The Jimmy Stewart Show: Past Its Prime Before It Started

For this blog series, “It’s My Show,” we are looking at stars who had shows named for them.  This blog takes a look at The Jimmy Stewart Show which aired in 1971.

The Jimmy Stewart Show - Where to Watch Every Episode Streaming Online |  Reelgood
Photo: reelgood.com

At the beginning of the golden age of television, several stars decided to plunge into the small screen, but most stars kept their distance, not trusting that television would ever go anywhere. Stars like Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, and Lucille Ball created successful shows that continued for years. Once Hollywood realized that television was here to stay, they were okay with their stars dipping their feet into the series life.

In the 1970s another round of stars decided to try their luck at their own show. Jimmy Stewart was one of those screen stars, and he had a huge fan base. Viewers were greatly anticipating watching his show.

The Jimmy Stewart Show - Complete - 1971 - 7 DVDS – TV Museum DVDs
Photo: tvmuseum.com

Hal Kanter was the creator, writer, and sometimes director for the series which showed viewers the frequently chaotic home and work life of Professor Jim Howard. Kantor developed the show Julia and would later create Chico and the Man. Howard teaches anthropology at the Josiah Kessel College in Easy Valley, California which happened to be founded by his grandfather. Also living in the house are his wife Martha (Julie Adams), his son Peter (Jonathan Daly), daughter-in-law Wendy (Ellen Geer, daughter of Will Geer) and grandson Jake (Kirby Furlong). Martha and Jim also have a younger son, Teddy (Dennis Larson) who is almost the same age as Jim’s grandson. Peter’s family is living there temporarily after their house burns down. In a twist I didn’t see coming, Jim was babysitting and fell asleep with a cigar which is what caused both the house to burn down and his son to be unhappy with him for the first few episodes.

Howard’s best friend, Luther Quince (John McGiver), a local bachelor and professor, often stops by for meals and to discuss life with Jim.

When Jimmy Stewart Had His Own Sitcom – (Travalanche)
Photo: travalanche@wordpress.com

Rounding out the cast were a few recurring characters including Jo Bullard (Mary Wickes), president of the Women’s Action Group; Agatha Dwiggins (Jeff Donnell), a scatterbrained busybody, Dimitri Karpopolis (Richard Annis), college football hero; local businessman Fred Shimmel (Rickie Layne), chatty milkman Woodrow Yamada (Jack Soo), and students Janice Morton (Kate Jackson), Norman Lansworth (Lou Manor) and Ida Levin (Melissa Newman).

I read that except for Stewart, the casting for the family seemed to be off and never engendered any warmth for viewers. Jimmy wanted his real wife Gloria to play Martha, but after she was tested, the network said they wanted someone more experienced. More than fifty women were considered for the role, and twenty of them were brought in to read with Stewart.

However, John McGiver received a lot of praise for his character. Luther and Jim were quite different. Jim rode his bike to school while Luther drove a Rolls Royce.

The show really didn’t speak to viewers, and ratings, which weren’t great, got worse. The series was cancelled after 24 episodes. Stewart was not sad about the cancellation. Apparently, he was given the option to do the same type of work schedule Fred MacMurray had arranged for My Three Sons where he only filmed a small part of the year and everyone else filmed around him, but he declined. However, Stewart said he later regretted not trying that because he didn’t enjoy the long hours filming this show.

THE JIMMY STEWART SHOW Guest Star KATE JACKSON 1971 VERY RARE - YouTube
Photo: youtube.com

The show debuted in the fall of 1971 on Sunday nights. It was sandwiched between The Wonderful World of Disney and Bonanza, both big hits.

Like George Burns, James Stewart talked directly to the television audience during the opening and closing when he says “And, as always, my family and I wish you peace and love—and laughter.” During some episodes he makes an aside to the camera, and the rest of the cast thinks he’s just mumbling to himself.

This was one of the few shows during this time period that didn’t use a laugh track. Maybe that’s for the best because it doesn’t sound like there was much to laugh about in this show. It definitely shows its age today with Stewart making remarks about student protests, women’s lib, and industrial development. It obviously pandered to an older, conservative audience.

The show was filmed on a few sets and backlots. The building used for the university was known as “Hank’s School” because it first was used on a show from the sixties called Hank. It was also Boatwright University on The Waltons.

The Jimmy Stewart Show (TV Series 1971–1972) - IMDb
Photo: imdb.com

Sometimes there is a downside to blog writing about the past and our favorite stars. Jimmy Stewart has always been someone I admired and respected. A couple of his movies like The Philadelphia Story and Harvey are some of my of all-time favorites. When doing research, sometimes you learn things you wish you didn’t know.

Apparently, Stewart had gotten a reputation during the filming of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence as a racist, but no one ever talked about it, and there didn’t seem to be any other controversy in his films.  However, during the production of this show, he had actor Hal Williams fired. I read several accounts that all supported that view that Stewart told Kanter that he didn’t think it would be appropriate for a black person to be ordering him around on television. His words, often quoted were, “Blacks are bossing white people all over the country, and now we’re going to have the same damn thing on prime-time television? A black is going to be lecturing me with millions of people watching? No way. I get casting approval and Williams is out.” I never read how Kantor reacted or how it affected their relationship; however, after casting Diahann Carroll as the first black actor to star in a series, it must have been disheartening to hear this from Stewart.

I understand those were different times and many people were raised as racists. We could debate the causes of people being prejudiced for hours.  However, this makes me very sad and I can’t look at Jimmy Stewart the way I did before. It doesn’t help to realize that there are still somehow a lot of Jimmy Stewarts out there sixty years later.

