As we continue getting to know several of the panelists from To Tell The Truth, today we look at the career of Peggy Cass.
Mary Margaret Cass was born in 1924 in Boston. She attended Cambridge Latin School and after graduation became interested in acting. She joined the HB Studio in New York City, probably about the same time Orson Bean was there.
In New York, she was employed in various positions while waiting for her big break, including secretary, telephone operator, advertising solicitor, and model. She traveled to Australia with the USO for seven months. Her first role was in a traveling production of “Born Yesterday” where she was an understudy to Jan Sterling.
Cass married Carl Fisher in 1948; they divorced in 1965.
Peggy’s Broadway debut came for “Touch and Go” in 1949. One of her next shows was Agnes Gooch in “Auntie Mame” (based on a book written by Patrick Dennis) which she won a Tony for. She was cast in “A Thurber Carnival,” a 1960 Broadway revue of James Thurber’s works.
She also tried her hand at movies. Her first movie was 1951’s The Marrying Kind. In 1958 she reprised her role as Agnes in Auntie Mame, receiving an Oscar nomination, 1961 found her in Gidget Goes Hawaiian. She would be cast in three movies in 1969 and 1970.
Cass accepted her first television role in a show I’ve never heard of in 1950: Nash Airflyte Theater. In addition to playhouse dramas, she was on The Phil Silver Show in 1958 and 1959. In 1961 she was a regular on The Hathaways, a show we discussed a few months ago. Cass as Elinor raised three monkeys (The Marquis Chimps) along with her husband (Jack Weston); the monkeys were stars, and Elinor was also their agent. After 26 episodes, the show was canceled.
After the cancellation, she would take roles in thirteen other television shows including Love American Style, The Love Boat, and Hotel. In two of the shows, she had regular roles: The Doctors with 145 episodes, an afternoon soap opera; and Women in Prison. This is another show I have never heard of; it was set in my home state. The synopsis on imdb lists it as a “comedy taking place in Cell Block J of the Bass Women’s Prison in Wisconsin. Some of the inmates are Vicki, a yuppie housewife framed for shoplifting by her husband; Dawn, who murdered her husband; Bonnie, an English prostitute; Eve, the old lady who has been there for at least 10 years; and Pam, serving time for computer crimes. Meg is the guard and Blake is the assistant warden. Cass played Eve.
Cass was also in the pilot of Major Dad. She played Esther Nettleton a secretary working for Major MacGillis.
Cass appeared on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar in 86 episodes as one of his regular cast members. She also appeared on The Mike Douglas Show ten times and on The Merv Griffith Show 26 times.
I guess the reason I recognize her as a game show celebrity is because she was on 21 different game shows. I remember her best from To Tell the Truth which is also not a surprise because if you count episodes of the various versions, she appeared in 481 episodes.
Cass remarried late in life in 1980. Her second husband was Eugene Feeney. He was a former Jesuit priest and educator. That same year she had an interesting experience we all think about but don’t think really happens much. She needed a left-knee operation and engaged the services of Dr. Norman Scott, doctor for the New York Knicks. After the operation, while Cass was in the recovery room, she realized they had operated on her right knee, and they had to take her back in for a second surgery.
In 1999 Cass died from heart failure.
I have to admit Cass’s role as Agnes Gooch is one of my favorite supporting actress roles. I’m not sure what her hopes and dreams were. I wish she had been cast in a second sitcom; it might have changed the trajectory of her career drastically. It was fun to learn a bit more about the woman behind Agnes.
This month we are looking back at a few of the game show celebrities from To Tell the Truth. These are four individuals who were stars in their own right before they did the game show circuit. Although I know the game shows were typically at the end of their illustrious careers, for better or worse, it is how most of us know these interesting personalities.
We are beginning the month with Orson Bean. Bean expressed the sentiment I was discussing above by saying that the was a “neocelebrity,” someone who is famous for being famous for his appearances on prime-time game shows. While I agree with this conclusion, part of what I want us to learn today is why he is a memorable star even without the game show fame.
Bean was born in 1928 in Vermont as Dallas Frederick Burrows. Silent Cal Coolidge was a first cousin twice removed. His father was one of the founding members of the ACLU and chief of police on the Harvard campus. When Bean was sixteen, his mother committed suicide, and he left home.
Bean attended the Rindge Technical School in Massachusetts, and after graduation, he joined the army and was sent to Japan. He spent some time at the HB Studio in New York, studying drama. After returning to the US, Bean began working as a stage musician before trying his hand at stand-up comedy in the early fifties.
Bean tells a fun story about how he came up with his stage name on TheTonight Show. When he was performing at a nightclub in Boston, the piano player would give him a different silly name to use every night. One night it was Orson Bean, and it went over great with the crowd.
In 1952 Bean started his radio career with an appearance on The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street. When the show was renewed for 13 weeks, Bean was the full-time host.
In 1954 he was the house comedian at the Blue Angel Comedy Club in New York. Unfortunately, Bean was dating a girl who was a member of the Communist Party, and he was blacklisted as well. Ed Sullivan canceled his appearance on his show; he did later book him years later for five different episodes.
In 1956 Bean married Jacqueline de Sibour (stage name Rain Winslow). They had one child before divorcing in 1962.
In the fifties and sixties, Orson also was a regular on the Broadway stage. His first production was Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter with Walter Matthau and Jayne Mansfield. He continued on Broadway shows throughout the sixties, getting a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for “Subways Are for Sleeping.”
It was also during this decade that Bean began appearing on television where he earned 84 acting credits. He started in the many drama and playhouse series that were on television in the fifties and sixties. He also had his fair share of sitcoms including The Phil Silvers Show, Love American Style, Will and Grace, Becker, Two and A Half Men, How I Met Your Mother, and Modern Family. His dramatic appearances included The Twilight Zone, Ellery Queen, The Fall Guy, Murder She Wrote, Diagnosis Murder, and SeventhHeaven. During his career he was a regular cast member on Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman, Normal Ohio, and Desperate Housewives.
