We are celebrating National State days this month. This week we are celebrating Oregon. I’m sure a lot of stars grew up in Oregon, but my choice is David Ogden Stiers. Although Stiers was born in Illinois on Halloween in 1942, his family moved to Eugene, Oregon when he was in high school. Based on his life, I think Oregon has the better claim to him. After graduation, Stiers enrolled in the University of Oregon.
Early in his career, Stiers moved to San Francisco, performing with the California Shakespeare Theater, the San Francisco Actors Workshop, and the improv group, The Committee. I would like to learn more about The Committee whose members included Rob Reiner, Howard Hesseman, and Peter Bonerz.
In the 1960s, Stiers moved to New York to study at Juilliard for a couple of years and was able to appear in numerous Broadway productions. At Juilliard, Stiers was mentored by John Houseman.
Stiers was a prolific actor, appearing in 38 big screen movies, 39 made-for-tv movies, and more than 90 different television series.
In the 1970s, he showed up on Kojak, Charlie’s Angels, Phyllis, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, The Tony Randall Show, and Paper Chase.
Most of us got to know him as Major Charles Emerson Winchester III on M*A*S*H. He became part of the cast in 1977 and continued with the show until it ended in 1983. As Winchester, Stiers would receive two Emmy nominations in 1981 and 1982. Both years he got beat by a Taxi alumni, Danny DeVito in 81 and Christopher Lloyd in 82.
Winchester replaced Frank Burns whom Hawkeye and Hunnicutt made fun of for his inept medical skills. Charles was a brilliant surgeon but was an aristocrat from Boston and never let anyone forget it. However, as with all M*A*S*H characters, Winchester continues to evolve, and we learn more about his past and how that affected his personality.
Stiers always described Harry Morgan as his acting mentor, but he loved the entire cast. Although Stiers could come off a bit like Winchester at first meeting, once he got to know you, his castmates said “the walls came down and you saw a sweet, tender man.” Kellye Nakahara (Nurse Kellye) shared that she used to jump into Stier’s arms every morning so he could twirl her around like a princess at a ball.” Loretta Swit said “he was very much his own person, but he loved and adored us as we did him.” Executive producer Burt Metcalfe reported that “I have always felt that one of the reasons for the show’s success was that the audience sensed that the characters loved another and they loved the characters. And that love goes down to the actors.” All his coworkers described Stiers as a prankster on the set.
His life after M*A*S*H included roles on a variety of shows, including Alf, Wings, Star Trek, Murder She Wrote, Dr. Quinn, Ally McBeal, The Outer Limits, Touched by An Angel, and Frasier.
He would also receive recurring roles in four additional series during his career. In Two Guys, A Girl and A Pizza Place, he played Mr. Bauer.
I never watched Love & Money, but Stiers played the wealthy Nicholas Conklin; the show is described as “The penthouse-residing Conklin family of scholars and the basement-dwelling McBride family of maintenance men find themselves unhappily linked when the heiress daughter and blue-collar son fall in love.”
I also never watched the Dead Zone, but Stiers played Reverend Purdy in the show where “Johnny had the perfect life until he was in a coma for six years When he awoke, he found his fiancé married to another man, his son doesn’t know him, and everything had changed including Johnny because he can now ‘see’ things.”
He also played Arthur Isles in Rizzoli & Isles, one of my favorite shows from the past few years.
You could also hear Stiers in a number of animation films including Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, and the Lilo and Stitch movies. He narrated many audiobooks as well.
One of the reasons Oregon can lay claim to Stiers is because he continued to live in Newport and spent his later years as a conductor for the Newport Symphony Orchestra. As a fan of classical music, Stiers was able to be a guest conductor in more than 70 orchestras around the world. Newport seems to be a quirky, but fun, place with a population of only about 10,000. It is definitely on my list of places to visit.
In 2018, Stiers passed away from bladder cancer. He generously bequeathed funding for a variety of cultural groups including the Newport Symphony, the Newport Public Library, and the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts.
I appreciate that Stiers loved and celebrated the arts. One of his thoughts about experiencing culture was: “The thing I love about the arts—music, theater, museums, galleries—is that everybody wins. You are touched and hopefully moved, and it is unique to each person. Even though you may have listened to the same performance, what you heard could be vastly different from what anyone else heard.” I’m happy that he was able to spend the last years of his life doing something he enjoyed so much after a life of giving to others through his acting performances—something we can all aspire to.
When I looked up the definition for “too close for comfort” it said “close enough to make a person feel nervous, worried or upset.” That is exactly how this show made me feel.
I realize that I was hard to please in the 1980s. Coming out of the 1970s with M*A*S*H,The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Bob Newhart Show, I did not enjoy All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Alice, Maude, or Diff’rentStrokes. I did watch Cheers, Family Ties, The Cosby Show, Who’s the Boss, and Moonlighting during that decade. Too Close for Comfort, along with Three’s Company, just didn’t strike me as funny.
When you invest in a show, you feel like these characters are part of your life. Ted Knight’s role of Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a flawed human being for sure, but I felt like we had spent a lot of time together, and I was able to see beyond the brash, obnoxious exterior to the vulnerable and kind being inside. It was if we had spent lots of hours over the kitchen table having coffee. Characters like Baxter teach us about the world and about ourselves. Ted Knight as Henry Rush was more like the neighbor whom I caught glimpses of out the kitchen window but there was no way to learn more about the character other than the surface appearances. The show was based more on plots than characters.
Too Close for Comfort was based on the British sitcom Keep It in the Family. It debuted in 1980. Henry Rush is a cartoonist who writes about the Cosmic Cow (a space crime fighter) and lives in San Francisco with his wife Muriel, a photographer (Nancy Dussault) and his two adult daughters Jackie (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) who works at a bank and Sara (Lydia Cornell) who is a college student.
The house was a two-family residence and the girls decide to rent from their parents. Henry is not sure it’s a good idea, but it’s the only apartment they can afford because he charges $300 rent for the bottom of the Victorian house. Monroe (Jim Bullock) is a friend of Sara’s who was cast only in one episode but ended up joining not only the cast but living with Henry and Muriel.
The show was on Tuesday nights. The show followed Three’s Company and its main competition was BJ and the Bear.
In season two, Muriel becomes pregnant and Henry’s niece April also comes to live with the Rushes.
One of the signatures of Henry Rush was the variety of college sweatshirts he wore. Fans from around the country would send them to the network hoping to see them on the series. The first sweatshirt to make an appearance was the University of Michigan.
The third season found the show on Thursday nights and ratings declined significantly. The show was up against Cheers on NBC and Simon and Simon on CBS. April moves out and Muriel’s mother Iris (Audrey Meadows) moves in to help with the baby. The show was cancelled by the network. The fourth season went into syndication with new episodes.
A fifth season began, but the show changed so much it really was a new series. The title was changed to The Ted Knight Show, the family now lived in Marin County where Henry bought a newspaper, a new theme song was created, a new opening was shot, and both daughters left the show. However, Monroe moved with Henry and Muriel. The new episodes began airing in April of 1986; 22 episodes were taped and after the first 12 aired, Knight passed away from colon cancer. The final ten episodes were run, and then the series ended.
