We are right in the middle of “The Men of November” series where we learn about some of our favorite actors from the classic age of television. Today we focus on a comedian who is best known for his role of a family band manager—Dave Madden.
Madden was an American born in Ontario, Canada in 1931. He spent his early childhood in Port Huron, Michigan and then was sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Terre Haute. His father had died and his mother had a job where she had to travel. When he was 13, he had a very bad bike accident which left him immobilized. He had a head-on collision with a car going about 45 mph. He broke his leg and fractured his skull. They pumped him with penicillin which saved his life. He was in the hospital for about three months because they had to keep breaking his leg. During the months he spent recuperating, he learned about magic from a book his aunt brought him called 101 Tricks You Can Do, and he later developed a comedy act that featured magic.
Appropriately enough, he served as the joke editor for his high school paper, writing his own material. He attended Indiana State Teachers College for a semester and then dropped out to enlist in the Air Force. He was assigned to Special Forces and sent to Libya where he entertained the troops. He even performed a magic show for the King of Libya.
When his time in the Air Force was over, he attended the University of Miami, majoring in communications and graduating in 1959.
Madden took his comedy act on the road. His manager booked him in Palm Springs during the Palm Springs Golf Classic, and the Rat Pack came in one night. After the show, Frank Sinatra went backstage and asked if Madden would be his opening act in Lake Tahoe in July.
He and Sinatra hung out and one night in his bungalow he said Madden should be on The Ed Sullivan Show and picked up the phone and called Ed in New York. That call resulted in Sullivan booking him for three episodes.
His manager had a club in Beverly Hills, The Ye Little Club, and he called Madden who was in town because his regular singer was sick. Madden helped him out, and a Screen Gems writer, Jerry Davis, was in the audience with Nat King Cole’s manager. Nat was Madden’s favorite singer and his manager asked if he would do an eight-week tour with him. Unfortunately, Cole died soon after and Madden never even got to meet him.
Jerry Davis called Madden and asked him if he was interested in filming a pilot which led to an offer for a regular role on Camp Runamuck which debuted in 1965. The show lasted a season with 26 episodes. Madden had never acted before, and he said it was a great experience. The show was primarily about the camp counselors. Madden met Dave Ketchum on the show and they became friends. Later, the role of Reuben Kincaid was narrowed down to Dave Ketchum and Madden.
A year later, Madden was offered a spot on Laugh-In. Rowan and Martin had seen his act in Reno and invited him on the show. Madden said that filming the show was not much fun. He said apart from the opening and closing jokes and cocktail party, most of the segments were individual ones. He described a day where he might go in at 10 am, and there would be 2 cameramen, a director and a light man. He would film a dozen skits which would be shown over the course of the season. None of the rest of the cast would be there. So, it was long and boring work.
After two years with the wacky cast, he accepted the role that would make him a household name. As Reuben Kincaid, he managed the Partridge family on a new series based on the life of The Cowsills. The show aired Friday nights following The Brady Bunch and was on the air from 1970 till 1974.
Some of the scenes I loved the most on the show was when Reuben would lay on the couch to watch tv with the family or hold Shirley’s yarn while she knitted—just everyday family activities. Unfortunately, he and Shirley were not as close as they could have been because Madden and Shirley’s husband Marty Ingels did not hit it off.
Filming The Partridge Family was not always fun either. He said it could be very boring. The cast might have three to four pages of scripts that take place in the dining room. The whole family would sit around the table and they would have to change the lighting every time someone else spoke. He said you could arrive at 7 am and leave at 3 pm and never leave the dining room.
While one of the running gags on the show was that Reuben and Danny had a battle of wits ongoing, in their personal lives, Reuben took Bonaduce into his home when his house was not a safe place. He said Danny’s mother was worried about Danny being home on the weekends when his father was home, so she asked Madden if Danny could stay with him at his bachelor pad on weekends. Madden said he didn’t drink and had small groups of people over, so it was not a problem to have Danny staying there.
Madden said that he learned that The Partridge Family was cancelled because someone in his apartment building read it in the newspaper—a crummy way to learn you no longer had a job.
During this time period, Madden was on two episodes of Love American Style which was also part of the Friday night schedule and two episodes of Bewitched. When Madden recalled his time on Bewitched, he said he was with the same secondary actor for both episodes, Herb Ellis. He said that Elizabeth Montgomery was very gracious.
After the end of The Partridge Family, Madden appeared on an episode of Happy Days. In 1976, he would have a part in Eat My Dust!, a movie developed by Ron Howard who played Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. It was one of only two big screen features Madden was in. The other movie Madden had a role in was the family favorite, Charlotte’s Web in 1973. Madden was the voice of the ram.
In the late seventies, Madden could be seen on a variety of shows including Starsky and Hutch, Barney Miller, The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island.
In 1975, Madden took a break from his acting schedule to marry Nena Arnold. They had two children and divorced ten years later.
In the late seventies, he would be offered another recurring role. He began eating at Mel’s Diner on Alice from 1978-1985, as Earl Hicks. He was also Alice’s son’s basketball coach. The Hicks character was meant to be a guest shot, but the producers liked his interaction so much that he ended up doing 35 episodes. He really enjoyed working on the show because it was done before a live audience. He said it was like doing a one-act play every week. The cast rehearsed for a few days and then shot the show at one time.
In the late eighties, Madden also joined the cast of Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey. In 1990 he created his own character, curmudgeonly window washer Bernard Walton, which he would voice until 2008.
From 1970 or so on, Madden did a lot of voice-over work. When he had more time for it, it was very profitable. He said he made more money between 1985-1990 doing that then all four television series combined; he was making more than $250,000 a year just in voice work.
He stayed busy throughout the 1990s, showing up on The New Leave it to Beaver, Life with Lucy, Ben Stiller, Married . . . with Children, and Boy Meets World. His last credited role was on Sabrina the Teen-age Witch in 1998, where he appeared with other Laugh-In cast members.
He had another memorable event in 1998 when he married his former college girlfriend Sandy Martin.
If you watched The Partridge Family, you might remember the episode where Danny and Reuben have a bet to see if Danny can lose weight and if Reuben can quit smoking. Madden was a long-time smoker in real life and that episode inspired him to quit, although he had been thinking about quitting for a while.
Madden had always been interested in cameras, buying his first one in the service. He began to experiment with photography on the set of The Partridge Family. He said it was illegal to bring a camera to the set, so he began taking photos of the crew when they were filming away from the regular set. He then made gifts for the crew and then began filming the director. By that time, people were so used to him having a camera around, no one called him out on photographing the cast. He would bring his camera to work with him, taking photos of the cast and crew. It turned into a life-long hobby.
One of the benefits of working in the industry was meeting so many beloved actors like Lucille Ball. On The Partridge Family, Madden enjoyed working with Ray Bolger who played Shirley’s dad and Margaret Hamilton who played Reuben’s mother. He said he would chat with Ray between takes and hear stories from Hamilton about The Wizard of Oz. He said Hamilton was a real pro and they were both very nice people.
During retirement in 2007, he wrote his memoirs, Reuben on Wry: The Memoirs of Dave Madden.
In January of 2014, he passed away in hospice care, suffering from complications of myelodysplastic syndrome, a disorder that results from poorly formed or dysfunctional blood cells.
For someone who began his first magic performance because of a serious injury and was hired for a sitcom without ever having acted, Dave Madden had a very fun and successful career. I must admit, I have many great memories of him as Reuben Kincaid. He seemed to be a very nice and easy-going individual who worked hard and enjoyed his life. You can’t ask for more than that. Thanks for the memories Dave Madden.
Car 54, Where Are You? aired on NBC beginning September of 1961. I was surprised to learn that there are only 60 episodes in this series. The show revolves around officers Gunther Toody, Badge 1432 (Joe E. Ross) and Francis Muldoon, Badge 723 (Fred Gwynne). Their patrol car is Car 54, and they are with the 53rd precinct in New York. Toody and Muldoon are complete opposites which is why they get along so well. Toody is short, extremely talkative and not overly bright. He’s married to Lucille (Beatrice Pons), a bit of a loud, overbearing woman. Muldoon is tall, quiet and very smart. He’s a bachelor who lives with his mother (Ruth Masters) and two younger sisters.
Rounding out the large cast are officers Dave Anderson (Nipsey Russell), Omar Anderson (Ossie Davis), Kissel (Bruce Kirby), Nelson (Jim Gormley), Nicholson (Hank Garrett, O’Hara (Albert Henderson), Schnauser (Al Lewis), Steinmetz (Joe Warren), and Wallace (Frederick O’Neal), as well as Captain Block (Paul Reed), Sergeant Abrams ( Nathaniel Frey), Sylvia Schnauser (Charlotte Rae), and Claire Block (Patricia Bright).
Nat Hiken (the creative force behind The Phil Silvers Show) created the series. He wrote many of the scripts and also directed several episodes, one of which he won an Emmy for. The show was nominated for three other Emmys. It was up for Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Humor in 1961 which went to The Bob Newhart Show (not that Bob Newhart show, this was a variety show hosted by Newhart) and for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy in both 1961 and 1962 but got beat out both years by Carl Reiner for The Dick Van Dyke Show.
