This Man Was Busy, Busy, Busy

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Most television viewers today would not recognize the name Billy De Wolfe, but if you played his voice for them, they would immediately know it as Professor Hinkle from Frosty the Snowman.  I remember Billy primarily from That Girl as Ann Marie’s drama coach, Jules Benedict.  I was amazed to see he only appeared in three episodes because he was such a strong character, I would have thought he was in at least 20 shows. He became known as the prim, pompous, and sarcastic stock character.

Billy was born William Andrew Jones in Massachusetts in 1907. His father was a bookbinder, and they moved back to his parents’ home country of Wales shortly after his birth, returning to the United States when he was nine years old. His parents hoped he would become a Baptist minister, but his dreams were grounded in acting. He started his entertainment career as an usher.  He then became a dancer with the Jimmy O’Connor band.  This led to his appearing on the vaudeville circuit where a theater manger offered him the use of his name, Billy De Wolfe. He traveled to London to perform for five years and returned to America in 1939.

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In 1942 he joined the US Navy where he became a Seaman 1st Class as a musician. Before he enlisted, he was offered a contract with Paramount, and he continued with them in 1944 when he left the Navy. His first movie Dixie was with Dorothy Lamour and Bing Crosby. He appeared in nine movies during the 1940s.

 

He loved old-fashioned musical comedies and had a chance to act with Doris Day and Gene Nelson in both Tea for Two and Lullaby of Broadway.  He and Doris would be friends for the rest of his life.  He gave her the nickname Clara Bixby because he said she looked more like a Clara than a Doris, and many of their friends referred to her as Clara.

 

He transitioned to theater and performed on the live stage in both Broadway and London.

 

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He then decided to try television where he became very successful. Above he appears on the Dick Van Dyke Show. He appeared on six shows before obtaining his first role as a regular on a sitcom.  During the late 1960s and early 1970s he would be cast in five different sitcoms.

 

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In 1966, he was part of the amazing cast of The Pruitts of South Hampton.  I have mentioned this show before in my blogs, and it is hard to believe that this incredible cast could not pull off a more successful show:  Phyllis Diller, Louis Nye, John Astin, Reginald Gardner, Paul Lynde, Gypsy Rose Lee, John McGiver, Richard Deacon, Marty Ingels, and De Wolfe. The series was based on a novel, House Party, by Patrick Dennis.  A wealthy family realizes it owes the IRS $10,000,000 in back taxes.  They want to keep the appearance that they still have plenty of money while living in a smaller home with one car and a butler.  One of the first shows to debut in color, it was cancelled after 30 episodes.

 

In 1966, De Wolfe also began the role of Jules Benedict on That Girl.  He played a sarcastic acting teacher who made it clear it was painful to work with these young actors who simply had no idea of how to act. But we also realized that he had a big heart that he did not want anyone to see. His last episode was in 1969.

 

In 1967, he took a role as radio station manager Roland Hutton Jr. on Good Morning, World.  Dave Lewis (Joby Baker) and Larry Clarke (Ronnie Schell) are small-time radio hosts Lewis and Clarke on the air from 6-10 am. Lewis is married and an introvert while Clarke is a swinging single. Also appearing on this show was a new comer, Goldie Hawn, who played the Lewises’ neighbor. The show only lasted a year. Several critics pointed out that De Wolfe was the funniest person on the show.

 

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In 1969, De Wolfe was able to stay employed for another 13 episodes on the series The Queen and I. He starred with Larry Storch.  They worked on an aging ocean liner, The Amsterdam Queen, which the owners were planning on selling for scrap. Duffy (Storch) wants to save the ship through any means possible, but Nelson (De Wolfe) doesn’t like or trust him, although he fails to ever catch him doing anything wrong.

 

Doris Day began her sitcom in 1968. For the 1970 season, she and her kids moved to San Francisco to live over an Italian restaurant, owned by the Palluccis (Kaye Ballard and Bernie Kopell). She hired her friend Billy to play Willard Jarvis, the bad-tempered neighbor who really was a peach when you got to know him.