In 1965 he tried marriage again to fashion designer and actress Carolyn Maxwell. They had three children before they divorced in 1981.
The same year he married Maxwell, he entered into another new relationship. He was one of the founding members of The Sons of the Desert, an international organization that was started to share information about the lives of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and to preserve their films.
In 1966 Bean founded the 15th Street School, a primary school in New York City. It was modeled on the Summerhill School in England.
He also showed up on the big screen for 23 movies, the two-best known being Innerspace in 1987 and Being John Malkovich in 1999.
In the 1970s, Bean moved his family to Australia to live in a commune with a hippie lifestyle. They later became bored and returned to the US where he resumed his career.
Orson was popular on the talk and variety shows. In addition to Ed Sullivan, he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show, The Dick Cavett Show, The David Frost Show, The Merv Griffin Show, and was on The Tonight Show more than 200 times.
Bean was a competitor on many game shows including I’ve Got a Secret, What’s My Line, Super Password, Tattletales, $10,000 Pyramid, and Match Game. He was best known for being a regular on To Tell the Truth. In addition to being in 317 episodes of To Tell the Truth with Peggy Cass, the two were also regulars on two other game shows: Keep Talking and Call My Bluff.
In 1993, Bean tried marriage again. He wed Alley Mills, best known as the mom on The Wonder Years. They were married until his death. The couple were members of the First Lutheran Church in LA and participated in the church’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol.”
Bean had a terrible death. In February of 2020 when he was 91, he was crossing Venice Boulevard when he was struck by a car. He fell down and a driver of another vehicle, distracted by people trying to tell him to slow down, hit him again before realizing what they were trying to tell him and that hit caused Bean’s death.
Certainly, game shows were only a small part of this celebrity’s career. However, I admit before I wrote this blog, I only knew him for his To Tell the Truth appearances. Now I have a much better appreciation for his long and successful career. I’m glad we are getting a chance to know some panelists from that show this month in more detail.
This month we are taking a close-up of five famous television male stars. If you were a television fan in the sixties, you will remember Larry Hagman as Tony on I Dream of Jeannie. If you watched Dallas in the eighties, you will remember him as the cad J.R. Ewing. However, Hagman had more than 100 acting credits and several other television starring roles, as well as credits as a producer and director. We’ll learn more about his career and these forgotten shows in this blog.
Hagman was born in 1931 in Texas. His father was an accountant and lawyer who became a DA. His mother was the famous actress, Mary Martin. His parents divorced when he was five. When his mother received a Paramount contract, he lived with his maternal grandmother in Texas and California.
When Larry was nine, his mother married Richard Halliday. The couple had a baby in 1941, but Larry was sent to an academy, Black Foxe Military Institute and later to Woodstock Country School in Vermont.
His mother resumed her Broadway career in New York City, so Larry lived with his grandmother in California until she passed away when he was sent to live with his mother.
Larry moved to back to Weatherford, his home town, to attend high school, and he graduated from there. Larry’s father wanted him to become a lawyer and join his practice. Larry worked for an oilfield equipment manufacturer for a summer, but was drawn to the acting profession. In the fall of 1949, he enrolled in Bard College in New York to major in drama and dance but he dropped out after his freshman year.
In 1950, Larry took on acting roles at Margaret Webster’s school, The Woodstock Playhouse in New York. The summer after his freshman year, he worked in Dallas as a production assistant and did some acting in Margo Jones’s theater company. He then traveled a bit with the St. John Terrell’s Music Circus. From 1951-1952, he appeared in “South Pacific” with his mother in London.
The following year, Hagman received his draft notice and enlisted in the Air Force. He was stationed in London and spent most of his military service entertaining troops in Europe.
In 1954, Larry married Maj Axelsson. She grew up in Sweden and they met in London. They had two children and were longtime residents of Malibu, California. They were married until his death.
When he left the Air Force in 1956, he returned to New York City, appearing in a couple of off-Broadway plays. His wife made costumes for a variety of productions. In 1957, Hagman received his first television roles, appearing in West Point, Goodyear Playhouse, Studio One, and Omnibus. His Broadway debut was in “Comes a Day” in 1958.
Larry continued his dual Broadway and television careers through the remainder of the fifties. One of his roles was on Decoy, which was the first crime drama to star a female police officer (Beverly Garland) and he portrayed three different characters on Sea Hunt.
In 1960 he had his first recurring role as Cliff Williams on Search for Tomorrow.
In 1964, he made began receiving offers to act on the big screen. He appeared in The Cavern, Ensign Pulver, and Fail Safe that year.
Hagman had been a heavy smoker but quit in 1965. He later became the chairman of both the American Cancer Society and the Great American Smokeout.
The next year, he received the role that made him a household name: Captain Anthony Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie. He rejoined the Air Force, but this time in a fictional service. The show was on the air for five seasons.
Two reunion movies were made later (I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later in 1985 and I Still Dream of Jeannie in 1991), but Hagman was not in the cast. I read that he was busy with Dallas and family vacations during the times the movies were filmed. They did not replace his character; they focused more on Roger, Jeannie, and Tony’s son with Tony being unavailable on assignment. However, Hagman did appear with Bill Daily and Barbara Eden in several reunion-type shows, and he and Eden remained good friends.
When the show ended, Hagman took on various guest spots on shows including Love American Style. A year later, he again tried a sitcom role. He was cast as Albert Miller in The Good Life. He starred with Donna Mills as a couple who pose as servants. The show lasted a season before being canceled.
