The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: Fifty Years After Getting the Pink Slip

The late 1960s and early 1970s might have contained the most diverse television shows than any other era. In 1968, there were the rural comedies like Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies; there were the standard sitcoms, My Three Sons, Get Smart, That Girl, Bewitched; there were the remains of a few westerns including The High Chaparral, The Virginian, and Gunsmoke; there were crime and thrillers such as Hawaii Five-0 and Mission Impossible; there was the crime/western in The Wild, Wild West, there were gameshows on at night including Let’s Make a Deal, The Dating Game, and The Newlywed Game; there were sci-fi shows like Star Trek and The Land of the Giants; family shows like Lassie; and even Lawrence Welk.

In addition, there were a couple of shows that were a bit edgier and introduced more  provocative concepts and themes. The Mod Squad featured three teens who were helping solve crimes in lieu of jail time, and then there was the almost-impossible-to-describe Laugh In.

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Similar to Laugh In was The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour which also debuted in 1967 featuring Tom and Dick Smothers. It had more of a variety format to it but it had the same topical and satirical humor.

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The Who

In addition to poking fun at politics, the war, religion, and current issues, you could tune in to the Smothers Brothers for some of the best and sometimes controversial music in the industry. Performers such as Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf, Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Cream, Pete Seeger, and The Doors appeared on the show.

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The show aired Sunday nights against Bonanza on NBC; ABC aired The Sunday Night Movie in its first season and Hee Haw in its second season.

The series had some of the best writers on television: Alan Blye, Hal Goldman, Al Gordon, Steve Martin, Lorenzo Music, Don Novello, Rob Reiner, David Steinberg, and Mason Williams. Reiner and Martin both commented on the show in an interview by Marc Freeman in the Hollywood Reporter 11-25-2017 (“The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour at 50: The Rise and Fall of a Ground-Breaking Variety Show”).  

Reiner relayed that “you had two cute boy-next-doors wearing red suits, one with the stand-up bass and the other with his guitar. They looked like the sweetest, most innocent kids. You got drawn to them, and then they hit you with the uppercut you didn’t see coming.”

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Martin elaborated “When you have the power wrapped up in innocence, it’s more palatable. They were like little boys, but you also had Dickie there to reprimand Tommy when he would make an outrageous statement. It’s like the naughty ventriloquist dummy who can get away with murder as long as the ventriloquist is there to say ‘You can’t say that.’ It’s the perfect setup for getting a message across.”

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Jack Benny

In addition to the musical acts, hundreds of celebrities appeared on the show between 1967 and 1969, including Jack Benny, Carol Burnett, George Burns, Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, Barbara Eden, Nanette Fabray, Eva Gabor, Shirley Jones, Don Knotts, Bob Newhart, Tony Randall, Ed Sullivan, Danny Thomas and Jonathan Winters, along with so many others.

Part of the show was the brothers’ ongoing sibling rivalry about whom their parents liked best. They also began to add political satire and ribald humor. Pat Paulsen delivered mock editorials about current topics such as the draft and gun control, and in 1968 he had a mock presidential campaign.

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Pat Paulsen for president

Church sermon sketches poked fun at religion. The show lampooned many of the values older Americans valued, often delivering anti-establishment and pro-drug humor. No one was given an exception, and the show lambasted the military, the police, the religious right, and the government.

Battles over content were ongoing with the network. The network pulled Pete Seeger’s performance of his anti-Vietnam War song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.” They nixed Harry Belafonte’s song, “Don’t Stop the Carnival” because it had a video collage behind him of the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots.

Younger viewers were tuning in, and despite the conflicts, the show was picked up for a second season. The network insisted they receive a copy of the show at least ten days in advance for editing. In April of 1969, William Paley canceled the show without notice. Some sources contend it was canceled by CBS president Robert Wood. Some sources cite the issue with unacceptable deadlines and others mention Tom Smothers lobbying the FCC and members of Congress over corporate censorship that brought about the firing. The brothers filed a breach of contract suit against the network and after four years of litigation, a federal court ruled in their favor, awarding them $776,300.

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Here’s a typical joke from the show that was not as controversial.

Tom: You can tell who’s running the country by how much clothes people wear, see?

Dick: Do you mean that some people can afford more clothes on, and some people have . . . less on? Is that what you mean?

Tom: That’s right.

Dick: I don’t understand.

Tom: See, the ordinary people, you’d say that the ordinary people are the less-ons.

Dick: So, who’s running the country?

Tom: The morons.

The Smothers Brothers elicited humor that was as topical, influential, and critical as anyone had ever heard before on television. Fifty years later, both the network and the brothers realized everyone over-reacted. If the Smothers Brothers had tried to play by the rules a bit, they would not have lost their platform to continue to help change what they saw as a messed-up culture.

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The CBS executives felt the program created too much controversy. In their defense, politicians, especially Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, exerted a lot of pressure on the network. Remember this was a time of three networks and ads are what produced the profits to fund shows. The network received a boatload of hate mail daily about the program and, when viewers begin talking boycotting advertisers, executives sit up a bit straighter and listen.

The Smothers Brothers Show, a less controversial series, debuted in 1975. They had two specials on NBC later and another CBS series in 1988 but never regained the influence they had in the sixties. However, the show did help pave the way for a future that permitted, and later embraced, shows with controversy beginning with All in the Family, continuing with Saturday Night Live, and recently seen on shows such hosted by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Although the comedy spouted on the show would seem quite tame by today’s standards, the show had an important part in the history of television and the rights of free speech.