As recounted in Martin Grams, Jr.’s book Car 54, Where Are You?, after visiting a New York police precinct house and noticing what a communal feel it had, unlike any of the depictions of police on television, Hiken came up with the idea for a police-themed situation comedy. He continued to do research by spending weeks in a precinct squad room during late 1960, getting a feel for how the officers talked and interacted amongst each other, members of the community, and even repeat offenders, who were often treated more like family than threats. Hiken enlisted the support of Eupolis Productions and then pitched the idea to Proctor & Gamble, who agreed to finance a pilot.
According to Kliph Nesteroff in the definitive account of Joe E. Ross’ tawdry life off-screen, “King of Slobs: The Life of Joe E. Ross,” Hiken originally wanted to cast Jack Weston in the role of Gunther Toody (televisionheaven.co.uk says it was Jack Warden) and Mickey Shaughnessy as Francis Muldoon, but contract negotiations broke down with both, so he turned to Ross and Fred Gwynne as suitable replacements, though in Ross’ case he later regretted it.
John Strauss who had collaborated with Hiken on the theme song for The Phil Silvers Show, teamed up with Hiken once again for this theme. Strauss was married to Charlotte Rae, who appeared on the show. Strass was the composer, and Hiken wrote the lyrics. The familiar theme song is:
There’s a hold-up in the Bronx,
Brooklyn’s broken out in fights;
There’s a traffic jam in Harlem
That’s backed up to Jackson Heights.
There’s a scout troop short a child,
Khrushchev’s due at Idlewild,
Car 54, where are you?
The show was originally titled “The Snow Whites.” (Maybe because the sponsor made Chlorox bleach.) The show was given a great time slot on Sunday nights between Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and Bonanza. The producers thought the working title would confuse viewers since the show followed Disney. Since the theme song was already written, the last line of the song became the show’s title.
Critics were split on the show. While many people praised the series, some reviewers considered it disrespectful. The Chicago Sun Times deemed it “a preposterous (and sometimes cruel) depiction of the policeman.” The Dallas Times Herald stated, “The humor might be there, all right, but not much of it was showing.” The Alabama Journal complained, “It is insulting to the law enforcement and to the general public.” However, many policemen liked the show and found it funny.
The show was filmed at Biograph Studios in the Bronx and on location. The cars were painted bright red and white which photographed perfectly. There is some controversy about the patrol cars. Some articles listed them as Savoys, some as Dodges. According to Martin Grams’ blog from May 4, 2012, “On June 29, 1961, Arthur Hershkowitz signed the contract and during the first week of July, the following four automobiles were delivered to Eupolis Productions”: two 1961 Plymouth Belvederes, one Dodge Dart, and one Plymouth, all four-door sedans. Grams said “the cars were returned to the dealership and when the show was renewed for season two, the following cars were delivered”: two 1962 Plymouth Belvederes, three 1962 Plymouth Furys, one 1962 Dart 330, and a 1962 Chrysler New Yorker. One article I read said that the large circular object on the dashboard between the officers was an auxiliary fan used before air conditioning was available.
Despite the success of Car 54, which placed 20th in the ratings for 1961-62, Hiken soon began to feel overwhelmed with his responsibilities. Apparently, NBC wanted part ownership in the show in exchange for renewing it for season three, and Hiken would not agree to the deal. The show’s sponsor Proctor and Gamble tried to talk CBS into taking the show over, but there was no room on their schedule. Hiken was a bit burnt out with writing, directing, and overseeing the show and was exasperated with Ross who caused a lot of issues not remembering his lines, so Hiken ended the show and never worked on another series again.
Considering the short time that the show was on the air, there was a full slate of guest stars including Carl Ballantine, Tom Bosley, Wally Cox, Hugh Downs, Margaret Hamilton, Katherine Helmond, Hal Linden, Mitch Miller, Charles Nelson Reilly, Sugar Ray Robinson and Jean Stapleton.
The episodes are well written and similar to other sitcoms at the time.
In one, Toody is feeling henpecked by Lucille, but musters the courage to become king of his castle after seeing a stirring performance of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”
In another, Muldoon shares a childhood experience when the kids at school called him “Horse Face.” Toody, trying to console him, says “Don’t worry Francis, kids just repeat what other people say” and later added “After all, Francis, everybody liked Black Beauty.”
One script has Toody working an undercover detail in Brooklyn with a female cop posing as his wife and a small boy as his child. When his wife’s sister spots him, the rumors begin.
Even though there were only 60 episodes, the show went into syndication in 1964. It was one of the staples on Nick at Nite in the 1980s, aired on Comedy Central in the 1990s, and a few years ago it could be seen on both MeTV and Decades. The show came out on DVD in 2011 and 2012.
Like any show that was even somewhat successful, the show had a film made based on the series in 1994. The big screen version starred John C. McGinley as Muldoon, David Johansen as Toody, Rosie O’Donnell as Toody’s wife Lucille and Fran Drescher as Velma Velor. Not surprisingly, it was a dud. One reviewer said it “was one of the worst movies to ever come out of Hollywood.”
One fun fact I learned doing research for this blog was that this show was William Faulkner’s favorite tv show. He hated television but visited a friend’s house weekly to watch the show.
This show debuted during the decade when merchandising was a big part of every show. There were at least six comic books based on the show. There was a board game, puppets of Toody and Muldoon, and a car model.
The show was funny in its prime, but I’m not sure it holds up as well today as other shows from the sixties. However, two seasons of DVDs is not a large investment, so check out an episode on youtube and see what you think.
The life of a writer is not always an easy one. I want you to know that in order to serve my readers, I took on this challenge with no complaining. Yes, I was willing to sit down and watch 25 hours plus of Partridge Family episodes to come up with my favorite 50.
If you were a kid in the early 70s, you understand how just hearing the theme song transports you right back to that era watching the show with friends on Friday nights.
If you grew up in another era, you are rolling your eyes right now, but I know that you have your own happy place where you go when watching those nostalgic shows that were such a vital part of who we all become.
This month marks 50 years since The Partridge Family debuted. To celebrate, I have listed my top 50 in order. I’d love to hear your favorite episode. Better yet, get the DVDs if you don’t already have them and watch them in this order to see how my ranking matches yours.
You might want to grab a can of Tab, put on a smiley face t-shirt, and bell bottoms while you watch. Happy Viewing!
Danny has a new girlfriend at school. Renee is Jewish, so Danny pretends to be Jewish. When her father wants to call on the family and then invites them to perform, Danny tries to keep his secret from his family.
Shirley is surprised to learn that an old boyfriend is in town to make a speech. It turns out he is now a navy Captain and Keith and Danny are suspicious of his motives for their mother. They overhear him talking about his new boat and old one and assume he is discussing women and Shirley is the old one he can’t wait to get rid of. Danny, Keith, Shirley and Chuck end up at Muldoon’s Point.
To raise money and create publicity, Reuben hosts a contest where the winner can spend a week with the Partridges at their home. The winner? Mrs Doris Nugast, a middle-aged woman. Doris brings a new dimension to the family. She doesn’t want to leave because she thinks the family needs her. She and Keith also end up at Muldoon’s Point.
Shirley’s mother (Amanda) and father (Walter) argue over Amanda wanting a job outside the house. She leaves home and goes to Shirley’s house. Amanda gets a job with a service company, and Shirley hires a maid. Guess who is the maid? Her job and her husband’s attitude about it turns the family into the men against the women. One of the best parts of the show is when Ricky sings a song about grandmothers.
Greg, a former childhood friend of Laurie’s, returns to town and reconnects. Turns out he is now a minister. They go out together and have a great time catching up on their lives. Laurie starts to fall for him and Shirley is worried. After assuming they have eloped, Laurie tells her mom they are not seeing each other as much till she is done with school, but the episode leads us to believe Laurie and Greg might end up together permanently when she graduates.
Keith’s newest girlfriend is a cellist in the school band. Rachel thinks Keith is wasting his talent on rock and roll songs, and convinces him to write a piece of classical music. One of the funniest things is when a bust of Beethoven appears on Keith’s piano. There are a lot of great one-liners in this episode: Reuben mentions that Beethoven is rubbing off Keith because apparently he’s deaf, not better; Danny being a genius, is asked to disappear like Howard Hughes; Danny tells Reuben he doesn’t want to get in a battle of wits with an unarmed man; and he also describes Keith’s tux looking like a nervous penguin. Rachel finally accepts their music makes people happy.
Danny has a promotional plan to show the Partridges conserves energy. The newspaper does an article to show their energy saving ways. It creates a buzz in town. But Danny’s mistake in reading the meter shows the Partridges use more electricity than ever. They spend an entire day without electricity by stealing hair dryers, turning off toothbrushes, etc. They listen to the victrola, make a fire, roast marshmallows and just hang out together. When all is said and done, they are okay, but Reuben ends up on the billboard for being an energy hog. We see the basement for the first time in this episode.