A year later there was a repeat of the cycle when he starred in Here We Go Again with Diana Baker as a newlywed couple moves into a home located near both their former spouses’ homes. Again, it lasted one season.
I read that his mother was forced to kick him out of the house when he lived with her and his stepfather because of his heavy drinking. After the cancellation of this show, his father passed away and he reconciled with his mother.
For most of the seventies, he continued guest starring in television shows including Marcus Welby, Barnaby Jones, MacMillan and Wife, and TheRockford Files and big-screen movies including Harry and Tonto and Superman.
An entire new group of fans began watching Larry from 1978-1991 when he appeared as one of the major characters on Dallas. Two of the most-watched television episodes were the cliffhanger episode, “A House Divided” from 1980 when JR was shot (but viewers did not know who did it) and “Who Done It” when it was revealed that the shooter was his sister-in-law and mistress, Kristin.
Hagman was nominated for two Emmy Awards for his portrayal of JR in 1980 and 1981. He was beat out by Ed Asner for Lou Grant in 1980 and Daniel J. Travanti for Hill Street Blues in 1981.
Unlike I Dream of Jeannie, when reunion Dallas movies were made in 1996 and 1998, Hagman was part of the cast and listed as producer.
Larry always said Dallas was his favorite show, and he loved being a part of it. Both his children appeared on the show. His old costar Barbara Eden joined the cast for the final season as Lee Ann, fittingly as a character from JR’s past. The show was filmed at Southfork Ranch in Texas and after his death, Larry’s ashes were scattered there.
In an unusual reboot, Hagman reprised his role of Ewing on a new Dallas from 2012-2013.
Between the original and reboot of Dallas, Hagman once again received offers to star in two new series. One was Orleans in 1997 when he played Judge Luther Charbonnet. Unfortunately, the series only lasted for eight episodes, but he received some of the best reviews of his career for the role. In 2006, he took on the role of Burt Landau on Nip and Tuck which lasted one season.
Hagman also wore a directing hat. He began directing three episodes of I Dream of Jeannie in 1967. He would also direct two episodes of The Good Life, 32 episodes of Dallas (he also was listed as producer for 74 episodes), seven episodes of In The Heat of the Night in the early nineties starring one of his best friends Carroll O’Connor, and one feature film: Beware! The Blob which was a sequel to the cult classic 1958 horror film, The Blob. He produced a made-for-tv movie in 1993 called Staying Afloat which he also starred in. The plot was that Alex, a millionaire’s son, has trouble managing money so his father cuts him off. The IRS is pursuing him, and he has a lot of debt when an FBI agent offers to help with his financial issues if Alex becomes a government informant to take down a man who once burned Alex and he happily agrees.
In 1995, Hagman had a liver transplant after being diagnosed with liver cancer. He also had cirrhosis of the liver which was a result of heavy drinking. He had stopped drinking earlier in his life, but the damage was done.
In 2001, Larry added author to his resume after writing Hello Darlin’: Tall (And Absolutely True) Tales About My Life. In 2007, he gave an interview, sharing his passion for alternative energy creation. He and his wife had a solar-powered, energy-efficient home named “Heaven” in Ojai, California, where they promoted a green lifestyle. The couple also owned a home in Sundsvall, Sweden, her hometown and they visited there often.
In 2008, Maj was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Hagman cared for her as long as possible, but she required 24-hour nursing care by 2010.
The following year, Hagman learned he had Stage 2 throat cancer. He had the tumor removed and went into remission. In 2012, he was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a preleukemia condition. The actor died in November from acute myeloid leukemia.
His friend Barbara Eden said, “Larry was one of the most intelligent actors I ever worked with.” Later she said that their on-screen chemistry on the set of Jeannie was not just work and their timing was right. She could not explain it; it was wonderful.
Two of his Dallas castmates were at his bedside when he passed away. Linda Gray who played his wife on the show said Larry was “her best friend for 35 years” and that “he brought joy to everyone he knew. He was creative, generous, funny, loving, and talented and I will miss him enormously. He was an original and lived life to the fullest.” His brother on the show was played by Patrick Duffy who said “Friday I lost one of the greatest friends to ever grace my life. The loneliness is only what is difficult, as Larry’s peace and comfort is always what is important to me.”
Fans reported that Hagman often had people who requested his autograph tell him a joke or sing him a song first.
Hagman said his idols were Jack Benny, John Wayne, Dick Powell, and his future Dallas castmates, Barbara Bel Geddes and Jim Davis. He credited his good friend Carrol O’Connor as his acting mentor, saying that, “Carroll is really my mentor. He knows more about show business than any other actor I know.” During his Dallas years, he paid that back by mentoring several coworkers including Charlene Tilton.
Hagman also enjoyed hunting, backpacking, fishing, skiing, sailing, golfing, and collecting canes, hats, flags, and art. I’m so glad that he was not typecast as Tony and was able to continue his career with several other sitcoms and that he truly enjoyed his many years associated with Dallas. When you love what you are doing, people love you for doing it.
September is What a Character month, and today we end our series with a look at the career of Herbie Faye. Faye was born in 1899 in New York City. He began working with Mildred Harris in vaudeville in 1928. Phil Silvers was one of the supporting cast members, and their friendship would prove fruitful for his future television career.
In the forties and fifties, Faye tried his luck on Broadway, appearing in a variety of shows including “Wine, Women, and Song” in 1942 and “Top Banana” in 1951.
He also began a career on the big screen in the fifties. His first film was the movie version of Top Banana in 1954. He would appear in 17 movies; in fact, his last acting credit was the movie Melvin and Howard in 1980. In between, he appeared in a variety of genres including Requiem for a Heavyweight starring Anthony Quinn, The Thrill of It All with Doris Day, and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken with Don Knotts.
