Everybody’s Friend, Marie Wilson

This month our blog series is “They Call Me Wilson,” and we will be looking at actors with the last name of Wilson.  Today we begin our series with Marie Wilson, a familiar face in television in the 1950s.

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Photo: e.n. wikipedia.org

Marie was born Katherine Elizabeth Wilson in August of 1916 in California. Her nickname in high school was “Maybelle.” After her father died, the family moved to Hollywood. She graduated from high school in 1933, and by 1934, she had received her first movie credit. One source mentioned that her parents divorced when she was only seven months old and her father, Wally Wilson, passed away when she was five. She received an $11,000 trust which helped her take time to pursue a career in acting. Her stepfather, Frank White, raised her.

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Her first role was as a passenger in Down to Their Last Yacht, but she would go on to appear in more than fifty films. The plot of this movie was that a family loses everything in the Depression except their yacht. Several men who feel bad for their daughter decide to host a Monte Carlo night.  The group rigs the roulette wheel so that the house is the winner although she knows nothing about it.

From 1947 to 1953 she also accepted a role on radio as the scatterbrained Irma on My Friend Irma. The show was very popular with well-written scripts and accomplished acting.

Wilson with Cathy Lewis–Photo: oldtimeradiodownloads.com

During this time, she also starred in a couple of films about Irma in My Friend Irma and My Friend Irma Goes West. A duo by the name of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis starred in the movie version of My Friend Irma.

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Not content with Irma occupying space in two big medias, My Friend Irma aired on television from 1952-1954. Irma was a secretary living with roommate and friend Jane Stacy (Cathy Lewis) in a run-down apartment owned by Mrs. O’Reilly (Gloria Gordon). Neighbor Professor Kropotkin (Sig Arno) got involved in the girls’ lives as well as Jane’s boyfriend, millionaire Richard Rhinelander III (Brooks West) whose mother was played by the amazing Margaret Dumont. After Jane moves to Panama at the end of season one, Kay Foster (Mary Shipp) became Irma’s new roommate. Her boyfriend was Joe Vance (Hal March). The new neighbor was Mr. Corday (John Carradine), an actor and just for some new plots, Irma’s seven-year-old nephew Bobby (Richard Eyer) moves into the apartment.

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During her time on radio, she married actor Allan Nixon. Apparently, he struggled because he was a bit player while her career flourished.  He was arrested numerous times for drunk and disorderly conduct, and they divorced in 1950. Another big disappointment occurred in 1950 when she lost the role of Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday to Judy Holliday.

The following year she married Robert Fallon, another fellow actor, and they remained together until her death in 1972.

Marie’s appearances on television waned in the sixties.  She appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1960 and on Comedy Spot in 1962. Comedy Spot had a different premise.  As a summer replacement for Red Skelton, it featured unsold pilots for comedy series and reruns from comedic anthology shows.

Photo: oldtimeradioclassics.com

In 1963 she would appear on two episodes of Burke’s Law and in one episode of Empire.

In 1970 she returned to a weekly animation series on Where’s Huddles? She had the role of football wife Penny McCoy. Unfortunately, it was cancelled after only ten episodes. This show was about the lives of football families on and off the field and featured a lot of talent including Paul Lynde, Jean Vander Pyl, Allan Reed, and Mel Blanc.

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Photo: hanna-barbera.wikia.com

Her last appearance was on Love American Style as Margaret Cooperman in 1972 in “Love and the Girlish Groom.”

Wilson was recognized for each of her Irma media hits with a Walk of Fame star for radio at 6301 Hollywood Boulevard, for television at 6765 Hollywood Boulevard, and for movies at 6601 Hollywood Boulevard.

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Not many actresses can claim their leg is a famous sculpture but Wilson’s left leg was used to cast a 35-foot sculpture located outside the Theme Hosiery plant in Los Angeles. The leg was wearing nylons to promote them to the public in 1949.

Marie had a long and successful career but was typecast early in life and unable to shake that image.  It may have contributed her loss of the part in Born Yesterday which might have changed her career dramatically. Discussing her life in entertainment, Wilson said “Show business has been very good to me and I’m not complaining, but some day I just wish someone would offer me a different kind of role. My closest friends admit that whenever they tell someone they know me, they have to convince them that I’m really not dumb. To tell you the truth, I think people are disappointed that I’m not.”

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Photo: pinterest.com

As we’ve seen so often in this blog, it’s hard not to be grateful for a lucrative career in entertainment, but it’s tough to be locked into one type of role and never given a chance to show your depths as an actor. Thanks for being our friend, Marie.


