What do You Wear to Eat Beans and Franks with Arnold Ziffel?

There is a lot that happens behind the scenes to help make a show a hit. In previous blogs (see the December 2018 blogs about Earl Hagen and Jay Livingston), we learned about composers. This month we’ll take a look at the costumers and the set designers. The wardrobe department has the responsibility to make sure the characters are wearing the appropriate clothing for their character.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, ca. 1952
Photo: quotesgram.com

Green Acres presented a challenge for the wardrobe department. Most of the citizens were farmers, so overalls and house dresses fit the bill. Sam Drucker was the grocer, postman, and newspaperman for Hooterville, among other jobs. He always wore a blue shirt with a tie and had his postman vest or grocery apron on. Lisa and Oliver Douglas played an attorney and his wife who relocated from New York City and the social scene to rural Hooterville to run a farm. Oliver often wore suits on his tractor, looking somewhat silly and questioned by the locals. Lisa also continued to wear her glamorous outfits, but somehow, she was accepted by everyone and fit in wherever she went.

Photo: metv.com

Lisa Douglas could wear anything and look good. She often wore her negligees around the house without being thought a hussy. She could show up in a sequined gown for a local band performance and was just one of the crowd. She wore gowns of boldly colored prints, but she was just as likely to show up in a single-colored sheath dress with a simple strand of pearls.

Photo: imdb.com

With her lavish updo hairstyle and her extensive collection of jewelry, Lisa was fun to outfit. Three designers were responsible for the majority of Lisa’s wardrobe: Jean Louis, Lucie Ann Claire Sandra, and Nolan Miller.

Jean Louis

Born Jean Louis Berthault in 1907 in Paris, France, he was an Academy Award winner for The Solid Gold Cadillac in 1956 starring Judy Holliday. (Jean was nominated for 13 Academy awards.)

Photo: pinterest.com

He attended the School of Decorative Arts and then went to work for Agnes Drecoll, courtier. In 1935, he moved to New York city where he worked for Hattie Carnegie before going to Hollywood. While working there he began gathering a large clientele, including Wallis Simpson and Irene Dunne.

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Black gown -1960s Jean Louis Silk Tiered Gown

From 1944-1958, he was head designer for Columbia Pictures. Some of his most creative designs included Rita Hayworth’s black satin dress from Gilda, the beaded gowns worn by Marlene Dietrich, and the sheer, sparkling dress Marilyn Monroe displayed when she sang “Happy Birthday” to John F. Kennedy. He also was the primary designer for Kim Novack.

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Gold and black lame dress

In 1958 he moved over to Universal. There he began a working relationship with Doris Day, with Pillow Talk, their first collaboration. Journalist Tom Vallance described his work:- “He created a sophisticated allure for Doris that launched a new phase of her career.” James Garner, who also starred with Doris in several films said she “exuded sex appeal while still maintaining her All-American Girl next door image.” Jean Louis also worked with Lana Turner during this era, putting together her colorful wardrobe in Imitation of Life. Jean’s daughter said her father “had the most amazing discerning eye for color. It was a sixth sense for him.”

Jean Louis had designed the clothing for The Loretta Young Show from 1953-1961. She was a close friend of Jean and his wife Maggie. After Maggie passed away, he and Young married in 1993. She was considered one of, if not the best, well-dressed stars. He also designed clothing for Ginger Rogers, Vivian Leigh, Julie Andrews, Katherine Hepburn, and Judy Garland.

Jean began to freelance in 1960. He opened a boutique in Beverly Hills and sold his label, “Jean Louis, Inc.” at better department stores all over the country. During this time, he also updated the United Airlines stewardess uniforms.

Photo: metv.com

From 1965-1967 he designed Lisa Douglas’s dresses on Green Acres. He was the perfect designer for her. Gifted with a great sense of humor, he could undoubtedly relate to the humor on the show.

Photo: thewritelife61.com

As he said during a Vogue interview, “You can use marvelous fabrics, have wonderful, impossible embroidery—in fact, be superluxe and superluxe is what the couture is all about.”

Photo: tumblr.com

In the 1970s, he opened a boutique in France and launched his first fragrance. His career was still flourishing with clients like Jacqueline Kennedy, Sophia Loren, and Bianca Jagger.

Jean Louis passed away in 1997. His influence continues to be felt among designers today. Some of the fashion icons who admit being influenced by him include Michael Kors, Vera Wang, Giorgio Armani, and Zac Posen.

Photo: imdb.com

Lucie Ann-Claire Sandra

Lucie Ann vintage nightgowns are among the most glamorous and desirable negligees ever made. Lucie Onderwyzer founded the fashion company in 1947 in Beverly Hills. Known for bold color and exuberant details like pompoms, bows, rosettes, and rhinestones, she designed for many stars including Elizabeth Taylor.