During the various seasons, the girls changed careers a lot. Jackie moved from the bank to a department store to a fashion designer. Sara held a bunch of part-time jobs while she was in college. She then became a bank teller, a weather woman at the local station KTSF, and an entrepreneur who sells Cosmic Cow Cookies.
In a Fox News interview, Cornell discusses how she received the role of Sara. She said she had to take a bus for the audition and showed up an hour late after being in the rain. The secretary told her auditions had closed but Arne Sultan said to let her audition as long as she came in. They gave her a script to read and a line said “She gives her dad a raspberry.” Sara picks up an imaginary raspberry and hands it to her dad. Sultan asked her what she was doing, and then explained a raspberry was a Bronx cheer. She felt very stupid and they were all laughing. The casting director and executives decided at that time she was perfect for the part and asked her to report to work the next day.
I know that there have been far worse shows than Too Close for Comfort, but I’m not content having the bar set there because there have also been far better shows. Rather than my usual recommendation of buying the DVDs for a weekend of binge watching, I’m going to tell you to buy a good book instead.
This month, we begin a new series, “We Salute You” and we will look at shows about the military. Our first series is The Phil Silvers Show a/k/a You’ll Never Get Rich.
The sitcom debuted on CBS in 1955. The pilot was never aired, but the show was part of the television schedule until 1959, producing 143 episodes.
Nat Hiken created the series which ended up being nominated for Best Comedy Series every year it was on and winning that category in 1956, 1957, and 1958. In addition, Silvers won an Emmy for his performance, and Hiken won an Emmy for Best Director.
In 1955, television was transitioning from New York to California. However, Hiken insisted on filming the series in New York. The earlier seasons were filmed at Dumont and later seasons moved to CBS studios in Chelsea, Manhattan.
The show was filmed like a play in front of a live audience. The cast members had to memorize the entire script. When Mike Todd guest starred in season two, he insisted that the show be filmed more like a movie. Takes were filmed out of sequence and multiple takes were allowed because there was no audience. The crew realized that this process was faster, cheaper, and easier for the actors, so the change was put in place permanently. The show was screened for the military though, and servicemen made responses that were used to make the show more realistic.
Sergeant Ernie Bilko (Phil Silvers) is a con man. He runs a motor pool at a small US Army Camp, Fort Baxter in Roseville, Kansas. Colonel Hall (Paul Ford), who doesn’t trust Bilko, tries to stay on top of his schemes. Bilko tries to make money any way he can and is not above using the landing craft for midnight cruises, “borrowing” tanks, setting up poker games, and conniving with a local service station for spare parts for Jeep tires for his get-rich quick scams. Bilko has pulled the wool over Col Hall’s wife’s (Hope Sansberry) eyes and flatters her every chance he gets. Silvers said Bilko was so successful because “inside everyone is a con man wiggling to sneak out.”
Although his men knew he could not be truly trusted, they were usually loyal to him and while he occasionally used them in a scheme, he typically made sure they were taken care of. Some of the situations Bilko found himself in included starting a mink farm, entering his platoon in a singing contest, investing in an ailing race horse, stealing a French chef’s family recipe, buying swampland, thinking there was uranium beneath Hall’s living room, and getting a hot racing tip but not being able to get his bet in on time.
For the fourth season, the camp moved from Kansas to Camp Fremont in California. The move was explained that Bilko orchestrated the new location because he learned there was a gold deposit near the abandoned army post. The primary reason for the geographical change was so stars could guest on the show because the camp was now said to be close to Hollywood. Some of these celebrities included Dean Martin, Mickey Rooney, Bing Crosby, Dorothy McGuire, and Lucille Ball.
In addition to the stars who were said to come from Hollywood, guest stars on the show included Charlotte Rae, Fred Gwynne, Dick Van Dyke, Paul Lynde, Tom Poston, Dina Merrill, Alan Alda, Bea Arthur, and Tina Louise.
I was surprised by the large cast that was featured on this show as opposed to Gomer Pyle, Hogan’s Heroes, or McHale’s Navy. Bilko’s comrades were Corporal Barbella (Harvey Lembeck) and Corporal Henshaw (Allan Melvin).
The rest of the men included Corporal Sam Fender (Herbie Faye), Sergeant Grover (Jimmy Little), Privates Doberman (Maurice Gosfield), Zimmerman (Mickey Freeman), Kadowski (Karl Lukas), Gomez (Bernard Fein), Paparelli (Billy Sands), Mullen (Jack Healy), Fleischman (Maurice Brenner), Sugarman (Terry Carter) and Dillingham (Walter Cartier), as well as quartermaster Sergeant Pendelton (Ned Glass). Bilko even had a romantic interest in Sergeant Joan Hogan (Elisabeth Fraser).
Because the series had so many secondary cast members, it became too expensive to maintain, and that was the primary reason it was canceled. I was surprised it did not affect the ratings because there were a lot of cast members to follow from week to week.
The show started out on Tuesday nights the first season. Its competition was The Legend of Wyatt Earp and Milton Berle. The ratings at first were not good and Camel Cigarettes, the sponsor, considering withdrawing. The network moved the show so it didn’t need to compete with Berle’s second-half hour. The ratings skyrocketed. The second and third seasons, it continued on Tuesday nights but was up against Cheyenne both years and against The Big Surprise on the second season and The Eddie Fisher Show the third season. The Phil Silvers Show continued to be in the top 30 for season two but fell below those rankings in season three. Season four found the show on Friday nights up against Man with a Camera and MSquad. I would have thought that season might have the weakest competition but the show never recovered its higher ratings. However, Friday nights many people were out, not home watching television.
Another downfall with such a large cast is the personality conflicts that might occur. Apparently, Phil Silvers did not get along with Maurice Gosfield. Gosfield had trouble remembering his lines which frustrated the other actors; however, he got the most fan mail which Silvers resented. In his memoir, Silvers discussed this issue and wrote that Gosfield “thought of himself as Cary Grant playing a short, plump man.”
Phil Silvers would play the same type of con man on many sitcoms later including The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan’s Island, The Lucy Show, and the movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
After its cancellation, CBS sold the show to NBC which was a great move on NBC’s part. The network made a ton of money on the show’s syndication because reruns were run for decades.
DC Comics published comic books based on the show as well. From 1957-1960 there were 16 issues of a Sergeant Bilko comic book and 11 issues of a Private Doberman comic book.
In 2009, the US Postal Service issued a set of stamps honoring early television programs. This show was commemorated with an image of Sergeant Bilko.
I remember the show being on the air a lot while I was growing up, but I rarely see it now. I am going to rely on a fellow blogger to sum up the show. In a recent blog on neatorama.com from February 14, 2019, the show was described as follows:
“It is my opinion that THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW (aka YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH) remains the single most underrated sitcom in television history and that Phil Silvers remains the most underrated comedian in that medium. This is really saying something because the series has indeed received great acclaim over the years. Even so, Silvers is just not given his proper due for creating the Bilko character. But it is Phil Silvers, his facial expressions, his bugle-call barking of orders, his complete manipulation of everyone on the base, and his wild schemes to make money that never seem to get old no matter how much you watch the episodes on video. The show is a great testament to the talents of Phil Silvers. With its complex plotlines and quickfire dialogue it’s still a treat to watch Silvers’s monumental character. The most oft-said line in the series must be “but, Sarge!” as Bilko launches into another diabolical and, ultimately, flawed scheme to make money and dodge work.”
