As we look at some of our favorite character actors, today we learn more about Hazel’s friend Rosie: Maudie Prickett. Prickett had a prolific career with more than 300 credits between the stage, film, and television.
Maudie was born in 1914 in Oregon. Her birth name was Maudie Marie Doyle; she married Charles Fillmore Prickett II in 1941 and used her married name for her career. Charles was the co-founder and manager of the Pasadena Playhouse and later became an orthopedic surgeon. They remained married until his death in 1954 and had two children.
Prickett would amass 64 movie credits, with her first being Gold Mine in the Sky in 1938. Her last three movies were made in 1969: The Maltese Bippy, Rascal, and Sweet Charity. She typically played maids, secretaries, spinsters, or nosy neighbors. One of her most recognized movie roles was as Elsie the Plaza Hotel maid in North by Northwest.
In 1952 she received her first television roles, appearing on This is the Life, Hopalong Cassidy, The Doctor, and The Adventures of Superman. While most people are familiar with Hopalong Cassidy and Superman, they may not recognize the other shows. This is the Life was a religious show that began in 1952 and ended in 1988; each episode was a mini-drama that ends with someone becoming a Christian. The Doctor was a medical show where Warner Anderson as the doctor presented a story and then provided comments after the episode. Most of the series dealt with some type of emotional problem.
For the next two decades, Maudie was quite busy with her television career. She often made multiple appearances on a show as different characters. She had a nice blend of both dramas and comedies on her resume.
In 1961 she married Dr. Eakle Cartwright who died in 1962. In 1966 she would try marriage one more time when she wed the mayor of Pasadena, Cyril Cooper who lived five more years.
While watching your favorite classic television shows, you will see her on westerns including Wagon Train, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke. She made her mark on medical series including Ben Casey and Marcus Welby MD. She also appeared in quite a few dramas including The Millionaire, The Untouchables, Lassie, Daniel Boone, The Mod Squad, and McMillan and Wife.
However, it was the sitcom genre that kept her busiest. During the fifties, she could be seen on Topper, Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, and The Donna Reed Show. The sixties found her on Dennis the Menace, Bachelor Father, The Danny Thomas Show, Mister Ed, My Three Sons, Petticoat Junction, The Andy Griffith Show, The Doris Day Show, Gomer Pyle USMC, and Get Smart. During the seventies, she took roles on Mayberry RFD, Bewitched, Love American Style, and Room 222.
All of her recurring roles were on sitcoms: Date with the Angels, The Jack Benny Show, and Hazel. Date with the Angels was Betty White’s second sitcom, and Maudie played Cassie Murphy, a neighbor of the newlyweds. On The Jack Benny Show, she played Mrs. Gordon, the secretary of the Jack Benny Fan Club. Many people remember Prickett from Hazel where she played Rosie. Hazel and Rosie were best friends and always came through for each other but were also very competitive, especially when an eligible bachelor was involved.
In 1976, Maudie passed away from uremic poisoning at the young age of 61. Uremia occurs when there is an increase of toxins in the blood and usually occurs when the kidneys no longer filter them out. It can be treated with medication, dialysis, and transplant surgery, but for some reason, hers must have been untreated which lead to her death.
Maudie was a very busy lady, accumulating 164 acting credits between 1938 and 1974. I’m not sure if she was okay with being typecast or if she would have liked some other types of roles, but she certainly made the roles her own. You have to wonder how much more she would have accomplished if she had lived another twenty or thirty years. Her personal life was sad, having three husbands die before her and then she herself dying as middle age was beginning.
I know you read this comment a lot if you follow my blog, but we have another one of those character actors I wish we knew more about. The Television Academy rarely interviews them, and it is tough to find much information beyond their professional resume. One day I will make good on my promise and write a book about these wonderful people who made classic television so fun and believable.
We are winding up the blog series, “One-Named Detectives,” and I think we saved the most interesting private eye for today: Columbo.
Columbo was on the air from 1971-2003, the longest of the five detectives we looked at in this series (Cannon, Kojak, Mannix, Matlock, and Columbo), but oddly had the fewest episodes with 68 (Cannon had 120, Kojak had 117, Matlock with 181, and Mannix had the most with 194).
Richard Levinson and William Link created Columbo (they also were the force behind Mannix). Levinson and Link met in junior high and they were a writing team until 1987 when Levinson passed away. This show was a bit different; it actually had two pilot episodes in 1968 and 1971. It originally aired from 1971-1978 in The NBC Mystery Movie series. It alternated with McMillan and Wife, McCloud and Hec Ramsey. ABC revived the show from 1989-2003, but it was not a weekly show then either. Falk didn’t want a weekly show, so the series was scheduled for one Wednesday a month. For season two, the series was moved to Sunday nights where it continued until 1978.
