We are in the midst of our western series, and today we turn our attention to a show that was on ABC for four years, from 1965-1969: The Big Valley. Created by A. I. Bezzerides and Louis F. Edelman and produced by Levy-Gardner-Laven (a trio of Jules V. Levy, Arthur Gardner, and Arnold Laven).
The series is set on the Barkley Ranch in the 1870s, home of the Barkleys, one of the wealthiest families in the area. The ranch is based on the 30-acre Hill Ranch which existed from 1855-1931. Lawson Hill was murdered in 1861 ad then his wife Euphemia ran it. They also had three sons and one daughter. Today the ranch is covered by Camanche Reservoir waters. The exterior shot of the house used in the show was also Tara in Gone with the Wind.
On Big Valley, Victoria Barkley (Barbara Stanwyck) runs the ranch with the help of her sons Jarrod (Richard Long), Heath (Lee Majors), and Nick (Peter Breck) and daughter Audra (Linda Evans).
Heath was her husband’s illegitimate son, but she considered him her own child. He never met his father who had never been told of his existence; Heath learned it from his mother on her deathbed.
Jarrod was an attorney and was refined and well educated. He was briefly married but his wife was killed shortly after by a bullet meant for him. Nick was the younger, hot-tempered son who helped his mother run the ranch. He was a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War. He had a great sense of humor and was very loyal to his family.
Audra was rather bold for the times. She was a tomboy but had a soft heart and tended to children at the local orphanage.
There was another younger Barkley, Eugene (Charles Briles), who was a medical student at Berkeley. He was seen off and on through season one, then drafted into the army and never really mentioned again.
Considering that the show was only on the air four years, a lot of stars appeared. A small sample includes Jack Albertson, Lew Ayres, Anne Baxter, Milton Berle, Charles Bronson, John Carradine, Yvonne Craig, Yvonne DeCarlo, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Goulet, Julie Harris, Ron Howard, Cloris Leachman, Gavin MacLeod, Leslie Nielsen, Regis Philbin, Lou Rawls, Pernell Roberts, Wayne Rogers, Katharine Ross, William Shatner, and Adam West.
The Big Valley was a western but with a few twists and never predictable. It was the first time a woman would have the lead in a western. The Barkleys may have been wealthy, but they were raised right. They were hardworking and fought for the underdog, making sure justice prevailed. However, it was not a cliché; no one could be trusted and nothing was exactly as it looked. Characters who appeared angelic ended up being truly evil.
Unfortunately for the show, it was coming in at the end of the western’s popularity and was never in the top 30 during its time on the air. The other new shows that began when it did included Get Smart, I Dream of Jeannie, Hogan’s Heroes, Lost in Space, F Troop, and The Wild Wild West.
However, it received good reviews, and in 1966, Stanwyck was nominated and won the Emmy for drama series. She would also be nominated in 1967 and 1968, losing to Barbara Bain from Mission Impossible both years.
The theme was composed by George Duning. In 1966, a soundtrack from the show was released in mono and stereo versions. During his career Duning would work on more than 300 movie and television scores.
Like many television shows in the fifties and sixties, Dell Comics published six comic books based on the show. For some reason, I did not see much in the way of merchandising for this show compared to other westerns or shows from the sixties.
The cast got along well. Evans and Stanwyck were exceptionally close and rehearsed at Barbara’s house every Saturday. When Arthur Gardner was interviewed on the Television Academy, he said that Stanwyck mentored the younger cast members. He said “he could not praise her enough” for the work she did.
It’s too bad the show didn’t begin earlier in the decade; it might have been able to stay on the air a bit longer. It was a unique concept with a powerful woman as the star. You can currently see it on Me TV on Saturdays as well as a few other networks.
This month I wanted to honor one of our most beloved television comedians: Bob Newhart. Next week we’ll spend some time learning more about The Bob Newhart Show.
Newhart was born George Robert Newhart in 1929 in Oak Park, IL. He grew up in a typical midwestern family where his father was part owner of a plumbing and heating supply company, and his mom was a housewife. As a young boy, he always wanted to be called Bob. He had a Catholic education and went on to Loyola University of Chicago in 1947. Graduating in 1952 with a business degree, he was soon drafted into the US Army in the Korean war where he stayed until 1954. He considered getting a law degree and went back to Loyola. He decided not to pursue that; some sources site that he was asked to behave unethically during an internship which led him down a different career path.
He worked as an accountant and as an unemployment office clerk. In 1958 he was hired as a copywriter for Fred Niles who was a television producer in Chicago. It was while working here that Newhart and a colleague began entertaining each other by making telephone calls about absurd scenarios. They sent these to radio stations as audition tapes. A radio station disc jockey Dan Sorkin introduced Newhart to a Warner Brothers Records executive who signed him in 1959 based on those recordings. Bob then began creating stand-up routines which he performed at nightclubs.
He released an album in 1960 which changed his life. Titled, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, the comedy album made number one on the Billboard charts, and he won a Grammy for best new artist. A follow-up album, The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back was released soon thereafter. He would continue releasing comedy albums in 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1971, and 1973.
During a 2005 interview for American Masters on public television, Bob stated that his favorite routine was Abe Lincoln vs Madison Avenue which was on his first album. A promoter for Abraham Lincoln has to deal with his reluctance to boost his image. A tv director named Bill Daily suggested the routine to him. Daily would be known later as Howard Borden on The Bob Newhart Show (as well as Roger Healey on I Dream of Jeannie).
The success of that first album led to a variety show titled The Bob Newhart Show. It only lasted a year, but it did receive both an Emmy nomination and a Peabody award. Apparently, he didn’t enjoy his time during the show so much. Halfway through the season he wanted to quit, but his agent explained that being under contract meant that was not possible. At a later date, he referred to his first show, saying “It won an Emmy, a Peabody Award, and a pink slip from NBC. All in the same year.”
He began making the rounds on television shows, appearing on The Dean Martin Show 24 times and The Ed Sullivan Show 8 times. He guest hosted The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 87 times. When discussing his appearances on Johnny’s show, he stated “I remember once when I emceed The Tonight Show in New York, I arrived with my manager’s son. After a while, they asked, ‘When are the rest of your people coming?’ I had to say, ‘This is it.’”
In 1962 Newhart accepted his first movie role, Hell is for Heroes, starring Steve McQueen. He would continue to do movie roles throughout his career including the Christmas classic Elf, but the small screen would make him famous.
In 1963 Buddy Hackett introduced Bob to Virginia Quinn, whose father was character actor Bill Quinn. They wed in January of 1963 and 57 years later are still happily married.
For the next decade, he continued to accept movie and television roles. In 1972, television history was made when The Bob Newhart Show debuted. Until 1978, Newhart played Bob Hartley, psychologist, and we got to know his unusual patients, quirky co-workers, and eccentric friends, including neighbor Howard Borden. Bob chose a psychologist based partly on his old telephone routines. As he said, “Much of my humor comes out of reaction to what other people are saying. A psychologist is a man who listens, who is sympathetic.”
In 1982, Bob gave television another go for another eight years. Simply titled Newhart, the show featured Bob as Dick Loudon, an innkeeper and author from Vermont. He still had quirky co-workers and eccentric friends.