Laurie’s friend Frankie tries out for the school basketball team but is rejected because she is a girl. Laurie runs for homecoming queen so she can speak her mind on discrimination. Keith enters a friend into the competition. He is first runner up and Laurie wins. She makes a speech about disliking gender discrimination before giving up her crown, the school board agrees to look into a girl on the basketball team, and Jerry has to follow through with being homecoming queen upon Laurie’s resignation.
It’s a battle of the sexes as Shirley and Laurie prove to their male chauvinist counterparts to be better able to handle the wilderness. While Laurie and Shirley are perfectly able to take care of themselves, the guys realize they have no blankets, no food, or other camping necessities. They steal some beans from the girls but Reuben realizes his can opener is back in the car. When they get back to the house, Shirley makes them supper – a large pan of baked beans.
Laurie excitedly tells her mother she has been selected to be a peer teacher at school. She is assigned seventh grade English, which just happens to be Danny’s classroom. Things do not go well for either of them. When Danny “borrows” a Hemingway story and Laurie gives him a D, he proves to his mom she is unfair. Shirley goes to school and has Danny’s teacher show Laurie her videotape of her with the class early. Laurie is humiliated. She apologizes to Danny.
It’s role reversal time in the Partridge household as Keith takes home economics and Laurie takes auto shop. Keith’s struggles with cooking make him the target of barbs from the school bully, and things really heat up when Laurie gives the tough a Judo flip. Keith is then challenged to a fight, and must face up to the bully even if it means getting his face turned to hamburger.
Stillman Kelly asks his old buddy Reuben to manage his daughter Dora, who is an aspiring singer. Unfortunately, when she auditions in front of Reuben and the Partridges, her vocal abilities leave much to be desired. Unfortunately, Keith, who has fallen for her, is so taken with her beauty that he doesn’t even notice. However, when he hears a tape of her singing, he soon snaps to his senses and now must try to summon the courage to tell Dora how untalented she is without hurting her feelings. Reuben has to come up with a plan to keep her from feeling embarrassed on stage.
The Partridges attend a lecture given by a mystery writer. The Partridges & author get into a discussion as to whether his stories are realistic. He makes them an offer–they can hide, and he will find them all within 24 hours. They think they win, and he gives them $25,000 for their favorite charity and then they realize he had won and just didn’t tell them.
Keith and Laurie are inspired about a local politician. Shirley goes out with him to discuss political views and they form a close bond. Keith works for his campaign to keep an eye on him. He eventually realizes why he was inspired in the first place and tries hard to get him elected whether he and Shirley get together or not. Richard played by Bert Convy becomes Shirley’s serious boyfriend for a while.
Keith decides he has to be a better role model to his younger brothers and sisters, but it seems like everything backfires. The kids decide to play a joke on him and when he overhears them laughing at him, his feelings are hurt and they have to convince him they truly are sorry.
Danny seems to be getting into a lot of trouble at school, and now decides to drop out. Shirley and his teacher discuss how to prevent this. They decide to let him think he has dropped out, and find out what the real world is like. Eventually, he realizes he can’t get into the type or work he wants to do without an education.
Reuben manages a new twin singing act, but the boys have a crush on Laurie. They won’t perform until she decides which one of them she wants to go out with. She doesn’t want to hurt their feelings but she knows they are too young for her.
Danny goes to see a movie but sneaks in without paying. He is caught, and Shirley imposes a punishment on the whole family by having everyone be totally honest for 24-hours. After holding everyone to telling the truth, Danny lies to Laurie. The boy she really wanted to go out with breaks their date because he got a better offer. Danny, not wanting to hurt her, says the guy broke his ankle. He then realizes why some white lies are necessary.
Lester is a new transfer to San Pueblo High, and he already is beginning to develop a reputation as quite the ladies’ man. However, Keith panics when he hears that Laurie has accepted a date with the Lothario. After Danny plants the seed in his head that he might try something with Laurie, Keith goes after them with Danny in tow to make sure his sister’s reputation remains intact, even though he promised Shirley he would butt out. Unfortunately, Keith’s efforts meet with disastrous results as he winds up humiliating his sister. Now he must find a way to make it up to her and he gets Lester to agree to go out with her again. This time Lester is all over her and she has to walk home.
Reuben has a burglar alarm installed in the Partridge home for their security. They keep setting off the alarm accidentally so much that everyone starts to ignore it. When a real burglar breaks in played by Arte Johnson, no one realizes it is a real break in. They begin to bond with him when they realize he was a convict who was used as a hostage by some other prisoners to escape. They convince him to turn himself in and it turns out, the prison employees already knew he didn’t leave by choice after seeing camera footage.
The Partridges start looking at new homes, but first have to sell their current home. Shirley keeps making it difficult for prospective buyers to buy the house so they take it off the market. Just when the kids realize she doesn’t want to leave either, Reuben accidentally signs a contract to sell.
Danny is tired of being a young child. He wants to make his own decisions. His efforts to show he is mature only annoys his family when he calls their accountant to review the books, quits school, calls the girls in Keith’s “black book,” and then wants to double date with Keith. When he does, he realizes he is not ready to be a young adult. Charlotte Rae has a great appearance as the guidance counselor working with Shirley to get Danny back in school.
Shirley has a first date with a pediatrician. At dinner, he orders the food so Shirley does not eat fat, cholesterol, salt, or other negative food items. She tries to discourage him from another date, but he is persistent. After a few dates, she realizes he is a good person but there is no magic. After the papers link their names, his mother comes to visit and he decides to ask Shirley to marry him, but he can’t go through with it because he likes being a bachelor and Shirley is relieved that she doesn’t have to tell him no.
Danny receives a letter from the Draft Board that he’s been drafted into the United States Army. Shirley contacts he Draft Board and tries to convince them that Danny is 12, but they won’t believe her; On top of that, they say the Draft Board doesn’t make mistakes and he is to report. Now the family has to try once again to convince the Army that Danny is too young to serve and he reports as ordered. Danny gets half way through his induction before they realize he truly is 12.
Keith does not have a date for a party after the most popular girl, Joanna Houser (Cheryl Ladd), declines his date request, citing another date, so Laurie sets him up with one of her friends. The next day when the popular girl’s plans fall through, she belatedly accepts the date with Keith. Now he has two dates for the same party. Keith pretends to be sick to get out of the date with Laurie’s friend and talks his friend into taking her out. She realizes what is going on and brings him soup and then Laurie tells him she knew and was happier dating Keith’s friend. Right before he leaves, Joanna calls to cancel her date with him because her original date had plans change.
Classmate Cindy gives Laurie an envelope to give to a teacher. When Laurie does, the teacher says it is the stolen exam answers for math and blames Laurie for taking them. Laurie hopes that Cindy will confess it was her that took them; however, Cindy’s father is the principal and the added pressure is why she cheated in the first place. Laurie is put on trial with her class and finally when it is obvious she won’t reveal the actual culprit, Cindy speaks up.
While parking their bus, Shirley bumps into a car. There is no damage, but when the driver finds they are famous, he fakes an injury for the insurance. Shirley and the family try to prove he is not injured by staying with him 24 hours. Harry Morgan gives a great performance as a crochety man out to get whatever he can from the insurance company. Farrah Fawcett has a guest appearance in this episode. He gets close to the family, especially the kids and when Tracy starts to fall, he jumps up to grab her, giving away the fact that he is not injured.
A talent agent sees Keith and offers him a screen test for a Hollywood movie. He practices his scene and drives to the studio with the whole family. Keith is offered the part. The whole town is excited and is giving him a surprise party but an hour before, he learns that he lost the part. This is an interesting episode because you see a lot of background characters in this one that you have seen before and you understand Keith’s heartbreak that he had his big break and just like that through no fault of his own, it’s over.
Shirley tells the children they have to start being nice to Reuben. She says they have gotten into a habit of insulting him and when his date has to cancel their plans, that insulting was hurtful. However, Reuben didn’t mind. But since he is not used to this new attitude, he thinks it is because they heard he is dying. The nicer they are, the more he thinks he is dying especially when his mother who is quite cheap flies out to see him. His mother is played by the great Margaret Hamilton. In this episode, we realize Reuben and Bonnie Kleinschmidt are quite serious and Mrs. Kincaid is assuming they will get married, and they agree with her.
Reuben sets up an aggressive summer tour schedule. Shirley does not want to go on tour as it is tiring to drive all day and sing all night, so they hire a bus driver. But Danny is suspicious when they find out that he’s an ex-con. Danny spies on him and then when a robbery is committed nearby, calls Reuben who comes to figure out if their driver did it. When Reuben goes to the police station to see if they caught the guy, they realize it might be him and puts him in jail. Eventually Tracy remembers he called from jail and they go retrieve him when Danny and Reuben blame their driver. The robber is arrested but the driver quits until the kids convince him they really want him to stay and since he got a second chance, he gives them one also.