Bilko isn’t a bad guy; he’s just not trustworthy. As he himself likes to say, “All I ever wanted was an honest week’s pay for an honest day’s work.” Maybe in this politically correct world we live in, making fun of the military is a taboo. It’s too bad because all the critics loved this show. If you want to check it out for yourself, the series is on DVD, so it is available for a week-end of binge watching; you can purchase individual seasons or the complete series.
Continuing our series about “Valerie,” today we look at a slice of American life from the 1970s. It’s hard to emphasize how much the movie Saturday Night Fever changed American culture. In the movie, a high school graduate played by John Travolta, escapes his hard life by dancing at the local disco. The hippie culture of the late 1960s and early ‘70s was shoved aside by the bold and brash disco era. It was hard to go anywhere without the background soundtrack of the movie being heard. Extravagant clothing and three-piece suits were back in style, along with platform shoes and blingy jewelry.
A year after the movie debuted, a new show called Joe and Valerie appeared in April of 1978. Joe (Paul Regina) works at his father’s plumbing store. He meets Valerie (Char Fontane) at the disco and they get romantically involved. However, Joe’s roommates, Paulie (David Elliott), a hearse driver, and Frankie (Bill Beyers/Lloyd Alan), a spa worker and chauvinist, have their opinions on the romance as does Valerie’s divorced mother Stella (Arlene Golonka). Rounding out the cast were Robert Costanzo as Joe’s father Vincent and Rita/Thelma (Donna Ponterotto), Valerie’s best friend.
The series was produced by Bob Hope’s production company, Hope Enterprises, and his daughter Linda served as executive producer. Bill Persky, who had been one of the forces behind That Girl, directed the first episode.
The writers for the show included Howard Albrecht, Hal Dresner, Bernie Kahn, and Sol Weinstein. Kahn and Dresner also served as producer for an episode each. Art direction was credited to Bruce Ryan and shop coordinator to Edwin McCormick.
The series was divided into two parts; in 1978 the episodes show Joe and Valerie meeting, falling in love and planning their future. Jumping to January 1979, the episodes center around the couple beginning their married life. Four half-hour episodes aired in April and May of 1978. Four half-hour episodes were set to air in January, but only three did; the final episode never was played on the air.
Episode 1, “The Meeting” aired April 24, 1978. Joe and Valerie meet at the disco and fall in love when Joe bets his roommates that he can take Valerie away from her dancing partner.
Episode 2, “The Perfect Night” aired May 1, 1978. Valerie arranges dates for Frank and Paulie. She sets up Frank with her best friend Thelma and the date is a disaster. The woman she set Paulie up with ended up getting married the night before, so Valerie is frantically looking for a substitute. Albrecht and Weinstein were credited as writers.
Episode 3, “Valerie’s Wild Oat” aired May 3, 1978. Joe and Valerie’s romance hits a potential roadblock when Valerie finds out that her new boss at the store is her ex-boyfriend Ernie (Marcus Smythe).
Episode 4, “The Commitment” aired May 10, 1978. When Valerie’s mother is unexpectedly called away for the weekend, Joe and Valerie face the prospect of spending their first night together. Joe loves Valerie too much to stay but worries how his roommates will react if he doesn’t.
Episode 5, “The Engagement” aired January 5, 1979. Joe and Valerie break the news to their parents that they are going to live together and looking for a place to live through a rental service which adds to the confusion.
Episode 6, “The Wedding Guest” aired January 12, 1979. Joe and Valerie learn that a gangster’s funeral has been scheduled at the same time as their wedding at the church.
Episode 7, “The Wedding” aired January 19, 1979. The newly married couple look back at the events that occurred around their wedding. Some of the problems included Vince wanting Valerie to wear his wife’s old-fashioned wedding dress, Frank and Paulie fighting over who is best man, and Valerie’s mother threatening to stay away from the wedding if her ex-husband comes.
The final episode, “Paulie’s First Love,” was never aired.
This was a bad year for series’ debuts. A number of shows flopped during this year including Hizzoner, Sweepstakes, and Supertrain, none of them making it to more than nine episodes.
Char Fontane (also listed as Fontaine occasionally) was born in California in 1952. She passed away from breast cancer in 2007. Before being cast in Joe and Valerie, she appeared on a variety of tv series in the 1970s and a couple after: LoveAmerican Style (1972), The FBI (1973), Barnaby Jones (1979), Supertrain (1979), Sweepstakes (1979), The Love Boat (1979), and Nero Wolfe (1981). In the mid-1980s she took a role in a made-for-tv movie, The Night the Bridge Fell Down and two movie roles: Too Much (1987) and The Punisher (1989). She was not credited with any roles after the 1989 movie.
Paul Regina was born in Brooklyn in 1956 and passed away from liver cancer in 2006.
Before his role on Joe and Valerie, he had parts in The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Hour and Police Woman both in 1978. After the show ended, his career stayed fairly busy. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he could be seen on many popular television shows including Benson, Gimme a Break, TJ Hooker, Hunter, and EmptyNest. He would be cast in three series: Zorro and Son in 1983, Brothers from 1984-89, and The Untouchables in 1993-94. He also had a recurring role as a lawyer on LA Law between 1988-1992.
Post 2000 before his death he was in Law and Order several times as well as two movies, The Blue Lizard and Eddie Monroe.
David Elliott had a successful career going when he received the role of Paulie. He began with several roles on tv including a mini-series, Pearl, that Char Fontane was also in. From 1972-1977, he had a role in The Doctors in 272 episodes. Before beginning Joe and Valerie, he had a role on Angie in 1979.
After the show ended, he continued showing up in television series including TJHooker, St. Elsewhere, Simon and Simon, and Murder She Wrote. He ended his credited acting career with seven movies in the 1990s.
He is an interesting guy. After dropping out of high school, he drove a cab in New York. He was a professional boxer, ran a PI business in Hollywood, received his pilot’s license, sat on the board of a major labor union, and traveled extensively through every continent except Africa and Antarctica. Recently he earned a certificate in both long and short fiction from the UCLA Writer’s program and has written a novel, The Star Shield, about a body guard trying to rescue a kidnapped movie star. Currently he is working on a collection of short stories.
The role of Frankie was played by two different actors, Bill Beyers in 1978 and Lloyd Alan in 1979.
Bill Beyers was born in New York in 1955 and died in 1992 in Los Angeles. His first role was that of Frankie on Joe and Valerie. Following the end of that show he was cast in several series including Barnaby Jones, Quincy ME, The Incredible Hulk, CHiPs, Too Close for Comfort, and Murder She Wrote. He had a recurring role on Capitol, appearing in 24 episodes from 1982-1987.