On cue a decade later in 1992, Bob showed up in a new show even more simply titled, Bob as Bob McKay a comic book writer and artist who had retired long ago and was trying to get back into the workplace. Unfortunately, after 33 episodes the show was canceled due to low ratings.
In 1997, Newhart starred in his last sitcom, George and Leo. As George Stoody, a bookstore owner, Newhart offers a temporary home to a full-time magician and part-time criminal who recently robbed a Mafia-owned casino. The series failed to catch on with viewers, and it was canceled after a season as well.
Though he never took on another sitcom, Newhart has made appearances with recurring characters in several shows. In 2003, he showed up on ER as Ben Hollander. In 2005, he was Morty on Desperate Housewives. As Judson, he guest starred on The Librarians.
Perhaps, younger audiences know him best as Arthur Jeffries or Professor Proton on The Big Bang Theory. He had been Sheldon’s boyhood hero who played the professor on television. Sheldon idolized the professor while the professor tolerated Sheldon.
It’s hard to believe with all of his years being a successful television comedian, but Newhart won his first Emmy in 2013 for his role of Professor Proton. I can’t argue with the nominees for most of the 1970s during the airing of The Bob Newhart Show–names like Tony Randall, Jack Klugman, Alan Alda, and Hal Linden. Even with my bias of Norman Lear shows, I get nominating Carroll O’Connor every single one of those years. I understand the tough competition. What I don’t understand is the fact that he was never nominated during that eight-year period. When Jack Albertson wins, and Bob Newhart is not even nominated that is wrong. During the Newhart years, he was at least nominated three times. But I don’t understand it when John Ritter wins for Three’s Company or Richard Mulligan for Soap and no nomination for Bob Newhart. What especially appalls me is the fact that The Bob Newhart Show was only nominated one year; I can accept the fact that it got beat out by The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I cannot accept is that during this same time, Three’s Company, Mork and Mindy, and Welcome Back Kotter received nominations, and The Bob Newhart Show did not. Anyway, this blog is not about the television academy and its procedures, so let’s move on.
Even though he was never awarded with an Emmy for his time as Bob Hartley, TV Land placed a life-sized statue of Newhart in front of Navy Pier, complete with an empty couch. He was best friends with Suzanne Pleshette, his wife from the show, and spoke at her funeral. He remembered their time together, “Her laugh. Her laugh. We just laughed. We just had a great time. We all loved each other and respected each other and we got paid for it.” Bob also remains close friends with Marcia Wallace who played his receptionist Carol on the show.
While Bob has appeared as different characters throughout his career, he has also remained the same character. With his deadpan delivery and slight stammer, he perfected the straight-man role, surrounding himself with wacky castmates. He has often cited George Gobel and Bob and Ray as influences in his comedy career. When discussing his career choice, he explained “I like the humor to come out of character. When you’re going for a joke, you’re stuck out there if it doesn’t work. There’s nowhere to go. You’ve done the drum role and the cymbal clash and you’re out on the end of the plank.”
In 2006, he released a book I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This. It’s a memoir with some of his classic comedy routines. Actor David Hyde Pierce reported that “the only difference between Bob Newhart on stage and Bob Newhart offstage is that there is no stage.”
I am so appreciative of those stars who agree to entertain us for our entire life, such as Betty White, Carol Burnett, and Bob Newhart. They are classic comedians who can make us laugh no matter what. Bob’s view on comedy was that “laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.” What an amazing career and what an amazing man. With all its negatives and sometimes destructive tendencies, television can be a harmful place, but a comedian like Bob Newhart demonstrates what a positive and uplifting experience television can be when done right. Thanks for doing it right for sixty years.
Do you get a bit nervous when you see someone twitch or blink in public? If so, you probably have a bit of MSD, magic stress disorder. It comes from watching Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie reruns. Today, I am attempting to settle the long-debated Jeannie vs Samantha question. Let me state first that I am not considering the “who is hotter” question. That argument has been going on for five decades and is a personal preference, so I’ll continue to let those people who care and have an opinion debate that issue. Also, both women could provide any wish, so it’s not about what they could do for someone else by blinking or twitching for say a million dollars.
My goal was to decide, from a mortal perspective, who would be the better woman to have a relationship with, be it a spouse, best friend, neighbor, or PTA co-chair.
There were a lot of similarities in the two shows. Bewitched began in 1964 and ran till 1972. I Dream of Jeannie debuted in 1965 and was cancelled in 1970, but had its beginnings in the movie, The Brass Bottle, a 1964 comedy about a modern man who accidentally acquires the friendship of a long-out-of-circulation genie. It starred Burl Ives, Tony Randall, and Barbara Eden. In this version, Ives is the genie, and Eden is Randall’s girlfriend, but it gave Sidney Sheldon the idea for the television series.
Both shows had an animated opening and a great theme song.
Also, both shows center around a relationship where the woman has magic powers, and the man has to live with the consequences.
In the case of Bewitched, Darrin falls in love with Samantha and proposes before he learns she is a witch; with IDream of Jeannie, Major Nelson finds Jeannie’s bottle on a beach after a space landing and then feels like he is “stuck” with her.
That said, let’s look at Life Issues, Friends and Family Issues, and Magic Issues to try to determine who would be the better person to have as part of your life.
Life Issues. In the area of life issues, I think most people would agree that Samantha understands life in the 20th century United States. Jeannie has to do some observing and reading to learn what that type of life means and different concepts confuse her, resulting in some uncomfortable situations for Tony.
Samantha lives a fairly normal life. She has taught herself to be a “regular” housewife. She cooks, cleans, and shops like her friends. Jeannie spends her days holed up at Anthony’s house, and no one can know she is there. Related to that is the fact that the majority of the time, Samantha wears the same type of clothing as everyone else in her community.
Jeannie does get to wear more fashionable clothing from time to time, but most of the time is spent in her pink harem outfit.
Another factor is how much damage could be done to their spouse’s career of to a friend or family member. Darrin is an advertising executive; really, there is not a lot of damage Sam can do. She can cause a client to leave the firm, but that’s not too significant. With Major Nelson being an astronaut, there are a lot of problems Jeannie can create when she pulls him into and out of outer space or causes NASA staff to question Tony’s reliability as an astronaut.
One of the biggest problems for Tony was Jeannie’s quick temper. While Samantha often was unhappy about certain things, Jeannie was a bit more vindictive. Samantha might cause someone who was being treated unfairly to acquire a skill they didn’t really have, usually a positive action. Jeannie was typically mad at Tony, and often the problem involved another woman, so Tony is the one who typically was put into a dangerous or complicated situation. She might send him to another century or put him in a torture chamber.
A final life factor, which would have more repercussions in today’s social media age than in the sixties, is that Jeannie did not show up in photos. That meant she would have to blink a clone or add another complication like destroying the film to keep her invisibility a secret.
There were a lot of family and friend matters that also come into play on this question. Samantha was not hidden from Darrin’s friends and family members, only her witchcraft was kept secret. That also became true for Jeannie after she and Tony Nelson married in the final season, but in the first four years there were often plots where Jeannie had to be explained or hidden, causing much confusion. Roger Healy did know of Jeannie’s existence which could be a positive or negative. Roger could help Tony keep her hidden or get Jeannie’s help when necessary, but occasionally he also caused problems by trying to get Jeannie to do things for him Anthony might not approve of.