At college, Keith enrolls in a sociology course. He is partnered with an older woman to work on a paper. He finds himself attracted to her despite the fact that she is older. He thinks she has feelings for him and then realizes she is married. When Shirley realizes what is happening, the woman decides to invite Keith to dinner so he can see how much in love she is with her husband, although Keith thinks she is going to spill the beans to her husband about her love for Keith.
Shirley is awarded Mother of the Year by a magazine. The family travel by bus to Sacramento to accept the award. Taking the back road leads them to wrong turns, lost wallet, traffic tickets, a bus breakdown, and other annoyances. All of the setbacks made them late and they show up filthy, just adding to the bad impression she made throughout the day. However, Keith gives a loving speech about his mom and she gets a standing ovation. When they get back home the next day, Reuben shows up unhappy. Their idyllic drive sounded good, so he took the same back roads and encountered a few crises himself.
When Danny is unable to find his birth certificate or pictures of himself as a baby, he is convinced that he is adopted and sets out to find his birth family. He finds the only boy born at their local hospital on that date and is convinced that is his real identity. Finally, his birth certificate arrives. Shirley explains he was born two weeks early in a hospital in a nearby town.
Laurie gets the bad news that she needs braces just as she thinks Jerry might finally get up the nerve to ask her to go steady. However, if that wasn’t bad enough, Reuben informs the Partridges that they have been booked to appear on a high-profile talk show. Things then go from bad to worse when Laurie’s braces somehow pick up radio signals during rehearsals and causes her to play a different tune than what the band is. Her dentist, who was invited to the taping, informs her if she is willing to wear a brace at night she won’t have to worry about picking up signals in her mouth but she’ll have to wear it twice as long. Laurie is thrilled to not have the braces, and Jerry asks her out before he finds out the braces are temporary.
With a hit record on the radio, Keith is starting to be followed and adored by the girls at his school. He is not too happy about it. However, the one girl Janet he does like is not impressed that he is a recording star. He likes her because she doesn’t care about his music, but she also doesn’t care about him. Meanwhile a young girl thinks he is wonderful and Shirley invites her to dinner. When the Janet finally agrees to come for dinner, Keith goes to tell Kathy that she can’t come that night, but he can’t do it. He breaks his date with Janet instead.
The family gets a good review from a famous columnist after one of their recent performances. However, she was seemingly impressed with Danny and declares him a future star. Unfortunately, Danny lets the review go to his head and is seriously contemplating leaving the band, even to the point where he holds auditions for his replacement. Now it is up to Shirley to convince her middle son that going solo is not such a hot idea. After their concert, the columnist shows up in their dressing room and coos over Chris whom she thought was Danny.
Laurie comes home from school excited because her friend Phyllis asked her to be a campaign manager for student body president. The excitement changes to a constant battle when Keith announces he is running for president – against Phyllis. Phyllis lacks confidence and slowly comes out of her shell. Keith realizes she is the best candidate and tells everyone he is voting for her because she’s so qualified and they should too. However, Keith is voted in. The night they learn the results, Phyllis comes in crying. Everyone thinks she knows she lost but she is crying because a cute boy asked her out. When they get the call Keith won, she says not to feel sorry for her because she made a lot of friends and has more confidence. Keith asks her to be his advisor.
Keith gave an interview for a magazine and revealed that Laurie has a crush on a classmate, Harry Murphy. Laurie is upset and says it is the wrong name anyway. A motorcyclist, Harry Murphy (played perfectly by Rob Reiner), comes to visit Laurie to see who she is as a joke. Snake likes Laurie but embarrasses her by literally driving his cycle through the halls at school and throwing a rock through the window with a message. When she takes some time to talk to him about this, she realizes he is a nice guy and invites him to take her to her school dance. He is made fun of there and takes as much as he can before dumping the punch all over one of the guys. Laurie explains she doesn’t think they have enough in common to date but he understands she likes him and he respects her.
School finals are approaching and Keith has a problem in one course. America’s heartthrob is failing sex education. The teacher seems to be picking on Keith and it takes some work to find out why it seems like that. After Keith studies for three days so he knows he’ll get an A, he falls asleep the morning of the test in a quiet place at school. He tells the teacher that who finally gives him a new test. He calls Keith and Shirley into his office the next day and Keith assumes he failed and will not be graduating. Mr. Grisby informs him that he aced the test. He says Keith has a great mind but only does enough to get by. Keith says he is the only one who thinks that and is hard on him, but Mr. Grisby says he talked to his other teachers who agreed with him but like Keith and said he did enough so they gave him decent grades. Mr. Grisby wanted to push him to do better than average.
This is a remake of the pilot. The kids have a band and when their singer gets sick the day they are recording, they ask their mother to stand in for her. When a famous manager is in town, Danny goes to his hotel room to try to make him listen to their song. After several attempts that don’t work, he corners him in the bathroom at the airport and plays the song. Reuben realizes it could be a hit and takes on the family as his client. This is a fun first episode and lays out the groundwork for the basis of the show and the personalities of each of the main characters.
This is the first time Bonnie Kleinschmidt’s name comes up. Reuben yells at Danny for telling Bonnie Reuben can get her into show business. Shirley decides Reuben needs a wife and introduces her to a friend she used to work with. When they decide to get married, she wants Reuben to give up managing and join her company. Reuben agrees. The kids are sad but try to support him. When they do their first out-of-town gig without him, everything goes wrong. As Reuben is trying to help them, his fiancé tells him how much kids mess up your life and he realizes she won’t want kids. Next we know, he is at the hotel just in time to straighten everything out.
Shirley meets an old friend Larry and goes on a date with him. The children are worried that she is too interested in him, and even more worried when they see him with another woman (Jaclyn Smith). They try to get Reuben to investigate him only to learn he is quite wealthy. After they tell Shirley he’s a two-timer, he brings the woman to their hotel room and introduces his niece. The kids feel terrible they might have stopped Shirley’s special romance and so Shirley and Larry stage a proposal where she turns him down so the kids are let off the hook.
When Keith is worried that he may not be able to write songs anymore because he has musician’s writer’s block, Danny decides that it’s time for him to become the group’s songwriter. Keith finally has a breakthrough. Unfortunately, the song he writes is the song Danny played for the family before Keith got up. They both claim it’s their song and finally Shirley realizes the walls are thin between their rooms and Danny heard it while he was sleeping. She has Keith write a bad song and Danny claims the song as his the next day but says he is now a bad song writer. When Keith plays it and Danny recognizes it as his, they explain what has been happening. However, Keith says Danny made the original song better so he gives him credit for cowriter.
Shirley enrolls in college using her maiden name so her real name does not draw unwanted attention. She meets someone in her class as a friend, but develops a crush on her. He tells his parents and they do not approve of his dating an older woman. When they come by to visit, Shirley is wearing hot pants that might be their new uniform. They are really distressed to learn she has five kids. The parents are Norman Fell and Ann Morgan Guilbert (or Mr. Roper from Three’s Company and Millie Helper from The Dick Van Dyke Show). She assures them they are only friends and she invites him to dinner where he learns she is part of the Partridge Family. After dinner he asks if he can take Laurie on a date.
Danny wants to lose weight so Gloria Hickey will be his date at her pool party. Shirley puts him on a diet. After a week, he weighs more because of cheating. Reuben teases him about no will power so they decide to tackle their own vices – Danny’s food and Reuben’s smoking. They both drive everyone crazy trying to cheat and complaining about what they can’t have, so Shirley tells them to go ahead and eat cake and smoke. When she does, they realize they need to want to stop on their own and do so.
Danny gets a job writing articles about the Partridge Family for the local newspaper. To be sure his article is a success, he embellishes the truth about the family. The first article is about Keith and how he has a tattoo in a private place and loves girls who wear black armbands and has a crush on his English teacher, the middle-aged Mrs. Damian. Everyone teases him mercilessly and Mrs. Damian reads love poetry to him in class. Things finally pass over and Danny apologizes. Shirley tells Keith as a famous face he needs to get used to people writing untrue things, etc. Danny says he will never do it again except for the second article which was already written and ready to be published. Then Shirley finds out it is about her and goes after Danny till Laurie and Keith give her the same speech she gave Keith. The article says she ran an exotic dancing school, loves men in trench coats and beards. She goes through the same humiliation Keith did before things get back to normal. Even the milk man delivers in a trench coat.
Shirley’s recent boyfriend, the politician, comes to town. He brings his youngest daughter along, played by Jodi Foster. While Shirley and Dick enjoy being together, his daughter has a crush on Danny and he cannot escape her. Laurie and Keith tell him he has to be nice to her for the weekend they are in town. The next day he tries to kiss her and she punches him. Danny goes to Shirley and Richard for help, saying one day she liked him and he didn’t like her and the next day it was reversed. Now he is sure he is in love. They tell him to talk to Julie. He takes her for a soda and they have what sounds like an adult conversation but people around them keep referring to them as just kids. They decide to be friends for now and let the future take care of itself.