During his years on the Doris Day Show, he also appeared on the Debbie Reynolds Show and Love American Style. He was also a regular on the talk show circuits, appearing many times on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and the Mike Douglas Show.

 

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Phoebe Murgatroyd was a famous commercial character. De Wolfe donned a hat and shawl (but kept his iconic mustache) to portray the romance expert who gave love life advice for this series of Ban Roll-On deodorant ads.

 

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Who realized in 1969 that an animation special, based on the song, “Frosty the Snowman,” would go on to become a beloved classic and would play a role in generations of kids celebrating Christmas. For almost 50 years, viewers have cried at Professor Hinkle’s nasty act of locking Frosty in a greenhouse to melt. While I look forward to Charlie Brown and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer every holiday, Frosty is my must-see every December.

In the early 1970s, Billy was diagnosed with lung cancer. He passed away in 1974, his friend Doris helping him through this tough time.

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Billy De Wolfe is another example of one of these great performers who could do it all.  He was a dancer. He appeared in many lucrative movies. He was successful on Broadway. When he decided to give television a try, he stayed employed with the medium until his death. And he left the legacy of Frosty the Snowman that has been a Christmas staple for almost 50 years. If you are searching for things to do this winter, add watching several episodes of Billy De Wolfe shows to your list and get to know this multi-talented man a bit better.

 

The Amazing, But Much Too Short, Career of Richard Deacon

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Richard Deacon was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1921, but most of his adolescence was spent in Binghamton, New York. When he was only 11, he contracted polio. He took up dancing to build up his leg muscles.

Deacon’s first career choice was to become a doctor.  He was working as an orderly at the Binghamton Hospital when World War II began. He tried to join the Navy; they suggested he try the Army.  He did and joined the medical corps.

After the war, he studied medicine at Ithaca College but soon switched to acting. He studied drama for a couple of years and was the actor in residence at Bennington College.  After spending some time in New York, he headed to California to look for work.  After paying his dues as a bartender, he finally got a break and was offered a role in a film.

When he first began his career, Helen Hayes advised him to become a character actor as opposed to a leading man.  It was great advice, and he was one of the most beloved and prolific actors during the golden age of television. During his career, he appeared in 66 movies on the big screen, guest starred on 92 different television shows, and starred in six series.

In the 1950s, he appeared in 48 television shows including Burns and Allen, The Life of Riley, Bachelor Father, and the Gale Storm Show.  He had regular roles in two sitcoms.

The Charles Farrell Show debuted in 1956. Farrell played himself as the manager of the Palm Springs Racquet Club, a resort he actually owned and operated. It was a summer replacement for I Love Lucy and only lasted 12 episodes. Richard played Sherman Hall.

 

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In 1957, he got another chance at being a regular in a sitcom, Date with the Angels starring Betty White. Deacon played Roger Finley.  This show lasted one year.

 

Richard continued his productive acting career, appearing in 43 shows in the 1960s.  He could be seen in a wide range of shows including Bonanza, The Rifleman, My Three Sons, Make Room for Daddy, Perry Mason, The Donna Reed Show, The Twilight Zone, Mr. Ed, I Dream of Jeannie, Get Smart, The Munsters, and The Addams Family. He was also appearing in a number of films during this decade. He appeared in four sitcoms on a regular basis during the ’60s.

 

Leave It to Beaver aired from 1957-1963. Deacon played Fred Rutherford, father of Clarence, or Lumpy, Rutherford, Wally’s friend. During the 6 seasons it was on the air, Fred was in 63 episodes.

 

Part way through the series, he was offered another regular role, that of Mel Cooley on The Dick Van Dyke Show.  From 1961-1966, he brightened the screen in 82 shows, putting up with his brother-in-law’s bullying and Buddy Sorrel’s belittling. Deacon had high praise for everyone connected with The Dick Van Dyke Show.