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I have seen some DVDs out there from this show, but they are pricey. Recently I saw season two going for $190. I do see Laugh In on Decades quite often, so perhaps The Smothers Brothers might show up somewhere too, although I’m not sure this show would hold up as well as Laugh In, but the musical performances would be fun to see.

Who Writes The Songs?: Good Question–Lots of People Including Frank De Vol, Jay Livingston, and Ray Evans.

At this time of year, we tend to watch a lot of football bowl games. Most of the attention centers on the coaches, the quarterbacks, and a handful of other star players like running backs, wide receivers, and occasionally kickers. While these positions influence the games, there is an entire team behind them which determines whether they get a win or a loss. This year I will be trying to look at some of the behind-the-scenes players in the television industry.

Today we look at three composers who often influenced shows, even though many viewers never heard of the song writers.

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Frank Denny De Vol was born in West Virginia in 1911. His family moved to Canton, Ohio where he grew up. His mother owned a sewing shop, and his father was in charge of the pit orchestra at a local movie theater. He graduated from McKinley High School in 1929 and started at Miami of Ohio University but quit after six weeks. His parents were hoping he would pursue his law degree, but he was set on a career in music.

This wasn’t surprising because he had become a member of the musicians’ union at age 14. He worked for his father at the theater and played the saxophone and violin.

Once he left college, he joined Emerson Gill’s orchestra and traveled around Ohio. Later he became a musician with Horace Heidt’s band, and Horace let him try his hand at arranging. He would then travel with Alvino Rey’s band which led to a long-life friendship with the King Family.

During his career as a traveling musician he married his wife, Grayce McGinty in 1935. The couple’s 54-year-long marriage would produce two daughters.

During the 1940s, he would write arrangements for many of the country’s top performers including Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Vic Damone, Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Shore, and Sarah Vaughn. His version of “Nature Boy” for Nat King Cole went to number 1 in 1948.

In 1943 he moved to California and started his own band. He appeared on the radio on KHJ and accompanied many stars including Jack Carson.

 

In the 1950s, he moved into movie composing and worked on more than 50 film scores including What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, The Glass Bottom Boat, The Dirty Dozen, and several Herbie movies. He received Academy Award nominations for his work on Pillow Talk (1959), Hush . . . Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964), Cat Ballou (1965), and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967).

 

During the 1950s, his orchestra also was frequently seen at the Hollywood Palladium as “Music of the Century.”

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It seems natural that De Vol would ease into television work as well. He composed the jingle for Screen Gems’ “Dancing Sticks,” which appeared on all television series produced by Columbia Pictures.

 

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Frank became the musical director on Edgar Bergen’s game show Do You Trust Your Wife? His orchestra was featured on a variety of musical shows including The Lux Show Starring Rosemary Clooney.

 

 

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Today De Vol might be best known for his work as a composer for television series. He wrote the music for My Three Sons, Family Affair, The Brady Bunch, and The Smith Family. My Three Sons theme song was a hit single in 1961 by Lawrence Welk, more musically complex than many sitcom themes of the time. He would continue his work for My Three Sons for all 380 episodes.

 

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Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of The Brady Bunch, first turned to George Wyle to create the Brady theme. Wyle and Schwartz had composed the theme for Gilligan’s Island. With Wyle already committed to The Andy Williams Show, he approached De Vol. De Vol would provide music for 117 episodes of the original show, as well as music for The Brady Girls Get Married, The Brady Brides, The Bradys, and A Very Brady Sequel.

Frank was credited as composer for 37 movies and television series and listed as part of the music department for 87 total.

 

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Not only was he musical composer for these shows, but you can see him acting in many of the shows he worked on as well. His first acting appearances were on Betty White’s Show, Life with Elizabeth where he played a variety of roles.

 

 

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He then appeared on several television series including State Trooper, My Favorite Martian, The Farmer’s Daughter, Gidget, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, Bonanza, Petticoat Junction, Get Smart, That Girl, and I Dream of Jeannie (37 different shows in all).

While composing on My Three Sons, he would actually portray a bandleader on the show and a father on The Brady Bunch.

 

 

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Many people will remember him as the dour-faced band leader Happy Kyne on Fernwood Tonight and America 2-Night, shows starring Martin Mull in the late 1970s.

 

One of my favorite roles of his was the head of the boys’ camp on the original Parent Trap.

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His last acting role would be on Charles in Charge, the Scott Baio comedy from 1990.

When he was in his 80s, Frank was still active with the Big Band Academy of America. About this time, he married Helen O’Connell who had been a big band singer and actress. (His first wife passed away in 1989.)

Helen passed away in 1993, and Frank died from congestive heart failure in 1999.

 

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Like so many of these stars of the classic television era, he was a multi-talented guy. He could sing, he could play instruments, he could compose, he could arrange, and he could act. Sadly, when he does his job right, the music is so attuned to the shows that we almost don’t realize it’s there but try listening to a show with no background noise. Thank you Frank De Vol for not becoming an attorney.

 

We also take a look at a song-writing team of the golden age, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.

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Livingston was born in McDonald, Pennsylvania in 1915. After studying piano with Harry Archer in Pittsburgh, he attended the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in journalism but also studying composition and orchestration.