Photo: pinterest.com
A few of Lisa’s gowns in the background

She designed all the peignoir sets worn by Eva Gabor in Green Acres. Her designs were also featured in other television shows and movies. In one episode of Bewitched, Darrin goes to the store to purchase a Lucie Ann for Samantha.

Photo: pinterest.com
Darrin shopping for Samantha

Lucie passed away in 1988 and her company was bought by Deena Lingerie Co and later Lady Ester Lingerie Company which is still making them today.

Norman Miller

Norman Miller was a wardrobe consultant for Eva on Green Acres.

At www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/nolan-miller, Miller described his relationship with Eva.

 “I adored Eva. We worked together for many years. Later on, our working relationship became a friendship that I really valued. She wasn’t silly. She was a very smart lady. Not so smart with the men of her life. Her home was incredibly elegant. Anything that she needed I would do.” Miller shares about the time when Eva discovered a store called Loehmann’s; the store would buy designer samples and pack them up in huge boxes for stars to pick from. “Eva was a size 8 and the sample sizes were 2, and she’d simply ask me to do my magic and tailor them to her size. I smile at that as Eva could get anyone to change things around for her. I sometimes wonder whether she did understand fully well what was entailed in changing a size 2 into an 8 just like what was entailed in coming up with an animation idea tailor-made for her. She’d bat her eyelashes and sprinkle in a few ‘darlings’ and you find yourself doing what she wanted.”

Photo: pinterest.com
A pink chiffon sleeveless floor-length Nolan Miller dress with accompanying chiffon and ostrich feather wrap worn by Eva Gabor on the television series Green Acres.

Miscellaneous

These three designers were the major forces behind Lisa Douglas’s beautiful fashion style on Green Acres. Gabor had an amazing fashion sense and was well known for her private wardrobe. She also was a successful business woman, owning a multi-million-dollar wig company.

Photo: newyorksocialdiary.com

Eddie Albert tells a great story about Gabor and her fashion. At her funeral, he said he probably saw more of Gabor than any of her five real-life husbands did. And, like any couple, married or not, they had their differences. She, for example, never quite understood his passion for wildlife conservation. “Every time you hear about a sick fish, you make a speech. Vy?,” Albert recalled his co-star saying. “And I would tell her, ‘I think we ought to preserve nature, save wild animals,’ and so on. Well, one day she showed up in a gown made of feathers, and I asked her not to wear it. ‘But so chic!’ she said. And I said, ‘Yes, and ladies will see it and want one, and thousands of birds will die.’ And she said, ‘But, Eddie, feathers don’t come from birds.’ ‘Well,’ I asked, ‘where do they come from?’ And she said, ‘Dahlink. Pillows! Feathers come from pee-lowz!’ ”

Perhaps there was more of Eva Gabor in Lisa Douglas than we realized.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

The Teacher We All Wished We’d Had: Our Miss Brooks

We kicked off the month looking at the successful transition of Burns and Allen from radio to television.  There were many shows that couldn’t make the leap to the small screen, and several that did very well like The Jack Benny Show and I Love Lucy. Our Miss Brooks not only had a successful radio show, but when their television show debuted, the radio show kept going. Many of the cast members starred in both mediums. In addition, they made it to the big screen with a movie and a comic book.

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So, what enabled Our Miss Brooks to do what many shows could not?  Let’s look a little closer at the series and the behind-the-scenes work that kept the show on the air for four seasons, producing 130 episodes.

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Connie Brooks (Eve Arden) is an English teacher at Madison High. She and her principal, Mr. Conklin (Gale Gordon), do not always see eye to eye, but she is close to his daughter Harriet and Harriet’s boyfriend Walter (Richard Crenna) who gives Miss Brooks a ride to school. She wants to be close to Mr. Boynton (Robert Rockwell), the science teacher, but he is oblivious to her charms. She rents a room from Mrs. Davis (Jane Morgan) where she lives with Mrs. Davis’s cat, Minerva.

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We also get to know Fabian “Stretch” Snodgrass (Leonard Smith), basically a “dumb jock” who is Walter’s best friend and Daisy Enright (Mary Jane Croft), another English teacher who is Connie’s love rival for Mr. Boynton.

The show debuted July 19, 1948 on the radio. The show program was sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive-Peet for its entire run which ended in 1957. The first choice for Miss Brooks was Shirley Booth, and the show was titled “Our Miss Booth.” In Gerald Nachman’s book Raised on Radio, he states Booth concentrated too much on the disadvantages of being a school teacher to be funny. There is an audition with her from April of 1948 and while she sounds pleasant, she doesn’t have the sarcastic wit of Arden. The television show began in 1953 and was sponsored by General Foods.