Lloyd Alan was in 1952. He might have had the shortest career of the cast. Before being cast in Joe and Valerie, he was in an episode of Eight is Enough. After he appeared in The Love Boat, Knight Rider, and Baywatch. His last credited acting job was 1998. I was unable to locate a photo of Lloyd Alan.
The actors with the longest careers were Robert Costanzo who played Joe’s father Vince; Arlene Golonka who was Stella, Valerie’s mother; and Donna Ponterotto who played Rita/Thelma, Valerie’s best friend.
Donna Ponterotto had a successful career following the cancellation of Joe and Valerie. She came to the show having appeared on The Police Story, Happy Days, and Rhoda.
Following the show, she appeared on Trapper John MD, Laverne and Shirley, TheLove Boat, Who’s the Boss, Murder She Wrote, Night Court, Murphy Brown, ER, Mad About You, Third Rock from the Sun, and NYPD Blue among others. Her last film was Sharkskin in 2015.
Arlene Golonka grew up in Chicago where she was born in 1936. She began taking acting classes when she was quite young. At age 19, she headed for New York and began a career on Broadway. In the 1960s she relocated to Los Angeles. She continued to appear in movies and appeared in dozens of television programs during the next three decades. While she is probably best known as Millie on Mayberry R.F.D., she has appeared in many respected series.
Golonka came into Joe and Valerie with a strong resume. She had made appearances in shows such as The Naked City, Car 54 Where Are You, The Flying Nun, Big Valley, Get Smart, I Spy, That Girl, M*A*S*H, All in the Family, Barnaby Jones, Alice, The Rockford Files, and Love American Style. She made five appearances on The Doctors with David Elliott.
After Joe and Valerie, she continued to receive many roles including on FantasyIsland, The Love Boat, Simon and Simon, Benson, and Murder She Wrote. Her last appearance was on The King of Queens in 2005, and she is now retired.
Robert Costanzo was born in New York in 1942. He also came into the show with a very strong string of shows, having been in Rhoda, The Bob Newhart Show, and Lou Grant. He also was in several profitable movies including Dog Day Afternoon, The Goodbye Girl, and Saturday Night Fever.
Following the end of Joe and Valerie, he would continue his successful career. Costanzo has been cast in recurring roles in ten shows: Last Resort, Checking In, The White Shadow, Hill Street Blues, LA Law, 1st Ten, Glory Days, NYPD Blue, Charlie and Grace, and Champions. He has continued to take roles on other series including Barney Miller, Alice, Who’s the Boss, Family Ties, St. Elsewhere, The Golden Girls, Friends, and Murder She Wrote.
His movie career has also been very successful, and he is remembered for his roles in Used Cars, Total Recall, Die Hard 2, and Air Bud.
Currently Costanzo is still acting and has several movies debuting in the next couple of years.
I have to admit I do not remember Joe and Valerie, and obviously I did not watch it, but I don’t think I missed much. It’s fun to learn about some of the more obscure shows that had a brief flicker in television history. There are many more shows that lasted for less than 20 episodes than there are the classics we remember today. If nothing else, the show captures a unique time in American history.
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.
continue our series, Just A Couple of Characters, about character actors we
recognize but might not know much about. Hope Summers and Madge Blake are two
actresses you will recognize if you watched sitcoms in the 1960s or 1970s.
Born Sarah Hope Summers in 1902 in Mattoon, Illinois, Hope Summers often played the friendly, but nosy, neighbor. She’s best recognized as Clara from The Andy Griffith Show.
became interested in theater early in her life. She attended Northwestern,
majoring in speech. After graduation she stayed at the University and taught
speech and diction. She then moved to Peoria and headed the Speech Department
at Bradley University. She joined a few community theaters, putting on
one-woman shows. She also acted in a few dramatic radio shows.
She married Claude Witherell in 1927, and they were married until his death in 1967. The couple had two children.
In 1950, she transitioned to television. She appeared in an early comedy series, Hawkins Falls: A Television Novel. Like Edward Andrews, she was often cast in roles older than her actual age. She became a popular actress quickly. She continued to appear in a variety of shows throughout the 1950s including Bachelor Father, Private Secretary, Wagon Train, Dennis the Menace, and the Loretta Young Show.
1958-1960, she would appear in The
Rifleman as Hattie Denton.
In 1961, she received the role she would become most famous for, Clara, Bee’s best friend on The Andy Griffith Show. When Andy Griffith left the show in 1968, Hope continued with Mayberry RFD in her role of Clara for five episodes. Clara was a lonely spinster who lived next door to Andy and his family. She and Bee had fun sharing bits of gossip and talking about current events. Clara had a good heart and though she and Bee could get upset with each other, they truly cared about each other.
While playing the role of Clara, she continued to guest in series throughout the 1960s. She appeared on many of the hit shows of that time such as Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, Make Room for Daddy, Hazel, My Three Sons, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Petticoat Junction, The Phyllis Diller Show, Marcus Welby, That Girl, and Bewitched.
During the 1970s, Summers kept her career going strong, appearing in Hawaii Five-0, M*A*S*H, Little House on the Prairie, and Welcome Back Kotter.
Summers began her acting career during the second half of her life, she was
also featured in several well-known movies. In 1960, she was in Inherit the Wind, The Shakiest Gun in the West, and Rosemary’s Baby in 1968, among others.
Summers also was famous as the voice of Mrs. Butterworth in commercials.
In 1978 she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and quit acting. She passed away from the disease in 1979.
Summers was part of the cast of The Andy
Griffith Show, Madge Blake was busy portraying Aunt Harriet on Batman.
Born Madge Cummings in 1899 in Kansas, she, like Hope Summers, became interested in acting at a young age. Her father was a Methodist minister and he refused to allow her to give it a try. Oddly enough, Madge’s maternal uncle was Milburn Stone, Doc on Gunsmoke.
Although they later divorced, Madge married James Blake and they had one child. She had a fascinating career. Both she and James worked for the government during the war. They had top secret clearance for their project working on the construction of the detonator for the atomic bomb in Utah. They also performed tests on equipment used in the Manhattan Project.
Also, like Summers, Blake turned to acting at a later age. When she was 50, she enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse to study acting. She only had twenty years in the business, yet she managed to achieve an impressive 124 acting credits.
Blake would appear in 47 films in smaller, but impressive, roles. Some of her movies included An American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain, Brigadoon, The TenderTrap, Bells Are Ringing, Ain’t Misbehaving, and The Solid Gold Cadillac.
Beginning her television career in 1954, she racked up an impressive amount of guest star roles and several recurring roles. She played Tillie, the president of the Jack Benny fan club on The Jack Benny Show. She played Larry Mondello’s mother on Leave It to Beaver. An interesting aside is that she was asked to play Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show where she would have worked with Hope Summers. Because she was locked into the role of Mrs. Mondello, she declined. She took the role of Mrs. Barnes, Joey’s mother, on The Joey Bishop Show. On the Real McCoys, she played Flora MacMichael, Grandpa McCoy’s love interest; Nurse Phipps on Dr. Kildare; and the role she became best known for, Aunt Harriet on Batman.