One day Morey Amsterdam was goofing around with Richard and said he didn’t think his hair had fallen out, he thought it had imploded and fallen into his brain, clouding his thinking.  Carl Reiner came running on the set and said to add that dialogue to the show.  From then on, there was an insult fest between Buddy Sorrell and Mel Cooley. When the writers were trying to come up with a comeback from Mel to Buddy, Reiner asked Deacon how he would respond to someone who continued to torment him.  Deacon replied, “Yeecchh!” and his trademark phrase was invented.

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Bud Molin, Dick Van Dyke Show film editor described Deacon as “the funniest human being on the face of the earth.” Carl Reiner said it was a joy to have him around and everyone on the show loved him.

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The Dick Van Dyke Show was one of the best shows ever written. It won the Outstanding Comedy Emmy in 1963, 1964, and 1966. After the cast of the Dick Van Dyke Show decided to end the show on its own terms, leaving the air with its quality reputation intact, Deacon was offered another sixties role.

 

Phyllis Diller had a fantastic cast on her show, The Pruitts of South Hampton, or The Phyllis Diller Show as it became known in syndication. This was about a formerly wealthy family who found out they owed $10,000,000 in back taxes.  They try to appear that they still have their wealth, while living in very reduced circumstances.  The cast included Louis Nye, John Astin, Reginald Gardiner, Paul Lynde, Gypsy Rose Lee, Billy De Wolfe, John McGiver, and Marty Ingels in addition to Diller and Deacon.  I don’t know how this show did not succeed, but it was taken off the air after only one year. Diller and Deacon continued to work together both on an episode of Love, American Style and in the production of Hello Dolly in the 1969-1970 season.

 

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Once the Diller show was canceled, Deacon was offered a role on The Mothers-In-Law starring Kaye Ballard and Eve Arden. Deacon took over the role of Roger Buell mid-way through the series. The concept was two families who didn’t necessarily get along were neighbors whose children  married so they had to find ways to get along and keep the peace.

 

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After the show was cancelled, he continued to stay busy with his acting career.  He also appeared in 17 episodes of Match Game and several Family Feud episodes.

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Deacon was a life-long bachelor.  He was a closeted gay man who had to keep his sexual orientation secret to keep his options open to work for companies like Disney. He was also a gourmet chef.  In the 1980s, he hosted a Canadian cooking show about microwave cooking, writing a book that sold almost two million copies. He spent a lot of his spare time working with SYNANON, an agency that helped teenage drug addicts.

On the night of August 8, 1984, he was suffered a heart attack in his Beverly Hills home. He was rushed to Cedars Sinai Hospital, where he died later that night. He was 63 years old.

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Everything I read about Richard Deacon painted him as a gracious, friendly, very funny man who was caring and kind.  He had an amazing career, with 180 acting credits within a 30-year period.  The legacy he left was a rich and full acting life. Pretty good for a guy who chose to be a character actor and turned down two offers to do a show that he would star in.

 

 

 

 

Gee, Mom There’s Nothin’ To Watch on TV

After complaining about the number of lack-luster shows on the 2016-17 schedule, I decided to look back 50 years to see how the line-up looked in 1966.  I was surprised to learn that things haven’t really changed too much.

One of my all-time favorite shows aired in the fall of 1966–That Girl.  I’ll write about the show next week.  Two other shows that debuted in 1966 were Family Affair and The Monkees, shows I would not consider classic comedies but shows we remember nonetheless.

Let’s take a look at the other shows from fall of 1966.  Let me know how many of these, if any, you remember.

The Hero – Richard Mulligan (later to star in Soap and Empty Nest) plays Sam Garret, a TV actor on a western who was scared of horses, allergic to sagebrush, and extremely clumsy.  If you don’t’ remember this show, don’t feel bad; it only lasted four months.