Danny has a crush on Gloria Hickey but pretends he can’t stand her. When Shirley finally understands what is going on, she talks to him. He wants to invite her to the class dance but keeps chickening out. Gloria comes to the house and tells Shirley and Laurie she wants to ask out Shirley’s son to the dance and they assure her he will go and has admitted to liking her. Suddenly, they realize she had been talking about Keith. Later she comes over to ask Keith to the dance and Danny is furious at Keith. Danny comes into the room to fight for her and Keith tells Danny he has no interest in Gloria; she is just a little girl. Gloria is humiliated and runs home. Later she comes back to ask Danny to the dance and to thank him for defending her. After a concert for the girl scouts, Keith has his pen ready but all the girls run to Danny for autographs.
Keith wants his own apartment so he can have some peace and quiet to write music. Shirley reluctantly agrees to let him move into a room in the house next door once Reuben reminds her in a year Keith can leave as an adult and there might not be an apartment next door. Having his own place is not what he expects. He gets free rent for light gardening which turns out to be 3 hours a day so he has trouble getting his school work done. Danny charges him for meals and clean clothes. Keith gets peanut butter and jelly sandwiches even though he overhears the family is having soup and roast beef. Shirley figures out what is going on and decides to take food to Keith at the same time he invites a date over. Danny sends him a message by arrow. He hides his date in the closet while Shirley is there, trying to hide any evidence. Later that night he goes home to see if he can use his old room to write a song in because his place is too crowded and noisy. His date invited a bunch of people over. Shirley asks how a simple date turned into a party. He asks how she knew and she lists off the smell of perfume, a pompom under the couch, and a Bolero album on the record player. Keith decides he would like to move home. This episode has a very touching scene between Keith and Shirley when he has to explain he is not ready to live on his own and wants to come home which is not easy for a 17-year-old to admit.
After being scolded because they left the kitchen a mess, Chris and Tracy decided to run away from home. Shirley helps them get ready to run away, explaining to the other kids that they all did the same thing and ended up at Mrs. Monahan’s for brownies before coming home. Keith watches the kids go to Mrs. Monahan’s. However, they don’t come home and when Shirley calls, Mrs. Monahan says they left a while ago and should be home. It turns out, they went to Reuben’s apartment building. He calls Shirley in code and lets her know. They cause several mishaps at his place and then Bonnie comes over as a surprise. He decides to get the kids to go home. He says they will play Blackjack and if they lose, he decides what will happen. They keep winning. Finally, Shirley shows up and says she is running away too because she is always the bad guy and she doesn’t have any little kids left to take care of. They explain they wanted to come home an hour ago but thought they should keep playing with Reuben since he let them stay. I liked this episode because we see the relationships that all the characters have. The older kids are truly sad Chris and Tracy are gone for the day and worried. Reuben shows his affection for them. They understand there are consequences for bad behavior and they need to follow rules.
We wrap up
our series Just a Couple of Characters this week with Mary Wickes and Susan
Oliver. Mary and Susan are very different character actors, but you will
immediately recognize them. Let’s learn a bit more.
It’s not surprising that Mary shortened her last name to “Wickes” after being born Mary Wickenhauser in 1910 in St. Louis. Her father was a banker, and the family had plenty of money. After high school, Mary attended Washington University in St. Louis, majoring in political science, planning a career in law. One of her professors suggested she try theater, and she dipped her toe into it doing summer theater in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
After deciding a career in acting was for her, she moved to New York. She quickly found a role in “The Farmer Takes a Wife” on Broadway in 1934. In this show, which starred Henry Fonda, Mary was Margaret Hamilton’s understudy. Mary had a chance to perform during the run and received excellent reviews.
Mary understood that comedy was the field she needed to pursue. She was lucky enough to continue getting roles on Broadway, appearing in several shows throughout the 1930s, including “Stage Door” in 1936 and “Hitch Your Wagon” in 1937. She also was cast in “The Man Who Came to Dinner” as Nurse Preen with Monty Woolley. She continued to receive encouraging reviews. When Warner Brothers decide to turn the play into a movie, both Mary and Woolley were part of the cast. Mary became known for being a bit sarcastic and witty. She was given roles in the film, Now Voyager with Bette Davis, again playing a nurse.
Mary flip flopped from Broadway to Hollywood, taking roles that interested her. She would appear in both Moonlight Bay (1951) and By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953) with Doris Day; White Christmas (1954), and The Music Man (1962).
Mary had cornered the market in roles of smart-alecky teachers, nurses, and housekeepers in film. When she transitioned to television, she often continued in these roles. Her first two recurring roles were housekeepers named Alice on Halls of Ivy from 1954-55 and Katie on Annette in 1958. From 1956-1958, she played Liz O’Neill, Danny Thomas’s press agent on Make Room for Daddy. Throughout the 1950s she also appeared on numerous shows including Zorro.
One of my favorite episodes with Mary was the 1952 episode “The Ballet” on I Love Lucy where Wickes played Madame Lamond, a formidable ballet teacher who taught Lucy. Wickes and Lucy would remain life-long friends. After Mary’s death, Lucie Arnez talked about her relationship with their family: “For my brother and me, Mary was just like one of the family. If any of us were sick or even in bed with a cold, Mary would show up at the backdoor with a kettle of chicken soup. She could be loud and boisterous and as demanding as any of the characters she played, but she was also very loving and giving. What a lady.” Mary would appear on numerous episodes of Lucille Ball’s other shows in the 1960s and 1970s.
In the 1960s, Mary continued to show up on a variety of shows. We see her on My Three Sons, Bonanza, F-Troop, The Doris Day Show, The Donna ReedShow, and I Spy. She also had recurring roles on three shows during the decade: TheGertrude Berg Show, Dennis the Menace, and Temple Houston. In the Gertrude Berg Show, Mary was landlady, Winona Maxfield. She was hilarious on Dennis the Menace, playing Miss Cathcart, an older neighbor looking for a man. On Temple Houston, she played Ida Goff. Temple was Sam Houston’s real son who was a circuit-riding lawyer.
As Mary aged, she progressed to the cranky relative or nosy neighbor type of character. In the 1970s she was a regular on Julia, Doc, and The Jimmy Stewart Show. On Julia, she was Dr. Chegley’s wife, Melba. She went back to her role as a nurse on Doc. On the Jimmy Stewart Show, she is Mrs. Bullard. Two of my favorite episodes of her from the 1970s were her roles on Columbo and M*A*S*H. On Columbo, Mary plays a landlady of a victim who’s been murdered. She and Columbo have a priceless conversation during the show, “Suitable for Framing” in 1971. On M*A*S*H, Mary played Colonel Reese who is observing Margaret and the nurses.
In the 1980s, Mary’s schedule slowed down a bit. She did revive her role as a maid on The Love Boat in 1981. From 1989-1991, she took another regular role as housekeeper Marie Murkin on Father Dowling Mysteries.
In the 1990s, Mary was doing more voice overs. She taped five episodes of Life with Louie which aired from 1995-1997 and was Laverne in The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1996. Unfortunately, she would not live to see them on the big screen. In 1995, she passed away after having respiratory problems. While a patient in the hospital, she fell and broke her hip. She died of complications caused by the surgery.
Mary never married or had children and as part of her legacy, she left a $2 million donation in memory of her parents to the Television, Film and Theater Arts at Washington University.
More than twenty years younger than Wickes, Susan Oliver was born in 1932 in New York City. Her real name as Charlotte Gercke. Her father was a political reporter for the New York World. Her parents divorced when she was quite young, and she grew up in boarding schools. She traveled with her father to Japan when he took a post there. She studied at the Tokyo International College, studying American pop culture. While Wickes was the wise-cracking comedic foil, Oliver was often the leading lady character with blue eyes, blonde hair and heart-shaped face.
In 1949, she
traveled to LA to see her mother who had found her niche as “astrologer to the
stars.” Susan then enrolled at Swarthmore College. After graduation, she
continued acting courses at New York City’s Neighborhood Playhouse.
Her first Broadway part came in 1957 as the daughter or a Revolutionary veteran, “Small War on Murray Hill.”
Returning to LA, she started a film career. Though she would appear in 15 big-screen movies, television is where she spent most of her time. She put in her due diligence in the 1950s and 1960s. Her first job was on The Goodyear Playhouse in 1955. She continued with a lot of drama and theater for the first few years of her career. She took roles in a variety of shows including: Father Knows Best, Suspicion, The David Niven Show, Bonanza, The Twilight Zone, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Wagon Train, Route 66, The Fugitive, The Andy Griffith Show, Ben Casey, Mannix, Dr. Kildare, The Man from UNCLE, I Spy, Gomer Pyle, My Three Sons, and the Wild, Wild West.
I read several times that she turned down lead roles in series to retain her independence, but I never read any specific roles she turned down. In 1966 she accepted a recurring role of Ann Howard in Peyton Place. She had signed a contract for a year, but after five months, her character was killed on the show. She made a pilot for a show titled, “Apartment in Rome” that did not sell.
Oliver never did get another show of her own, but she continued to guest on shows throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including Love American Style, Gunsmoke, The FBI, Streets of San Francisco, The Love Boat, Magnum PI, Murder She Wrote, and Simon and Simon.