Both women had to deal with another character who was suspicious and always on the lookout to get an “a-ha” moment. In the case of Bewitched, Gladys Kravitz knew there were some strange things happening at the Stephens’ household.
She was constantly trying to peek in the window or capture some evidence when things seemed not quite right. However, her husband Abner thought she was crazy and didn’t give any credence to her hare-brained schemes so she remained a harmless busybody.
In Jeannie’s case, Dr. Bellows was a psychiatrist and was also alarmed at things he saw or learned about Major Nelson. His wife Amanda was a co-conspirator, often trying to help him learn the truth behind what was going on.
Family Issues. Both Tony and Darrin had to deal with some wacky and quirky relatives.
Tony was forced to obey some more powerful relatives who were fierce and could cause great harm; they often showed up to threaten Tony. Darrin was really only threatened by his mother-in-law Endora.
She often put a spell on him that affected his looks and made it hard for him to explain what was happening, but Samantha was always able to convince her to make things right. He was perhaps inconvenienced by some of her other relatives. Although he could be annoyed by them, we found them delightful and enjoyed hanging out with most of them, especially Uncle Arthur and Aunt Clara.
Two relatives that could cause some serious problems were Jeannie and Samantha’s “twins.” Jeannie had a sister that looked just like her except she traded blonde hair for black and a pink harem outfit for a blue one.
However, she could pretend to be Jeannie, and it was almost impossible to tell them apart. Sam’s cousin Serena looked a lot like her and also sported a black hairdo.
However, Serena had a very different kooky personality and it didn’t take long to figure out who she really was. In Tony’s case, he could have been stuck with the other Jeannie for a long time without realizing it.
One other family concern was whether the children would follow in their mother’s footsteps. On Bewitched we did learn that both Darrin and Samantha’s children were a witch and a warlock which tripled the problems Darrin was living with. Since Jeannie and Tony never had children, we don’t know if they would have magical powers or not.
Magic Issues. Both Jeannie and Samantha could come down with some strange illnesses related to their powers.
While Jeannie often had to wait out the situation, Samantha had a personal physician available at all times, Dr. Bombay, who could usually cure her quickly.
The last question involves twitching versus blinking. Samantha’s magic was accomplished by sometimes raising her arm, but typically she twitched her nose. Jeannie would fold her arms over each other and lower her head while blinking. The two issues with their methods are that Sam’s magic was more subtle and if she turned just right, no one noticed what she was up to.
Not only was Jeannie more obvious but if her arms were broken, she would have been helpless, as she mentions in one episode. It would be less likely for a nose to be broken, but not impossible, at least according to Marcia Brady.
One last magical issue was that Tony could in fact ban Jeannie to her bottle. Since he was her master, she had to obey him and even if she refused, once she was in her bottle, a cap could keep her there. Samantha was an equal partner with Darrin and there were no consequences for her that were any different from any other marriage. She was free to come and go and send him to the couch for the night when they had a disagreement.
So, after reflecting on these issues, what is the determination? Jeannie definitely caused more problems, but she could be banned to the bottle. Samantha was more helpful, but her family caused Darrin a lot of stress.
I guess I would have to say from my perspective at least, Samantha would be the person I would rather be friends with. Jeannie often misinterpreted situations or caused more problems while trying to make things better. She also had a temper that caused her to be blinking before thinking.
With Samantha you could have a normal friendship without being subjected to any weird circumstances, and if you did get involved in something outlandish, she had the ability to freeze time till it got back to normal or put a spell on you to forget that you saw or heard anything abnormal. Whether you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
As we continue looking at some of our well-known character actors, today we consider the career of Milton Frome. Frome was born in Philadelphia in 1909. He began acting in his mid-20s.
His first major movie role was in Ride ‘em Cowgirl in 1939. Frome would go on to appear in 55 movies (including The Nutty Professor, Bye Bye Birdie, and With Six You Get Eggroll), as well as five made-for-TV movies. He also had a thriving television career beginning with Chevrolet Tele-Theatre in 1950.
Appearing in 34 different shows during the fifties, he performed in a variety of genres including dramas, comedies and westerns.
During that decade you would have seen him on I Love Lucy, Lassie, The Adventures of Superman, Playhouse Theater, The Thin Man, and The Gale Storm Show. He also worked with many comic legends on television, including Milton Berle, Red Skelton, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
His career escalated in the sixties when he would accept roles in 48 programs. He showed up in dramas, including The Twilight Zone, 77 Sunset Strip, and Dr. Kildare. He also found his way into many westerns such as Bat Masterson, Death Valley Days, Gunslinger, Big Valley, Rawhide, and Wagon Train. However, he seemed to excel at comedies and during the 1950s you could have spied him in many sitcoms. He accepted parts in Bachelor Father, Pete and Gladys, The Jim Backus Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mister Ed, The Joey Bishop Show, I Dream of Jeannie, My Favorite Martian, The Donna Reed Show, Gomer Pyle USMC, Bewitched, The Monkees, The Patty Duke Show, Petticoat Junction, and The Andy Griffith Show.
Frome was never offered a permanent role in a series, but he did have a recurring role in The Beverly Hillbillies, appearing eight times as Lawrence Chapman, who managed Jed Clampet’s Mammoth Studios.
His television career slowed down a bit in the 1970s and became nonexistent by 1983, but he did make appearances in shows like Ironside, Columbo, Here’s Lucy, The Streets of San Francisco, Sanford and Son, and Trapper John MD. He also appeared in two Love American Style episodes in 1971 and 1973. In the 1973 episode, “Love and the Anniversary,” he played “The Man” and his son Michael played a bellhop.
At some point, Frome married Marjorie Ann Widman, but I could not verify when they married. I also could not verify if Michael was their son, or his son from another relationship.*
Frome passed away in 1989 from congestive heart failure.
While it is now easy to analyze and detail an actor’s professional career, it was very tough to find any information about Frome’s personal life or his working relationships with other actors. It makes me sad that these hard-working actors who provided so much to our classic television-watching experiences are just not well known. Hopefully blogs like mine keep them in television viewers’ memories, and some day maybe I will have time to write a book about these unsung heroes of our pop culture history. Thanks for all you contributed to the golden age of television Milton Frome!
*In June of 2021, I heard from Jane Wallace Casey who provided some additional information for us: “I am Milton Frome’s niece. His first wife was Barbara Wallace with whom he had his son Michael.”
As we continue honoring revered television actors who passed away in 2019, Arte Johnson certainly is at the top of the list. Although he accepted roles in movies, most of his work was on the small screen.
Arte was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan in 1929. Acting was not Arte’s first profession. He graduated with a radio journalism major from Illinois and decided to pursue a career in the advertising world. He left Chicago when he could find no ad agency jobs and moved to New York where he began at Viking Press. He loved books and collected them throughout his life.
Unlike the stories of people who hone their craft in hundreds of auditions in the Big Apple, Arte impulsively stepped into an audition line for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and got the part. His real name was Arthur and he decided on Art E. Johnson for his stage name, but “Arte” was mistakenly printed on the playbill, and he decided he liked that better.
Although acting began easily for him, after he moved to LA, his career hit a rough spot and he did take a job as a men’s clothing salesman for a while at Carroll & Co. in Beverly Hills.