Today We Take a Peek at the Future by Looking at the Past

Building on the popularity of The Flintstones, in 1962 ABC and Hanna-Barbera decided to debut another new animation show aimed at adults. Instead of the prehistoric past, this show would be set in the far-off future. It aired Sunday nights.  It was also the first show on ABC to air in color. It was The Jetsons. The Flintstones had been recorded in color, but the first two years it aired in black and white. However, it was up to the affiliates to decide if they wanted to broadcast both of these shows in color or black and white. Often they chose black and white because only 3% of the population had color televisions in 1962 which increased to 50% by 1972.

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Hoyt Curtin created the theme song. This show featured the typical 1950s sitcom plots. It was adult oriented and used a laugh track.

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The Jetsons live in Orbit City in the Skypad Apartments, high in the sky. George is a family man.  George is not Fred Flintstone.  However, he does get into many predicaments like Fred, and his boss fires him often.  George works for Spacely Space Sprockets, and his boss is Cosmo Spacely. Their competitor is Mr. Cogswell who runs Cogswell Cogs. Mr. Spacely is easily angered and hard to work for. He and George were childhood friends. George’s work computer was RUDI – Referential Universal Differential Indexer.  He has a human personality. George was voiced by George O’Hanlon. Mr. Spacely was voiced by Mel Blanc.

 

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George is married to Jane, a homemaker like Wilma.  Jane is a member of the Galaxy Women’s Historical Society.  Her favorite store is Mooning Dales.  Penny Singleton, the original Blondie of the movies, plays Jane.

 

They have two children, Judy, a 16-year-old, who attends Orbit High School and Elroy, 6, who attends the Little Dipper School.  Judy likes clothes, boys, and her diary, much like teens in the 1960s.  Elroy is quiet, easy going, and highly intelligent, and he studies space history, astrophysics, and star geometry. Janet Waldo was the voice of Judy, while Daws Butler provided the voices of Elroy and Spencer Cogswell.

 

Rosie is their robot maid and Astro is their dog. Rosie is an outdated robot, but the family loves her. She performs all the housework and does some parenting of Elroy. Surprisingly, Rosie was only in 2 of the 24 episodes that aired in 1962. Astro precedes Scooby Doo but talks like him and looks very much like a gray Scooby. Jean Vander Pyl and Don Messick from The Flintstones take on the voices of Rosie and Astro.

 

Two other characters who make appearances are George’s eccentric grandfather, Montague Jetson voiced by Howard Morris.  Stella/Petunia Spacely, Cosmo’s wife, is overbearing and snobby and she was voiced by Jean Vander Pyl.

 

In 1963, Morey Amsterdam and Pat Carroll sued H-B for breach of contract.  Apparently, they were signed to a 24-episode contract to voice George and Jane.  They were guaranteed $500 per episode. According to the network, they had to be replaced because of sponsor conflicts with their other shows, The Dick Van Dyke Show and Make Room for Daddy. I believe the suit was dropped; however, I couldn’t find proof of that.

 

The show did not get very good ratings.  Part of the problem was that so many people were watching it in black and white. Another problem is that it was up against Car 54, Where Are You and, ironically, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. After the first year, the network moved it to Saturday morning. In 1985, 41 episodes were made and 10 additional shows were created in 1987. It’s hard to believe, but those of us who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s watched the same 24 episodes over and over since new ones weren’t made for 23 years after the debut.

Although it was only on the air in prime time for one year, marketing certainly did not suffer.  Many Jetson toys, games, and figures were sold.

 

The Jetsons endorsed Electrasol, Tums, and Radio Shack. Many comic books were based on the series. Gold Key printed 36 from 1963-1970, Charlton created 20 between 1970-1973, Harvey published 5 in 1992-1993, and Archie Comics produced 17 from 1995-1996.

In addition, two tv films, a tv special, and a movie were created.

The show was on Boomerang from 2000-2014 and again from 2016-2017. It was aired on The Cartoon Network from 1992-2004 and again in 2012. It is available now on Comcast’s video-on-demand service.

 

Many of the inventions the Jetsons used are currently being produced today. A flying car will most likely debut in 2018. There are several start-up companies developing jetpacks to allow people to fly. Robot butlers exist at some hotels (Japan and California). Holograms have existed for a few years. 3-D printers can make food, and our current drones are similar to the pods the Jetsons used. Smart watches were also shown on the series; in one episode a student in Elroy’s class watches a Flintstones episode on his watch instead of paying attention to the teacher. Although The Jetsons was set in 2062, they featured moving walkways and smart homes which we have used for some time.