In the original concept for the show, Columbo was described as smooth-talking and cultured. The first choice for an actor to play the role was Bing Crosby who declined. When Falk showed up for his audition, he came in wrinkled clothing, aimlessly chattered, and seemed a bit scatter brained so the producers changed the character.
The show had some interesting directors. One of the directors on the show was Steven Spielberg who directed “Murder by the Book.” Falk himself directed the final episode of season one, “Blueprint for Murder.” Nicholas Colasanto who played Coach on Cheers directed two of the shows, “Etude in Black” and “Swan Song.” Patrick McGoohan directed five episodes (including three he guest starred in), as well as producing and writing two others. Falk’s friend actor Ben Gazzara directed “A Friend in Deed” and “Troubled Waters.”
On Columbo, we see the crime being committed long before we meet Lt Columbo (Peter Falk), so we know who committed the crime from the beginning. The fun of the episode is in watching Columbo investigate the crime and how he solves it. Columbo never introduces himself with his first name and no other character in the show uses it either. In season four, Colonel Rumford asks Columbo if he has a first name, and his response is “I do, but usually only my wife uses it.” Apparently, in one episode, a badge is scanned and lists his name as Frank, but William Link stated that Columbo was written without a first name.
Columbo was a very disheveled detective who always showed up in a rumpled raincoat, smoking a cigar and appearing as if he was not quite all there. Falk used his own wardrobe for the character. The infamous raincoat was one he bought for $15 in 1967 when he got caught in a New York City rainstorm.
However, behind the façade of an inept policeman was a brilliant mind. He asked a lot of seemingly non-essential questions and paid attention to every detail. After interviewing a suspect, he always said, “Just one more thing.” Falk improvised during filming. He might ask for a pencil, search for something or throw in an unscripted line and did it to create a genuine confusion on the part of the other actor so it appeared more realistic.
This was definitely a one-man show, but there were a few characters who had recurring roles: Mike Lally played a bartender in 25 episodes, John Finnegan was Barney on 13 shows, and Bruce Kirby as Sgt George Kramer was seen nine times.
Columbo’s car is a 1959 Peugeot 403. Apparently, only 504 convertibles with two doors were made that year. When NBC cancelled the series, the car was sold. ABC had to locate a replacement when they picked the show up later. You can tell the difference because the license plate from NBC seasons was 044-APD and the plate from ABC shows was 448-DBZ.
Most of the suspects on the show were clever, wealthy people who think they have covered their tracks and have a solid alibi.
For only 68 episodes, there were a lot of famous guest stars on the show. Some stars even portrayed two different criminals including Jack Cassidy, Robert Culp, George Hamilton, Patrick McGoohan, and William Shatner. Other guest stars showing up were Anne Baxter, Johnny Cash, Faye Dunaway, Jose Ferrer, Ruth Gordon, Lee Grant, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, Ray Milland, Leonard Nimoy, Donald Pleasence, Dick Van Dyke, and Robert Vaughn.
There was a variety of music written for each episode of the show. The Mystery Movie Theme was written by Henry Mancini and was used for the NBC shows. Both Quincy Jones and Mike Post also wrote versions of The Mystery Movie theme. One song uniquely belonging to Columbo was “This Old Man.” Falk can be heard humming or whistling it in various episodes after it was introduced in a 1973 show.
The show received thirteen Emmys during its run. Falk won the Emmy the first season and again in 1976. He was nominated in 1973, 1977 and 1978 but lost to Richard Thomas, James Garner and Ed Asner respectively. The series was nominated in 1972, 1973, 1976, 1977, and 1978 (winners were Elizabeth R Masterpiece Theater; The Waltons; Police Story; Upstairs, Downstairs; and The Rockford Files).
The show was very popular and was broadcast in 44 countries. There is a statue of Columbo in his coat in Budapest, Hungary on Falk Miksa Street. The story behind it is that according to then-mayor Antal Rogan, Falk is a relative of Falk Miksa who was a Hungarian writer and politician, but I could not verify if that was true or not. What is true is that it was put up in 2014 at a cost of $63,000.
When he is questioning witnesses, Columbo often throws in random references to his wife and or something the couple liked to do, but we never see her in the series. However, later a show was created, Mrs. Columbo starring Kate Mulgrew. Falk’s real-life wife Shera Danese was cast in six of the Columbo episodes, always appearing as a different character.