Arte began on television in the 1950s. In the mid-50s, he had a recurring role on It’s Always Jan starring Janis Paige and Merry Anders. A widowed nightclub singer, Janis Stewart, shares a small apartment with an aspiring actress, a secretary, and her daughter. Arte plays a deli employee, showing up in 4 of the 26 episodes.
He was cast as in his first ongoing role later that year. He played Bascomb Bleacher, Jr. on Sally. His father, a department store owner, was played by Gale Gordon. This show about a girl who worked in a department store who became a wealthy matron’s companion also lasted 26 episodes.
During the 1960s, Arte would appear in 32 different series, including The Twilight Zone, The Andy Griffith Show, McHale’s Navy, Bewitched, Lost in Space, The Donna ReedShow, and I Dream of Jeannie. Once again, he was cast as a regular on a show, Don’t Call Me Charlie. If you’re not familiar with the show, you are not alone. The show starred Josh Peine as a rural veterinarian who is drafted into the Army. He leaves Iowa and heads for Paris. Like Gomer Pyle he retains his simple view of life and his “Sargent Carter” is Colonel Barker. Johnson played the part of Col. Lefkowitz.
In 1968, Arte was offered a job that would change his life. Along with a handful of other cast members, he appeared on the new edgy Laugh-In. This is a hard show to describe if you never watched it. (It does appear on the Decades channel quite often.) The show was comprised of fast-moving comedy bits featuring guest stars, skits, regulars performing specific characters, gags, and punchlines in rapid format. It was quite different from anything else that had ever appeared in television. Arte was on the show from 1967-1971.
He was a master of accents and is best known for the characters he created on this show. “Wolfgang” was a cigarette-smoking German soldier hiding out who refused to believe WWII had ended. One of Arte’s taglines was “Verrrrry Interrrrresting.” He would also be seen in a yellow raincoat riding a tricycle that he would fall off from.
Another favorite was “Tyrone” who was an old man wearing a trench coat, always trying to seduce Ruth Buzzy’s “Gladys” on a park bench. She would hit him with her purse, and he often fell off the bench. Oddly, in a far-reaching concept, years later these two characters formed the nexus of a Saturday morning cartoon show, Baggy Pants and the Nitwits.
During the 1970s, Johnson continued his television appearances with 17 different series, including two roles on The Partridge Family and several on Love American Style. He also could be seen on Match Game and Hollywood Squares.
His prolific career continued through the 1980s where he was seen on 25 different shows, including Murder She Wrote and The Love Boat. At the end of the ’80s, he began voicing characters for animation shows, but in the 1990s he accepted roles on 14 shows, including Night Court.
At the end of his career, his love of books provided him an opportunity to begin recording the narration for more than 80 audiobooks, including Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up in 2005.
Married to his wife Gisela since 1968, he survived a battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1997. In 2006 he retired from acting. He passed away mid-year in 2019 after suffering from bladder and prostate cancer. Ruth Buzzy, his comrade on Laugh-In, shared this message upon his death: “Thank you for a wonderful half-century of friendship. I could not have shared the spotlight with a nicer guy. Rest in peace. And yes, Arte Johnson, I believe in the hereafter.”
I like to think Arte is working on some skits, waiting for Ruth Buzzy, and some day when we get to heaven, we’ll be able to watch Gladys and Tyrone team up for us again.
As we proceed
with our Behind the Scenes series this month, today we are thinking about set
designers. Before the interior designs are done, the production team needs to
find the perfect home for our television friends.
Did you ever daydream about places you might want to live in, even if you never would actually consider leaving your home? Perhaps it’s a small rose-covered cottage in the English countryside, maybe a ski chalet in the Swiss alps, or a house on the Maine coast with green shutters and a widow’s walk. I’ve thought about all of these places, but now I have another one to consider. It’s an historic neighborhood where some of my favorite television friends lived. Today we learn a bit about the Columbia Ranch.
Warner Brothers Ranch, the former Columbia Ranch was in Burbank, CA. In
addition to dozens of television shows, it was the setting for many movies as
well such as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,High Noon, and Lost Horizon. The neighborhood interiors were typically shot at other
In 1934, Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, purchased 40 acres in Burbank. In 1948, Columbia got into the television business under Screen Gems.
1950s, Captain Midnight, Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, and Dennis
the Menace were filmed here. By the 1960s, the ranch was used continuously
for television and movies. The set was about six blocks but looked much larger
on camera shots. Shows during the 1960s included My Sister Eileen, Hazel, Our Man Higgins, The Farmer’s Daughter, Bewitched,
Gidget, I Dream of Jeannie, The
Monkees, and The Flying Nun.
In 1970, a
fire destroyed a quarter of the neighborhood, including many buildings on
Blondie Street. After rebuilding, taping continued on the set. During the next
three decades, shows included The
Partridge Family, Bridget Loves
Bernie, Apples Way, The Scarecrow and Mrs. King, and Life Goes On.
In 1971, Columbia and Warner Brothers combined their companies and merged into The Burbank Studios. The Ranch then was relegated to a back backlot.
When Columbia Pictures moved its production facilities to Culver City in 1990, Warner Brothers gained ownership of the Ranch.
It’s continued to be a busy spot for filming. The fountain in the park was the one shown in the opening credits in Friends.
Nearby is also a swimming pool used on a variety of shows, including The Partridge Family.
The most famous street in the Ranch was Blondie Street. Blondie Street was named for Blondie Bumstead because the Blondie movies of the 1940s were filmed here. Walking down Blondie Street reveals homes that we were all familiar with growing up in the sixties and seventies.
It’s a curved
residential street with twelve different houses, surrounding a large, central
park. There is also a brick church and paved sidewalks. Three of the buildings—the
Lindsay House, the Little Egbert House, and the Oliver House—were original to
the 1935 set production.
The Blondie House
This set, constructed in 1941, was the home for Major Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie, Mr. Wilson on Dennis the Menace, and the Andersons on Father Knows Best, in addition to the Blondie movies. Later it housed the operations office for the Warner Ranch. Of course, Jeannie’s house was not here, it was a Jim Beam decanter that was sold during Christmas of 1964.
The Corner Church
When thePartridge Family drives off for a show in their bus, you can often spot the
church which is just down the road from their home, across from The Stephens’
home on Bewitched. It was moved here
in 1953. When any of the series needed a church, this was the one. It can be
seen on an episode of Hazel when the
family attends church.
The Deeds Home
Originally built for Frank Capra’s movie, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town in 1936, the house is only seen briefly in the movie. The Three Stooges filmed there in the thirties and forties. In the sixties it was seen in Batman. Both Gidget and The Partridge Family used the house as the high school and Bewitched used it as a civic building. In 1989, the original house was demolished. In its place, The Chester House and the Griswold House were built. The Griswold House was built for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
The Lindsay House
Constructed in 1936, this house was best
known as the Baxter home on Hazel. It
also served as the Lawrence home on Gidget.
The Higgins House
This structure was constructed for the show Our Man Higgins in 1962. It was later the home of Darrin and Samantha Stephens on Bewitched from 1964-1972. On I Dream of Jeannie, it was the home of Alfred and Amanda Bellows.
For Bewitched, the interior and backyard scenes were filmed on a sound stage. The stairs ended in a hallway, but the doors only led to small closets, not the master bedroom. A modular first floor served as a setting for all the rooms. The den doubled as the nursery. A fake wall was put up to hide the view to the kitchen. When the den was needed, brown paneling was put over the nursery walls and the window was covered with a wall near the fireplace.
