Just a Couple of Characters, Part 2: Hope Summers and Madge Blake

Today we 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.

Hope Summers

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

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.

Summers 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.

Photo: cscottrollins.blogspot.com
On The Rifleman

From 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.

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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.

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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.

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Playing a nice witch in Rosemary’s Baby

Although, 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.

Photo: famousfix.com

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.

Madge Blake

Photo: listal.com

While Hope 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.

Photo: imdb.com

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.

Photo: actorz.ru

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.

Photo: icollectors.com
Singin’ in the Rain

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 Tender Trap, Bells Are Ringing, Ain’t Misbehaving, and The Solid Gold Cadillac.

Photo: pinterest.com
Margaret Mondello

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.  

Photo: channel.superhero.com

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.

Photo: tumblr.com
On I Love Lucy

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 Gracie Allen 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.

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On Bewitched

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.

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On Dennis the Menace

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.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

The old cliché is that April showers bring May flowers. So,  today we get a glimpse of April Showers.  I’m just grateful that I did not have to research shows about snowstorms, since Wisconsin received one to two feet of snow two weeks ago, and we’re still waiting for our first April shower. Let’s look at some of the best sitcom episodes about rain.

I am not a fan of Married . . . With Children, but when looking at sitcom episodes about rain, “Who’ll Stop the Rain” needs to be on the list. The title was taken from the Creedence Clearwater Revival song. During a weekend of rain, Al tries several times to fix the house’s leaky roof. He keeps falling off, and his family can’t decide if his worst trait is stupidity or being cheap. While Al continues to climb the ladder, and his family continues to debate his mental status, in a subplot, Steve lands a job at a pet store. He brings home a guinea pig for a pet. Unfortunately, the guinea bites Marcy and she finds out that the bite is full of venom.

 

One of my favorite rain episodes is a My Three Sons show titled “The Sky is Falling.” This episode is from the seventh season. Robbie and Katie are married and now have three sons. Rob is under some pressure to provide for his family. A friend of Robbie’s, Steve Franken, convinces him he can make a ton of money selling real estate, so Robbie considers quitting school. During a torrential rain, the storm reveals several flaws in a house he’s selling. Robbie must decide if he will cover up the problems or be honest with the potential buyers and lose the sale.

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Another great rain show is the Barney Miller episode “Rain,” an episode from Season 2. Written by Tony Sheehan, the episode features Stanley Brock, Phil Leeds, and Sidney Miller. The team must continue their work even though the precinct roof is threatening to collapse due to a downpour. As the show opens, everyone is unhappy with the weather. There is a deluge of rain out the window, and you can hear the drop of water hitting a pan. Harris and Chano are sent to a nightclub to break up a fight.

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The maintenance man reports that there are 6 inches of water on the roof.   Fish opens an umbrella when a large leak occurs. Everyone who looks out the window gets depressed and complains about their life.

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Harris and Chano bring in a comedian, Jackie Ace. When the audience didn’t like his jokes, he started insulting them. It turned into a free for all, and the owner wants him to pay for damages. He is booked on disorderly conduct. His act is Bicentennial impersonations such as Benedict Arnold turning to Ethan Hale and saying, “Just hang in there kid.” Barney asks Fish if they found a crime for the comedian, and Fish says only his monologue. Jack Soo who plays Yemana with deadpan delivery and a wry sense of humor, uses the rain coming from the ceiling to make coffee.

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Every time we see the room there are more containers collecting water. Eventually the maintenance man reports they now have 5 feet of water on the roof, and it is coming from the buildings surrounding the precinct. Even the file drawers fill up with water. The emergency department for the city says there is no way the roof can collapse. When no nightclub guests press charges, the officers let Jackie Ace go. Eventually part of the roof collapses and Barney, who is typically mild mannered and calm, loses his temper. He has finally had it, and he decides to call the City and give them a piece of his mind, but now the phone line is washed out. At the end of the show when the rain has finally stopped, Barney apologizes to the crew for getting so mad, but they tell him not to worry about it. He just said what they all were feeling.