One of the reasons, she didn’t want to be tied down was her interest in flying. In 1959, a Boeing 707 she was a passenger on plummeted 30,000 feet for the Atlantic Ocean before leveling out. After that scare, she decided to learn to become a pilot. In 1964, she started flying single-engine planes. Bill Lear brought her on board to become the first woman to train on his new Lear Jet. She would star in a movie about Amelia Earhart. She also later wrote about her flying experiences in an autobiography, Odyssey: A Daring Transatlantic Journey in 1983.
In the mid-1970s, she stopped accepting most acting roles and quit flying. She enrolled at the 1974 AFI Directing Workshop for Women with peers Lily Tomlin, Margot Kidder, Kathleen Nolan, and Maya Angelou. During the final season of M*A*S*H she directed an episode of the show. She would later direct an episode of Trapper John, MD.
At age 58, Oliver was diagnosed with colorectal, and eventually lung, cancer. She died in 1990.
Oliver was an
interesting actress. Apparently, she loved acting, but never wanted to be tied
down. She not only was a aviator and director but a writer. She was a practicing
Buddhist and a baseball expert as well.
Wickes and Oliver were very different women with very different interests and acting roles. They both remained single and devoted themselves to their careers. But they were both women who were always in demand for their acting ability.
Today we continue our month-long series about the characters on Gilligan’s Island and the stars who portrayed them. We begin with the millionaire, Thurston Howell III, and his wife, Lovey. On the island, their money is worthless, but it doesn’t stop Mr. Howell from bribing other captives when it’s in his best interest. He must have been a boy scout who learned the motto, “Be prepared,” because he and his wife took clothes on a three-hour tour to last a few years. In real life, Natalie Schafer was the millionaire. Both Backus and Schafer had very interesting careers.
Jim Backus was born in Cleveland in February of 1913. He was one of those stars who seemed to excel in everything: radio, Broadway, animation, big-screen movies, and television series. In an interesting aside, Margaret Hamilton who would go on to have a full career including the Wicked Witch of the West at the Wizard ofOz, was one of his grade school teachers. Jim grew up in a wealthy area, attending Shaw High School in East Cleveland. His father was a mechanical engineer. I could not find exact proof of this but several articles mention he was expelled from the Kentucky Military Institute for riding a horse in the mess hall. He later attended the American Academy of Dramatic Art.
In 1939 he married Betty Kean; they divorced in 1942. One of his famous quotes was “Many a man owes his success to his first wife and his second wife to his success.”
In the 1940s, Backus began appearing on radio as the “rich man,” which he often portrayed afterward on radio and television. He played the role of aviator Dexter Hayes on Society Girl on CBS Radio Network. He also appeared on the Mel BlancShow as Hartley Benson, an arrogant character, and as Hubert Updike on The AlanYoung Show. He also showed up regularly on The Jack Benny Program.
During his radio years, he married Henny Backus whom he was married to the rest of his life.
He began his big-screen cinema career in 1949 and would go on to appear in almost 100 movies, including Here Come the Nelsons, Pat and Mike, and RebelWithout a Cause (seen above). His most famous movie role was probably Tyler Fitzgerald in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. My favorite movie of his is Hello Down There with Tony Randall and Janet Leigh from 1969.
During the 1950s, he began auditioning for roles on television. He would go on to appear on 18 different series during that decade, including I Married Joan, on which he starred with Joan Davis. On the show, Backus played a respected judge and Davis was his scatterbrained wife. The show was very popular and lasted three seasons.
As if he wasn’t busy enough with acting in the 1950s, he also made a song recording with Phyllis Diller that hit the top 40 in 1958. It was called “Delicious,” and the two of them would take a sip of champagne throughout the song, saying “Delicious.” As the song continues, they get more drunk and a bit giddy, slurring their words and laughing hysterically.
His television career continued to be demanding in the 1960s. He appeared on 25 series, and four of them had regular starring sitcom roles. In 1960, The Jim BackusShow debuted. The program focuses on Backus in the role of Mike O’Toole, the editor/proprietor of a low rent wire service struggling to stay in business.
He had made movie shorts about Mr. Magoo in the 1950s and in 1960, he starred in 130 episodes of Mr. Magoo and would make 26 more episodes under the title The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo in 1964-1965. Mr. Magoo was an older nearsighted man who was very popular, appearing in ads and merchandise for years. The humor of the show was based on the difference between what Mr. Magoo thinks he sees and the reality of what was really there. Jim Backus liked to repeat a story about his famous character. He was in the movie, Don’t Bother to Knock, with Marilyn Monroe. She asked Jim to meet her in her dressing room later and his curiosity got the best of him, so he went, only to learn she wanted him to portray Mr. Magoo which he did.
This was also the decade he was offered the role of Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’sIsland in 1964. That same year he was asked to play the role of Abner Kravitz on a new show, Bewitched but turned it down because he was committed to Gilligan’sIsland. Gilligan’s Island would run from 1964-1967 and he would go on to appear in several Gilligan revivals including the far-fetched The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island.
During 1968-1969, Backus took the role of Mr. Dithers in a revival of Blondie.
During the 1960s, he also appeared on 77 Sunset Strip, The Beverly Hillbillies, Daniel Boone, The Wild, Wild West, and I Spy, among others.
Backus continued his television work into the 1970s where he appeared on 31 shows. He appeared in a variety of genres including I Dream of Jeannie, Young Dr. Kildare, Medical Center, The Brady Bunch, Gunsmoke, Ellery Queen, Charlie’sAngels, Fantasy Island, and The Love Boat.
Backus also continued his commercial work in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the spokesperson for La-Z-Boy furniture and General Electric. He and Natalie Schafer appeared in an ad for Redenbacher’s popcorn. They played their characters from Gilligan’s Island but apparently had been rescued and were in a luxurious home. In a sweet ending, it was the last television appearance for either of them.
When Jim Backus had a little bit of free time between acting jobs, he loved to golf. He also tried his hand at writing a few books and film scripts, including his autobiography which he wrote with his wife, Only When I Laugh in 1965.
In July of 1989, Backus died from pneumonia, after suffering from Parkinson’s disease for many years.
He had a long and varied career and seemed to have many friends in the business.
A millionaire in real life, Natalie Schafer seemed like a very fun woman, a bit of a character. She was born in November of 1900 in New Jersey and raised in Manhattan. She was quite secretive about her age, often claiming she was born in 1912.
She began her career in Broadway, appearing in 17 plays. She married actor Louis Calhern in 1934 and they divorced in 1942. She moved to Los Angeles in 1941 to become a film actress and received parts in 34 movies. Incidentally, she and her ex remained friends and appeared together in the movie Forever Darling in 1956.
Like Backus, Schafer typically played wealthy and sophisticated roles. She did not have the versatility her tv husband had but continued to stay busy acting on television. While Gilligan’s Island was her only long-term role, she appeared on 21 shows in the 1950s (including I Love Lucy, Loretta Young, Phil Silvers, and Topper); 8 in the 1960s (including The Beverly Hillbillies, 77 Sunset Strip, and Route 66); 15 in the 1970s (including Mayberry RFD, The Brady Bunch, and McMillan and Wife); and an additional 8 shows in the 1980s before she passed away (including Three’s Company, The Love Boat, Trapper John, and Simon and Simon).
Schafer made most of her money from investments, particularly in real estate.
Several sources revealed that much of her fortune was bequeathed to either her Gilligan’s Island co-star Dawn Wells or to care for her dogs; however, at least $1.5 million was donated to the Lillian Booth Actors’ Home to renovate their outpatient wing. I never saw any answers from Wells about inheriting money, but on Vicki Lawrence’s talk show, she did say that Schafer spent her last years living with her. Like many wealthy people, she was quite thrifty. She often admitted that she accepted the role of Mrs. Howell because she got a free trip to Hawaii to film the pilot and didn’t expect it to get picked up.
Everyone seemed to like her on the set. Dawn Wells said she especially adored Schafer and Backus. Schafer was a hard worker and liked to keep fit. In a ChicagoTribune article from October 25, 1965, she relayed her secrets for staying in shape. For one thing, she did her own stunts on the show. She also said she swam nude every morning and evening, doing 100 strong kicks at the side of the pool. She also invented an ice cream diet for herself. She claimed to eat a quart a day, saying she had a bowl of vanilla ice cream with her coffee, two bowls of varying flavors for both lunch and dinner, and another single bowl for an afternoon snack. She claimed that she would lose three pounds in five days.
In 1990, Schafer passed away from liver cancer. After her death, she wanted people to realize her true age, and many of her closest friends were quite surprised to learn she was 12 years older than she claimed.
While Thurston Howell III and his wife Lovey were two interesting characters, I don’t think they can compete with the characters who were Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer. I had a lot of fun learning about them.
We are in the midst of looking at the Friday night shows that aired in September 1970 through May 1972. Today we meet the cast of ThePartridge Family.