Comfort TV: Peace, Love, and Laughter: The Jimmy Stewart Show
Photo: comforttv.com

As far as his show goes, I think it was just not where fans were at in that time period. Some of the other series on at the time included The Partridge Family, The Doris Day Show, Love American Style, Room 222, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and All in the Family. By comparison, Jimmy’s show seems out of touch and old fashioned. Its competition was the F.B.I and Sunday Night at the Movies, both shows that started during The Wonderful World of Disney. If a show didn’t succeed following Disney and leading into Bonanza, it must have greatly disillusioned viewers. Jimmy was not alone as a star who couldn’t make the successful leap to television. Other stars who bombed with their shows include Jack Lemmon, Celeste Holm, Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, Mickey Rooney, and Henry Fonda.

Although this show is available on DVD, my suggestion is to bypass it and read a good book instead.

Heigh-Ho Louis Nye!

Finishing off our “Men of November” series is Louis Nye.  If you watched television in the sixties, you will recognize Louis, but you might not know why.

Photo:

Born Louis Neistat in Connecticut in 1917, he was the son of parents who emigrated to the US from the Russian Empire and became naturalized citizens in 1911. Louis wanted to get involved in acting but his grades weren’t good enough for him to participate in the drama club.  He opted for work on WTIC Radio instead. He also joined the Hartford Players.

The work on local radio led to his decision to move to New York City to work on the radio, often on soap operas. Nye married songwriter Anita Leonard in 1940. Unlike many Hollywood couples, they remained married until Nye’s death.

**FILE** Steve Allen, third from left, and some of the original cast members of the popular 1950’s television show, “Steve Allen Show,” gathered in Beverly Hills, Calif. in this Oct. 4, 1990 file photo to honor Allen and to celebrate the re-broadcast of 100 episodes of his show on HA! TV Comedy Channel. They are, from left: Tom Poston, Don Knotts, Allen, Louis Nye, Pat Harrington Jr., and Bill Dana. Nye died Sunday at his home in Los Angeles after a long battle with lung cancer, his son, Peter Nye, told The Associated Press on Monday. He was 92. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, FILE)

World War II interrupted his career. He was assigned to run the recreation hall in Missouri. He would entertain troops and was able to meet Carl Reiner, who had a similar sense of humor, and who was also part of Special Services performing in shows across the Pacific.

With Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows Photo: nytimes.com

After the war ended, he returned to New York, getting jobs on television and appearing on Broadway. His first tv role was on The Admiral Broadway Revue in 1949. He appeared on several shows during the fifties but was best known for his work on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show and the New Steve Allen Show. He became close to the entire cast which included Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Pat Harrington Jr., Dayton Allen, Gabriel Dell, and Bill Dana. Nye often portrayed wealthy citizens during the “Man on the Street” sketches. When he took on the role of Gordon Hathaway, the egotistical Country Club snob, saying “Hi-ho Steverino,” Allen often cracked up. When the show moved to Los Angeles, Nye went with it.

Photo: youtube.com

His first recurring role was that of dentist Delbert Gray on The Ann Sothern Show in 1960 and 1961. He was very busy during the sixties, appearing on a variety of shows including The Bob Hope Show, The Jack Benny Show, Mike Douglas, The Munsters, Jackie Gleason, and Phyllis Diller. From 1962-66, he would pop in on The Beverly Hillbillies as Sonny Drysdale, the spoiled stepson of banker Milburn Drysdale.

Photo: imdb.com

In the seventies, he could be seen on shows such as Laugh-In, Love American Style, Laverne and Shirley, Starsky and Hutch, and Fantasy Island. He was offered a permanent role on Needles and Pins in 1973. The show only lasted for 14 episodes. The series was about the garment industry. Women’s clothing manufacture Nathan Davidson (Norman Fell) works with a group of employees including characters played by Nye and Bernie Kopell.  It didn’t receive great reviews and many of the writers said it talked about the garment industry but showed very little and was set in one small spot, inhibiting what plots were even available.

During those decades Nye would also get offers on the big screen from time to time but most of the roles were smaller cameo parts. However, he appeared with a lot of celebrities in these epics including Bob Hope, Jack Lemmon, Lucille Ball, Dean Martin, Walter Matthau, and Jack Webb.

He also recorded several comedy albums using several of his characterizations. One of his most successful LPs was “Heigh-Ho Madison Avenue.” It parodied market research, advertising agencies and post-WWII society.  Some of the pieces on the album include “The Gray Flannel Blues,” “The Ten Commandments of Madison Avenue (Plus Big Bonus Commandments),” and “The Conspicuous Consumption Cantata.”

Asea on the Love Boat
Photo: drunk tv.com

He continued to keep busy in the eighties on a variety of shows including Here’s Boomer, Aloha Paradise, The Love Boat, The Cosby Show, and St. Elsewhere.

Curb Your Enthusiasm Photo: youtube.com

His last role was another recurring one where he played Jeff Garlin’s father on Curb Your Enthusiasm from 2000-2005. Nye passed away from lung cancer in 2005.

I’m not sure what to think about Nye’s career.  I think in the right role, he would have excelled in a television comedy or a big screen epic which he never had the opportunity to do. He was multi-talented and appeared on Broadway, in clubs, and on the radio, and he created comedy albums as well as appearing in movies and television. However, I often read quotes of his where he said he only wanted to be funny at parties and always considered himself a serious actor. He was so brilliant and funny with his 15 accents and wide range of characterizations that he seemed pigeon-holed as a comedy character actor early in his career. I wondered if he was sad that he never had the chance to appear in a classic drama, or if he accepted his successful career for what it was, just being thankful he was in the entertainment industry for his entire working life.