In 1950, at the age of 51, Faye made his first television appearance. He appeared in two episodes of Cavalcade of Stars. You would have also seen him in Our Miss Brooks, The Goldbergs, and Hennessey in the fifties.
When Phil Silvers got his own show in 1955, he hired Faye to play Corporal Sam Fender which he did for 139 episodes between 1955 and 1959. This was a hilarious show and hasn’t lost its charm with time. In addition to the primary characters, there was a group of about a dozen secondary characters who appeared along with Faye. Eventually, the costs became too high, and the show was canceled.
Faye was extremely busy in the sixties. He must have been good at his job because he was cast in more than one show on several of the series he worked for. He was four different characters on The Danny Thomas Show, six on The Dick Van Dyke Show, five on The Joey Bishop Show, two on My Favorite Martian, two on Bewitched, three on The Andy Griffith Show, four on The Gomer Pyle Show, two on I Dream of Jeanne, two on That Girl, four on Petticoat Junction, two on Mayberry RFD, two on Jack Benny as well as 27 other shows all in the sixties. On top of all those appearances, he was part of the cast for two additional television shows: The New Phil Silvers Show from 1963 to 1964 as Waluska and as Irv on Accidental Family in 1967.
In November of 2018, KJ Ricardo spotlighted Faye in her You Tube channel show about The Dick Van Dyke Show. Herbie was Willie, the deli owner who delivered lunch to the comic writers on the show. He appeared in six of the shows. In his first appearance, Rob is trying to leave the office because he thinks Mary is in labor but every time he tries to leave, the Danish cart is in the way. On the third and fourth episode, he starts critiquing the ideas the writers have and making
comments on what works and what doesn’t. They are pretty funny.
He continued his busy career throughout the seventies when he made one-time appearances in eleven different shows including The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, Love American Style, Happy Days, and Barney Miller. He made multiple appearances on several other shows including Mod Squad (3), Here’s Lucy (4), The New Dick Van Dyke Show (4), The Odd Couple (6). He also had a recurring role on Doc where he played Ben Goldman from 1975-76.
Faye passed away in Las Vegas in 1980.
Herbie Faye was a very funny guy. He was just an average guy, but he had a way of focusing the viewers’ attention just on him for the brief time he appeared; he made the episodes he was in even better. I guess that is the ultimate definition of a great character actor.
As we look at some of our favorite character actors, today we learn more about Hazel’s friend Rosie: Maudie Prickett. Prickett had a prolific career with more than 300 credits between the stage, film, and television.
Maudie was born in 1914 in Oregon. Her birth name was Maudie Marie Doyle; she married Charles Fillmore Prickett II in 1941 and used her married name for her career. Charles was the co-founder and manager of the Pasadena Playhouse and later became an orthopedic surgeon. They remained married until his death in 1954 and had two children.
Prickett would amass 64 movie credits, with her first being Gold Mine in the Sky in 1938. Her last three movies were made in 1969: The Maltese Bippy, Rascal, and Sweet Charity. She typically played maids, secretaries, spinsters, or nosy neighbors. One of her most recognized movie roles was as Elsie the Plaza Hotel maid in North by Northwest.
In 1952 she received her first television roles, appearing on This is the Life, Hopalong Cassidy, The Doctor, and The Adventures of Superman. While most people are familiar with Hopalong Cassidy and Superman, they may not recognize the other shows. This is the Life was a religious show that began in 1952 and ended in 1988; each episode was a mini-drama that ends with someone becoming a Christian. The Doctor was a medical show where Warner Anderson as the doctor presented a story and then provided comments after the episode. Most of the series dealt with some type of emotional problem.
For the next two decades, Maudie was quite busy with her television career. She often made multiple appearances on a show as different characters. She had a nice blend of both dramas and comedies on her resume.
In 1961 she married Dr. Eakle Cartwright who died in 1962. In 1966 she would try marriage one more time when she wed the mayor of Pasadena, Cyril Cooper who lived five more years.
While watching your favorite classic television shows, you will see her on westerns including Wagon Train, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke. She made her mark on medical series including Ben Casey and Marcus Welby MD. She also appeared in quite a few dramas including The Millionaire, The Untouchables, Lassie, Daniel Boone, The Mod Squad, and McMillan and Wife.
However, it was the sitcom genre that kept her busiest. During the fifties, she could be seen on Topper, Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, and The Donna Reed Show. The sixties found her on Dennis the Menace, Bachelor Father, The Danny Thomas Show, Mister Ed, My Three Sons, Petticoat Junction, The Andy Griffith Show, The Doris Day Show, Gomer Pyle USMC, and Get Smart. During the seventies, she took roles on Mayberry RFD, Bewitched, Love American Style, and Room 222.
All of her recurring roles were on sitcoms: Date with the Angels, The Jack Benny Show, and Hazel. Date with the Angels was Betty White’s second sitcom, and Maudie played Cassie Murphy, a neighbor of the newlyweds. On The Jack Benny Show, she played Mrs. Gordon, the secretary of the Jack Benny Fan Club. Many people remember Prickett from Hazel where she played Rosie. Hazel and Rosie were best friends and always came through for each other but were also very competitive, especially when an eligible bachelor was involved.
In 1976, Maudie passed away from uremic poisoning at the young age of 61. Uremia occurs when there is an increase of toxins in the blood and usually occurs when the kidneys no longer filter them out. It can be treated with medication, dialysis, and transplant surgery, but for some reason, hers must have been untreated which lead to her death.
Maudie was a very busy lady, accumulating 164 acting credits between 1938 and 1974. I’m not sure if she was okay with being typecast or if she would have liked some other types of roles, but she certainly made the roles her own. You have to wonder how much more she would have accomplished if she had lived another twenty or thirty years. Her personal life was sad, having three husbands die before her and then she herself dying as middle age was beginning.