The Partridge Family was created by Bernard Slade. Slade wrote for Bewitched, was a script supervisor for The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, and created several other shows including The Flying Nun, Bridget Loves Bernie, and Love on a Rooftop. Bob Claver served as executive producer.
The concept was loosely based on The Cowsills, a family band who grew up in Rhode Island and toured with their mother. Shirley Jones was signed to be the star of The Partridge Family. The Cowsill kids were offered the role of her children, but they refused to do the show without their mother. David Cassidy, Jones’ step son, was hired as lead singer Keith Partridge. Susan Dey, a model, age 17, was hired as Laurie Partridge, keyboards. Danny Bonaduce is the ten-year-old Danny who acts 45 and plays bass guitar; Jeremy Gelbwaks is Chris the drummer, while Suzanne Crough is the tambourine-playing Tracy, the youngest member of the family.
The pilot was filmed in December of 1969, but when the first episode aired, a few things had changed. Shirley was originally named Connie, and she had a boyfriend played by Jack Cassidy. The family lived in Ohio, not California.
In the first episode, the Partridge kids convince their mom, a widow and a bank teller, to fill in to record a song with them in their studio/garage. Danny goes through a few shenanigans to get Reuben Kincaid to listen to the demo, eventually trapping in him the rest room. Rueben loves it, hires on as their manager, and the song hits the top 40, propelling the family to stardom. They buy an old school bus which they paint and go on the road, performing in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.
While many of the episodes take place on the road, most of the shows are set in San Pueblo, their home city, dealing with the typical issues siblings had then and still encounter today.
Ray Bolger and Rosemary DeCamp show up often as Shirley’s parents. We also get to know Reuben’s stewardess girlfriend Bonnie Kleinschmidt played by Elaine Giftos.
For the second season, a few additional changes took place. Shirley started out narrating the episodes but stopped partway through season one. Jeremy Gelbwaks’ family moved to the east coast; and he was replaced with Brian Forster. David Cassidy mentioned that young Jeremy had a personality conflict with most of the cast members. When he got older, he must have been easier to get along with because as an adult, he has appeared with the rest of the cast on reunion shows. The theme song was also tweaked. Titled “Singin’ Together” the first year, it was given a new arrangement, a new name in “C’mon Get Happy,” and new lyrics:
We had a dream, we’d go travelin’ together,
We’d spread a little lovin’ then we’d keep movin’ on.
Somethin’ always happens whenever we’re together
We get a happy feelin’ when we’re singing a song Travelin’ along there’s a song that we’re singing, C’mon get happy
Scattered throughout the 96 episodes are more than 50 celebrity guest stars, an astonishing number for a sitcom. We saw sitcom stars from classic shows including Morey Amsterdam, John Astin, Edgar Buchanan, Jackie Coogan, and Arte Johnson. We saw popular hosts like Dick Clark. Howard Cosell represented the sports industry. Movie stars showed up like Margaret Hamilton, Charlotte Rae, and Harry Morgan. Future stars made their mark: Jodie Foster, Mark Hamill, Meredith Baxter, and Bert Convy. Three of the Charlie’s Angels first appeared on The Partridge Family: Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, and Cheryl Ladd. Musicians Johnny Cash and Bobby Sherman appeared, as did comedian Richard Pryor.
Danny struggled with his lines. He was dyslexic, but he also had an eidetic memory, so he not only memorized his lines, but the rest of the cast’s lines as well, and they didn’t always appreciate him telling them what they could not remember. He was a bit of a wild child. Shirley Jones said once the cast ganged up on him and poured a pitcher of milk on his head to get him to behave. Once she forgot he was not her real son and sent him to his room for a time out. Danny had reason to misbehave though. He was verbally and physically abused at home. Dave Madden who played Reuben took him in to live with him for a while. On the show, the two of them pretended to have a love/hate relationship, but you knew Danny was Reuben’s favorite. Some of their dialogue was:
Reuben Kincaid: …Tell me, did your mother ever tell you not to play in traffic?
The Partridge house is a popular house in television series. It was the home of the Kravitzes in Bewitched and was later Margaret’s house in Pleasantville and the home of the Thatcher family in Life Goes On.
Most people might not remember that The Partridge Family created a spin-off series. On one episode, Bobby Sherman and Wes Stern are introduced by the family and become a successful song-writing duo. It became a show Getting Together during the 1971-72 year. Too bad it wasn’t titled Staying Together, because it only lasted 14 episodes. The concept was based on Boyce and Hart who wrote for several famous singers including The Monkees and Jay and the Americans.
Music was an important part of The Partridge Family. The early 1970s had a range of popular music. You could choose from Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Led Zeppelin or the Archies–ranging from hard rock to pure bubblegum.
The music for the pilot was recorded by Shorty Rogers. Rogers had worked with Woody Herman and Stan Kenton. He was a trumpet player and music composer. He recorded music for several movies and later for Starsky and Hutch. Wes Farrell produced the songs for the rest of the series. Farrell has written or produced more than 500 songs, the most famous being “Hang on Sloopy.” He wrote 30 songs for the Partridge Family. The Wrecking Crew were Los Angeles session musicians, most of whom had classical or jazz backgrounds. They were the house band for Phil Spector and played behind many singers including Sonny and Cher, The Mamas and the Papas, Frank Sinatra, The Monkees, and The Beach Boys.
The most famous Partridge Family song was “I Think I Love You,” written by Tony Romeo who wrote for The Cowsills. The song went to number 1 on the Billboard charts. When the first album came out, it went to number 4. Romeo also wrote the music for the movie Rain Man as well as for other television shows and a variety of jingles. I have to say that my favorite Partridge song, hands down, is “Oh, No, Not My Baby.” By the end of the show, 8 albums had been released including a Christmas one.
Shirley Jones sang on many of the songs while David Cassidy was the lead singer, but the rest of the cast lip-synched their songs. The show took a toll on David. He was made a teen idol but was not playing the type of music he was passionate about. He toured playing Partridge Family staples. Sony made a fortune off him. He wasn’t paid royalties, and they were allowed to use his image however they wanted to without his permission. Even the dues paid by his fan club members went to Sony. His manager realized that David had signed his contract at 19 when the legal age was 21, so his contract became null and void, allowing him to renegotiate it for better terms. Until then, he was paid $600 per episode and that was it.
In 1974, The Partridge Family was moved to Saturday night opposite All in the Family and could not survive the ratings war.
Oddly enough, later that year, a Saturday cartoon was aired called The Partridge Family 2200 AD. It was produced by Hanna-Barbera. Shirley Jones and David Cassidy were not involved at all and Dave Madden and Susan Dey had limited involvement.
The cast reunited November 25, 1977 for a reunion show with the cast of My Three Sons. They also got together on the Arsenio Hall Show, Danny Bonaduce’s radio show, and three different documentaries.
Perhaps the best measure of the show’s popularity is the incredible amount of items that were produced during the four short years the show was on the air. There is a Partridge Family game (which I have and still play), trading cards, mystery books and comic books starring the family, lunch boxes, blankets, Christmas ornaments, a Keith Partridge watch, dolls, song books and sheet music, a Johnny Lightning bus replica, Viewmaster reels, and many other items. Johnny Ray Miller wrote a book in titled When We’re Singin’: The Partridge Family and Their Music, chronicling the music of the show.
Shirley Jones enjoyed her time on The Partridge Family. She has continued to keep busy performing and spending time with her real family.
Dave Madden also kept quite busy following the cancellation of the show. Being a smoker most of his life, he quit smoking after the episode “Every Dawn I Diet” when he and Danny have a bet that he can quit smoking and Danny can lose some weight. He passed away in 2014 at age 82 from complications of myelodyplastic syndrome, a disease where red blood cells don’t mature in the marrow.
Jeremy Gelbwaks became a management consultant.
Brian Forster is a race car driver, participating in community theater. In a side note, his mother was related to Charles Dickens, and his step-grandfather was Alan Napier, the butler Alfred on the Batman television show.
Suzanne Crough made a few appearances in shows and movies through 1980. She went to college, worked at a bookstore and managed an office supply store. She married and had two children. She passed away unexpectedly in 2015 from cardiomyopathy.
Susan Dey had roles on several shows following her stint on The Partridge Family. She and David Cassidy tried dating after the show was off the air, but it did not end well. He revealed their relationship in his 1994 autobiography when she apparently severed ties with him altogether.
Danny Bonaduce has had a rough ride but has been a busy and productive radio host for the past decade or so. David Cassidy also had some tough years with drug use and alcohol. He passed away in December. After Cassidy’s death, Bonaduce wrote: “I have known, loved, and admired David Cassidy for 48 out of my 58 years. He has been as kind to me as any real brother could ever be. We’ve been through a lot together and he was always there for me. This loss is huge. RIP my dear friend.”
Brian Wilson, the lead singer of the Beach Boys, said he was “very sad” to hear about Cassidy’s death. “There were times in the mid-1970s when he would come over to my house and we even started writing a song together,” he tweeted. “He was a very talented and nice person.”