Photo: wikifandom.com

Since we cannot ask him directly, all we can do is tip our hats to him in appreciation for the decades of laughter and entertainment he provided for us. Thank you, Mr. Nye.

Celebrating Fifty Years of The Odd Couple

Photo: wondersinthedark.wordpress.com

The Odd Couple debuted in 1970. Today we are celebrating its fiftieth anniversary with fifty fun facts.

Fifty Fun Facts

  • 1. Although the show was based on The Odd Couple, a movie written by Neil Simon, Simon did not want his name associated with the television show. However, once he began watching it and realized the quality of the show, he changed his mind and made an appearance during the fifth season in “Two on the Aisle.”
  • 2. The Odd Couple was based on Simon’s brother and a friend of his who were living together and having some conflict. While watching their interactions, he decided it would be a great idea for a play.
  • 3. The Odd Couple had many lives: it began as a play, was made into a movie starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in 1968, a tv show in 1970, a revised play about women, another tv show starring Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon in 2015 which was on the air three years.
  • 4. In 1982, an African American version of the show was created starring Ron Glass and Demond Wilson. Called The New Odd Couple, it wasn’t new because it used the original eight scripts from the Klugman-Randall series. It was canceled part way through the season.
  • 5. The show was developed by Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson.
  • 6. The Odd Couple first aired on Friday, the 13th (November 13, 1970).
  • 7. Garry Marshall appears in four different episodes: the one mentioned in fact #3 and as a drummer and as Man 1 and Man 2.
  • 8. Garry’s sister Penny Marshall played Oscar’s secretary Myrna Turner. On her last appearance, she marries a man named “Sheldn” (the “o” had been eliminated from his birth certificate. Sheldn was played by Rob Reiner, Penny’s husband at the time. Garry and his sister Ronnie played Myrna’s siblings Werner and Verna in the same episode.
  • 9. Oscar’s ex-wife Blanche was played by his real wife, Brett Somers. During the show Brett Somers and Jack Klugman got a divorce in real life.
  • 10. The Odd Couple ran on Broadway for 964 performances.
  • 11. In 1985, Simon rewrote the play with female leads, Olive and Florence. Rita Moreno and Sally Struthers were the leads.
  • 12. Originally Dean Martin and Art Carney were considered for the part of Felix.
  • 13. Both Mickey Rooney and Martin Balsam were considered for the role of Oscar.
  • 14. Actor Richard Stahl appears in nine different episodes as nine different characters.
  • 15. Jerry Paris, Jerry Helper from The Dick Van Dyke Show, directed 18 of The Odd Couple episodes.
Photo: pokerlistings.com
  • 16. Oscar plays poker regularly with a group of guys including Murray, Roy, Speed, and Vinnie. Sometimes Felix is allowed to play with them.
  • 17. Murray’s wife who is often talked about but seen in only one episode is Mimi.
  • 18. A cartoon was created for Saturday mornings called “The Oddball Couple.” Spiffy and Fleabag, a cat and dog, are based on Oscar and Felix.
  • 19. The first season was filmed in the same apartment as the 1968 move with one camera and a laugh track. Randall hated that set-up and the next year they began using three cameras and filmed in front of a live audience.
  • 20. Oscar and Felix were said to live at 1049 Park Avenue in New York which was a real address. The actual building was used during the opening credits and exterior shots. Usually a 1966 Ford four-door station wagon or a red VW Beatle are often seen outside the building. The actual tenants got mail for Oscar and Felix.
Photo: movieforum.com
  • 21. One problem the producers had was how to show Oscar was a slob and Felix a neatnik. They couldn’t have the kitchen or living room messy because obviously Felix would keep it clean. Finally, they decided to create Oscar’s bedroom and it was always a mess.
  • 22. During the first season of the show, the guys date two English sisters, the Pigeon sisters, who live in the same apartment building.
  • 23. The Odd Couple was not a ratings success and every season, it was up for cancellation. The summer rerun ratings saved it each year.
  • 24. For some reason, there were inconsistent stories on the show about how Felix and Oscar met. One episode said they were childhood friends. Several references talk about how they met in the army. One episode told the story of how they met while serving on jury duty together.
Photo: youtube.com
  • 25. Howard Cosell was brought onto the show to help boost ratings. That was a bit of a gamble since Cosell was voted most loved and most hated sportscaster.
  • 26. Tony’s middle name is Leonard and his sister’s name is Edna. Those were the names given to Felix’s two children on the show.
  • 27. Monty Hall showed up twice on the show. He and Oscar had been college roommates.
  • 28. Oscar’s favorite meal is lasagna with French fries and Boston cream pie is his favorite dessert.
  • 29. Don’t let Oscar order pizza. When he orders one with the works, it includes a fried egg on top.
  • 30. Felix and Murray played in a band that featured 1930s music called The Sophisticatos. In one episode they had to play country music and changed their name to Red River Unger and his Saddle Sores.
  • 31. Oscar’s middle name is Trevor.
  • 32. When Elinor Donahue was hired to play Miriam, Felix’s girlfriend, her last name was Welby. Donahue worked on Father Knows Best with Robert Young who later went on to star in Marcus Welby MD.
  • 33. Klugman and Randall recorded an album “The Odd Couple Sings” for London Records.
  • 34. ABC always wanted guest stars on the show to boost the ratings, so the writers started including guest stars that would not boost the ratings, opera singers and ballet dancers for instance, which drove the network crazy.
  • 35. In one episode, singer Richard Fredericks is injured playing in one of Oscar’s soft ball games so Oscar has to stand in for Fredericks in Rigoletto, an opera that Felix was producing.
  • 36. Like Harvey Korman and Tim Conway, Jack and Tony used to crack each other up. On one episode they dress as a horse to appear on Let’s Make a Deal. Klugman had to hide himself because he was laughing so hard.
Photo: pinterest.com
  • 37. Klugman’s favorite episode was when the two friends made an appearance on Password with Allen Ludden and Betty White. Felix, who had always wanted to be on the game show, caused a lot of problems on the show and eventually they threw him off the show. His adlib when that happened was “Oh, boy, what a gyp.” Klugman said that was how he felt when Tony died.
  • 38. You can always tell when Felix is really upset because he begins honking.
  • 39. In one episode, Dick Clark plays himself as a radio DJ. He calls Oscar to let him know he has won a new car.
  • 40. Both Willie Aames and Leif Garrett play Leonard, Felix’s son. They would both go on to successful careers and they would both act in the same show again when they appeared on Family.
  • 41. When Oscar tries a dating service, he uses the fake name of Andre La Plume and ends up on a date with Felix’s ex-wife.
  • 42. When Oscar saves Felix’s life, Felix attempts to play “Home on the Range” on his saxophone to thank him.
  • 43. On one episode, the train breaks down in a tunnel. Felix decides to entertain the passengers with an improvised hand puppet he calls Harvey Hankie.
  • 44. Jack Klugman and Tony Randall promoted several products together. They did commercials for the game Yahtzee and their photo was on the box for years. They also did a promotion for Eagle Snacks and Yoplait yogurt.
  • 45. Klugman believed in syndication of the show. He convinced Randall to give up part of his salary for the syndication rights. It was the right move, and they made a lot of money after the show was cancelled.
  • 46. Both Klugman and Randall were up for Emmys every year the show was on. Jack won in 1971 and 1973. When Randall won in 1975, the show had been cancelled and he mentioned during his acceptance speech that he wished he had a job.
  • 47. The final episode had two planned endings. Felix and his ex-wife are getting remarried and Oscar is getting his home back. If the series didn’t get picked up, the marriage took place. If the series did get picked up, the wedding was cancelled by Gloria because Felix was so picky about the wedding details.
  • 48. In 1993, Randall and Klugman worked together filming a television movie called The Odd Couple: Together Again. Klugman had gone through throat cancer treatments and this was written into the movie script. The plot of the movie is Felix helping Oscar recover and becoming overly involved in his daughter’s wedding.
  • 49. Although Klugman didn’t appreciate what the show meant to people when it first began, later in life, he said “he would have people come up and tell him, ‘I grew up with you. I sat on the couch with my mother or my father, and we laughed with you.’ And suddenly the people have faces, and names, and feelings. It’s been invigorating! You know, you don’t count on that; you don’t know that you’re really entertaining people or having an effect on people’s lives. I had a guy from Sports Illustrated who did an interview with me say he became a sportswriter because I was a sportswriter on The Odd Couple. Yeah, it’s like wow, you’re kidding. Now I’m getting this in person, and I really love it.”
  • 50. Randall and Klugman became life-long friends while working on the series. They developed a close bond. Because they both had a lot of character, they became close and helped take care of each other in old age.