 

What is so surprising about The Jetsons is its current popularity.  A Jetson big-screen film is in the works and, in August of 2017, ABC ordered a live-action sitcom of The Jetsons. It will be interesting to see if they rely on the same technology used in 1962 on the show or if they project into our future.

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While many of the popular shows from the early 1960s are only remembered by baby boomers, The Flintstones and The Jetsons are still well known to kids of every generation. They have truly survived the test of time. By this time next year, The Jetsons could once again be a hit television show. Like the Bewitched-I Dream of Jeannie debate, or the Mary Ann vs Ginger question, most people prefer watching the past or the future.  I am in The Jetsons camp, but enjoy watching Fred and Wilma from time to time also.  Next week we’ll look at my favorite adult animation show, and no, it’s not The Simpsons.

If It’s Friday Night, It’s Time for the Adults to Gather Round and Watch . . . Cartoons?

In September 1960 several iconic shows had their debut including My Three Sons and The Andy Griffith Show. On Friday nights at 8:30 eastern time, a very unusual show also began on ABC that fall:  The Flintstones.  Many viewers don’t realize that The Flintstones began life as a prime-time animated show aimed at adults. Created by Hanna-Barbera (H-B), it continued to run at night until April of 1966, a total of 166 episodes.

H-B went to New York for 8 weeks to pitch the show. After being turned down by every ntework, ABC decided to take a chance on it.  It was the most financially successful animated show for 30 years until The Simpsons was created. Variety described its premier as “a pen and ink disaster,” but the show was nominated for Outstanding Comedy, losing to The Jack Benny Show.

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Set in Bedrock, population 2500, the Flintstones and the Rubbles were neighbors and best friends.  The show’s success had a lot to do with the fact that these Stone Age families participated in the same modern-day activities that families did in the 1960s. They relied on the same technology; it’s just that their technology was powered primarily by animals and rocks.

H-B considered other historical eras for the show.  They researched hillbillies, the Roman Empire, and American Indians before settling on Stone Age characters. The original title was The Flagstones.  It was then changed to The Gladstones, and, finally, The Flintstones. In the first creation, Fred and Wilma had a son — Fred Jr. H-B decided that they wanted both couples to be childless, so Fred Jr. was written out.  A Golden Book which came out in 1960 was released before the show changed its concept, and it features Fred Jr.

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Let’s review the regular characters.

Fred Flintstone works at Slate Rock and Gravel Co. He had a quick temper but was a loving father and husband.  He is tall and broad with black hair. He was on a bowling team and belonged to the Loyal Order of Buffaloes, Lodge No. 26. Alan Reed was the voice of Fred. In one episode, Fred was supposed to yell “Yahoo.” Reed asked if he could say “Yabba Dabba Doo” which he based on a Brylcreem jingle his mother used to say, “A little dab’ll do ya.” That became his catchphrase.  In 1977, when the show was in syndication, Henry Corden took over after Reed passed away. Fred was based on Ralph Kramden. In a 1986 , article Jackie Gleason revealed that his attorney told him he could have easily won a lawsuit and stopped The Flintstones, but he advised against it or Gleason would have been known as the man who destroyed The Flintstones.

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Wilma Flintstone is a practical and level-headed wife. She is a true redhead and loves to shop. She often has to get Fred out of bad situations or is forced to convince him to apologize to Barney or Mr. Slate. Jean Vander Pyl was the voice of Wilma.

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Pebbles Flintstone was born at the end of Season 3.  She wore bones in her hair for bows and was a happy little girl. Vander Pyl also played Pebbles.

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Dino is their purple pet.  He barks and often acts like a dog, but he is officially a prosauropod. The incredible Mel Blanc was the voice of Dino.

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Barney Rubble is Fred’s best friend and next-door neighbor. He and Fred get into spats regularly. Barney is shorter than Fred, easy going, and friendly.  Barney was on Fred’s bowling team and part of the Water Buffaloes. Barney was also voiced by Mel Blanc. After Blanc’s death, several actors played Barney.

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Betty Rubble is Wilma’s best friend.  They often conspire to get their husbands to mend their friendship.  Betty is a brunette. Bea Benaderet was the voice of Betty for seasons 1-4.  After her death, Gerry Johnson took over for seasons 5 and 6.