The network was worried about Batman and Robin living alone together on Batman, so the role of Aunt Harriet was added. The story line was that she raised Bruce Wayne in the family mansion. Their interaction with Aunt Harriet was also a reason for the dynamic duo to appear in their non-hero roles more often.
It would seem that coming into acting later in life and then appearing in so many movies and recurring television appearances would have kept her quite busy. But in addition to these appearances, she was cast in many of the most popular shows during her twenty years on television. During that time, you can find her on dramas like Public Defender, Lassie, The Restless Gun, and the Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Of course, she was meant to play comedy and she appeared on an incredible number of sitcoms. Just to name a few, there of them: George Burns and GracieAllen Show, I Love Lucy, Private Secretary, Father Knows Best, Bachelor Father, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Donna Reed Show, Make Room for Daddy, Bewitched, The Addams Family, My Favorite Martian, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gomer Pyle, and The Doris Day Show. Pretty amazing.
I read over and over that one of her best performances was in the pilot for Dennis the Menace where she plays Dennis’s babysitter. I have not been able to watch that show, but I will definitely check that out.
In 1969, Blake passed away from a heart attack after she broke her leg. She was only 70, or we might have had a much longer list of television series for her.
Hope Summers and Madge Blake had a lot in common. They both became interested in acting at an early age, they both had major careers before acting, they both began acting in the second half of their life, they both played neighborly types–Summers, nosier, and Blake, more ditzy. They also both had respectable film careers paralleling their television ones. Their television roles may have been smaller, but they were memorable, they are definitely two characters worth watching.
For those of you who have been with me on this blog journey, I have shared quite a bit with you during the two and a half years I’ve been writing. You have learned I can’t stand All in the Family or Good Times. You have learned I think that perhaps the best sitcoms ever written were The Dick Van Dyke Show and M*A*S*H. You know that I love the Doris Day comedies from the 1960s. I became vulnerable enough to share with you that Bachelor Father, My Three Sons, ThatGirl, and The Partridge Family are some of my favorite classic sitcoms. Today I’m catching a long breath and taking my confessions a step further.
Television movies have been a staple since the 1960s. Different networks came up with a show that was an incentive for viewers to stay home and watch movies. In 1961, NBC Saturday Night at the Movies debuted. A movie previously released in the theaters was shown. Since each network had their own version of the show, eventually there was a shortage of previous movies to air. At that time, networks decided to fill the gap by producing their own “made-for-tv” movies. The first was See How They Run which aired October 7, 1964 on NBC.
I’m sure I
watched more than my share of these movies growing up, but most of them left no
impression on me. However, there is one that I do remember. I’m not sure if it
was the incredible cast or just the topic of women’s lib which I was just
beginning to understand at age ten, but I loved this movie. I watched it live
on television and never saw it again. It was The Feminist and The Fuzz. Although I’m sure it’s full of politically
incorrect dialogue and actions, I decided to learn a bit more about this treasure
that I have not seen in more than 40 years.
Screen Gems made the movie for ABC. It aired on The ABC Movie of the Week on January 26, 1971. Barbara Eden and David Hartman were the stars of the show. The movie was written by James Henerson. He wrote eighteen television movies, as well as scripts for several sitcoms including I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched. Jerry Paris, who was Jerry Helper, the Petries’ neighbor on The Dick Van Dyke Show, was the director. Claudio Guzman produced the movie, and Emil Oster was the cinematographer.
Jane Bowers (Eden) is a pediatrician. She is engaged to Wyatt Foley (Herb Edelman). Wyatt is a lawyer and a bit of a mother’s boy. Jane has recently been drawn into the women’s liberation movement. Apartments in San Francisco are few and far between. We learn she has been trying to find one for a while. As she arrives at the latest apartment in her hunt, she meets Jerry Frazer (Hartman), a cop who is also looking for an apartment. The landlord assumes they are a married couple as he shows them around.
When he leaves, they argue about who gets the apartment. Neither one of them is willing to give in, so they finally come to an understanding that they will share the apartment. They work opposite shifts, so they decide they will rarely be there together. Jerry is dating Kitty Murdock (Farrah Fawcett), a bunny at the Playboy Club.
what is going on to Wyatt, but Jerry does not want Kitty to find out he is
living with Jane. Jerry is a bit of a ladies’ man but treats women respectfully.
Jane refers to Jerry as a “cop-lawyer-sexual bigot-Boy Scout,” and she insists
he treat her like he would another man.
Although the plan is that Jane and Jerry don’t spend any time together, of course they end up being thrown together. Despite their first impressions of each other and their intention to dislike each other, the viewers realize that they are falling in love.
While Jane has been exploring the entire feminist movement, she has not bought into it as much as her friends. Her best friend is another doctor, Debby Inglefinger (Jo Anne Worley). Debbie is a hardcore protester and women’s libber. She decides her club, Women Against Men, or WAM is going to stage a protest at the Playboy Bunny Club.
her friends at the Club. The women are all wearing swimsuits and carrying signs;
Jane’s says, “Men are Playboys, Women are Playthings.” WAM refuses to leave the
premises, so the manager calls the police. Of course, Jerry is one of the
officers who come to get things under control. While the other women are being
arrested, Jerry picks up Jane, who is in a bikini, and carries her to a taxi, telling
the driver to take her home. She is incensed that she is not going to jail with
the other women. While this is going on, Kitty spots him and realizes he is
protecting Jane. Some of the women who are arrested at the Club include Sheila
James, Jill Choder, Merri Robinson, Penny Marshall, and Amanda Pepper.
Jane calls her father, Horace (Harry Morgan) who is also a doctor. She has not admitted to him that she has a male roommate. He decides to drive into town to talk to her in person. In the meantime, Lilah (Julie Newmar), a kind-hearted prostitute asks Jerry to arrest her, so she has a place to sleep that night. He feels sorry for her and lets her stay in his room at the house that night because he will be at work. When Jane’s father arrives, he runs into Lilah who he assumes is Jane’s roommate. Jane is not there because she was still angry and got even madder when she thought Jerry is sleeping with Lilah. She leaves him a note that she is moving out.
to call Jane at work and when he finds out she left early, he rushes home. Of
course, by this time Horace and Lilah have gotten to know each other well.
Kitty also shows up at the apartment and sees Jane and recognizes her from the Club.
Wyatt and Debbie also stop by.
admits he loves Jane. Jane is in a fluster and runs out of the apartment. Kitty
gets mad and asks Debbie if she can join WAM. Wyatt finds Debby’s controlling
nature attractive and they begin a relationship.
Jerry catches up with Jane in the middle of an intersection where he kisses her, stopping traffic. Horace is happy because never liked Wyatt but likes Jerry a lot.
Like Laugh-In, With Six You Get Eggroll, or The
Brady Bunch, this movie could only have come out of this era. Everything
about the movie screams the seventies—the clothing, the interiors, the cars,
the language—which is probably why I was drawn to it. Everyone in the cast is a
well-known star, which also made it fun to watch.