“I’m a neurotic nut, but you’re crazy!”

odd1

Today we learn about the story behind The Odd Couple.  I think that this show is one of the most under-appreciated shows out there. It came at a time when shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and M*A*S*H were being acclaimed for their sophisticated writing and depth of characters.  The Odd Couple achieved these same credentials. Garry Marshall learned the importance of character-driven scripts during his time writing for The Dick Van Dyke Show. Ironically, Marshall wrote 18 scripts for The Dick Van Dyke Show and Jerry Paris (Jerry Helper on The Dick Van Dyke Show) directed 18 episodes for The Odd Couple.

movie

In March of 1965, the play debuted. Written by Neil Simon, The Odd Couple was based on the real-life experiences of his brother Danny. The play ran for 966 performances and was nominated for a Tony that year. In 1968, a movie was made starring Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison and Jack Lemmon as Felix Unger. Simon signed away his television rights. When Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson developed the series, it was listed as “Neil Simon’s Odd Couple. Simon objected to his name being associated with the show, because he said he did not know what the writing would be like. His name was removed, but he did come to appreciate the series, and he had a cameo role in the episode “Two on the Aisle” in 1974.

odd10

The show was on the air for five years from 1970-1975, producing 114 episodes. Tony Randall was hired first.  Both Dean Martin and Art Carney were considered for the part of Felix. Randall was pushing for Mickey Rooney to get the role of Oscar.  Martin Balsam was also under consideration. Garry Marshall fought hard for Jack Klugman, and eventually Klugman received the part. Both Randall and Klugman had starred in different versions of the play.

The show was on the verge of cancellation every year, but the summer ratings were always so high that the show continued to be renewed. Jack Klugman had high hopes for the syndication of the show, and he convinced Tony Randall to give up part of his salary for syndication rights. Klugman was right; in the 1980s, the show was on the air on several channels. Although the show never cracked the top 30, critics liked the show and it was nominated for an Emmy three times for Outstanding Comedy Series. Both Klugman and Randall were nominated for Emmys every year the show was on the air for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Performance; Klugman won in 1971 and 1973 while Randall took home the award in 1975.

split personality

This was the memorable introduction to the show each week:

“On November 13, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. (A door slams shut, only to reopen and we see someone angrily hand Felix his saucepan) That request came from his wife. Deep down, he knew she was right, but he also knew that someday, he would return to her. With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his childhood friend, Oscar Madison. Sometime earlier, Madison’s wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return. Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?”