If you look closely, you’ll notice the avocado and gold flowered sofa in the Stephens’ living room was the same one used by Alfred and Amanda Bellows in their living room. But the shows shared well. On one episode of Bewitched, Louise and Larry Tate are seen at their kitchen table, but the kitchen looks identical to Major Nelsons’s. Roger Healey’s bedroom eerily resembled Darrin and Samantha’s.
I guess I was too busy crying to notice that this house was also Brian Piccolo’s home in Brian’s Song.
The Partridge Family House
The house across the street from the
Stephens’ house was home to Abner and Gladys Kravitz. During the filming of Dennis the Menace, it was Mrs. Elkins’
house. It was also the home of The Partridge
Family. In 1989 it became the Thatcher home on Life Goes On.
The home was built in 1953, modeled after a Sears, Roebuck & Co. plan. The modest two-story home was a perfect fit for the Partridges with its white, picket fence. The interiors were filmed at the Ranch as well. Located next door to the Blondie House, there were shrubs between the homes that were featured several times on the Partridge Family. In an episode where Keith shoots a movie, Shirley is clipping the hedges and begins dancing for the film, not realizing her neighbor is watching her. We see the hedges again when Keith moves into the room above the garage next door and gets free rent in return for yard work.
Because they were filming the show when the infamous fire broke out, some of the structure had to be rebuilt for the remainder of the series. From season 1 to 2, Danny and Keith’s bedrooms switch back and forth a couple times, and I wonder if this is the reason.
The Oliver House
Constructed in 1935 for a movie, the Oliver house was moved to Blondie Street for the home of the Stone family in The Donna Reed Show. It was also the Mitchell home where Dennis resided with his parents.
The Little Egbert House
Technically, Little Egbert is not on Blondie Street but on its own, Little Egbert Street, basically an alley. Fortunately, the 1970 fire did not damage any of the original structure. The house was also used in Minding the Mint and as The Shaggy Dog, the hangout for Gidget and her friends.
For sentimental reasons, I would choose the Partridge Family home to live in. However, I would have to remodel the kitchen. I could live with the red breakfast table set. The avocado and gold flowered wall paper may have been very chic in its day, but even I am not that sentimental!
We’ve all experienced that moment we’re at the grocery store and see someone we know, but we can’t remember their name or how we know them. Maybe it was work or school, or their kids were friends with ours. Sometimes we even remember we spent a lot of time with them and like them, but the name and relationship is just not there.
This month we are meeting some of our television friends that we’ve gotten to know, even if we can’t remember their names or what we watched them on. We’ll learn more about eight different character actors. We start off the month learning about Edward Andrews and Herb Edelman.
Edward Andrews from Doris Day and Disney comedies. Anyone who grew up in the
1960s or 1970s will remember this military man with a grandfatherly softness to
Andrews was born in Georgia in 1914. His father was a minister and their family moved a lot; he lived in Pittsburgh; Cleveland; and Wheeling, West Virginia. He had a very small part in a James Gleason production at age 12. He attended college at the University of Virginia. In 1935, he got his first part in a Broadway production, “So Proudly We Hail.” He continued in Broadway for the next twenty years, including a touring production of “I Know My Love” with Lunt and Fontaine. During that time, he took a leave from his career to serve in WWII. He was a Captain and commanding officer of Battery C with the 751st Artillery Battalion of the Army.
In 1955 he married Emily Barnes and they would have three children, remaining together until his death. About the same time, his movie career took off. Andrews looked older than his age which helped him get parts for older roles. He could play a grandfather, then turn around and handle a sleazy businessman or legalistic bureaucrat. He portrayed George Babbitt in Elmer Gantry in 1960. He worked for Disney playing the Defense Secretary in both The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) and Son of Flubber (1963). I remember him fondly in Doris Day’s movies, The Thrill of It All (1963), Send Me No Flowers (1964), and The Glass Bottom Boat (1966). One of his last roles was Grandpa Howard in Sixteen Candles in 1984. His movie credits totaled 46.
Edward also kept busy with television appearances. One of the first actors to guest star on television, in 1950, Andrews was on Mama. As early as 1952, he began acting in the variety of drama shows on television. During the 1950s he would appear in eighteen of these shows including The US Steel Hour, Robert Montgomery Presents, Studio One in Hollywood, and Omnibus.
He showed up in westerns including The Real McCoys, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Rawhide. We saw him on medical and legal dramas such as Ben Casey,The Defenders, The Bold Ones, Ironside, and Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law. Mysteries and crime thrillers also found a place for him. You might remember him from Naked City, The Wild Wild West, The Mod Squad, Hawaii Five-0, McMillan and Wife, and Quincy, ME.
Like his films, he seemed to excel in comedy. Andrews played George Baxter in the pilot for Hazel, but unfortunately when the show went into production, the part was recast with Don DeFore. He would guest star in some of the most popular sitcoms, including The Phil Silvers Show, The Andy Griffith Show, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Paul Lynde Show, Love American Style, The Bob Newhart Show, and Three’s Company.
In 1964 he starred in Broadside. Commander Adrian (Edwards) is not happy when a group of Waves are posted to his station on the South Seas island Ranakai. His men no longer have focus, so he spends the series trying to get the women relocated.
In 1970 he had a recurring role on The Doris Day Show as Colonel Fairburn. He also starred as Harry Flood in the show Supertrain in 1979. Playing on the Love Boat and Hotel themes, the show was about a bullet train that had new passengers each episode.
Perhaps Andrews will be best remembered for his guest starring role on two Twilight Zone episodes, “Third From the Sun” (Andrews plays a company man who thinks a coworker William, a nuclear engineer, and his friend Jerry are going to steal a spaceship to leave Earth) and “You Drive” (Andrews hits a newspaper boy and then flees the scene, trying to hide the crime).
In all, he appeared on 118 different television series as well as made-for-television movies.
Andrews enjoyed playing a character actor. He said it ensured more work and longevity in his career. He was quoted as saying, “What you get are people who speak to you. They know you from somewhere, but they don’t think of you as an actor. They stop and say, ‘Harry, how’s everything in Miami?’ I’ve learned by experience not to argue with them.”
In March of 1985, Andrews had a heart attack and passed away at age 70. With his white hair, and horn-rimmed glasses, Andrews was an adaptable character actor. Whether he was playing a lovable doctor, a nosy coworker, a fun-loving grandfather, or a despicable murderer, he was believable. He truly was a great character.
Another fun actor
everyone will recognize is Herb Edelman. Herb was born in Brooklyn, New York in
1933 in the midst of the Depression. Tall, lanky, and prematurely bald, he
would go on to have a long career in movies and television.
Originally, Edelman wanted to be a veterinarian, and he went to school at Cornell but left after his first year. He served in the Army as an announcer for Armed Forces Radio. After he left the service, he started college again, this time studying acting at Brooklyn College. Once again, he dropped out. He made a living as a hotel manager and a cab driver.
In the mid-1960s he began both his film and television careers. Some of his best-known roles were in the movies. He played Harry Pepper, a wise-cracking telephone operator, in Barefoot in the Park and Murray the Cop in The Odd Couple, as well as Harry Michaels in California Suite.