Ray Evans was born in Salamanca, New York the same year. He also ended up at the University of Pennsylvania, receiving a degree in Economics.

Livingston organized a dance band at the University that played on campus as well as at local nightclubs and even cruise ships during their summer breaks.  One of those band mates was Ray Evans. Evans and Livingston became a partnership and they wrote some of the most iconic songs from film and television.

 

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After their graduation in 1937, the duo moved to New York City to work in Tin Pan Alley. They wrote for Broadway productions, including special material for Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson.

 

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Livingston joined the Army when World War II began while Evans went to work for an aircraft company. When Jay came back home in 1945, he and Evans decided to try their luck in Hollywood. They received a contract from Paramount Pictures, and the team would stay with the company for a decade. Their first film was To Each His Own, starring Olivia DeHaviland, and they were nominated for an Academy Award.

During this time at Paramount, Livingston married Lynne Gordon. It must have been a happy marriage because they were married until 1991 when she passed away.

The exact same year, Evans married Wyn Ritchie. They were married until her death in 2003.

In 1947 the team began writing for Bob Hope for his personal appearances. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, they would write many tunes that became jukebox favorites and popular songs. In Warren Craig’s book The Greatest Songwriters of Hollywood, he called them “the last of the great songwriters in Hollywood.”

 

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The year 1948 brought them their first Oscar win for “Buttons and Bows,” from Bob Hope’s western comedy, The Paleface. The jukebox version was recorded by Dinah Shore.

 

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In 1950, they scored their second Academy Award for “Mona Lisa,” written for the movie Captain Carey, USA but made famous by Nat King Cole.

 

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Evans and Livingston would appear in Sunset Boulevard this same year at the New Year’s Eve party scene.

 

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We can all smile and thing of Livingston and Evans each Christmas when we hear “Silver Bells.” The song, originally titled “Tinkle Bells” was written for The Lemon Drop Kid in 1951, also starring Bob Hope. Thankfully, they decided “tinkle” had other connotations and “Silver Bells” it became. (Some sources credits Jay’s wife Lynne with the name change.)

When their Paramount contract ended in 1955, they became free lancers and wrote both individual songs and complete scores for a variety of movies. They would receive ten additional Oscar nominations during their career.

 

Doris Day had a huge hit in 1956 with “Que Sera, Sera” from The Man Who Knew Too Much with Jimmy Stewart and that hit would win them a third Oscar. The song would also become Doris’s theme song for her television show in 1968.

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In 1957 they began writing the music for the Tammy movies that would be a staple of that era, beginning with Tammy and the Bachelor.

Jay and Ray would return to Broadway in 1958. They were nominated for a Tony for Oh, Captain! They also wrote songs for Let It Ride in 1961, a musical comedy adaptation of Three Men On a Horse, and Sugar Babies in 1979.

 

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Though most of their work was in the film industry, the team is probably best known for their television compositions. In 1959, they were asked by Desi Arnaz to write a song for a Western show being developed. The show, thought likely to last a year, didn’t have money for a weekly salary, but he allowed them to keep the rights to the song. Luckily for them, that show, Bonanza, made them millions, and would be on television until 1973.

In 1960 they composed the theme song for The Bugs Bunny Show, “This is it.”

 

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In 1961, Mister Ed debuted. Livingston and Evans not only wrote the well-known song, but Livingston is the one singing the line “I am Mister Ed.”

After Lynne’s passing, Jay would marry Shirley Mitchell in 1992.

Livingston and Evans were presented with a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame in 1995.

In 2001, at the age of 86, Jay Livingston died from pnuemonia. Ray Evans lived until 2007 when he passed away from heart failure.

 

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It’s fun to see a friendship and partnership span six decades and be so successful. Although they were born in the same year in the same area of the country and married the same year and their marriages would last decades until the death of a spouse, the two men were very different. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1985, Evans said “I’m nuts about sports, play baseball and tennis every weekend. Jay couldn’t care less. He’s restrained and quiet. I’m more outward going. Jay is a marvelous musician. I have a tin ear. But our tastes are similar, and we both like good music and song.” The duo had 26 songs that sold more than a million records and their total record sales has exceeded 400 million dollars.

Michael Feinstein released an album in 2002 devoted to the team. He said, “they had a strong work ethic and they wrote a lot of plays that have wonderful and sophisticated songs that are quite different from movie songs.”

Like Frank De Vol, most viewers today have probably never heard of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, although they recognize much of their work. It’s good to look behind the scenes of and dig deeper into the television industry to learn more about all the pioneers who made the era so great.

 

Love and the Funny Show

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There was something magical about the Friday evening television schedule from 1971-1973.  Anyone who was born in the late 1950s or early 1960s can remember sitting down in front of the television at 7 pm (central time) for the Brady Bunch and staying put through The Partridge Family, Room 222, The Odd Couple, and Love, American Style.  Sitting through an entire evening of shows was almost unheard of back then, but we binge watched every Friday night. While the boys were divided between Marcia Brady and Laurie Partridge, every girl of that age had was in love with Keith Partridge.  Watching an episode of The Partridge Family today makes me feel 10 again. For the next five weeks, I’m taking a look at each of the shows that made this schedule so enjoyable.