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Hey Landlord – A writer (Will Hutchins) and a comedian (Sandy Baron) become landlords for a Manhattan brownstone.  Apparently they only had a one-year lease, because they were gone by 1967.  Cast members included Ann Morgan Guilbert (Milly from the Dick Van Dyke Show) and Sally Field (Gidget, the Flying Nun, and Nora on Brothers and Sisters).

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It’s About Time – Two astronauts break the time barrier and end up in the Prehistoric Era. After saving a boy, they get to know his family.  When they return home in 1966, they realize the family hid themselves aboard the rocket.  The astronauts have to keep them secret from NASA officials, and the family has to learn to live in a modern society.  Someone might have dreamed about Jeannie, but no one dreamed about this show.

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The Jean Arthur Show – Movie star Jean Arthur is part of a mother-son law firm, Marshall & Marshall.  Arthur gets involved in their clients’ wacky situations.  After three months, they were legally cancelled.

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Love On a Rooftop – Judy Carne and Peter Duel are a young couple living in San Francisco.  He’s an apprentice architect and she’s an art student who gave up her rich father’s money for marrying him.  Rich Little played their neighbor Stan who composed menus for a living.  The network said “Sock it to Them” by cancelling the show.

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Mr. Terrific – Two friends Stanley and Hal are roommates.  Stan works for the government. When they give him a pill, he becomes Mr. Terrific, crime solver.  They send him on missions, but the pill only lasts an hour so it wears off at the worst of times.  I don’t think the network thought it too terrific, because it was gone in seven months.

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My Name’s McGooley, What’s Yours? – The show centered around a scheming father, his daughter and her husband, a beer-guzzling loser.  I think it took longer to read the title than to watch the episodes because it was not renewed for the next year.

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Occasional Wife – A baby food company only hires married men as executives, so Peter convinces his friend Greta to pose as his wife when necessary.  They live on different floors of the same apartment building and get into a lot of complicated situations.  Apparently viewers only watched occasionally because it was cut from the schedule.

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Pistols ‘n Petticoats – Ann Sheridan came to the TV screen to play Hank, short for Henrietta, a member of a family in Wretched, Colorado in 1871.  The family has to keep law and order in the town because the local sheriff is incompetent.  People did believe they were wretched, and it was gone before 1967.

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The Pruitts of Southhampton – The premise of this show was that a formerly wealthy family realizes they owe $10,000,000 in taxes and has to downsize their lifestyle while keeping it from all their friends.  The network agreed they were poor and cut it for 1967.  What was amazing about this show not being a hit was the cast:  John Astin, Richard Deacon, Billy De Wolfe, Phyllis Diller, Reginald Gardiner, Marty Ingels, Gypsy Rose Lee, Paul Lynde, John McGiver, and Louis Nye.  Talk about a dream cast.

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Rango – Tim Conway starred in this western sitcom.  His Rango character was totally inept and was assigned to a town with a 20-year peaceful record where he couldn’t get into trouble.  Of course, after he arrives, a crime spree begins.  ABC decided the show inept as well, and it was cancelled after a few months.

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The Rounders – Westerns were definitely a theme in 1966.  In this version, two not-very-bright cowboys are hired as hands at a ranch.  After four months, the network rounded up the cast and ran them out of Dodge.

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Run Buddy Run – Buddy Overstreet, a shy accountant, is in a steam room when he overhears gangsters plotting a murder.  When they realize Buddy knows their plan, they try to capture him.  After only four months, the network cancelled Buddy before the gangsters could.

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The Tammy Grimes Show – Tammy Grimes, a Broadway star, plays a young heiress who’s on a small allowance until she turns 30.  She tries to fulfill her elaborate lifestyle with wacky schemes.  Dick Sargent (Darrin on Bewitched) plays her boring twin brother.  Perhaps the show had a small allowance too because it only lasted three weeks!

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Whoo!  This line-up of shows makes Family Affair, which lasted five years, and The Monkees, which lasted two years, look like successful, classic shows.  It doesn’t make this fall’s shows any better, but at least we’re in good company.  We’ll talk about That Girl next week.