My favorite rain episode, hands down, is “The Rains Came” from Green Acres. This quirky episode is from the first season. It begins in the Pixley Courtroom. As everyone enters, Mr. Haney introduces Oliver and Lisa to his attorney, Diller Fangworth, played by J. Pat O’Malley. Fangworth doesn’t believe Oliver is really a lawyer because he’s never seen him hanging out with the other lawyers at the saloon across the street. Mr. Haney reprimands Oliver for not settling the lawsuit and gives him another chance to pay. He does take time to compliment Lisa on her sophisticated outfit in the middle of the speech. Fangworth removes his coat and plays with his suspenders. Haney tells Oliver the judge’s favorite actor is Spencer Tracy, and as Fangworth begins questioning the witnesses, he is obviously using his impersonation of Spencer from Inherit the Wind. At one point, the judge tells him he’s seen enough of his Tracy mimicking in the past and to put his coat back on.

tracy

When the judge asks who is representing Oliver, and Oliver says he is an attorney, the judge asks why he’s never seen him across the street at the saloon. We learn that Haney is suing Oliver for $350 for services rendered. Oliver says he did agree to pay $350 but services were not rendered. They begin to recall what led up to the lawsuit.

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Eb is the first witness. He takes the stand, and the judge makes him remove his hat. Eb bought the hat just to go with the suit, so he is not happy. Plus, he worries his hair is now a mess while he testifies. Eb recalls that on the 86th day of the drought, Lisa was talking to Rudolph the sunflower outside their back door. Oliver finds Lisa talking to the plant and thinks the heat has gotten the better of her. When she waters the flower, Oliver reminds here they have acres of plants dying from lack of water. She says she is not wasting water because there is a story from her old country that if you water a sunflower right outside your door, you can ask him for one favor and he must grant it. She is going to ask him for rain. Oliver tells her she is being ridiculous and sends her inside. Then he stops and stares at the sunflower and, making sure no one sees him, he waters it.

The second witness was Hank Kimble. He’s eating lunch when they call him up which leads to some confusion. He takes the oath but feels compelled to say while he doesn’t lie, he did in fact lie to his mother once. The judge stops him and tells him just to answer the questions. Kimble admits Oliver asked him how they could get it to rain, and Kimble said they could seed a cloud; unfortunately, there were no clouds to seed.

Everyone retires to the saloon across the street for lunch. When they reconvene, it’s Mr. Haney’s turn to take the stand. He explains that he and Oliver discussed the drought, and Haney offered to make it rain for $100 with his rain machine. When Oliver says there is no such thing, Haney reveals Chief Thundercloud, played by Robert Strauss. The chief begins playing a drum, but Oliver cuts him off and refuses to pay $100. Haney pulls out jars of water specimens from different areas around the country where the chief has brought rain.

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A couple days later, Haney comes back to give Oliver a second chance. The Chief says he has to work harder now because it’s dryer, so the cost is $350. Oliver agrees to a double or nothing payment. If the Chief brings rain, Oliver will pay, but if not, they get nothing. The Chief does his dance, but after a couple minutes he stops because he is tired and asks Oliver for a glass of water.  Oliver sends then both away. Haney tells the Chief he no longer wants his services. The Chief is walking around Hooterville and meets Lisa at the house; he tells her he needs a job. She tells him to do whatever handyman chores he sees need done and they will pay him. She relays this to Oliver who realizes who he is. He goes outside and finds the Chief washing his car. Oliver tells him to stop wasting water on the car. Suddenly, a rain storm begins.

Mr. Haney is sure it was from the Chief’s dancing, Lisa thinks it is the sunflower, and Oliver says it’s because the Chief washed his car, and everyone knows as soon as you wash the car, it rains.

The judge (played by Howard Smith), tired of the entire bunch, dismisses the case. Everyone returns home.

At home, Oliver finds Lisa talking to Rudolph again. She said she asked Rudolph to bring rain when Oliver was arguing with the Chief about washing the car. Oliver tells her that is silly, so she asks Rudolph to make it rain. Instantly, Oliver has rain coming down on him and looks amazed till he looks up and sees Eb squirting him with a hose.

The characters make this episode funny. Their expressions and mannerisms from Fangworth’s Tracy impersonation to Eb worrying about his hair to Kimble feeling the need to admit he once lied to his mother add dimension to the quirkiness the characters always exhibit. I liked the fact that the judge was not portrayed as a country hick; he is an intelligent and no-nonsense guy who just wants to get his job done right. I also thought it was great that while Oliver knows its crazy that watering a sunflower could produce rain, he still takes time to water Rudolph. It’s a well-written script featuring the true traits of the Hooterville citizens at their best.

Enjoy these rainy days of spring when you can stay indoors and watch old tv episodes.