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Today we begin with Love, American Style. This show was an iconic 1970s show. Like Laugh In, the clothing, furnishings, and vocabulary do not make it timeless. But it was a lot of fun. This fast-paced anthology show featured two to four mini episodes each week, and between them were quick skits, often featuring a brass bed. Each smaller episode is titled “Love and the _______.”

A troupe of players was featured on each show for the in-between skits. These regulars included William Callaway, Buzz Cooper, Phyllis Davis, Mary Grover, James Hampton, Stuart Margolin, Lynn Marta, Barbara Minkus, and Tracy Reed. Margolin went on to a regular role in The Rockford Files; Tracy Reed was featured in McCloud and Knot’s Landing; Phyllis Davis was part of the cast of Vega$ and Magnum PI, and James Hampton will be familiar if you watched The Doris Day Show or F-Troop. Both Reed and Davis were featured on Love Boat episodes which had a similar format to Love, American Style.

The show had a memorable and catchy theme song. Written by Arnold Margolin, the first year it was performed by The Cowsills.  You will see a lot of overlap between these five Friday night shows, and music is one of those cross-overs. The Partridge Family was based on the life of The Cowsills.

During the second and subsequent years that Love, American Style was on the air, the theme song was performed by the Ron Hicklin Group. The Ron Hicklin Group could be heard in a variety of motion pictures and commercials, and they also appeared on recordings with stars such as Paul Revere and the Raiders and Cher. John and Tom Bahler, brothers who sang under The Charles Fox Singers were also part of this group. The group provided television theme song recordings including Batman, That Girl, Happy Days, and Laverne and Shirley. They also did the singing for The Partridge Family theme and songs performed on the show as well as the Brady Bunch kids. Ron retired in the early 2000s, and Tom does a variety of things. He is also known for writing Bobby Sherman’s hit, “Julie Do You Love Me?”. John married Janet Lennon, one of the Lennon sisters who performed on The Lawrence Welk Show. He currently lives in Branson and conducts the “new” Lawrence Welk orchestra.

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The snappy melody was set to the following words:

Love, Love, Love

Love, American Style,
Truer than the Red, White and Blue.
Love, American Style,
That’s me and you.

And on a star-spangled night my love,

My love come to me.
You can rest you head on my shoulder.
Out by the dawn’s early light, my love
I will defend your right to try.

Love, American Style,
That’s me and you.

Paramount Television developed the show. The executive producer of the show was Arnold Margolin, Stuart’s brother. There were 53 different directors during the four-year run. The series received Emmy nominations for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1970 and 1971; Best Music Composition in 1971, 1972, and 1973, winning in 1973; and winning the Emmy in 1970 for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics.

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Many people wrote for the show, but Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson received the most credits. One of the writers, Peggy Elliott, was interviewed by the Huffington Post in May of 2013, and she talked about her time writing for the show.

“But the show I loved writing the most, was Love, American Style. For every other show, I was writing for characters created out of someone else’s head. Sure, we could create the occasional guest-star role, and we had been told to make every role, no matter how small, a real person. ‘Think of the actor who’s playing that delivery boy,’ I can hear Billy Persky, the co-creator or That Girl, say: ‘This is a big break for him — it’s the biggest role he’s had so far. Give him something to work with.’

But with Love, American Style, every character was our very own; every situation came out of our heads. Each segment of the hour the show ran each week was a one-act play created entirely by us. Added to the attraction was the fact that we could say and do things that were taboo on every other TV show in the early ‘70s. Arnold Margolin, co-creator of the show with Jim Parker, told me recently that the creative side of the network wanted the show to be more daring, while the censors kept their red pencils ready. There was a full-time position on the show just to run interference.

We must have put both sides through the hoops with one episode we wrote: ‘Love and The Hand-Maiden.’ A young guy was dating a centerfold model. As their relationship developed, he discovered that she had no problem with shedding her clothes, but she always kept her hands covered — with artful poses in magazines, and with gloves in real life. He became obsessed with seeing her hands and came up with one ruse after another to get her to take off her gloves. We had a ball writing it, with one double-entendre after another.”

If you were a star of any kind in the early 1970s, you most likely were on Love, American Style.  The show produced 108 episodes, and those shows featured 1112 different actors. Some of the famous names showing up in the credits include Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Phyllis Diller, Arte Johnson, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Regis Philbin, Burt Reynolds, Sonny and Cher, Flip Wilson, and Jo Anne Worley. Karen Valentine from Room 222, Ann B Davis and Robert Reed from The Brady Bunch, and both Jack Klugman and Tony Randall from The Odd Couple show up along the way.

Brad Duke wrote a biography about Harrison Ford and he said Ford had fond memories of appearing on Love, American Style. “He recalled that he had been given little time to prepare his wardrobe for the role of a philosophical hippie in the November 1969 episode, “Love and the Former Marriage.” He appeared on set with long hair and a beard thinking they were appropriate for the role. He was surprised when he was told he needed a haircut and trim than given a navy blue dress shirt and vinyl burgundy jeans with a large belt. They even had a scarf with a little ring to put around my neck. And I thought, someone has made a mistake here. So, rather than argue with the wardrobe people, I put on the clothes and went to find the producer. I walked on the set and he was pointed out.  I tapped his shoulder and when he turned around he had on the same clothes I did. He was a hippie producer I guess. At least the check went through, and I got paid.”

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The best way to get a good understanding of what the show was like is to look at a couple of the episodes.