There were a lot of impactful and important television movies made in the 1960s and 1970s, so I’m not sure why this movie, primarily fluff, is so memorable for me. I guess I was not alone because it was the second-highest ranked television movie when it aired. It is on my bucket-list of shows to watch again. What is the movie that you love but hate to admit how much you love it?
There is no shortage of television to watch these days. Apart from hundreds of channels on cable networks or satellite dishes, Netflix can provide you with even more options. With so much to choose from, it’s surprising that the classic TV networks are increasing in numbers. Even though most of these shows are available on DVD, viewers are still choosing to watch them during prime time. According to an Indie Wire article, “Most Watched Television Networks: Ranking 2017’s Winners and Losers” by Michael Schneider from December 28, 2017, “Me TV grew 4 percent last year.” That’s good news for those of us who love watching the shows we grew up with.
While I appreciate Antenna TV and Me TV, I decided to kick it up a notch. I’m debating starting my own network called Me on TV. Not only can I watch my all-time favorite shows, but I can star in them as well. My pitch is that I will write myself into the shows I love. Here are a few ideas I have ready and waiting when the writers or producers call me.
Burns and Allen. Gracie has hired me, Duree Benedict, as her interior designer. She has a plan that we meet at Blanche’s to draw up the design. Once Gracie approves it, she wants me to stop by each morning, replacing an old item with a new one. Her philosophy is that things will change so slowly, George will never realize everything in the living room has been replaced. George realizes what is happening and says nothing. After two weeks, things are entirely new, and Gracie is happy. However, after another two weeks goes by, she realizes all the old items are back in place. George admits he was having fun with her and hired the designer to bring back their old items one by one. Then he calls me and has me set up the room according to Gracie’s new plan. I think this would work right Gracie? George?
Bachelor Father. As Giselle Lincoln, I hire Bentley Gregg to draw up a corporation for me. I am a documentary filmmaker. Bentley and I go on a couple of dates, knowing this is not going to turn into a relationship, because I am traveling all the time. On one of those dates, Kelly comes to dinner with us and is fascinated by the places I’ve been and where I am filming in the future. I offer her a job as an assistant producer. Bentley wants her to go to college first, but I say she can learn from experiences. After an argument or two, Bentley relents and says she can join my company. Later that night, Peter has an impromptu conversation with Kelly, and she realizes her uncle has her best interests at heart and turns down the offer. I think we could make this work don’t you two? Peter could you talk to them?
The Dick Van Dyke Show. As Olive Harte, I play Buddy’s sister-in-law. After hearing about Pickles for so long, Rob and Sally expect the worst when I stop in the office saying I have written a skit for the Alan Brady Show. However, I am the total opposite of Pickles. Sally and I hit it off and while I’m in town, we spend a lot of time together. Buddy is moping because Sally is too busy to hang out with him. The skit is a hit. Rob offers me a job, but I say I’m leaving in two days. I’ve been offered a contract to write screenplays. After I leave, Buddy and Rob notice Sally is lonely, and they realize having two guy co-workers is not the same as a best friend and they’re nicer to her than usual. It would be a heart-warming episode. Can you two stop laughing long enough to seriously consider the idea?
My Three Sons. My role is that of a bookstore owner, Daphne Marvel. The entire episode is filmed in my store. Each member of the Douglas family comes in throughout the day looking for an item that is related to an issue they are having. Charlie is looking for a cookbook from Singapore because he has a friend he met in the war coming for dinner and wants to surprise him with some of the dishes they enjoyed when stationed there. Steve wants a how-to book for dealing with teenagers. Robbie is looking for a book about car maintenance. He is planning on buying a car that needs a lot of work and wants to be prepared for how much time it will take before he tells his dad. Chip sneaks in to look for a book about orchids. His girlfriend’s dad loves them but doesn’t like boys much. Chip wants to learn about them, so he has something to discuss with Mr. Boyle. Ernie is looking for a magazine on model airplanes. He broke one of Chip’s and wants to fix it before he sees it’s missing. Later that night, they all end up in the kitchen looking for a snack. While talking, they realize they all were at the store and share their reasons for going and help each other out with their “problems.” Don’t you think that sounds good guys? Steve, you haven’t said much.
That Girl. I play Veronica Jenkins, an author. My best seller was just bought for a movie by Columbia. I have decided Ann is the perfect star to take the lead role. The problem is that she would have to be in Europe for three months to film and she promised her mother she would move home for a month to help her recover from a back surgery. Her mother has put off the surgery for some time, so it could be planned around Ann’s schedule for shooting two commercials. Does she turn down a perfect opportunity or keep her promise to her mom? What do you think Marlo? It may need a bit of tweaking but it would work.
Hogan’s Heroes. As Yvonne Coudret, I have been brought in to Stalag 13 to help intercept an art shipment. As an expert on European art, I need Colonel Hogan’s help to stop a shipment of masterpieces stolen from Belgium. I have been smuggled into the camp as a domestic servant, but I know nothing about cleaning and cooking, and Hogan needs to get me out before the staff realizes I am a spy. I think this would be a fun episode. What about you Col Hogan? Le Beau? Any of you?
Green Acres. As Leslie Wilson, I am in Hooterville to see my uncle, Hank Kimble. I am traveling to Greece, Italy, and Mozambique to write a book about different cultures. As I spend the day with my uncle visiting the Lisa and Oliver Douglas; the Ziffels, especially Arnold; and Sam Drucker’s store, I realize that this should be the first chapter in my book because the culture is like nothing I have seen anywhere else in the United States. Lisa thinks this is a good idea; Oliver how about you?
The Wild, Wild West. President Grant has sent me to Jim and Artemis. I am a artist by the name of Emily Adams. My paintings are being used as clues in a case where citizens in Omaha are being murdered. Jim and Artemis need to find the next clue and keep anyone else from being killed. They approach the sheriff with information about the next crime scene only to learn he is the killer when he puts them in a cement room under the jail. You two like culture don’t you. Why are you looking so uncertain?
The Carol Burnett Show. I would love to star in an episode of this show, working with the gang. My idea is a parody of Pillow Talk called “Brillo Talk.” A young man tries to romance a woman, but all she is interested in is cleaning and continues to tidy up his apartment when she finds dust, dirty dishes, etc. Carol, Vicky, it’s not “Went with the Wind,” but it could be pretty funny.
The Partridge Family. As Shirley’s best friend from grade school, Amy Harding, I visit the Partridges for a few days. Shirley and I have a lot of fun catching up. Spending a few days together, we are both jealous of the other person. Shirley briefly envies my freedom to come and go and my life as an architect designing buildings all over the world. When I tell her I would give up everything in a heartbeat to have a family, she realizes what she has is irreplaceable. After a few days of craziness with the kids, I realize we are both doing just what we were designed to do. We part, both appreciating our lifestyles. This sounds like a typical Partridge episode I think, right?
The Odd Couple. As Suzanne Rogers, I am a female sportswriter. When Oscar reads my articles with the byline S. Rogers, he assumes I am a male. When he invites me to appear on his show, he is surprised to learn I am a woman. He finally gets beyond his stereotype of me as a sports writer and invites me home for dinner. He is then surprised when I bond more with Felix, and the two of us become friends. You two don’t look convinced. I think women would love this one.
