married William Forester, another actor. William appeared in Mister Peepers and The Pajama Game movie with his wife. He was very busy with television appearances during the early sixties. They were married a decade but divorced in 1962; the couple had a daughter.

She appeared in many of the same shows as the other actresses we learned about this month. Her first television role was on Armstrong Circle Theater. Her second role was as a regular cast member of a little-remembered show, Johnny Jupiter in 1953. It was a quirky show about a store clerk named Ernest P. Duckweather who invented an interplanetary television set and developed a friendship with a puppet named Johnny Jupiter.

Papermoon Loves Lucy — RETA SHAW
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From 1953-1955 she would appear with Marion Lorne on Mister Peepers as Aunt Lil. She continued receiving both movie and television roles throughout the fifties. In 1958 she received another recurring role on The Ann Sothern Show as Flora Macauley.

She began the sixties with another permanent job on The Tab Hunter Show. This show as about comic strip author Paul Morgan. His comic strip was “Bachelor at Large” and he wrote about his own amorous adventures.  Shaw, as Thelma his housekeeper, had a very different view of that life than Paul’s best friend Peter did. When that show went off the air, she was given another spot on Oh! Those Bells. The Wiere brothers, well-known comedians, portrayed the Bell Brothers who worked for Henry Slocum in a Hollywood prop shop. The brothers managed to create a disaster out of the most minor matters. The show only lasted two months.

Throughout the sixties she could be seen on a variety of series; although she certainly excelled at comedy she was just as accomplished in dramas such as Wagon Train, I Spy, The Man From UNCLE, and FBI. Reta also made more than a dozen movies during this time.

133 Reta Shaw ideas | the andy griffith show, character actress, don knotts
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However, her sitcom career flourished, and she was kept very busy during the sixties with roles on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Father of the Bride, Lost in Space, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Cara Williams Show, My Three Sons, The Farmer’s Daughter, The Lucy Show, The Patty Duke Show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Monkees, That Girl, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, and I Dream of Jeannie.  She had a recurring role on Bewitched as Aunt Hagatha/Bertha. She was featured in The Andy Griffith Show twice, but one of them is one of my all-time favorite episodes, “Convicts at Large” when she plays Big Maud Tyler who enjoys dancing with Barney.

The Ten Best THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW Episodes of Season Three | THAT'S  ENTERTAINMENT!
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The end of the decade brought her another recurring role as housekeeper on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. On May 1, 2014, Madman Entertainment interviewed Kellie Flanagan who played one of the kids on the show. It must have been a fun show to work on.  When she recalled her time with the cast, she said “The set was a very happy set, with parties every Friday night, and I remember that all the ladies were swooning over Mulhare and always disappointed to find out the beard had to be applied every day. His real beard was red, was the reason I remember, and they needed that salt-and-pepper thing. Hope was extremely sweet and kind to us, though I do remember there was a period where we were not supposed to bother her – I think she may have been going through a divorce – I believe she had a daughter about my age. Hope was lovely and her voice is fabulous. Reta Shaw was a delight and Charles Nelson Reilly was hilarious. The dog annoyed me!”

The Scott Rollins Film and TV Trivia Blog: Reta Shaw: Familiar Character  Face of TV's THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR and Films Like MARY POPPINS, THE  PAJAMA GAME, POLLYANNA & PICNIC
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Shaw continued to take on roles during the early seventies and could be seen on The New Dick Van Dyke Show, Here’s Lucy, The Odd Couple, Cannon, Happy Days, and The Brian Keith Show. Her career culminated with her role on Escape to Witch Mountain in 1975.

Shaw lived another seven years and died in 1982 from emphysema.

An interesting note is that Shaw grew up in a family who practiced spiritualism and said she had been “brought up on a Ouija board.” However, I’m not sure if she believed in it as well.

Shaw certainly had a very interesting and successful career as an actress. Although she often took on the housekeeper role, she was not stereotyped into just that slot. She appeared in both television and movies and she took on dramas as well as comedy.  It would have been fun to see what she would have been able to do if she had been given a series of her own. 

Whenever I see Reta Shaw in an old show, I know I am in for a treat.