January 23, 1970: Love and the Big Night

Starring Ann Elder, Buddy Lester, Frank Maxwell, Julie Newmar, and Tony Randall, this episode was often listed as a favorite. Randall is a married businessman who escorts his voluptuous secretary (Newmar) to her apartment after a late night at the office. Eager to get home to his wife, Randall hurriedly tries to open a stubborn jar of mayonnaise and winds up covered with mayo. Newmar cleans his suit, but while it’s drying, it’s stolen. After a series of amusing mishaps, Randall finally gets back to his own apartment and creeps into bed with his wife–only to find out she’s not there.

February 25, 1972: Love and the Television Set

It starred Harold Gould, Marion Ross, Ron Howard, and Anson Williams. Reading this list of names might give you a hint about what happened to this episode after it aired. Garry Marshall had written a pilot about a 1950s family that did not sell.  He turned it into an episode for Love, American Style. George Lucas caught the episode and was impressed with Ron Howard and offered him a role in his new movie American Graffiti about 1950s teens. The movie was so popular, that the network decided to put Marshall’s pilot in the fall line-up as Happy Days. Harold Gould’s role was given to Tom Bosley for the series. When Love, American Style went into syndication, this episode was retitled “Love and the Happy Days.”

October 22, 1970: Love and the Bashful Groom

This is the episode I recall when I think of the series. When I watched it originally, I was staying overnight at my grandparents’ house and my grandmother was shocked at the “vulgarity.” It really seems quite tame today, but back then it probably was unexpected. She would approve of Tom Bahler marrying Janet Lennon though because I watched Lawrence Welk with her and my grandfather whenever I was at their house.

In this episode, Paul Petersen, Christopher Stone, Meredith MacRae, Jeff Donnell, and Dick Wilson are featured. Harold (Petersen) and Linda (MacRae) are getting married. He learns that she grew up in a nudist colony and is not comfortable being naked for his wedding.  After a soul-searching talk with his best friend, and realizing he loves Linda enough to be uncomfortable, he decides to go through with the ceremony.  He gets to the church a bit late and walks in, only to see that everyone else is dressed in their Sunday best. His bride informs him that they always dress up for weddings. One of the congregation members says something like “Let’s not make him uncomfortable,” and they all begin to undress.  Of course, you see nothing improper, only clothes flying. This was probably not the best episode to “expose” my grandmother to as a first glimpse of the show.

The show lasted for four years and was cancelled in 1973. In 1985, a reboot was created, but it was on in the mornings and only lasted a few months.  The show was on at the same time as everyone’s favorite game show, The Price is Right. For the 1998 fall season, a pilot was created for prime time, but it was never ordered. While doing my research for this blog, I noticed that there was a Love, American Style project in production, so we may see it resurface again.  I’m not sure I would want to watch a 2019 or 2020 version of the show though. It was such a product of its time, and I fear what a current version would be like after seeing the reboot of Match Game which has been airing the past year or so.

Let’s all write to Antenna TV and Me TV to see if they will make the original 1971 television schedule happen, and we can watch these original shows again, reliving the excitement we experienced the first time around.

Next week we get to know The Odd Couple.

 

 

 

 

Why I Love My Three Sons and My 3 Sons

 

Happy Birthday to me! Since it is my birthday today, I decided my gift to myself was to write about my favorite television show, My Three Sons.  The show was on the air from 1960-1972, for a total of 382 episodes. It debuted on ABC, and in 1965 it moved to CBS. The show was based on a widower, Steve Douglas, who is an aeronautical engineer trying to raise three boys after his wife’s death.  Her father, Bub, moves in to take over the housekeeping duties.

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Although Don Fedderson often gets credit for developing My Three Sons, the show was created by George Tibbles and produced by Don Fedderson Productions. When the series moved to CBS in 1965, the latter network assumed full production responsibilities (in association with Fedderson Productions) until the end of the series in 1972. CBS now holds the series’ copyright.

George Tibbles wrote for a variety of shows and penned the Woody Woodpecker Song, recorded by Kay Kyser. Some of the episodes he wrote for My Three Sons include “Chip Off the Old Block” (1960), “Bob in the Ointment” (1960), “Countdown” (1960), “Birds and Bees” (1961), “Tramp the Hero” (1961), “Mike in Charge” (1961), “Bud Gets a Job” (1962), “Stage Door Bub” (1964), “Charley and the Kid” (1965), “Brother Ernie” (1965), “Moving Day” (1967), “Robbie Loves Katie” (1967), “Inspection of the Groom” (1967), “The Great Pregnancy” (1968), and “Instant Co-Worker” (1969).

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Peter Tewksbury directed the first season. These early episodes held to no specific generic type, so that any episode from one week to the next might be either comedic or dramatic. Tewksbury’s episodes are also unusual for their use of cross-talk (a way of having the voices of off-screen characters heard in the background of the soundtrack, just under the voices of the main characters). Using this clever directorial twist, Tewksbury realistically portrayed the chaotic, fast-paced, and ever-changing sequence of events that was the daily routine of living in the Douglas household.

An example of Tewksbury’s use of cross-talk is the fourth episode, “Countdown,” which chronicles the Douglas family’s attempts to wake up, prepare for the day, have breakfast, and get out of the house by a common, agreed-upon time, all carefully synchronized to a televised rocket launch countdown – to comical and often ironic effect. Once the entire family was ready, they realized it was not a week-day and they had been running around like crazy for nothing. Tewksbury returned to directing feature films after concluding the season because the producers could not handle his perfectionist attitude, which was costing thousands of dollars in lost time and reshoots.