Bill Woodson narrated the opening. The actions of the two leads during the credits changed a bit from year to year but centered around Oscar being a slob and Felix being a neat freak.

odd9

There were several variations about how Felix and Oscar met.  As you can see in the opening, they were mentioned as being childhood friends. However, in the first season, one of the episodes recalled a murder trial where Felix and Oscar were jurors, claiming they met then.  Later several episodes mentioned them meeting in the Army. In Season 3, the word “childhood” was removed from the opening segment.

odd7

During the first season, the show was filmed in the same apartment as the movie version. It was done with one camera and a laugh track.  For the second and subsequent years, three cameras were used, and the laugh track was replaced by a live audience.

Oscar and Felix lived at 1049 Park Avenue, an existing address in New York. The actual building was used for the opening credits and exterior shots. Almost all the exterior shots feature two cars: a 1966 Ford 4-door station wagon and a red VW Beatle. Fans still visit the building, and occasionally mail is delivered for Oscar or Felix.

sommers

Many of the show’s details were adapted from real life. Brett Somers played Oscar’s ex-wife and just happened to be his ex-wife in real life. Oscar and Klugman both followed horse racing. Oscar wrote for the New York Herald.  The Herald did exist from 1835-1924 when it merged with the Tribune.

edna

Felix’s kids were named Edna and Leonard. Tony Randall’s middle name was Leonard, and his sister’s name was Edna. Felix moved out of the house November 13, Garry Marshall’s birthday. Randall and Felix both had an appreciation for opera and classical music.

oscar and felix

Oscar was a hot dog and beer guy while Felix was a filet mignon and red wine person.

ABC was always worried about the issue of homosexuality. As a prank, Klugman and Randall would occasionally provide improvised dialogue to send to the network just to get them worked up.

As mentioned earlier, Brett Somers played Oscar’s ex-wife. Randall’s ex-wife Gloria was played by Janis Hansen. Pamela Ferdin had the role of Edna, while the role of Leonard was played by two different actors who would both go on to become teen idols: Willy Aames and Leif Garrett.

Al Molinaro played Murray the cop, the guys’ friend and one of the regular poker players. Penny Marshall played Oscar’s secretary Myrna Turner. Elinor Donahue played Miriam Welby who was Felix’s girlfriend until the last season. The last episode of the series reunites Felix and Gloria who remarry.

There were many celebrity guest stars on the show for the five-year run, and many of them played themselves. Some of the famous faces to appear on the show include Martina Arroyo, Roone Arledge, Dick Clark, Roy Clark, Howard Cosell, Richard Dawson, Richard Fredricks, Monty Hall, Hugh Hefner, Billy Jean King, Allen Ludden, Jaye P. Morgan, Bobby Riggs, Bubba Smith, Betty White, Paul Williams, and Wolfman Jack. Garry Marshall shows up four different times on the show–as a drummer, as Werner Turner, and as Man 1 and Man 2.

Two of the best-loved episodes were “Password” and “Fat Farm.”

password

 

In “Password,” Oscar Madison  is invited to be a celebrity guest on Password after he runs into the show’s host, Allen Ludden, and his wife, Betty White, at a restaurant. Because  Felix loves Password, he begs Oscar to accept the invitation, and to bring Felix along as his partner. During the taping, Felix overthinks every clue. When Oscar says “meat,” Felix says “Lincoln” (because “Lincoln loved mayonnaise”). When the password is “bird,” Felix gives Oscar the clue “Aristophanes” (because Aristophanes wrote The Birds). “If Charlie Chan had these clues, he’d be running a laundry,” Oscar grumbles. But the game isn’t a total disaster. When Oscar gets the password “ridiculous,” he gives Felix the clue “Aristophanes” right back, and Felix responds correctly. The friends lose the game but not their friendship.

In “Fat Farm,” proving he’s in top shape, Felix stands on his head and jumps onto a desk (earning Randall applause from the audience), while Oscar can barely make it through a couple of push-ups. Oscar rationalizes why he should not go on Felix’s annual two-week visit to a health camp–“I like my blubber! It keeps me warm, it keeps me company, it keeps my pants up!.” Felix wears him down, so Oscar goes along. It makes him crazy that the camp serves imaginary desserts and bans food from the bedrooms. Soon Oscar discovers a delicatessen just down the road and undertakes a smuggling operation.

Jack Klugman and Tony Randall developed a very close and life-lasting friendship during the years they appeared together as Oscar and Felix. After the show was cancelled, they continued to see each other often. They performed in regional productions of The Odd Couple from the late 1980s through the mid 1990s. They appeared in commercials as Felix and Oscar for Yoplait yogurt, Yahtzee, and Eagle snacks. They even recorded an album “The Odd Couple Sings” for London Records.

On March 23, 2001, Larry King Live featured Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. This clip from the show gives us a good idea of what their friendship meant to them.

KING: Was it as much fun doing it, Tony, as it appeared there?

RANDALL: Yes, yeah. Especially working with Jack. It sounds as if I’m saying the right thing, but it’s true. But acting has always been fun for me. I’d rather act than do almost anything else.

KING: Did you — Jack, was this a natural simpatico between the two of you? It just happened?

KLUGMAN: Oh yeah, it happened so beautifully. Like, we had maybe five pages that would remain — from Monday when we read the script — five pages would remain by Friday by the time we did it.