Bonaduce shared some of his remembrances about Cassidy:
David Cassidy was a god to me. We weren’t close when we did The Partridge Family — I was 10 years old; he was 20 — but to me he was like Elvis Presley, down to the jumpsuit and the arenas filled with fans. . .
We did become friends much later, in the 1990s. I was going through some trouble — I was on the cover of all the tabloids, “Ex-Child Star Gone Wrong” — and David was having problems of his own. He gave me some advice. He said, “You know, Danny, you should be in on the joke; you shouldn’t become the joke.” Then he invited me to go on tour with him. “It’s going to be fantastic,” he said. “We’re going to go on my tour bus, and at the end you’re going to get a job out of it. But here’s the deal: There’s going to be no drugs, no alcohol, no smoking and no women.” I said, “Then I’m not going.”
But I did go on tour, doing stand-up before David performed, and at every stop I did interviews with local radio stations. And around the fifth radio interview, they said: “Boy, you’re really good at this. You want to stay?” They offered me more money than I’d ever seen in my life: $75,000 a year. David told me the tour would give me a career, and it did.
When it came to his own career, though, David got robbed. When he decided he didn’t want to be Keith Partridge anymore, he quit The Partridge Family. He wanted to go on tour and be a real rock ‘n’ roll star. But the road he chose to go down after the show, it didn’t go as far. He became the Partridge Family theme song, he became the act of looking like David Cassidy, with the same thousand fans coming to every show. He never did get the life he wanted. It really was a tragedy. I was in Europe when he died, but I heard he was surrounded by his family — Shirley Jones, Shaun Cassidy, Patrick Cassidy. And I heard his last words were, “So much wasted time.”
On the first episode, the Partridge clan goes to a car dealer to buy their bus. In reality, the studio purchased it from the Orange County School District. After the show was cancelled, the bus ended up behind Lucy’s Tacos near UCLA. When the restaurant did some repaving, the bus was moved to a local dump: the windows were broken, the tires were flat, and the paint had faded.
In our memories, the bus will be forever colorful and bright, Keith will continue to make girls swoon, Laurie will give wise counsel to her siblings, Danny will make us laugh, Chris and Tracy will put in their occasional one-liners, and Shirley will take teach us important life lessons. There is something timeless about The Partridge Family, and I appreciate each of the 96 episodes. On the next rainy day, watch a few of the DVDs from the four seasons and find something to appreciate in each one as well.
The Partridge Family (ABC) later seasons (1971 – 1974) Shown from left: (top) Brian Forster, Danny Bonaduce, Suzanne Crough; (front) David Cassidy, Shirley Jones, Susan Dey
Ask any girl who grew up in the late sixties and early seventies and they will tell you their favorite night of television was Friday. We looked forward to watching The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 222, The Odd Couple, and Love American Style, but the first hour of the night was the only “can’t miss” one. Boys coming of age in that era might have a tough time deciding between Samantha Stevens and Jeannie, but almost every girl will tell you Keith Partridge beat out Greg Brady hands down. Like most nine-year-olds in 1970, I had a huge crush on Keith Partridge. Watching the episodes today takes me right back to that time, and I feel like a kid on Friday night again.
The Partridge Family aired from 1970-1974, and the concept was based on the Cowsills. The Cowsill family grew up in Rhode Island, and by 1967 the band consisted of siblings ages 8-19 and their mother. Although the group no longer includes all the siblings, they still tour and record.
I still enjoy watching the episodes today. Even though the show is filled with nostalgia as far as clothing and interior décor, the problems faced by the Partridge Family were primarily the same problems faced by all families with kids and many of the shows have a timeless appeal. I’m not sure that anyone not growing up during that time period realizes the impact of the Partridge Family. I still have the Partridge Family game, we had trading cards that were collected and the back of the cards put together formed a puzzle. I had paperback books featuring the Partridge Family and lots of kids had albums, lunch boxes and other collectible memorabilia. Danny is often referred to as a brat, but I like the character of Danny Partridge. Then again, I liked all the Partridge Family members.
However, what I wanted to talk about in this blog is the unbelievable guest stars that the show was able to attract. Of course, Shirley Jones was a well-liked and famous movie star and she had a lot of connections in the industry. However, the names of the people who appeared on an episode of The Partridge Family during those four short years is incredible. I counted more than 50 looking at various shows over the years. Let’s look at some of those guest stars.
Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow, and Margaret Hamilton, the wicked witch, from the Wizard of Oz both made appearances. Ray Bolger played Shirley Partridge’s father on several shows. Margaret Hamilton is Rueben’s mother.
Two Dick Van Dyke Show cast members were featured: Morey Amsterdam, Buddy Sorrel and Ann Morgan Guilbert, Milly Helper. Amsterdam provided Danny with some bad comedy material in the first season. Guilbert is married to Norman Fell in the show and they visit Shirley when their son Keith’s age develops a crush on Shirley which he mistakenly thinks is reciprocated.
In addition to Ann and Morey, there were a lot of previous sitcom stars on the show. John Astin from the Addams Family, plays an eccentric millionaire. Edgar Buchanan, Uncle Joe from Petticoat Junction, plays a judge which he also portrayed in the movie, Move Over Darling, starring Doris Day and James Garner. Rosemary DeCamp played Shirley’s mother. Rosemary had been featured on lots of tv shows. She was on Love That Bob and was Ann Marie’s mother on That Girl. Arte Johnson from Laugh-In was in two episodes, one as an artist who paints a nude on the family garage when they are out of town. Harry Morgan, a sitcom veteran, played, a man faking whiplash in the first season and appeared again in 1972 as another character. William Schallert who was Patty Lane’s father on The Patty Duke Show stars as a folk musician whose career has taken a nose dive. Ronne Troup who played Polly on My Three Sons was on the show as the fourth season began as their neighbor complains about their music.
Not only were the past tv stars featured but a lot of up and coming stars showed up. MeredithBaxter gifts a million dollars to the Partridges and they find they don’t enjoy being wealthy. Bert Convy played one of Shirley’s serious boyfriends on three shows. Norman Fell is the father of a young man who gets a crush on Shirley when she goes back to school using her maiden name. He later married Helen and was Stanley Roper on Three’s Company. Pat Harrington Jr. appeared the first season and came back as someone else three years later. While he was in hundreds of tv episodes, he is probably most often recognized as Schneider from One Day at a Time. The Partridges try to set up Ann Jillian with their delivery boy to build up his confidence. If she had dated him, she might not have ended up a waitress on It’s a Living. Gordon Jump who was a veteran tv guest star, best known as Arthur Carlson from WKRP in Cincinnati, was on seven episodes as different characters. Richard Mulligan appeared in one show as Shirley’s boyfriend but also came back for another episode two years later; we know him as Burt on Soap and Dr. Westin on Empty Nest. Annette O’Toole plays Keith’s girlfriend in the second season; later her marriage with Nash doesn’t work out on NashBridges. Rob Reiner, who will soon be “Meathead” on All in The Family, appears as Snake, a rough biker with a heart of gold who likes Laurie. VicTayback who we know best as Mel on Alice appeared as three different characters on three different shows, Nancy Walker is the mother of Shirley’s date before she was Rhoda’s mom in later years.
Three of the five Charlie’s Angels showed up on different shows: Farrah Fawcett was a “pretty girl” the kids hire to try to get Harry Morgan to reveal that his whiplash is not real. Cheryl Ladd is the popular girl Keith wants to take to the dance after promising to take Laurie’s friend. Jaclyn Smith plays the niece of Shirley’s boyfriend. When he buys her a ring for graduation, the kids assume she is his fiancé and take matters into their own hands.
We had big stars from different genres including Johnny Cash playing himself and introducing the first concert the family is performing in Vegas. Richard Pryor talks the Partridges into playing for his charity event, and Bobby Sherman plays a singer, Bobby Conway. This episode actually turned into a spinoff for a short time.
Many famous or soon-to-be-famous movie stars can be spied on episodes including JackieCoogan who replaced Ray Bolger as Shirley’s father on two later shows. Jodie Foster and Danny have a love/hate relationship when their parents are dating. Lou Gosset Jr., producing a charity event with Richard Pryor, asks the Partridges to fill in when a group cancels. MarkHamill is Laurie’s boyfriend before he even knew Princess Leia. Charlotte Rae, a bit out of her typical character, plays a doctor.
I could continue, but every blog has to end sometime. It is amazing how many famous people were willing to appear in a new sitcom not only once but up to seven times as seven different characters. It says a lot about the reputation of the show. Let’s finish up with some fun facts about the show.
Shirley Jones was recruited to be Carol Brady but passed and took The Partridge Family
Partridge had passed away in the first episode, but his first name is never mentioned on the show.
Rueben Kincaid’s middle name is Clarence.
When the Partridges are asked to replace another musical act for a charity event put on by Richard Pryor and Lou Gossett Jr., the group that cancelled is the Temptations.
When Laurie gets braces, she can hear radio signals in her mouth, and it interferes with her performing. The music she “hears” in her mouth is The Rolling Stones.