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The succeeding director, Richard Whorf, took over the reins for one season and was in turn followed by former actor-turned-director Gene Reynolds from 1962 to 1964. James V. Kern, an experienced Hollywood television director who had previously helmed the “Hollywood” and “Europe” episodes of I Love Lucy, continued in this role for two years until his untimely death in late 1966. Director James Sheldon was also contracted to finish episodes that had been partly completed by Kern to complete that season. Fred De Cordova was the show’s longest and most consistent director of the series (108 episodes) until he left in 1971 to produce The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Earl Bellamy rounded out the series as director of the show’s final year.

When the show was first created, potential writers were told to emphasize the following elements: originality, simplicity, honesty, legitimacy, natural comedy, seriousness of premise, scope and character development.

I love the first episode – it not only established the family relationships, but set the direction the comedy would take. This was a family who might tease each other unmercifully but also knew they could always count on each other no matter what the situation was. The family members were far from perfect but they were realistic.

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One of the most memorable parts of the show was the theme song. Lawrence Welk’s version of the instrumental theme song, written by Frank De Vol, peaked at No. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961.

In 1960, Fred MacMurray was one of the most respected and highest-paid actors in Hollywood.  It was almost inconceivable that he would star in a television show. The role was originally offered to Eddie Albert who turned down not only this role, but Wilbur Post on Mr. Ed as well. MacMurray took on the role when he was guaranteed that he would only have to spend 65 days a year filming the show. What was referred to as the MacMurray Method was 65 days of consecutive taping with the rest of the cast having to film around these scenes later. He was also given a 50% ownership in Don Fedderson Productions.

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MacMurray was a very down-to-earth guy.  His grandfather immigrated from Scotland.  He was born in Illinois in 1908 and grew up in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. He worked in a canning factory and for an American Legion band, went to Carroll College, and earned money playing in a band there. After his first wife, Lillian Lamont died, he married June Haver, a former actress who left a convent to marry him.  They adopted twin daughters. They had a 200-acre ranch on the Russian River and his interests included his workshop, building picture frames, painting water colors, golfing, watching some television, and cooking. Hedda Hopper’s description of him was, “He’s as down to earth as applesauce or the boy next door.”

When Barry Livingston was asked about him, he said, “He was basically a guy from the Midwest, Midwest sensibilities, and even though he was super, super wealthy, just really had modest taste and just really wanted to be accepted as your average Joe.  I mean, he drove a Pontiac station wagon that happened to be our sponsor. . . his wife would pack a brown-paper-bag lunch.”

Steve Douglas was known for his cardigan sweaters. Steve was always ready with guidance, gentle words, and loving wisdom.

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William Frawley, best known as Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy, accepted the role of Bub. He was an expert on barbershop quartets. In 1958, he made an album, “Bill Frawley Sings the Old Ones.” He was 68 in 1961 and had spent 28 years in Hollywood, 46 as a performer.  He grew up in Burlington, IA where his father sold real estate.  At 21 he landed a job in a musical chorus in Chicago. He married in 1916, divorcing Louise in 1927 and never married again. In 1933, he moved to Hollywood with a long-term Paramount contract. His old friends include Joe DiMaggio and Johnny Gallaudet.

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Timothy Considine played Mike, the oldest son on the show. He was a former child actor and young adult actor of the late 1950s and early 1960s. He later became a writer, photographer, and automotive historian. Considine’s most noted acting roles were in the 1955–1957 Disney TV serials Spin and Marty (he played Spin) and The Hardy Boys (he played older brother Frank opposite Tommy Kirk as Joe), both of which appeared in 15-minute segments on the Mickey Mouse Club; and in the Disney motion picture The Shaggy Dog. Considine is an automobile historian, photographer, and writer who specializes in motor sports. He is the author of The Photographic Dictionary of Soccer, The Language of Sport, and American Grand Prix Racing: A Century of Drivers and Cars. He has also filled in for the late William Safire as writer of the “On Language” column in The New York Times Magazine.

Tim Considine quit the show after arguing with Don Fedderson.

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Don Grady, who played middle son Robbie and was the brother of actress Lani O’Grady, got 8 times the fan-mail the other boys did, mostly from young girls. Grady was born Don Louis Agrati in San Diego, California, the son of Mary B. (née Castellino), a talent agent, and Lou Anthony Agrati, a sausage maker. He grew up in Lafayette, California before being signed by Walt Disney and leaving the area. He graduated from Burbank High School in 1962.

Grady appeared on 20 different tv series before 1972, including two episodes of Love American Style. During production of My Three Sons, Grady appeared with his own band The Greefs on the series, writing two original songs for the show.

After My Three Sons ended in 1972, Grady pursued a musical career. His works included music for the Blake Edwards comedy film Switch, the theme song for The Phil Donahue Show and for EFX, a Las Vegas multimedia stage show which starred Michael Crawford, David Cassidy, Tommy Tune, and Rick Springfield. As a stage performer, he starred in the national tour of Pippin and had roles in Godspell and Damn Yankees.

He passed away in 2012 from cancer.