A group of novels was adapted from the Columbo tv series by MCA written by Alfred Lawrence, Henry Clements, and Lee Hays.
Columbo has been a popular show in syndication and can currently be seen on ME TV Sunday nights. The shows run from 70-98 minutes which probably makes syndication interesting. The entire set is available on DVD for about $50.
Unfortunately, Peter Falk was diagnosed with dementia in 2007, and by 2009 he could not recognize photos of himself and did not remember playing Columbo. He passed away in 2011.
It’s been fun looking at these five detectives for this series. When I put this together, I chose five private eyes I thought would make good articles. What I didn’t realize, is that four of them were all from the same era. In fact, in 1973, Columbo was on Sunday nights followed by Mannix and both were in the top twenty and on Wednesday nights Cannon was on followed by Kojak and both were in the top ten. The following year, Sunday nights featured Kojak before Mannix which was still in the top 20 and they were on at the same time as Columbo. Cannon eventually moved to Sunday night but also spent part of the year on Wednesdays where it was also in the top twenty. Matlock debuted in the late eighties, after the other shows except Columbo had all gone off the air.
Cannon, Kojak, Mannix, Matlock, and Columbo—five very different types of detectives who had one thing in common: good writing. Check them all out and I’d love to hear which one is your favorite.
Since January was all about female sitcom actresses, this month we give the men their fair due. We begin this series, “The Men of August,” with Tom Bosley. Anyone who was a Happy Days fan knows why Bosley is part of this line-up.
Bosley was born in Chicago in 1927. His father was in real estate and his mother was a concert pianist. After graduating from high school, he served in the Navy during WWII. His father was in WWI and then served again in WWII, building army bases on the coast.
Following the war, he attended DePaul University in Chicago, declaring his major as Pre-Law. He had to take night classes because the day classes were full, and after getting tired of teachers not showing up, he switched to a radio school, hoping to be an announcer because he loved baseball, but acting eventually tugged at his heart.” In 1949 and 1950 he performed at the Woodstock Opera House in Woodstock, Illinois with Paul Newman. He was in the first live television show ever done in Chicago which was a production of Macbeth, about 1948 (on WBKB).
In the early fifties, he moved to New York and held a variety of jobs, including coat checker at Lindy’s restaurant, doorman at Tavern on the Green, and Wall Street bookkeeper. He continued to audition for his big break. During the fifties while he was looking for work, he shared rent with another Chicago actor trying to make it in the entertainment business: Harvey Korman.
With one foot in Broadway and one in television, Bosley took on a variety of roles in his early career. In 1955 he appeared in a television production of “Alice in Wonderland” as the Knave of Hearts. In 1959, he won a lot of acclaim as New York mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia in the Broadway musical “Fiorello!” and won a Tony award. Bosley would later return to Broadway in the 1990s taking on the roles of Maurice in “Beauty and the Beast” and as Cap’n Andy in “Show Boat.”
In the 1960s he explored motion pictures and landed his first role as a suitor of Natalie Wood in Love with the Proper Stranger.
Although he continued to appear in the big screen, the little screen took up most of his time in the sixties and early seventies. In 1962 he played opposite Tony Randall and Boris Karloff in “Arsenic & Old Lace.” His face became a familiar one showing up in Car 54, Where Are You?, Bonanza, Get Smart, Route 66, Dr. Kildare, The Mod Squad, The Streets of San Francisco, Bewitched, McMillan and Wife, and Marcus Welby, among others.
It was also during this decade he married Jean Eliot. They were married until she passed away in 1978.
In 1974 he accepted the role that would make him a household name. “Love and the Television Set” was one of the four skits appearing on an episode of Love American Style, and I actually remember watching it. Garry Marshall developed it as a pilot, but the network wasn’t interested in turning the pilot into a show when it first came up. However, once George Lucas released American Graffiti in 1973, also starring Ron Howard, ABC took another look at the period show. The first two seasons, the show focused more on Richie Cunningham as he interacted with his friends and family. Jerry Paris (Jerry Helper on The Dick Van Dyke Show) directed 237 of the episodes. Happy Days was described as relentlessly ordinary. The plots revolved around the same types of problems most teens experienced in the fifties: dating, wanting to be popular, peer pressure, and similar issues.
Bosley originally turned down the role but reconsidered after reading the script more thoroughly; he was drawn to a scene between Howard and Richie that moved him. Bosley said he also was looking for some security. His wife was sick at the time, and they thought she might have epilepsy, which was later determined to be a brain tumor; he wanted an easier schedule in order to care for his wife and help raise his daughter.