I know you read this comment a lot if you follow my blog, but we have another one of those character actors I wish we knew more about. The Television Academy rarely interviews them, and it is tough to find much information beyond their professional resume. One day I will make good on my promise and write a book about these wonderful people who made classic television so fun and believable.
We are in the middle of our “What A Character” blog series. No overview of television character actors during the golden age would be complete without Bernard Fox.
Fox was meant to be an actor. He was born to Queenie and Gerald Lawson in Glamorgan, Wales. Both his parents were actors. Fox had his first film role at the age of 18 months. By 14 he was an apprentice assistant manager of a theater.
Bernard served with the Royal Navy during WWII as a minesweeper and then in the Korean War. From 1956-2004 he made more than 30 films. Ironically, he was in two different Titanic movies. In 1958 at the beginning of his career, he was in A Night to Remember and in 1997, at the end of his career, he was in the Oscar-nominated Titanic. He liked to say that he was the only person to survive the Titanic twice.
He began his television career in 1955 when he received a recurring role on the United Kingdom show Sixpenny Corner as Tom Norton. The show was centered around Bill and Sally Norton, a young married couple who ran a garage together. Fox played Bill’s youngest brother.
Eventually, he made his way to the United States. His first US show was in Wire Service in 1957, a show filmed at the Desilu studio. His next seven shows were filmed in the United Kingdom.
Fox mentioned that being a character actor was a mental strain. Early in his career, he had to worry about when the next job would be coming. He did post office work, logging, and other interesting jobs to get by. Once he got to America, he was able to rely on his acting career and didn’t have to moonlight anymore.
In 1962, he married his wife Jacqueline. They had two daughters. The same year he was back on US television with a regular role on The Danny Thomas Show. He played Danny’s English friend, Alfie Wingate. In 1963 he appeared on Ensign O’Toole, The Great Adventure, and General Hospital. The mid-sixties showed him in a variety of shows including McHale’s Navy, Perry Mason, The Dick Van Dyke Show, F-Troop, I Spy, I Dream of Jeannie, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and The Farmer’s Daughter.
He had another recurring role during this era on The Andy Griffith Show as Andy’s friend/valet Malcolm Merriweather. Fox appeared on the show in season three. We see him pedaling his bike next to Andy’s squad car at Andy’s house and says, “Excuse me, Constable.” When Andy understands what he is saying, he explains that he is the sheriff. With all the quirky characters in Mayberry, Malcolm fit right in and it’s a charming scene.
He continued receiving regular work in the late sixties for The Monkees; The Wild, Wild West; Here Come the Brides; and Daniel Boone.
Bernard did not enjoy his time on The Monkees set. He called them “an amateur bunch of rabble rousers . . . a bunch of unprofessional idiots.” He said that “they’d have cans of chocolates or something in the cupboards and in between shots, they’d be cramming chocolates in their mouths.” Fox was amazed, he said he got used to it but “professionally speaking, I expected a bit more.”
It was in the late sixties that he received the role he may be best known for: Dr. Bombay on Bewitched.
In an interview on bewitched.net, Fox was asked about his popular character, Dr. Bombay. He said that the spin he put on the doctor made him more interesting, saying, “If I’d just gone for an ordinary doctor, you wouldn’t have heard any more about it. But because I made him such a colorful character, that’s why they wanted him back.” He said the character was “easy to write for” and the writers had him being summoned from all over the world. He showed up in a variety of costumes including a wet suit, a football uniform, a toga, a towel, and a matador costume among others.
Bernard discussed the stars on Bewitched. He said Marion Lorne was a “dear lady.” When asked about Agnes Moorhead, he said she was a “thoroughly professional lady” and that praise from her was a thrilling thing to get. He said that he “liked Dick very much, a fine actor. He was a darling man.” And about Elizabeth, he said, “she was always very sweet and knew her lines.” She liked to bet on horses and whenever she won, she treated the cast to a party on the set. He also said once she found out he had a vegetable garden, she got him a subscription to Gourmet Magazine which she renewed every year.
He fondly recalled one episode where he was supposed to be squeezing a lemon into clam dip. When he squeezed it, it went in Elizabeth’s eye. The director yelled, “cut” and re-filmed it, but it happened again. The director said, “Bet you can’t do it a third time,” but he did, so they left it in the show.
His career did not slow down in the seventies where you could watch him on The Partridge Family, Night Gallery, Love American Style, Columbo, Cannon, Soap, and MASH. When asked about his appearance on The Partridge Family, Fox said, “Oh, I loved Shirley, she’s a doll, she’s a really nice lady.”
Following the pattern, he also had a recurring role in this decade as Colonel Crittendon on Hogan’s Heroes. As Crittendon, he was incompetent and dense and drove Colonel Hogan crazy with his ineptness.
In his bewitched.net interview, Fox also discussed his role on Hogan’s Heroes a bit. He said that in one episode he had hidden some maps in a corn bin. When he lifted the lid, it came down on his head. He just put the lid up and carried on with the script. When the director asked about reshooting, Fox said it was fine, and they left it in the film. He did say when he was playing a role on Hogan’s Heroes and Bewitched at the same time, it could get a bit confusing. They typically worked it out. For example, he said one time the studios agreed that Fox would be on the Bewitched set Tuesday and Wednesday and on Hogan’s Heroes Thursday and Friday.
Offers did slow down a bit in the eighties and nineties, and he ventured into animation work during those two decades. However, he still accepted offers for Fantasy Island, Lou Grant, The Love Boat, Hart to Hart, The Jeffersons, Simon and Simon, and Murder She Wrote among others.
His last acting credit occurred in 2001 for Dharma and Greg.