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Stanley Livingston took on the role of Chip (Richard), originally the youngest son. He was named for the scientist Stanley Livingston. His parents moved from Baltimore to LA to open a furniture store. He was one of the kids riding trikes and fire engines on “You Asked for It.” In 1957, he was recommended as a double for Jon Provost on Lassie by Mrs. Loven, who taught him to swim. Tina Hill was his first agent, and Lois Auer was his first drama coach. He and Barry were neighbor kids on Ozzie and Harriet.

By age 11, he earned $20,000 a year. He shared that, “The food on My Three Sons is lousy. The prop man cooks it. The eggs are sticky and the potatoes are lumpy.  It’s so bad we try to get eating scenes on the first take.”

John Stevens was a production/coordinator in 1961. In TV Guide in 1962, he was quoted, “Because of the way we shoot around MacMurray, filming My Three Sons is a jigsaw puzzle for an adult. We once shot all the scenes in the upstairs hall and bedroom from 21 scripts, one after the other. In one, Stanley would have to be happy over something in a comedy, and five minutes later, said in a melodrama. I never once saw him rattled, confused or upset.”

In 1965, the fourth season, Frawley retired due to poor health, dying a year later. Wm Demarest, Bub’s brother, the boys’ uncle and a former sailor took his place. To explain Considine’s absence, Mike married his long-time girlfriend and accepted a job as a college professor. Ernie entered the family and was officially adopted.

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William Demarest started in show business at age 9. He was involved with vaudeville, Broadway, movies (150) and television. In 1899, he and his brothers were musicians. He played the cello, wearing velvet suits, Rubinstein played the piano, and George the violin. He was born in St. Paul in February 1892 and then moved to New Jersey where his parents separated. Later in life he went to LA and entered the army during WWI, eventually becoming a sergeant. In 1927, he was a Warner’s New Comedy Find. In his first picture, Finger Prints, a silent, he was a gangster. He appeared in 24 movies in two years. He appeared in The Jazz Singer and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Jolson Story. In 1930, he headlined a bill with an orchestra, the CA Collegians who had a sax player named Fred MacMurray. In 1933, he went back to Hollywood and stayed. He was a talent agent before appearing in Preston Sturges’ The Great McGinty and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek. He can’t remember how many movies he did, but his 100th was Pardon My Past with MacMurray. They were also in Hands Across the Table. His retirement plans were to move to a home he and his wife Lucille had on the 12th fairway at Canyon Country Club in Palm Springs.

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Barry Livingston debuted on the show as Chip’s friend Ernie, an orphan. Barry began his career as a child actor in the late 1950s. He considers his film debut a role he won as one of the sons of Paul Newman in the film Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys! (1958) with his older brother Stanley who by this time was already working as a child actor. He was let go from the film when he was told that he needed to get glasses to successfully correct his astigmatism. His first professional onscreen appearance was in a small, uncredited role in the 1961 film The Errand Boy, followed by roles in The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, on The Dick Van Dyke Show and (as “Arnold Mooney,” son of banker Theodore J. Mooney portrayed by Gale Gordon) on The Lucy Show. In 1965, he joined the cast of the ABC sitcom My Three Sons as next door neighbor Ernie Thompson.

His older brother, Stanley Livingston, was already a series regular as Chip Douglas. Livingston joined the cast permanently (his character was adopted into the family, keeping the show’s title intact) and remained with the series until its end in 1972.

After the series run of My Three Sons ended in 1972, Livingston continued his acting career with 142 acting credits.  Most recently he appeared as a jury member in Trial and Error.

In October 2011, Barry Livingston released his anecdote-filled autobiography, The Importance of Being Ernie (Citadel Press) — detailing his career from My Three Sons to Mad Men and beyond.

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To boost ratings, the family moved to Hollywood, CA in 1967. The family’s home in California was previously featured as the farm in Gene Autry’s 1940 musical Melody Ranch. Located on the Republic Pictures backlot, the barn was given a suburban facade in the 1950s. It wasn’t that far from Gilligan’s lagoon, which was also on the lot.

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Robbie meets his future wife in California, and they eventually marry and have triplets. The triplets posed some issues.  They had to find two sets of twins so three could be on camera and one on reserve.  They had to be born between June 17 and 24, have light hair, blue eyes, and be California residents.  They could only be on the set for 2 hours a day, in front of the camera only 20 min and each exposure could not last more than 30 seconds due to the bright lights.

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Tina Cole played Katie but she was not a rookie on the show. She previously appeared on three other episodes as three different characters before taking the role of Katie Miller Douglas. She was also a member of the Four King Cousins, a subgroup of the King Family Singers. In 1963 she played the minor (uncredited) role of Ruth Stewart in Palm Springs Weekend, a spring break party film set in Palm Springs, California. After leaving television, Cole was the director of the Sacramento Children’s Theatre. She was an acting coach at the John Robert Powers acting schools in Roseville and Elk Grove, California and in 2013 returned to on screen acting. She has several movies coming out in 2017.

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In 1970, another change occurred in the family. Steve goes to school to talk with the substitute teacher about Ernie.  After being gone hours, with Ernie extremely worried, Steve comes home only to realize they never even brought up Ernie’s behavior and they had another date scheduled. They ended up marrying, and Barbara’s daughter Dodie moves into the house.