If for instance, he had to teach me manners, it would be Tony teaches Jack manners, and it would be four blank pages, and then we’d improvise. And he’s the best improviser in the world. He taught me how to improvise. People when they improvise, they talk, talk, trying to fill time. He would provoke — I had to teach him football, right? He knows it, he watches sports all the time. But instead of — I said, all right, now get down, so he came next to me. So, I said we’re not the Rockettes, come over here. And then he put his face right here, and I said, I don’t want to dance with you. So, he would provoke you into saying something funny. That’s true improvisation. It was wonderful. I had a great time. I learned a lot.

KING: Was it natural for you too, you and him?

RANDALL: It just clicked.

KING: It just clicked?

RANDALL: That doesn’t always happen.

KING: No.

RANDALL: It doesn’t even happen always with good actors.

KING: You could put two good actors and put them together, and it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work, right?

RANDALL: That’s right, that’s right.

KING: So, there has to be a natural chemistry?

RANDALL: A spark. You can’t explain, you can’t predict it.

KLUGMAN: But you also, if I may say, you both got to want the same thing, which is the best show you can put on. See, I mean, we were not interested in billing or in stardom. We wanted this to be the best show we could. And we never had any of that, I should get more, he should get more. We never, ever had that kind of argument, never. We may have discussed what’s funny to him, what’s funny to me, and we’d work it out. But it was wonderful that way. There was no jealousy.

. . .

CALLER: And I was very touched by that, and I was wondering if you could tell us how much your friendship has played a part in your life and your careers and forgive me if you’ve already talked about that.

KING: Good question. Tony?

RANDALL: Well, perhaps this is an odd thing to say. I’ve had almost no friends in my life. Very few. You count them on this many fingers, so the friendship with Jack is pretty important.

KING: Why?

RANDALL: I don’t know. I was married for 54 years. And we didn’t have children, and we were sufficient to each other. And we didn’t have friends. We were just a little world. And we were happy. And we had almost no social life. And my friendship with Jack just grew and it was about the only friendship I had.

KING: Do you agree The Odd Couple is about friendship?

RANDALL: It’s about male bonding, absolutely. That’s what the play’s about.

KING: Jack, what kind of friend is Tony Randall to you?

KLUGMAN: He’s the best.

book

Tony Randall passed away in 2004 at age 84 from pneumonia following heart surgery. Following Randall’s death, Jack Klugman authored a book with Burton Rocks titled Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship which was published in August of 2005. He wanted to pay a tribute to his friend and hoped to raise money through royalties which would enable a theater to be named in honor of Randall. Klugman talks about the Broadway that existed when they were young and how it influenced each of them. He said Randall founded the National Actors Theater with $8,000,000. He worked diligently to promote it from 1991 when it opened until his death in 2004. And he paid $35,000 a week to bring local students in to expose them to good theater. After his death, it disbanded.

I could not find a Tony Randall Theater, but I was able to locate the Tony Randall Theatrical Fund which supports “nonprofit theater companies, innovative productions, initiatives in art education, and arts-based community outreach programs.”

oscar sportscaster

In commenting on Randall’s death, Klugman said “My favorite episode of The Odd Couple was one where we were on Password. They were throwing Tony off the show, and he had a great adlib. He said, ‘Oh, boy, what a gyp!’ And that’s the way I feel now. What a gyp.”

Jack Klugman died in 2012 from prostrate cancer at the age of 90.

odd6

It’s nice to learn that Felix and Oscar were truly the friends we thought them to be in real life. With all the articles currently being written about the lack of male friendships and how detrimental that is on men’s health, these two were good role models.

odd19

In 2005, the American Booksellers Association posted an interview with Klugman on November 3, written by Tom Nolan. Jack was discussing some of the book events he attended and what it meant to him to talk with viewers who watched and enjoyed The Odd Couple. He received intimate feedback from strangers about why the show was important to them. He said “You know you do a show, and you do the best you can. We used to work until eleven o’clock every night on The Odd Couple, to make it good. Now it’s 30 years since it’s been off the air, and I go around, and people say: ‘I grew up with you. I sat on the couch with my mother or my father, and we laughed with you.’ And suddenly the people have faces, and names, and feelings. It’s been invigorating! You know, you don’t count on that; you don’t know that you’re really entertaining people or having an effect on people’s lives. I had a guy from Sports Illustrated who did an interview with me say he became a sportswriter because I was a sportswriter on The Odd Couple. Yeah, it’s like wow, you’re kidding. Now I’m getting this in person, and I really love it.”

odd8

We all thank you Jack Klugman and Tony Randall for the entertainment you provided and the friendship you created!

Stars Who Jump From the Big Screen to the Small Screen Don’t Always Land on Their Feet

While it is not uncommon for stars to transition from television to movies–think about Robin Williams, Sally Field, Melissa McCarthy, and Tom Hanks–it is less likely to see stars move from the big screen to the small screen.  Jane Fonda has transitioned to television in Frankie and Grace and Fred MacMurray did it with My Three Sons.  For most stars, the move has not worked out very well. Let’s look at a few stars who tried to make the conversion.