However, it was television where he received most of his work. In the 1960s, he began his career, appearing on a variety of shows, including That Girl, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., and The Flying Nun. During these years he also dated and married Louise Sorel who he was wed to for six years.
In 1968, he accepted the role of Bert Gamus in The Good Guys. Bert and his friend Rufus (Bob Denver) open a diner, their dream. Bert’s wife Claudia (Joyce Van Patten) helped him serve customers.
In the 1970s, his career continued as he appeared in many shows every year. Some of the hit series we saw him on during this decade include Room 222, Bewitched, McMillan and Wife, The Partridge Family, Love AmericanStyle, Maude, Happy Days, Barney Miller, Kojak, and Charlie’s Angels.
In 1976, he was again cast in a show, Big John Little John. Edelman was a middle school teacher who drank out of the fountain of youth on vacation. Afterward, he would randomly turn into a thirteen-year-old and worked to keep the secret from his friends and coworkers. The show was short-lived.
Edelman’s work schedule did not slow down in the 1980s. He would have roles in the cast of five television shows and spent time in between guest starring on other shows such as Trapper John, Highway to Heaven, The LoveBoat, and thirtysomething.
From 1980-81, he was cast as Reggie on Ladies’ Man, about a woman’s magazine with one male journalist. From 1981-82, he appeared as Commissioner Herb Klein on Strike Force. This show followed a strike force team that handles cases too difficult for the mainstream officers. The following year, he was Harry Nussbaum on Nine to Five, the show based on the movie about a group of office workers. From 1984-88, he was cast as Richard Clarendon on St. Elsewhere, a teaching hospital.
Although his roles decreased in the 1990s, he had one of his most memorable roles during those years as Stanley Zbornak, Dorothy’s ex-husband, on Golden Girls; he was nominated twice for his role on the show.
In 1990, he played Sergeant Levine on Knot’s Landing. Knot’s Landing was a night-time soap about the lives of the wealthy who live in a coastal suburb of LA. His last recurring role was Lieutenant Artie Gelber on Murder She Wrote, about a mystery writer who helps solve crimes.
Edelman died much too early in 1996 from emphysema at age 62.
who was unforgettable in his movie and television roles. Whether playing a repairman,
a cop, a teacher, or a ex-husband, he always came through as an authentic
Anyone who watched the Dick Van Dyke Show knows that the supporting cast was a big part of the show. While Sally and Buddy helped Rob come up with the perfect jokes at work, Millie and Laura were a great comedy team at home. Ann Guilbert continued to find other great supporting roles after the show ended. She was still fine-tuning those roles when she passed away in 2016. She was then playing a grandmother on Life in Pieces.
Ann Morgan Guilbert was born in Minneapolis, MN in 1928. She was an only child and her father worked for the Veterans’ Administration. He moved the family around for jobs quite often. Growing up, she lived in Tucson, AZ; Asheville, NC; Livermore, CA; and El Paso, TX. The family was in Milwaukee, WI during her high school years.
Until she was
14, Ann wanted to be a nurse, but from that time on, she knew she had the
When her father took a job in San Francisco, Ann decided to go with her parents and attended Stanford University where she majored in theater arts. Her first part there was as Topsy in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” She realized that she liked to make people laugh.
While in school,
she met fellow major George Eckstein. They married in 1951. Although they majored
in theater arts, George went to law school and Ann worked as a legal secretary.
During the summer when George was off, they went to Ashland, Oregon for the
Shakespeare Festival where she specialized in playing “nutty” ladies. George
was drafted and sent to El Paso; Ann went with him. She was involved in the Little
joined the Screen Actors Guild, there was an actress named Ann Gilbert, so Ann
was asked to change her name. She went with her real name, Ann Morgan Guilbert.
Morgan was her mother’s maiden name. (Her mother was related to Mayflower passenger
practiced law for a short time and decided he wanted to get back into the
entertainment business. He got a job producing The Billy Barnes Revue. Ann had
a part in the show and Carl Reiner saw her in that performance in two different
Before The Dick Van Dyke Show, Guilbert made
three appearances on television on My
Three Sons, Hennessey, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
who played her husband on The Dick Van
Dyke Show, had been a friend of her and her husband for a long time. He
took Ann in to audition for the role of Millie, his wife. She was hired and was
on the show for the entire five years it was on the air. Millie was based on one
of Reiner’s neighbors from New York who would do things like take out the
garbage on the wrong day or paint herself into a corner of a room. She said she
wasn’t given a contract for the first two years. During the third season,
Reiner wanted to provide her with one, but she said things had been going along
Ann became pregnant early in the first season. She was afraid to tell Reiner, worrying she would be replaced because it was so early in the show’s life. However, he was very happy for her, and they hid her pregnancy behind large tops or props. That baby is actress Hallie Todd, who is best known as Lizzie’s mother on LizzieMcGuire. George and Ann would have another daughter Nora, an acting teacher and writer.
Ann’s favorite part of the show was Thursdays when the cast would sit around the table with the writers to look at the new script. Ann thought their writers were hysterical. Some of them included Reiner, Garry Marshall (who would go on to create The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and Mork and Mindy), as well as Bill Persky and Sam Denoff (who wrote for many shows, including That Girl.) Everyone had a say in the script and could throw out one-liners or make suggestions.
The Dick Van Dyke Show ended in 1966 and that same year George and Ann divorced. George was best known for being the writer and producer of The Fugitive.
she never watched the reruns much. She recalled, “When I do see them, it seems
like it never happened. I just can’t remember it at all.” Once the show ended,
Ann, like so many fellow actresses, was typecast as Millie. During the 1970s
and 1980s, she would guest star on some of the best sitcoms on the air
including The Andy Griffith Show, I Dream of Jeannie,Room 222, The Partridge
Family, Love American Style, Barney Miller, Cheers, and Newhart.
In 1969 Ann
married character actor Guy Raymond. About that time, she decided to give Broadway
a try. Her daughter said Ann loved performing on stage and that is when she
felt her career was most important. She appeared in “The Matchmaker,” “Arsenic
and Old Lace”, “Waiting for Godot”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Harvey”, “Green Grow
the Lilacs”, among others. She won the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead
Actress in a Non-Resident Production in 1988 for her role of Alma in “The
Immigrant: A Hamilton County Album”.
appeared in eight movies during her career including A Guide for the Married Man, Viva
Max!, and Grumpier Old Men.
But Guilbert didn’t give up on television. In 1990, she starred in The Fanelli Boys. Ann played Teresa Fanelli. She is a recent widow living in Brooklyn and heading for Florida to live when her adult boys all move back in. Frankie is a ladies’ man, Ronnie dropped out of school, Dom is a scammer, and Anthony runs the family business, a funeral home which is $25,000 is debt. Teresa’s brother Angelo is a priest who gives advice to the boys, but not always good advice.
She made several guest appearances in the 1990s but had recurring roles on EmptyNest, Picket Fences, and Seinfeld.
The role many younger tv fans know her best is Yetta in The Nanny. She would join the cast, appearing in 56 shows between 1993 and 1999. She had fun doing the role. When she met with the wardrobe staff, they decided she would dress outrageously. She was able to wear sequined jackets, jazzy pants, and crazy tops. She also appreciated working with Ray Charles, who played her boyfriend.
time, her second husband passed away in 1997.