Rizzoli and Isles. As Erin Reid, I play an old friend of Maura’s. When I was a witness to a murder, Jane and Frankie decide to hide me at Vince’s tavern where their mom Angela works. Maura vetoes the idea and tries to convince them to send me to a safe house. Maura is afraid I will share some stories about her in middle school when she did some embarrassing things. She was so smart she didn’t have a lot of common sense. She keeps popping in the tavern to keep me busy, so I don’t blab to Jane or Angela. Jane is frustrated because Maura is not in the lab when she needs information. Finally, Maura confesses what she is worried about. Jane reminds her she’s an amazing person and she should quit worrying about her past. Maura agrees. That night when they all go to the tavern to eat and let me know the killer is in jail, Maura talks about some of her embarrassing situations. I am surprised because I didn’t know her well till high school and hadn’t connected those stories to her. Maura, this is an episode that helps you mentally grow because you can rise above your view of yourself as an inept teen. I think it would be fun, don’t you?
I think this new network is a great idea, but based on the uncertain and unenthusiastic looks from my future coworkers, I may have some work to do.
I’m not sure why you two look so worried; I haven’t even mentioned the idea I have for my appearance on M*A*S*H yet.
Today marks the beginning of National Singles Week. So, we’re taking a closer look at two women who were single and okay with it.
In the 1950s, Ann Sothern starred in two sitcoms that were almost one and the same. From 1953-57, we watched her in Private Secretary. Susie McNamara was the assistant to Peter Sands at his theatrical agency. When it went off the air due to contract disputes, Susie moved to a New York hotel, and in 1958, she morphed into Katy O’Connor. The show ran until 1961, and Sothern brought three of her former cast members to the hotel with her with new identities.
In 1970, we met Mary Richards. Mary is an independent career woman. She’d like to meet the right guy, but till he shows up, she’d rather be alone than in an unfulfilling relationship. Like Susie and Katy, Mary’s workmates become part of her extended family.
Ann Sothern was one of the first, if not the first, single working woman to appear on a sitcom. Susie previously worked as an actress and was a WAC in World War II. Her best friend Vi (Ann Tyrrell) is the receptionist at the agency. Susie often meddled in her boss’s private affairs, especially his female relationships. She could be described as a bit ditzy, but she also ran the office and was very bright.
Sothern was praised for her acting ability. She was nominated for Emmys three years in a row, but lost to Loretta Young in 1955, Lucille Ball in 1956, and Nanette Fabray in 1957. Lucille Ball, one of her closest friends, called Ann “the best comedian in this business, bar none.”
To ensure she came across as a serious career woman, great care was taken with the set. It was a state-of-the-art office with the most up-to-date equipment. Connie Brooks, on Our Miss Brooks, was praised by teachers for her realistic portrayal of an educator. Similarly, Ann Sothern was a heroine to secretaries throughout the country. In real life, Sothern was a smart business woman. She invested her money well, owned a variety of companies and a large ranch. She produced PrivateSecretary and insisted it be preserved on film. As a result, it went into syndication where it was titled “Susie.” From 1987-1990, it aired on Nick at Nite, creating a new fan base for the show.
The show holds up well. The scripts are a bit predictable and stereotyped, but it reflected the time. Susie McNamara gave young women hope that there was more to life than getting married and raising a family, although that was still an important role for women.
When Sothern was helping to run a posh hotel, Laura Petrie was at home, running her household. She gave up her dancing career to do so, but she was much more than a wife and mom. She and her husband were co-parenting at that time, and they were friends. She and Rob entertained a lot. Laura supported Rob’s friendship with Sally Rogers, one of his co-writers on this television show. She was a career woman who was very funny and smart, albeit lonely.
Nine years later, The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted. Laura Petrie had become Mary Richards, a single career woman making her way to Minneapolis. Mary lived alone, dated infrequently, and spent a lot of her time at work or with her new best friend who lived in the apartment above her.
While we got to know Susie at work, we just got to know Mary. We saw her at her best and her worst. We saw her joyful, depressed, frustrated, angry, and saw her uncertainty as she navigated life alone.
Mary’s coworkers became her family. Mary wasn’t ditzy, although she occasionally did a ditzy thing or two. She didn’t try to fix her boss’s problems; she had problems of her own, but she was always there for her WJM family.
Mary would have liked to find the right guy, but until he came along she was satisfied with her life the way it was. She spent her money any way she wanted. She could wear her pajamas all day on Saturday. She had a fun, modern wardrobe. Work gave her great delight, and it also could be extremely stressful.
Murray was her best friend at work. He and Mary shared a lot of life. We knew part of Murray was in love with Mary, but we also knew neither of them would ever act on any of those possible feelings since he was married.
Mary was smart and funny. She was an assistant producer for the daily news. Her office space was not as elaborate as Susie’s. There was never enough money at work or at home.
The times had allowed Mary to move to the city by herself and set up a home. However, even Mary Richards was not allowed to be a divorcé. The network vetoed the original script and converted Mary to a formerly engaged girl whose relationship fell apart. During the run of the show, her boss’s wife asked for a divorce, so the show still ended up featuring a divorced character.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show was one of the best-written shows in television history. Like M*A*S*H and The Bob Newhart Show, the ensemble of characters drove the show and they were realistic and likeable. The show received 29 Emmys, including three years in a row for Best Comedy (1975-1977). The series tackled a lot of social issues during its run, including equal pay for women, marital infidelity, ethical behavior when Mary goes to jail to protect a news source, dealing with death of a friend, and Mary’s sleeping pill addiction–real issues facing women at that time.
This was a sophisticated show. It was not predictable. Mary was nice, sometimes too nice for her own good. When everyone else called Mr. Grant Lou, Mary couldn’t bring herself to do it. We were always rooting for her. She had hopes, dreams, and ambitions, and a realistic attitude about life.
It seems like a big leap between Susie McNamara and Mary Richards, but there were a lot of smaller steps in between. Marlo Thomas’s That Girl provided another smart, funny woman who chose to give up her teaching job to pursue an acting career in New York. Ann Marie was another link in the chain that helped move women forward. While she did have a boyfriend and became engaged during the run of the show, Marlo Thomas ended the show with their marriage up in the air.
Mary’s life was more realistic than Susie’s. When the Ann Sothern Show ended, Katy and her boss (still played by Don Porter) kiss, and you know that they will end up married, and Katy will no longer be running the office.
When Mary Tyler Moore’s show ended, everyone on the WJM staff was fired except the totally incompetent Ted Baxter. We don’t know what Mary will be doing, but she has choices. Perhaps she found another news job in a new city. I like to think she found a position in management at a local corporation. Maybe she fell in love with one of the employees she was supervising. I think when she retired and turned on the television, she was watching Murphy Brown’s FYI program, celebrating the leaps women were taking in the workforce.
Jamie Farr was born Jameel Joseph Farah on July 1, 1934 in Toledo, Ohio. His mother was a seamstress and his father a grocer. They attended the St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church.