He captured the sometimes cranky, but lovable, Howard Cunningham perfectly. He might not agree with his children, but he was always there for them, and he was apparently always there for his castmates who all remembered him as a kind, fatherly figure.
For a decade, Bosley developed the role of Howard into a much-loved sitcom father. Bosley said none of the characters were well defined in the early scripts. The cast developed their characters as relationships developed. He described the actors as a baseball team that never made errors; they just clicked and had a wonderful rapport.
During the run of the show, his wife passed away from her tumor, and in 1980 he married actress Patricia Carr whom he stayed married to until his death.
When the show ended, Bosley was immediately offered another role. Although he appeared in a variety of shows in the early eighties, including five episodes of Love Boat, he moved from Milwaukee to Maine to help Jessica Fletcher solve mysteries on Murder, She Wrote. Bosley said the role of Jessica was written for Jean Stapleton, but then she did not want to do it so it was offered to Angela Lansbury. He and Angela had worked together in the past, so he did the pilot. It was supposed to be a one-time role, but they brought him back nineteen times without a contract. As Sheriff Amos Tupper, he spent four years trying to figure out why so many murders took place in peaceful Cabot Cove. He then retired from the police force and moved to live with his sister.
He actually did work with a sister in his next role on Father Dowling Mysteries. As Father Frank Dowling by day, he moonlighted, solving mysteries with his assistant Sister Stephanie Oskowski (played by Tracy Nelson, Rick Nelson’s daughter and granddaughter of Ozzie and Harriet).
Bosley described Father Dowling as being a lot like himself: calm, quiet, and caring. While murders occurred on the show, there was no violence. When they were casting the part for the housekeeper, they described the character as a Mary Wickes type, and Bosley told them to just get Mary Wickes, and he loved working with her. He enjoyed that show more than any of the other shows he worked on. The cast was totally caught off guard when it was cancelled. The network wanted to do a show with James Earl Jones and Richard Crenna. They gave Crenna’s agent a short-time period to agree to the show and he agreed before the limit ended, so the network was forced to delete a show from the current schedule to make room for this new show and they chose Father Dowling; the James Earl Jones show, Pros and Cons, also about several private detectives, and was dropped after 12 episodes.
When the show ended in 1991, his career definitely did not. When asked if he was going to retire, he replied, “Don’t be silly—actors spend half of their careers in retirement.” He continued appearing in a variety of shows (39 in all) until his death in 2010 from a staph infection.
There are several actors I get confused by at times because of their similarities. One is Ray Walston from My Favorite Martian with Jonathan Harris from Lost in Space. The other is Tom Bosley with David Doyle from Charlie’s Angels. At least I felt better about my mental error after doing research on Bosley. Apparently, David Doyle was named “Bosley” on the show because people confused the two actors so often.
I’m sure Tom Bosley would have made an excellent attorney or announcer, but I’m happy that he followed his acting passion, and I’m thankful for the five decades he was willing to entertain us with his special gift.
This week we are winding up our series of favorite female actors with Charlotte Rae. If you remember last week we learned about June Lockhart. Charlotte was born a year after June and died a year before her, and their careers were very similar. Both were actresses for more than six decades, appeared in Broadway, movies, and television.
Rae was born in Milwaukee, WI in 1926. Her parents were Russian Jewish immigrants. Her mother Esther had been friends with Golda Meir since childhood. For her first ten years, the family lived above her father’s tire business. In 1936 they moved to a home in Shorewood. At age 16, she became an apprentice with the Port Players, a professional theater company that came to Milwaukee for the summer. After graduation, Charlotte did some radio work and did some performing with the Wauwatosa Children’s Theatre.
Although she never completed her degree, Rae attended Northwestern University. She and Cloris Leachman became friends there. She also met Agnes Nixon, Charlton Heston, Paul Lynde, and Claude Akins. In later years she would always recommend wanna-be actors get a degree first.
In 1948, she moved to New York City where she performed in theater and nightclubs. She worked at a variety of clubs including the Village Vanguard and the Blue Angel. During her early days, a radio star told her that her last name of “Lubotsky” would not work well, and she replaced it with her middle name of Rae.
In 1951 she received her first television job on Once Upon a Tune. She would appear on ten other drama theater shows during the fifties. In an interview with Milwaukee Talks in 2016 she said, “When I started out, I wanted to be a serious actor, I never thought I’d get into comedy.”
The same year, Rae married composer John Strauss. They had two sons, but in the mid seventies he came out as a bisexual. Rae was not interested in an open marriage, so the couple decided to divorce in 1976.