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Bamm-Bamm is the Rubbles’ adopted son.  He is absurdly strong and says “Bamm-Bamm” a lot. Don Messick was the voice of both Bamm-Bamm and the Rubbles’ pet.

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Hoppy is Rubbles’ pet hopparoo (a cross between a kangaroo and a dinosaur).  He doesn’t appear until Season 5.

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More than 100 “guest” characters appear on the show, but several are better known and appear more often, including:

Mr. Slate owns the company where Fred works.  Sometimes Barney works there as well but it doesn’t seem to be consistent. Mr. Slate fires Fred a lot but always takes him back. John Stephenson voiced Mr. Slate.

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Arnold is the Rubbles’ and Flintstones’ paperboy. Fred doesn’t like him because Arnold can outsmart him. Don Messick played Arnold.

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Joe Rockhead is a friend of Fred and Barney’s. He is mentioned in one show as being the chief of the Bedrock Volunteer Fire Department. Irwin Keyes played Joe.

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Pearl Slaghoople is Wilma’s mother.  She is hard to please and has always disapproved of Fred. Verna Felton and Janet Waldo played Pearl.

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Gazoo is an alien who helps Fred and Barney.  He can only be seen by those two, small children, and pets. Harvey Korman was the voice of Gazoo. He appeared during the final season as a way to boost viewership. The show had begun to try to capture younger viewers during the final two seasons.

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Many famous people also showed up on the show. The 6th episode of the 6th season featured Darrin and Samantha Stephenson from Bewitched. H-B produced the animated opening of Bewitched, so there was a tie-in. Other stars included Stony Curtis (Tony Curtis), Ann Margrock (Ann Margaret), and Cary Granite (Cary Grant) as well as the Green Bay Pachyderms.

One strange thing about the show was that the Flintstones home and furniture placement was not consistent.  You can see changes in almost every episode. Their address also changed. It was given as 345 Cave Stone Rd., 1313 Cobblestone Way, and 222 Rocky Way.

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A theme song, “Rise and Shine” was created for the show and used in seasons 1 and 2. The tune was similar to Bugs Bunny’s theme, and in season 3 it was changed to “Meet the Flintstones.” A 22-piece jazz band and a 5-person singing group, the Skip Jacks, recorded it. When the show went into syndication, “Rise and Shine” was replaced with “Meet the Flintstones” for the first two seasons as well. Hoyt Curtin was in charge of the underscores for seasons 1-5 and Ted Nichols took over for season 6.

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Believe it or not, the first two seasons were sponsored by Winston Cigarettes, and there were ads featuring Fred and Barney smoking. These seasons were aired in black and white. Seasons 3-6 would be in color. In season 3, Welch’s became the sponsor for the last four years. They created jelly jars which could be re-used as drinking glasses. At this point, it was decided that the Flintstones would have a baby. A boy was written into the script. A marketing director suggested they change it to a girl because girl dolls sold better. Based on his recommendation, they created Pebbles. Apparently, he was right because during the first few months, they sold 3 million of them. In season 4, Bamm-Bamm was adopted.

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Some of the clever products included an alarm clock that is a bird, a bird car horn, a dinosaur crane, an octopus dishwasher, a pelican garbage can, a porcupine hairbrush, and a swordfish knife. Several famous brands were seen in the stone age such as Stoneway Pianos and Polarrock cameras.

The show was offered in syndication till 1997. Ted Turner purchased H-B in 1992, and The Flintstones ran on TBS, TNT, and the Cartoon Network. In 2000, Boomerang began airing the show where it continued until 2016. Now it’s only available on Boomerang’s subscription video-on-demand service.

The Flintstones had 12 different television series versions and 13 tv specials produced. In addition, there have been 5 tv movies, 6 educational filmstrips and 2 big-screen films.

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Two theme parks exist: Bedrock City in Custer, SD and Valle, AZ. A stage production took place in Universal Studios in Hollywood from 1994-1997. DC Comics produced a 2016 Flintstones comic book. Flintstones collectibles have been produced for almost 60 years.

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Fifty-eight years after the debut of the show, Bedrock characters are still promoting products.  One-a-Day vitamins features Flintstones Chewables and Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles are made by Post.

 

A typical conversation between Fred and Barney is:

Fred: How can you be so stupid?

Barney: Hey, that’s not very nice. Say you’re sorry.

Fred: I’m sorry you’re stupid.

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For the remainder of January, we will continue to look at prime-time animation series.