Farr’s first acting success occurred at age 11, when he won two dollars in a local acting contest.
He graduated from Woodward High School with honors and was named most outstanding student. In addition to writing and acting in two variety shows, he was a member of the Drama Society, class president for three years, feature editor of the school newspaper, president of the radio class, manager of the football and basketball teams and a member of the varsity tennis team.
Before becoming a successful actor, he worked for a lithograph company, a post office clerk, an army surplus store clerk, an airline reservations clerk, and at a chinchilla ranch.
After graduation he attended the Pasadena Playhouse where a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer talent scout discovered him, offering him a screen test for Blackboard Jungle. He won the role of the mentally challenged student, Santini. He was drafted by the United States Selective Service into the United States Army, undergoing his basic training with the 6th Infantry Division, Fort Ord, California, he served for two years, with service in Japan and Korea. The dog tags he wore on M*A*S*H were his own. (Alan Alda also served as a gunnery officer in Korea.)
In 1958, Warner Brothers cast him as the co-pilot of a TB-25 in the Andy Griffith military comedy No Time for Sergeants, which also brought the young TV comic Don Knotts to motion pictures. Farr appeared as Thaddaeus in the 1965 film The Greatest Story Ever Told, along with minor roles in Who’s Minding the Mint? and with future costar William Christopher in With Six You Get Eggroll. He would also appear in Cannonball Run and Cannonball Run II.
CANNONBALL RUN II, Jack Elam, (l.), Jamie Farr (r.), 1984, (c)Warner Bros.
In the late 1960s, he became a regular on the Red Skelton Show. He appeared in a variety of shows in the 1960s including Hazel, My Three Sons, Donna Reed, The Dick VanDyke Show, IDream of Jeannie, My Favorite Martian, Get Smart, Gomer Pyle, The Flying Nun, and Family Affair. Farr received roles in several commercials as well, including an ad for Wonder Bread where he says, “If it isn’t fresh, I’m outta business.”
During this decade, he also married Joy Ann Richards. They are still married and have two children.
He continued his television acting career through the 1970s appearing on a variety of shows including Room 222, Love American Style, Toma, Emergency, BarnabyJones, and The Love Boat.
In October of 1972, he was hired to appear on one episode of M*A*S*H as Corporal Klinger. He wore women’s clothing, hoping to be discharged from the Army for a Section 8 discharge. He was asked back for the second season to appear in 12 episodes and became a regular cast member in the fourth season. When Radar left the show, and Klinger took over as Company Clerk, he stopped being fashionable and returned to uniforms. He said he did not want his kids to be made fun of because of his cross dressing. He was a resourceful and kind soldier. His character on the show was also from Toledo, and he often mentioned one of Farr’s favorite restaurants, Tony Packo’s Hot Dogs and talked about his love for the Toledo Mud Hens. (In 2017, he was inducted into the Mud Hens Hall of Fame. A bobble head was given to the first 2000 fans to the game that night.) He continued with M*A*S*H until 1983 when it left the air.
Along with Harry Morgan and William Christopher, he appeared in After M*A*S*H for two years. The show never got the fan base the original show had and was cancelled after 30 episodes.
The cast of both M*A*S*H and After M*A*S*H were very close. On the death of Harry Morgan, Farr commented, “Harry was very special to all of us cast members. Not only was he a wonderful performer that made such a difference … he was a dear friend to every cast member. He was absolutely a pixie, a gremlin as mischievous as all get out. You couldn’t be around Harry for very long without wanting to embrace him and I think our Lord will feel the same way.”
He also commented on William Christopher’s passing: “We are all devastated by our beloved Bill’s passing. I have known him for over 50 years. During the 1960s we lived in the same neighborhood in Studio City. My Joy and I would see him and his wife Barbara going for walks as we were going for walks. Bill and I did the very last Doris Day movie together, With Six You Get Egg Roll. We were both cast in the tv series M*A*S*H at almost the same time. He was a gentle soul and, in my opinion, probably the most under rated actor of all of us on the show. He was wonderful. During between set ups for camera angles Bill would read his Homeric book in Homeric Greek. He was a real egg head. He and his Barbara traveled the world and he would try to learn the language of the countries they were going to visit. He went to Egypt one year and tried his Arabic on me. He was better than I was. We used to imitate Bill on the set using his high-pitched voice. One time he came down with hepatitis, and when he returned to the series we had his actor’s chair painted yellow. Bill and I did a National Tour of the play “The Odd Couple” with Bill portraying Felix and me doing Oscar, Bill was at one time on the Board of the Devereaux Foundation for Autistic Children. It was a real honor to have had him and Barbara as friends and a great honor to have shared the tv screen with this gracious, talented and charming soul. May his memory be eternal. Rest in Peace Father Mulcahy.”
Like many celebrities who were typecast in a specific role, Farr realized there were advantages and disadvantages to his fame. He said that “the benefits from stardom as Klinger outweigh any setbacks. It’s a double-edged sword. What makes you famous is what interferes with getting other roles. But there are things that never would have happened without M*A*S*H. There certainly would be no Jamie Farr Kroger Golf Classic.”
Farr has always been generous with his hometown. The golf classic he discussed above is now the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic. The tournament has raised more than $6 million dollars for local children’s charities.
The city has shown its love for Farr as well. The park in Toledo where Farr used to hang out when he was younger was renamed “Jamie Farr Park” in his honor on July 5, 1998. About the park, he said, “I wanted to be an actor, a famous actor, and I wanted my hometown of Toledo, Ohio, to be proud of me.” Farr spoke to about four hundred admirers and was quoted in the New York Post: “Jamie Farr Park is certainly a highlight of my life and career.”
Farr also made a gift of his scripts to the University of Toledo. The scripts were from movies and television, including M*A*S*H, After M*A*S*H, The Blackboard Jungle, With Six You Get Eggroll, No Time for Sergeants, Who’s Minding the Mint, among others. He also donated call sheets with each script. Call sheets list the personnel and equipment needed for each day of productions, the scenes being filmed, shooting schedules, and the scenes to be filmed.
Farr has also appeared in plays during the second half of his career. In the 1990s, Farr played the role of Nathan Detroit in a Broadway revival of “Guys and Dolls.” Farr is still active in regional theater and guest-stars occasionally on television.
In 1996–97 Farr went on a national tour with “The Odd Couple,” playing Oscar Madison, playing opposite his old friend William Christopher in the role of Felix Ungar.
Most recently he was in the national touring production of “Say Goodnight, Gracie,” a one-man show about longtime entertainer George Burns.
Farr has also tackled being an author. In 1994, he published his autobiography, Just Farr Fun. With his wife, he also wrote a children’s book, Hababy’s ChristmasEve, a Christmas book where the story is told from the view point of the animals.
Jamie Farr has had a successful and fun career. He has been a movie star, a television celebrity, an author, and a Broadway performer. He was not bitter about his role as Klinger but accepted the benefits that came with it and made the most of it. He has also been generous, raising money and publicizing Toledo. He truly sounds like a very nice man. It was fun to learn more about his life.