Ann would continue guesting on shows into the 2000s, including Grey’s Anatomy in 2015 and Modern Family in 2013. She also was cast in the show Getting On from 2013-2015. This was a dark comedy on HBO that took place in the geriatric wing of a financially failing hospital. Laurie Metcalf of Roseanne and The Big Bang also was part of the cast.
Her last series was Life in Pieces. She played Gigi, Joan’s mother. She was in two episodes before she passed away in 2016. One of the episodes, “Eyebrow Anonymous Trapped Gem” was dedicated to her memory. In a tribute to her, each of the four stories involve her character.
Her doctor had been trying to convince her to give up her several-pack-a-day cigarette habit, but she refused and talked about it often. She died from cancer at age 87.
Cheers to a funny lady who kept us laughing for more than fifty years.
For those of you who have been with me on this blog journey, I have shared quite a bit with you during the two and a half years I’ve been writing. You have learned I can’t stand All in the Family or Good Times. You have learned I think that perhaps the best sitcoms ever written were The Dick Van Dyke Show and M*A*S*H. You know that I love the Doris Day comedies from the 1960s. I became vulnerable enough to share with you that Bachelor Father, My Three Sons, ThatGirl, and The Partridge Family are some of my favorite classic sitcoms. Today I’m catching a long breath and taking my confessions a step further.
Television movies have been a staple since the 1960s. Different networks came up with a show that was an incentive for viewers to stay home and watch movies. In 1961, NBC Saturday Night at the Movies debuted. A movie previously released in the theaters was shown. Since each network had their own version of the show, eventually there was a shortage of previous movies to air. At that time, networks decided to fill the gap by producing their own “made-for-tv” movies. The first was See How They Run which aired October 7, 1964 on NBC.
I’m sure I
watched more than my share of these movies growing up, but most of them left no
impression on me. However, there is one that I do remember. I’m not sure if it
was the incredible cast or just the topic of women’s lib which I was just
beginning to understand at age ten, but I loved this movie. I watched it live
on television and never saw it again. It was The Feminist and The Fuzz. Although I’m sure it’s full of politically
incorrect dialogue and actions, I decided to learn a bit more about this treasure
that I have not seen in more than 40 years.
Screen Gems made the movie for ABC. It aired on The ABC Movie of the Week on January 26, 1971. Barbara Eden and David Hartman were the stars of the show. The movie was written by James Henerson. He wrote eighteen television movies, as well as scripts for several sitcoms including I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched. Jerry Paris, who was Jerry Helper, the Petries’ neighbor on The Dick Van Dyke Show, was the director. Claudio Guzman produced the movie, and Emil Oster was the cinematographer.
Jane Bowers (Eden) is a pediatrician. She is engaged to Wyatt Foley (Herb Edelman). Wyatt is a lawyer and a bit of a mother’s boy. Jane has recently been drawn into the women’s liberation movement. Apartments in San Francisco are few and far between. We learn she has been trying to find one for a while. As she arrives at the latest apartment in her hunt, she meets Jerry Frazer (Hartman), a cop who is also looking for an apartment. The landlord assumes they are a married couple as he shows them around.
When he leaves, they argue about who gets the apartment. Neither one of them is willing to give in, so they finally come to an understanding that they will share the apartment. They work opposite shifts, so they decide they will rarely be there together. Jerry is dating Kitty Murdock (Farrah Fawcett), a bunny at the Playboy Club.
what is going on to Wyatt, but Jerry does not want Kitty to find out he is
living with Jane. Jerry is a bit of a ladies’ man but treats women respectfully.
Jane refers to Jerry as a “cop-lawyer-sexual bigot-Boy Scout,” and she insists
he treat her like he would another man.
Although the plan is that Jane and Jerry don’t spend any time together, of course they end up being thrown together. Despite their first impressions of each other and their intention to dislike each other, the viewers realize that they are falling in love.
While Jane has been exploring the entire feminist movement, she has not bought into it as much as her friends. Her best friend is another doctor, Debby Inglefinger (Jo Anne Worley). Debbie is a hardcore protester and women’s libber. She decides her club, Women Against Men, or WAM is going to stage a protest at the Playboy Bunny Club.
her friends at the Club. The women are all wearing swimsuits and carrying signs;
Jane’s says, “Men are Playboys, Women are Playthings.” WAM refuses to leave the
premises, so the manager calls the police. Of course, Jerry is one of the
officers who come to get things under control. While the other women are being
arrested, Jerry picks up Jane, who is in a bikini, and carries her to a taxi, telling
the driver to take her home. She is incensed that she is not going to jail with
the other women. While this is going on, Kitty spots him and realizes he is
protecting Jane. Some of the women who are arrested at the Club include Sheila
James, Jill Choder, Merri Robinson, Penny Marshall, and Amanda Pepper.
Jane calls her father, Horace (Harry Morgan) who is also a doctor. She has not admitted to him that she has a male roommate. He decides to drive into town to talk to her in person. In the meantime, Lilah (Julie Newmar), a kind-hearted prostitute asks Jerry to arrest her, so she has a place to sleep that night. He feels sorry for her and lets her stay in his room at the house that night because he will be at work. When Jane’s father arrives, he runs into Lilah who he assumes is Jane’s roommate. Jane is not there because she was still angry and got even madder when she thought Jerry is sleeping with Lilah. She leaves him a note that she is moving out.
to call Jane at work and when he finds out she left early, he rushes home. Of
course, by this time Horace and Lilah have gotten to know each other well.
Kitty also shows up at the apartment and sees Jane and recognizes her from the Club.
Wyatt and Debbie also stop by.
admits he loves Jane. Jane is in a fluster and runs out of the apartment. Kitty
gets mad and asks Debbie if she can join WAM. Wyatt finds Debby’s controlling
nature attractive and they begin a relationship.
Jerry catches up with Jane in the middle of an intersection where he kisses her, stopping traffic. Horace is happy because never liked Wyatt but likes Jerry a lot.
Like Laugh-In, With Six You Get Eggroll, or The
Brady Bunch, this movie could only have come out of this era. Everything
about the movie screams the seventies—the clothing, the interiors, the cars,
the language—which is probably why I was drawn to it. Everyone in the cast is a
well-known star, which also made it fun to watch.
There were a lot of impactful and important television movies made in the 1960s and 1970s, so I’m not sure why this movie, primarily fluff, is so memorable for me. I guess I was not alone because it was the second-highest ranked television movie when it aired. It is on my bucket-list of shows to watch again. What is the movie that you love but hate to admit how much you love it?
Airing in 1965, Lost in Space follows the travels of a family whose ship is off course, traveling through outer space. The show was on the air for three seasons, producing 84 episodes.
of the show was that in 1997, earth becomes overpopulated. Professor John
Robinson (Guy Williams); his wife Maureen (June Lockheart); and their kids,
Judy (Marta Kristen), Penny (Angela Cartwright), and Will (Billy Mumy) are
selected to go to the third planet in the Alpha Centauri star system to
establish a new colony. Major Don West (Mark Goddard) is also accompanying
them. Doctor Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) an enemy government agent is sent
to sabotage the mission. He becomes trapped on the ship after he reprograms the
robot (voiced by Dick Tufeld), altering the course for the spaceship, the
Jupiter 2. The group is now lost and trying to find their way back home. During
the course of the show, Smith becomes less sinister. It was no secret that the
show was a science fiction version of Swiss
The pilot, created by Irwin Allen, was titled “No Place to Hide.” A ship called the Gemini 12 was supposed to take a family on a 98-year journey to a new planet. When an asteroid knocks the shop off course, the family must try to find their way back. CBS bought the series, choosing Lost in Space over another new show, Star Trek. Dr. Smith and the Robinsons’ robot were added to the cast and the ship was renamed Jupiter 2.