That Wonderful Guy – Jack Lemmon (1949)

Neil Hamilton (best known as Commissioner Gordon on Batman) plays Franklin Westbrook, a conceited drama critic who dislikes almost everything. Jack Lemmon plays Harold, a Midwesterner who thinks working for Westbrook will help him become worldly and give a boost to his acting career. His girlfriend is played by his real wife Cynthia Stone. The episodes revolved around his romantic and business adventures in New York City.  Perhaps Westbrook panned the show because it was cancelled after three episodes.

movielemmon1

 

Heaven for Betsy – Jack Lemmon (1952)

Three years later, Lemmon gave it another try. In this show, Lemmon plays Peter Bell, a toy store buyer. His wife Cynthia again played his wife Betsy. The series was based on a sketch “The Couple Next Door” that Lemmon and his wife played regularly on the Frances Langford/Don Ameche Show. Each episode lasted 15 minutes, and it told about the newlyweds’ struggles in New York City. Instead of three episodes, this series lasted three months.

movieslemmon2

 

Honestly Celeste – Celeste Holm (1954)

After playing Ado Annie in Oklahoma, Holm tried her hand at television. She plays Celeste Anders, a Minnesota college professor living in Manhattan, who is getting journalism experience working for the NY Express. Celeste wrote stories ranging from modern art to underprivileged families. She also dated the publisher’s son Bob Wallace, played by Scott McKay. After three months, she was sent back to school in Minnesota. What was most surprising about this failure was that Norman Lear (who would go on to create dozens of shows) and Larry Gelbart (who later created M*A*S*H) were both part of the writing staff.

 

Going My Way – Gene Kelly (1962)

Bridging television and movies, Gene Kelly redid Bing Crosby’s movie from 1944 for the small screen. Kelly is Father Chuck O’Malley, a progressive priest assigned to the slums of New York. Father Fitzgibbon played by Leo G. Carroll is a cantankerous, old priest. Dick York was his boyhood pal Tom Colwell who ran the community center. Mrs. Featherstone (Nydia Westman) played the rectory housekeeper. The list of guest stars on the show was very impressive, but after a year, the network told Kelly to keep going and cancelled the show.

 

The Bing Crosby Show – Bing Crosby (1964)

I guess Bing decided if Gene Kelly could enter television with his old movie, he might also give it a try. He plays Bing Collins a former singer. He is now an electrical engineer married to Ellie (Beverly Garland) with two daughters Janice (Carol Faylen), 15, and boy crazy and Joyce (Diane Sherry), 10, who had a high IQ. It lasted one season. Not surprisingly, this series also attracted a lot of big-name guest stars including Frankie Avalon, Jack Benny, Dennis Day, Joan Fontaine, and George Gobel. Apparently, Garland had a thing for engineers because she would marry aeronautical engineer Steve Douglas on My Three Sons.

 

Mickey – Mickey Rooney (1964)

Mickey plays Mickey Grady who leaves the Coast Guard to manage a posh hotel, Newport Arms in California, with his wife Nora (Emmaline Henry) and two young boys. His real son plays one of his sons on the show. Sammee Tong plays the hotel’s manager. The former supervisor has left a lot of problems for Mickey. The show was cancelled in January airing only 17 episodes.

 

One of the Boys – Mickey Rooney (1982)

After vowing never to work on television again, Rooney tried it again 18 years later. Now he plays 66-year-old Oliver Nugent, rescued from a nursing home by his grandson Adam Shields (Dana Carvey). Adam is a college student who takes him in. Adam’s roommate, Jonathan Burns (Nathan Lane) is not so happy about the situation. Oliver looks for a job and lands one singing in a restaurant. Also appearing in the cast was Scatman Crothers who sang with Oliver and had also left the nursing home.  A young Meg Ryan played Adam’s girlfriend Jane. The show debuted at 18th place in the ratings but by within a month it had dropped to 68th. Even with this cast, the show was cancelled after an unlucky 13 episodes.

movies10

 

Jimmy Stewart Show – Jimmy Stewart (1971)

Jimmy Stewart jumped to the small screen with great anticipation and excitement by viewers. He  played anthropology professor Jim Howard. Howard teaches at Josiah Kessel College, started by his grandfather.  His house is full with his wife, his son Peter, Peter’s wife Wendy, and his grandson Jake. He also has a young son Teddy, who happens to be the same age as his grandson. His friend Luther Quince often stops by to eat and give advice. Jim talks to the audience during the show and wishes them love, peace, and laughter at the end of each episode. Even beloved Jimmy Stewart was unable to save this show which was cancelled after one season.

 

The Doris Day Show – Doris Day (1968)

Doris Day was the most successful actor moving from film to television. However, I think the reason she managed to keep her show on the air for five seasons was because she changed the format so often that CBS did not realize it was the same show.  In 1968, Day is Doris Martin, a widow with two kids. She moves from the city to Mill Valley, CA to live on her father’s ranch.

The second season she commutes to San Francisco after accepting a job as an executive secretary to Michael Nicholson (MacLean Stevenson), the editor of Today’s Magazine. Rose Marie was Myrna Gibbons and Denver Pyle again played her father Buck Webb.

In 1970, Doris and the kids move to an apartment over an Italian restaurant run by Kaye Ballard and Bernie Kopell. Billy De Wolfe was her neighbor. Now Doris is writing feature stories for the magazine.

When the show returned the next fall, Doris was single and a reporter for a magazine. Her new boss was Cy Bennett (John Dehner) and she had a boyfriend Peter Lawford but later her boyfriend turned into Patrick O’Neal. There was no restaurant.

By 1973, the network caught up with all the changes and cancelled the show.

 

It was interesting that so many actors failed in television when they were such celebrated movie stars. The radio stars seemed to have better luck making the transition. Jack Benny and Burns and Allen had long-lasting and popular shows. It’s hard to imagine actors like Ryan Gosling, Amy Adams, Julia Roberts, or Ben Affleck bombing on a television series today.

I think for now I will continue to choose to watch Pillow Talk, Move Over Darling, Harvey, The Philadelphia Story, Some Like It Hot, Singing in the Rain, and Hope and Crosby’s Road movies and set aside the television DVDs these stars appeared in.

Verrry Interrresting!