Not only was Fox an actor but he was an expert in history of the theater. For fun, he enjoyed gardening, painting landscapes, and performing magic.
In 2016, Fox died from heart failure.
I’m so glad he was able to find a successful career on television in the United States. After learning in a previous blog what a legend Marion Lorne was in England where she lived much of her life, I like to think about Aunt Clara and Dr. Bombay sharing some time talking about the delightful English ways that they missed. Hopefully they served tea on the set once in a while.
One of my favorite blog series is beginning again today: “What a Character !” Our first character actor is Ruth McDevitt. You might not recognize her name, but the minute you see a photo of her you will definitely recognize this busy television star. Her on-screen personality is perfectly captured in her imdb biography where she is described as “delightfully daffy and quite an apple dumpling of a darling, a cheerfully wizened character.”
Ruth was born in Michigan but she spent most of her early life in Ohio. Her father was the county sheriff and both of her parents were musicians. After graduation, she attended college (some sites give her college as Bowling Green and others Wooster) and after her graduation, she studied at the Toledo Dramatic Academy. She then moved to New York to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Art.
When she married Patrick McDevitt in 1928, she decided to devote her time to her husband, giving up her career. Her husband was a widowed contractor who lived in Florida, so she made the move south and participated in a variety of women’s clubs and community groups. Unfortunately, her husband passed away in 1934, and she then returned to her acting profession in her forties. She made her debut on Broadway in 1940 in several shows and later appeared in “Arsenic and Old Lace” in 1942 and “The Solid Gold Cadillac” in 1954.
In the thirties, Ruth also began her radio career, taking on the roles of Rosemary’s mother in “Keeping up with Rosemary” and Jane in “This Life is Mine.”
Ruth also found success on the big screen. Her first movie role was in The Guy Who Came Back in 1951. She would appear in a variety of movies during her career including The Birds, The Parent Trap, The Shakiest Gun in the West, Mame, and Angel in My Pocket.
It was in television that she found most of her fame. Her first appearances were in 1949 when she was cast in A Woman to Remember, The Ford Theater Hour, and Suspense. She continued to receive dramatic roles throughout the fifties. From 1953-54, she appeared in seven episodes of Mister Peepers as his mother.
Ruth began the 1960s in several medical shows and then transitioned to comedies appearing in The Andy Griffith Show, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Debbie Reynolds Show, I Dream of Jeanne, and Mayberry RFD. She received a recurring role in The Doctors in 1963 as Mrs. McMurtrie. She also became a cast member of Pistols and Petticoats in 1966. She was described as pistol-toting grannie, Effie Hanks. The show was set in Colorado in 1871 where the Hanks family are beloved residents and run things better than the sheriff does. It was canceled after its first season. Ann Sheridan starred in the tv series and she passed away a couple of months before the show was canceled.
The 1970s was Ruth’s busiest decade. She showed up in various dramas including Ironside, McCloud, Mannix, and The Rookies. She popped up in Gunsmoke and Little House on the Prairie and took part in the medical shows Marcus Welby and MedicalCenter.
However, comedies kept her employed. She accepted roles on My World and Welcome to It, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, That Girl, Here’s Lucy, Love American Style, Nanny and the Professor, Bewitched, Room 222, and Phyllis. among others.
She accepted a recurring role on All in the Family as Jo Nelson from 1973-1975. Her last starring role was in Kolchak: The Night Stalker from 1974-1975. Darren McGavin plays a newspaper reporter who specializes in solving supernatural mysteries. His only friend was a coworker who also had a column in the paper played by McDevitt. The show supposedly inspired the X Files in part.
Ruth’s last two roles were in 1976 in made-for-tv movies. She passed away the same year from natural causes at age 80.
Whenever I write about these character actors, it makes me happy and sad. I respect them so much and appreciate the depth they add to make our television series better, but I am always disappointed that there is so little information available about their lives and careers. I very much enjoyed getting to know Ruth McDevitt a little better—she certainly was a character and we all benefit from that.
After learning about Your Show of Shows and the stars of the show, I turned my attention to the cast members. Carl Reiner and Howard Morris were the two actors who were most involved with the skits. Reiner had a long and successful career, and we’ll look at his life in more detail later, but today I would like to concentrate on Howard Morris.
Most people recognize Morris as Ernest T Bass from The Andy Griffith Show. While I have a great appreciation for the series and the well-written scripts and delightful characters of Mayberry, I was never a big fan of Ernest T or the Darling family. They seemed to be a bit too over the top for me and diminished the reality of Mayberry.
So, when I began to learn more about Morris who first became known to television fans for his work on Your Show of Shows, I was amazed at how versatile an actor he was and how much he accomplished during his career.
Howard Morris was born in The Bronx in 1919. He later received a scholarship to attend New York University as a drama major, planning to work as a classically trained Shakespeare actor. During WWII he became first sergeant in the US Army Special Services unit. The group was based in Honolulu and entertained troops throughout the Pacific. Maurice Evans (who played Samantha’s father on Bewitched among other roles); Carl Reiner (whom we all know and love); and Werner Klemperer (Col Klink on Hogan’s Heroes) were all part of this unit.
In 1945 he married Mary Helen McGowan. While they were married until 1958; he had four other marriages during his life.
When Morris got the offer to appear in Sid Caesar’s new show, he was able to work with Reiner again. This was his first television or movie appearance, but it would not be his last.
One of the sketches from the show was a take on This is Your Life, the Ralph Edwards show. Morris said it was his favorite skit from the series. David Margolick wrote in the New Yorker in 2014 that “Though the competition is stiff, many feel that this sketch is the funniest that Your Show of Shows ever did . . . that night nearly sixty years ago, the show produced what is probably the longest and loudest burst of laughter—genuine laughter, neither piped in nor prompted—in the history of television.”