 

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Our Miss Brooks was a ground-breaking show featuring a single woman (teachers were usually single, and marriage might have ended her career). She was not a scatterbrained female like Lucy or Joan in I Married Joan, and she was not a housewife like June Cleaver or Donna Reed. She was a bright, attractive working woman. Eve remembered her third-grade teacher fondly and tried to give Miss Brooks some of her qualities. Eve was known for her sassy movie roles; one of the things she appreciated about the character of Connie Brooks was that it allowed her to be a warm, fun-loving person who had a self-deprecating side.

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The show was a Desilu Production, so they shared equipment and crews with I Love Lucy, as well as a director (William Asher) at times, to save money.

The show was funny because it is based on believable characters. Connie Brooks has a great sense of humor. Many of the plots involve misunderstandings or her trying to keep Walter out of trouble with Mr. Conklin. Here are a few episode summaries.

Miss Davis unknowingly uses school funds to buy Connie a new dress. Now Connie must sell the dress to return the money. Mr. Boynton even models the dress for the kids.

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Mr. Boynton asks Connie to play the role of Mrs. Boynton. She is thrilled,  imagining what it could lead to, until she realizes he meant his mother, not his wife.

Walter is listening to his home-made radio. Storm warnings come over the air for Bombay. Miss Brooks mistakenly thinks it is for their area and takes precautions to evacuate the school and prepare for a hurricane.

Mr. Conklin is furious when his bike is taken at the grocery store, and he wants the thief punished. Miss Brooks finds out that a poor boy borrowed it for his birthday and then returned it to the store. She goes to great lengths to protect the youngster.

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Radio Mirror magazine nominated Eve Arden as the top-ranking comedienne two years in a row for her characterization of Miss Brooks. The National Education Association recognized her for her sympathetic portrayal of teachers.

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Eve Arden was nominated for an Emmy for Best Actress Starring in a Regular Series in 1954, 1955, and 1956—winning in 1954. Gale Gordon was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1955, and the show was nominated Best Situation Comedy in 1954 and 1955.

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Eve Arden had to fight the same battle many celebrities do when they have a hit show. She handled her fame of being known as Miss Brooks with grace and practicality. As she explained it: “I originally loved the theater. I still do. And I had always wanted to have a hit on Broadway that was created by me. You know, kind of like Judy Holliday and Born Yesterday. I griped about it a little, and someone said to me, ‘Do you realize that if you had a hit on Broadway, probably 100 or 200,000 people might have seen you in it, if you’d stayed in it long enough. And this way, you’ve been in Miss Brooks, everybody loves you, and you’ve been seen by millions.’ So, I figured I’d better shut up while I was ahead.”

 

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While the TV series never resolved the Boynton-Brooks romance, the 1956 film did. It was directed by Al Lewis, who directed many of the television episodes. In the movie, Miss Brooks is unaware that Mr. Boynton is saving money, so he can ask her to marry him. He is hoping to get a promotion to head of the department. In a subplot, Connie is having issues with a student who is failing her class. He has no friends because he is very arrogant. When she meets his wealthy father, she understands why he has no friends and she tries to help him.  Also, Mr. Conklin is running for Coordinator of Education, primarily to stop the other nominee, Superintendent Stone, who has threatened to fire Conklin. Miss Brooks decides to be Conklin’s campaign manager despite her butting heads with him most of the time. If Conklin wins, Mr. Boynton might be promoted to principal. In the end, Boynton finally proposes, only to have a chimpanzee steal away the ring.

 

Our Miss Brooks comic. (1956)

The movie was a box-office failure. After the movie, Dell Comics released a comic book titled “Our Miss Brooks.” In past decades, it sold for hundreds of dollars in mint condition. Today it can be found on ebay for under $50.

A fun fact I learned was that Eve Arden was born Eunice Quedens. When she was encouraged to take a different stage name, she looked over her cosmetic jar labels. She picked “Eve” from “Evening in Paris” and “Arden” from “Elizabeth Arden.”

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While many of the plots for Our Miss Brooks are predictable and not overly creative, it was a innovative sitcom. The scripts were well written, and the humor still works today. I could not find any channels currently broadcasting Our Miss Brooks, but it does appear on Me TV from time to time. The radio shows can be heard on Sirius Radio, channel 148. Of course, there are a variety of DVDs featuring the show. Add it to your list to understand why Eve Arden was so popular with women in the 1950s.

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