Occasionally, a show is so entrenched in the time and culture it debuts in, it becomes almost impossible to describe or understand away from its original setting. Dan Rowan and Dick Martin were nightclub comics who co-hosted a special called Laugh-In in 1967.  The name was a play on words based on the love-in’s and sit-in’s happening in the 1960s.  The special was so popular it was turned into a weekly series. I think of Laugh-In as Sesame Street for adults.  Both shows debuted in the late 60s and had a rapid-fire approach, continually moving on to the next segment so the viewer would not get bored. The show captured the counterculture movement and the lime green, turquoise, fuschia, deep orange, bright yellow, and paisley flowers kept our eyes moving as quickly as the jokes did. The show lasted six seasons.

laughin1

Regular cast members who went on to other careers included Ruth Buzzi, Gary Owens, Alan Sues, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Lily Tomlin, Richard Dawson, Jo Anne Worley, Goldie Hawn, Judy Carne, Dave Madden, and Flip Wilson.

Numerous celebrities flocked to the show.  Movie stars that were reeled in included John Wayne, Jack Benny, Peter Lawford, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Charles Nelson Reilly, Debbie Reynolds, Rock Hudson, Jack Lemmon, Edward G. Robinson, Sally Field, Orson Welles, and Rita Hayworth.  Noted musicians included Sammy Davis Jr., Dinah Shore, Johnny Cash, Perry Como, Liberace, Bing Crosby, Cher, Rosemary Clooney, and Liza Minelli. Sports stars tackled the chore including Joe Namath, Wilt Chamberlin, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Howard Cosell.  Comedians who laughed their way on the show included Rich Little, Don Rickles, Bob Hope, Bob Newhart, Paul Lynde, and Carol Burnett. Classic tv stars who accepted starring roles were Tim Conway, Carl Reiner, Steve Allen, Jim Backus, Ernest Borgnine, Eve Arden, Andy Griffith, Desi Arnaz, and Wally Cox.

The format rarely changed from week to week.  Rowan and Martin opened each show with a dialogue; Rowan acted as the straight man, and Martin took on the gullible role. Then the regular cast, along with celebrities, danced against a psychedelic background, firing off one-liners and short gags. Comedy bits, taped segments, and sketches filled in the rest of the hour and always ended with Rowan telling Martin to “Say goodnight, Dick” and Dick replying, “Goodnight Dick.”

Some of the regular features were:

laughinn

The Cocktail Party where the cast stood around spouting politically and sexually suggestive jokes.

Letters to Laugh-In where the cast read letters.

ROWAN AND MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN,  Teresa Graves, Pamela Rodgers, 1969-1970.

It’s a Mod, Mod World where go-go dancers danced in bikinis with puns and word play phrases painted on their bodies.

farkel

The Farkel Family about a group of red-headed, freckled family members.

fickle

The Flying Fickel Finger of Fate Award where dubious achievements were celebrated.

Laugh-In Looks as the News was comparable to the Saturday Night Live news sketches of today.

New Talent Time showing various weird skills.

Many of the regular cast members had their own skits that were repeated during the series’ run:

carne

Judy Carne was always tricked into saying “Sock it to Me” which then caused her to get doused with water, fall through a trap door, or endure some other indignity. Sometimes celebrities ended up being the ones to say “Sock it to me,” the most famous being Richard Nixon when he was campaigning for president.

buzzi

Arte Johnson played Tyrone, an inappropriate senior citizen who tries to seduce geriatric Ruth Buzzi as Gladys, forcing her to eventually hit him with her purse.

laughinc

Henry Gibson came on stage holding an oversized paper flower, reciting poetry.

Lily Tomlin performed skits as Ernestine, a telephone operator or Edith Ann, a young girl sitting in a rocking chair. (Personal note:  When I was in 4th grade, I performed an Ernestine and an Edith Ann skit for our talent show.  Why a 9-year-old was watching Laugh-In and the school approved the skits, I can’t say, but I remember getting a lot of compliments.  And Lily Tomlin didn’t sue me for stealing her material!)

sues

Alan Sues portrayed Uncle Al, a children’s show host, who was short tempered and often in bad shape from his late partying nights.

laughinh

Flip Wilson was Geraldine.

laughin6

Jo Anne Worley would say “Bor-ing” in the midst of jokes.

laughing

Goldie Hawn as the ditzy blonde.

The series also became known for some of its catch phrases including “Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls,” “You bet your sweet bippie,” “Beautiful downtown Burbank,” “Is that a chicken joke?,” “Sock it to me,” “Here come de judge,” and “Verrrry Interesting.”

The show was one of the highest rated shows in the late 1960s. It was in the top 4 of the top 40 shows for its entire run. It won Emmy and Golden Globe awards. The Nielsen polling determined it was the most-watched show in seasons 1 and 2.

The show had its own magazine for a year.  Trading cards were sold with catch phrases and images from the show. Several records were produced capturing the humor of the time.  There was even a set of View-master reels made, as well as lunch boxes and other memorabilia.

laughinrev

Laugh-In debuted fifty years ago, but still feels new and edgy. Because the show has not been syndicated in re-runs, it is hard for the current generation to imagine how very different this show was from anything else that appeared on television before it.  The closest show to capturing any of its essence since then is Saturday Night Live.  This was a time when everything was changing: civil rights, Vietnam, women’s lib, the hippie lifestyle, psychoactive drugs, anti-authoritarianism, freedom of speech and assembly, and environmental concerns, especially littering and pollution.

The Generation Gap was a real concept in the 1960s but this show might have come as close as anything else to bridge that gap. Families sat down together to watch the show. Many of the phrases still have a life of their own decades later even thought decades of kids have never seen the show.  Plan your own little sit-in when you check out a couple of the you-tube videos to get a flavor of what the series was like.