Morris moved to Hollywood in 1961. In the 1960s he began his multi-talented career of television actor, movie actor, director, and animation voice-over star. Unbelievably, he would rely on the quartet of skills the rest of his professional life, excelling in all of them.
As a television actor, he appeared in a variety of series including The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Twilight Zone, The Lucy Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Love American Style, The Bob Newhart Show, Fantasy Island, Trapper John MD, The Love Boat, and Murder She Wrote.
Although he is known for his role of Ernest T Bass on The Andy Griffith Show, he was only made five appearances as that character on the show. Aaron Rubens sent him the script that introduced Ernest to Morris to look over and “fix.” Morris fell in love with the character. He said the show had a terrific cast, and they were wonderful people to work with. He said fans loved Ernest because he did whatever he felt like doing including spontaneously bad behavior choices that everyone wanted to make.
As a movie star, he appeared in several films throughout the sixties, seventies, and eighties. Some of the highlights were The Nutty Professor; With Six You Get Eggroll; High Anxiety; The History of the World, Part I; and Splash.
Not content with just acting in films, Morris became interested in directing early in his career. He began his directing career in the sixties and continued through the eighties. His first directing job was on The Bill Dana Show. He was very busy in the sixties and seventies, directing episodes of Gomer Pyle, USMC; The Dick Van Dyke Show; The Andy Griffith Show; The Patty Duke Show; the pilot of Get Smart; Bewitched; Love American Style; Hogan’s Heroes, and The Love Boat among others. He also directed for the big screen. You’ll see directing credits in his name for Who’s Minding the Mint?, With Six You Get Eggroll, and Don’t Drink the Water.
During an interview with the television academy, he said he loved directing Hogan’s Heroes. Robert Clary became one of his best friends for life. He also loved Klemperer. He said working on With Six You Get Eggroll was a wonderful experience. He said Doris Day just had a natural talent, and Brian Keith was a great guy. He felt being an actor allowed him to be a better director. He understood what the process was for the cast and was able to help them. He knew he could not teach them to act.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for a classically trained Shakespeare actor is that he had the most success in the animation world. I could not begin to list all his credits here, or you would still be reading next week when the new blog comes out. Beginning with Krazy Kat in 1962, he would go on to provide voices for more than fifty series. You will hear his voice in The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Mr. Magoo, The Magilla Gorilla Show, The Atom Ant Show, Duck Tales, a variety of Archie series, and Garfield and Friends.
In a Television Academy interview, he admitted that he accepted voice-over work because he needed the money. It also appealed to him because you did not have to worry about wardrobe or make-up. He said the actors sat in the room together recording the show at the same time which allowed them to relate to each other better than today when everyone records by himself.
In 1962, he married Dolores Wylie and they were together until 1977. I read several sources that listed him being married five times but could not find confirmation of the other marriages, although one cite mentioned two other spouses, Judith and Kathleen and noted that he was married to one of his spouses twice. They all ended in divorce.
In 2005 Morris died from congestive heart failure. Carl Reiner was one of the people who gave a eulogy at his funeral.
Howard Morris had a very long and prolific career. About the only genre he did not act in was Shakespearean drama, which is what he trained for. I was curious about whether he enjoyed his comedic career, or if he was disappointed that he did not work more in drama.
During his Television Academy interview, when asked what advice he would give someone thinking about entering the acting or directing profession, he replied “to avoid it and shun every opportunity because it was too hard.” He certainly deserves to be remembered for more than being Ernest T Bass even though he is a much-loved character. Morris said he would like to be remembered as a guy that was able to reveal certain things of humor and reality to the public and for his great gratitude for the fans who have always been there.” Well said. And, well done.
After learning about Your Show of Shows last week, we are going to take a closer look at some of the forces behind the award-winning show. We begin with Imogene Coca.
Imogene Coca was born Emogeane Coca in 1908. Her father was a violinist and vaudeville orchestra conductor, and her mother was a dancer and magician’s assistant.
She began appearing in vaudeville as a child acrobat. She also took piano, dance, and voice lessons as a child. She was drawn to dance and studied ballet and moved from Philadelphia to New York to become a dancer while still a teenager. Her first job was in the chorus of a Broadway musical, “When You Smile.” For a few decades, she appeared in stage musical revues, cabaret, summer stock, and movies.
In 1935, Coca married Bob Burton. They were married until 1955 when he passed away.
Coca discussed her early career: “I never thought of myself in comedy at all. I loved going to the theater and seeing people wearing beautiful clothes come down the staircase and start to dance. I wanted to play St. Joan.”
In her forties, Coca decided to add comedian to her slate of talents, and she was a natural. In 1948 she appeared on Buzzy Wuzzy on television. If you have never heard of it, don’t feel bad. I thought it might be a kid’s show. ABC was trying to develop its network, with all of its five stations. Jerry Bergen a comedian wanted to try a variety series. This 15-minute-long show lasted only four weeks.
She might not have had an illustrious beginning, but tv was good to Imogene. For fifty years, she would appear on tv, including six shows as a regular cast member.
In 1950 she joined the cast of Your Show of Shows, becoming a household name. She was nominated for five Emmys on the show. She won the award in 1952 and lost the other years to Gertrude Berg, Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, and Eve Arden. When discussing the chemistry that she and Caesar had, Imogene said “Two people couldn’t be less alike than Sid and myself. But we kind of know what the other one’s going to do. We pick up each other’s vibes.”
A born comedian, Life magazine described her as taking “people or situations suspended in their own precarious balance between dignity and absurdity, and pushing them over the cliff with one single, pointed gesture.” A critic at the time, said she was not the typical, loud, brash comedian and was “a timid woman who, when aroused, can beat a tiger to death with a feather.”