Dr. Robinson was an astrophysicist who specialized in planetary geology. Williams who played the part was a well-known actor who had starred in the show Zorro. He thought his lead role would be a dramatic part, but the show became increasingly campy like Batman, and Williams’ role was more of a supporting character than a star. He was bitter about the turn of events and when the show was cancelled, he moved to Argentina where Zorro was popular and never acted again.
Maureen Robinson was also a doctor; she was a biochemist who also performed housewife duties such as preparing meals and tending the garden. Her chores were not too taxing though because the “auto-matic laundry” took seconds to clean, iron, fold, and package clothing in plastic bags. The dishwasher also did a load in seconds. In addition to the hydroponic garden maintained by Maureen, the crew had protein pills available that would substitute for food during emergencies. One fun fact I learned about Lockhart was that she had the largest parking spot on the 20th Century Fox lot because she often drove a 1923 Seagrave fire truck.
West was the pilot of the Jupiter 2 and the only crew member who could land the ship.
Judy is the oldest child. Being the oldest, she was allowed a more glamorous wardrobe and hairstyle. There was always the undercurrent that she and West would get together. Penny is eleven and loves animals and classical music. She finds a pet similar to a chimpanzee which she named “Bloop.” Will is nine and the youngest member of the family, but he is a genius when it comes to electronics and computer technology.
Dr. Smith is an expert in cybernetics. Carroll O’Connor, Jack Elam, and Victor Buono were all considered for the part of Dr. Smith. Smith was only supposed to be a guest star but became the best-loved character in the show. Harris rewrote many of his lines that he considered boring. He redefined his character as an attention-getting egoist with a flamboyant style and arrogant dialogue.
The Robot is an M-3, Model B9, General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Robot which had no name. It did have superhuman strength and weaponry that was futuristic in nature. It can display human characteristics such as laughter, sadness, and mockery.
The robot was designed by Robert Kinoshita. It cost $75,000 to produce and weighed more than 200 pounds. Kinoshita also designed Robby the Robot for the Forbidden Planet in 1956. The Lost in Space robot was a Burroughs B-205. It had a flashing light and large reel-to-reel tape drives. It could be seen in a variety of movies and television shows, including Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964), Batman (1966), The Land of the Giants (1968), and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999).
A number of
stars chose to appear on the show including Werner Klemperer, Kurt Russell,
Wally Cox, Lyle Waggoner, Arte Johnson, Hans Conried, and Daniel J. Travanti.
The pilot and many shows from season one used Bernard Herrmann’s score from The Day the Earth Stood Still, a 1951 film. John Williams wrote the opening and closing themes for the show. Season three used a faster tempo version and the opening featured live action shots of the cast. The theme music is unforgettable, and although I haven’t seen the show since its original airing until recently, I immediately remembered the entire score.
In season one, the ship crashes on an alien world, later identified as Priplanus. The crew spends most of the season on the planet, surviving many adventures. Most of the episodes emphasize the daily life of the Robinsons adjusting to their new conditions. The show was on Wednesday nights against The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and The Patty Duke Show on ABC and The Virginian on NBC.
In season two, the ship is repaired and launched into space. Priplanus is destroyed after a series of earthquakes. Eventually, the spaceship lands on another planet and is delayed there. The show became campier during this time because it was scheduled against Batman for a second year. Costumes were brighter and the show was filmed in color. Most of the plots featured outlandish villains. More emphasis was placed on Will, Dr. Smith, and the robot and serious science fiction was sacrificed. Like season one, each episode ended with a cliff hanger.
Season three shows the Jupiter 2 travelling through space visiting a new setting on each episode. A space pod allows transportation between the ship and the planets they explore. Humor was still a mainstay of the show and the crew encountered space hippies, pirates, intergalactic zoos, and ice princesses. The cliff hanger disappeared, and the robot would show highlights from the upcoming episode before the closing credits. The show continued its slot on Wednesdays and was still on opposite The Virginian on NBC but also The Avengers on ABC
The show was probably best known for its technology and futuristic props. The Jupiter 2 was a two-deck spacecraft, nuclear powered. It used “deutronium” for fuel. The crew slept in Murphy beds. A laboratory was also designed as part of the spaceship. The characters could travel between two levels by an electronic glide tube elevator or a ladder. The ship could be entered or exited through an airlock on the upper deck or landing struts on the lower deck.
traveled on the Chariot. It had six bucket seats for passengers, a radio
transceiver, a public address system, a rack holding laser rifles, and interior
The crew members could use a jet pack, the Bell Rocket Belt. The robot ran air and soil tests. He could detect threats with his scanner and produce a smoke screen for protection. He could understand speech and speak to the crew. He claimed he could read minds by translating thought waves back into words.
One of the things Lost In Space is best remembered for is the catchphrase, “Danger Will Robinson.” What is funny is that it was only used one time in the series. Smith also had several lines he is remembered for: “Oh, the pain, the pain” and “Never fear, Smith is here” are two of them. He also was famous for his alliterative phrases such as “Bubble-headed booby,” “Cackling Cacophony,” “Tin-Plated Traitor,” “Blithering Blatherskyte,” and “Traitorous Transistorized Toad” which he used to insult the robot.
Lost in Space ranked in the top 35 shows all three
seasons it was on the air (32nd, 35th, and 33rd
respectively). It was ranked number three in the top five favorite new shows of
1965-66, along with The Big Valley, Get Smart, I Dream of Jeannie, and F-Troop.
The show was nominated for an Emmy for Cinematography Special Photographic
Effects in 1966 and for Achievement in Visual Arts & Make-up in 1968 but
did not win either award.
Despite its good ratings, CBS Chairman William Paley hated the show and didn’t understand why it was popular. He instructed his executives to cancel it the minute its ratings dipped. Unfortunately, it was never able to air a finale.
In the 1970s,
Mumy wrote a script for a reunion movie. He arranged for the casting and had approval
from 20th Century Fox and CBS. However, Allen who was worried that Mumy
might be entitled to a copyright claim on the original, refused to even review
the script. Without his okay, the reunion was never able to be filmed.
Lost in Space was successful in reruns and syndication. All three seasons are available on DVD. Like many science-fiction shows and movies from the 1960s, it was eerily predictive of technology and glaringly wrong at the same time. The show is campy, but I don’t mind that. Along with The Monkees and Batman, it seems to fit the times it was produced in.
Perhaps it’s not that bad that Mumy was not able to film the reunion. The show was made into a movie in 1998 which received poor reviews. Legendary Television has brought a reboot of the show to Netflix in 2018. It is currently getting ready for its second season. It has not received the greatest reviews either. Lost in Space can be seen on Antenna TV on Saturday nights, so you might want to catch an episode or two this winter. Sometimes the real thing just can’t be duplicated.