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Beverly Garland had a long acting resume when she accepted the part of Barbara. Her hobbies were flower beading and crewel work. She starred in her first show Decoy in 1958 in New York where she played a tough police woman. Born Beverly Fessenden in Santa Cruz, CA in 1930, she was an only child. She took violin lessons. At 18 she married Bob Campbell, 20 in Vegas. They divorced 4 months later. She worked odd jobs, summer stock, and commercials. She married Richard Garland but they divorced in 1953. In that same year, she won an Emmy for Medic. She appeared in a variety of shows – Gunsmoke, Rawhide, Dr. Kildare, and The Farmer’s Daughter. She married Fillmore Pajeau Crank, a widower with two kids in 1960, and the couple had two more children.

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Dodie was played by Dawn Lyn, the real-life sister of 80s pop idol Leif Garrett. Dawn Lyn made her acting debut at the age of four. She was the original Prudence in the pilot for Nanny and the Professor. By the time the pilot sold, Dawn had been released from her contract and cast as Dodie in My Three Sons. The Nanny producers sued unsuccessfully to get her back. She worked steadily to financially support her family until her mid-teens. She says at that time her petite stature began to work against her.

Dawn decided to branch out of acting and has done many things over the years, including owning a boutique on Pier 39 in San Francisco. Though she has not actively pursued acting, she has not totally closed the door on the idea either.

Later in the season, Chip elopes with his girlfriend Polly Williams.

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In 1964, Ronne Troup, who played Polly, was working as a television background extra appearing (uncredited) in some fourth season black-and-white episodes of My Three Sons in classroom scenes featuring co-star Don Grady. She also worked as an uncredited extra in classroom scenes on Gidget. She appeared, uncredited, as a teen party guest in the Bob Hope film I’ll Take Sweden in 1965. In 1966, she made her film debut as part of the all-girl ensemble in Columbia Films’ The Trouble with Angels, where she is prominent in the graduation scene. In December 1966 (at age 21), she was cast as Sister Bertrille and had begun filming the pilot for Columbia/Screen Gems’ The Flying Nun when she was dropped after the studio’s first choice Sally Field finally agreed to accept the role.

In 1968, she played the role of Leslie Hayden in Danger Island, the cliffhanger serial that was featured on the Banana Splits Adventure Hour children’s program on Saturday mornings.

She appeared on Family Affair in 1970 in the episode “Desert Isle: Manhattan Style.” She was subsequently offered the role of Polly Williams Douglas, wife of Chip Douglas on My Three Sons, a role she played for two years (1970–72). In the Season 4 episode of The Partridge Family entitled “Hate Thy Neighbor” (1973), she appeared as Donna Stevens, the daughter of the new family who move in next door to the Partridges.

She continued acting through the 1990s.

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I have always felt that My Three Sons doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It consistently focused on character development. Problems do occur in the Douglas household – the boys fight and call each other names.  Real problems come up. The show ran for 12 seasons. The issues were the ones we all faced growing up – not often major but important to young people.

The show survived cast and location changes without sacrificing quality. Bub left and Charley came on board. Mike got married and moved away so Ernie took his place. The family moved from New York to California.  Robbie met Katie, went to college, and had a family of his own. Chip married and moved out of the house. Steve eventually remarried also, gaining a daughter.

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I grew up with the Douglas family and appreciated what I learned from the show.  Many critics of the show complain about it, along with many of the 1960s sitcoms, being too warm and fuzzy. I do understand that some kids in the 1960s and 1970s were exposed to awful home situations with abuse or addiction, but that was not reality for most kids.  I too experienced living with alcoholism and the strain it caused on my parents’ marriage, but most of the issues I had to deal with were the same ones as the kids on the show:  why the boy I liked didn’t know I existed, that I told a white lie to get out of doing something I didn’t want to do, or that a friend had said something to hurt my feelings.  That was reality for me and my siblings.

The characters were fully developed and became friends and people we chose to spend time with every week. This show was on when I was born and continued on the air until I was in 7th grade – that covers a lot of nurturing lessons during those needy years. The writers did a lot of fun quirks I don’t see on other shows.  On one show I remember, Charley playing Solitaire and almost every time someone walked in the room, they pointed out a move.  It was not addressed, but continued to happen just like in real life.  In one episode, Ernie was trying to do something in the background; I forget what the actual detail was, but he was struggling to accomplish it as the other characters interacted.  His issue was never referred to; it was just there. I also appreciate in this era of shows where it isn’t unusual to spend thousands and thousands of dollars each episode on costumes, My Three Sons was more realistic.  The cast got a wardrobe for the season.  You would see them wearing the same clothing over and over just like we did.

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After I grew up, the show continued to resonate with me, although I later identified more with Katie and Robbie and later with Steve. Steve Douglas was always a father figure in my life. On our first date, Dan and I went back to my place and watched My Three Sons which TV Land aired later at night. When I became pregnant with our first child, I gave him a Steve Douglas cardigan to announce the event. I began to collect My Three Sons memorabilia, including a radio that sat in the Douglas kitchen, even though we only had two boys.  Nine years after our first son was born, we found out we were unexpectedly pregnant, and I did end up with three sons.  Our youngest was named Seth, for a variety of reasons:  Seth was the third son of Adam and Eve, but also because Seth Bryant was the founder of Bryant Park where the Douglas boys grew up. My Three Sons will always have a special place in my heart, and it’s one of the shows I can watch episodes over and over and find something new each time.

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