Your Show of Shows was a great success and everyone tuned in Saturday nights to catch the latest show. Fans loved the ongoing skits such as Coca and Caesar playing the bickering couple, the Hickenloopers or a Bavarian town clock that had real life figures and broke down whenever it chimed the hour.
Many viewers mentioned the parodies the show did of movies. These were similar to the ones the Carol Burnett Show also did so well. Two of the scenes that came up often in viewers’ memories were the scene spoofing On the Waterfront when Marlon Brando tells his brother “I could have been a contender” and the parody of From Here to Eternity when Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster have a romantic moment on the beach. In Your Show of Shows version, the couple is continually hit with waves until they almost drown.
When the network chose to break up the Caesar-Coca team and give them their own shows, Coca had her own show, but it only lasted a year. For the rest of the fifties, she appeared primarily on drama shows which often aired plays.
In 1960, Imogene tried marriage a second time. She wed King Donovan and they would be together until his death in 1987.
From 1963-64, she joined the cast of Grindl which also lasted only one season. Coca played Grindl. She was an employee of the Foster Temporary Service, and she worked for Anson Foster (Jim Millhollin). Grindl accepts and completes a variety of jobs including babysitter, bank teller, and theater ticket taker. Most of the assignments get her involved in some type of crime or mystery. The show was on Sunday nights between Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and Bonanza which was a great spot, but it also competed with the popular Ed Sullivan Show.
In 1966-1967, she jumped into another new sitcom, It’s About Time. This wacky show was created by Sherwood Schwartz and also starred Jim Millhollin. The premise is that two astronauts who were traveling faster than light end up in prehistoric Earth time and when they are unable to return, make friends with the locals living there. This show preceded The Ed Sullivan Show but then ended up competing with Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.
During the seventies, she appeared on many shows, including Bewitched, Night Gallery, The Brady Bunch, and Love American Style.
Her busy career didn’t flounder in the eighties. She continued to guest star on shows including Trapper John, MD and Mama’s Family. She appeared in an episode of Moonlighting which produced her sixth Emmy nomination. She would lose to Shirley Knight for thirtysomething.
She was in movies off and on through the decades and perhaps is best known for her role of Aunt Edna in National Lampoon’s Vacation.
Of course, during these decades she also continued to appear on many variety and game shows. You will spot her in reruns of The Carol Burnett Show, The George Gobel Show, and Bob Hope and Dean Martin specials among other shows. She also did not ignore her early love of Broadway. She received a Tony Award nomination for “On the Twentieth Century.”
In 1988 at age 80, Coca received the Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy; her male counterpart receiving the award that year was George Burns. She was also honored in 1995 with the Women in Film Lucy Award, named for Lucille Ball.
Coca finished her career voicing characters for children’s programming. Sadly, she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. She passed away at home in 2001. When he heard of her passing, Sid Caesar said, “All the wonderful times we shared together meant the world to me.”
Imogene Coca was truly a special person. She had several different careers rolled into one. It’s hard to imagine that she did not begin comedy until her forties because she was one of the best. I’m sad that at the end of her life she was not able to retain the beautiful memories she gave us during her professional life. Thank you for creating a lifetime of special moments that you left for us.
We are devoting this month to some of our favorite television actresses. If you ever watched Green Acres, you will have fond memories of Ralph Monroe, played by Mary Grace Canfield.
Canfield was born in Rochester, NY in 1924. In her late twenties, she began acting with regional theater companies. She appeared in a few Broadway plays, but they were not big successes. In 1950 she married Charles Carey Jr, but they divorced five years later.
While she continued to appear on stage until 1964, she tried her hand on television in 1954 on an episode of Goodyear Playhouse.
During the fifties, Canfield continued appearing in a variety of televised drama series and several big-screen movies, including Pollyanna.
From 1961-62 she was part of the cast of The Hathaways. She played Amanda Allison, the housekeeper, on the show. Starring Peggy Cass and Jack Weston, the series was about a couple who were raising three chimps: Candy, Charlie, and Enoch.
During the early sixties, Canfield appeared on many of our favorite shows including Hazel, The Interns, The Andy Griffith Show, The Joey Bishop Show, The Farmer’s Daughter, and General Hospital. Mary Grace showed up on Bewitched as Harriet Kravitz, Abner’s sister.
From 1965-71, she played Ralph Monroe, handyman to her brother Alf on GreenAcres. Canfield appeared in forty of the episodes of the show’s run. Ralph always showed up in bib overalls with her baseball cap on backwards, a somewhat better carpenter than her inept brother. The brother and sister team could not finish a project on time or in an acceptable condition. In one episode, Lisa gave her a makeover. In later shows, Ralph admits she is in love with farm agent Hank Kimble.
In a 2006 interview in the Bangor Daily News, she said she felt a bit bad about being remembered for Ralph, not because she didn’t appreciate the character but “only in the sense that it was so easy and undemanding. It’s being known for something easy to do instead of something you worked hard to achieve.”
In the seventies and eighties, Mary Grace made a handful of appearances on shows including Love American Style, The Love Boat, Family, and Cagney and Lacey.
About this time, she moved to Sedgwick, Maine which she fell in love with while performing in the area. Surprisingly, after more than three decades of being single, Canfield tried marriage again when she wed John Theodore Bischof; they were together until she passed away from lung cancer at age 89. Canfield had to move back to California when her health became an issue.
Although I tried, I could not find much information about Mary Grace which made me sad. I could not learn anything about her personal life other than that she had two children, so I don’t know what her hobbies were, what dreams she did not achieve in her career, or what her favorite role was. I would have loved to have seen Canfield get a part in another sitcom after life on Green Acres. However, I thoroughly enjoyed Green Acres and part of that enjoyment came from the quirky but lovable characters who inhabited Hooterville. Ralph Monroe was one of the best.