Charlotte also loved singing, and she released an album in 1955, Songs I Taught My Mother. Rae also loved being on the stage. In the seventies, Vanguard Records went out of business, and Rae was able to buy back the album for $5000.
She would have stage roles in “Three Wishes for Jamie” in 1952, “The Threepenny Opera” in 1954, “Li’l Abner” in 1956, and “Pickwick” in 1965 among others. Later in her career she would also appear in several off-Broadway shows.
In 1958, she got a break with a guest spot on The Phil Silvers Show which led to her getting the part of Sylvia Schnauzer, the wife of Leo Schnauzer (Al Lewis) on Car 54 Where Are You when it debuted in 1961. Her husband John did the music for the show. Apart from that role, most of the other television work she did in the sixties was in drama series.
Rae also appeared in 14 big-screen movies. Can I take a shameless plug and say that one of my favorite Charlotte Rae roles is in Hello Down There? This movie from 1969 screams IT’S THE SIXTIES from the moment it starts until it ends, but it’s a great sit-back-and-just watch movie. If nothing else, it has an amazing cast including Tony Randall, Janet Leigh, Ken Berry, Jim Backus, Merv Griffin, and Richard Dreyfuss among others.
The seventies were her busiest decade of work. She started with a recurring role on Sesame Street as Molly the Mail Lady. During the early seventies you could see her on The Partridge Family, McMillan and Wife, Love American Style, and The Paul Lynde Show. I always appreciated her character on The Partridge Family. When Danny is thinking about quitting school to get on with life, she plays his very smart and creative guidance counselor.
In 1974 Rae moved to Los Angeles. She did guest spots on All in the Family and Good Times, both Norman Lear shows. In 1975, she became a regular on Lear’s show, Hot l Baltimore. She played Mrs. Bellotti, whose son lived at the hotel. The show was a bit controversial and was cancelled after the first season.
During the remainder of the seventies, Rae kept busy working for a variety of genres. You could have seen her on The Flying Nun, Barney Miller, The Rich Little Show, All’s Fair, CPO Sharkey, Family, The Eddie Capra Mysteries, and on her friend Cloris Leachman’s show Phyllis.
In 1978 Norman Lear was working on Diff’rent Strokes about a single father who adopts two brothers whom he raises along with his daughter with help from his housekeeper. Lear signed Rae on as the housekeeper. Charlotte wanted to do the series, but as she related in a Television Academy interview, she was under contract at CBS when NBC made the offer. She had a few weeks left on her CBS option. The network offered her the role of a lady sheriff on a new western but it didn’t ring true to her, and she didn’t want to do it. While she was filming an Eddie Capra Mystery episode, she drove over to explain her predicament to Lear. He said that Bud Grant owed him a favor and he did indeed get her out of the contract.
One episode on the first season was “The Girls’ School” when Edna Garrett is asked to help out at Kim’s private school called East Lake. She does but at the end of the episode decides she’d rather be working in the Drummond home.
In an interview with the Television Academy, Rae said she thought she was going to be fired from Diff’rent Strokes. She noticed her lines getting fewer and fewer and when she was called into talk with the producer, she thought that was it. However, they proposed a spinoff show for her based on “The Girls’ School” episode called The Facts of Life. They wanted Edna to become housemother for the boarding students at the school. It was a prestigious private school now called Eastland. The writers were focusing on issues affecting high school age girls including weight gain, dieting, depression, drug and alcohol use, dating, mental illness, and other subjects that kids that age deal with. Rae said the show was about growing up, family, love, and working out problems. “I had a lot of input with issues like suicide, divorce, death. I’m really very proud.”
Charlotte was a single mother and afraid to lose her Diff’rent Strokes income on a possibility that might not pan out. The producers wrote into her contract that if the show was cancelled, she could return to Diff’rent Strokes, so she agreed.
The first season gained some fans, but ratings were so-so. For the second season, some cast changes were made and the show was moved from Fridays to Wednesdays. The show finished in the top thirty that year, and Rae became a household name. In 1982, Rae received an Emmy nomination. (She lost to Carol Kane from Taxi.) During the 1984 and 1985 seasons, Rae asked to be used less. She felt that the girls were older and would rely more on each other than a housemother for discussions about life issues.
When discussing the character of Edna, Rae explained “I want to bring in as much humanity as possible, as well as humor. I’ve tried to make her a human being with dimensions. The way they write her now is with a great deal of sensitivity and understanding. But I don’t want her to be Polly Perfect, because she must have human failings and make mistakes. She’s also a surrogate mother to the girls. I told them I wanted to be firm with the girls because I know it’s important. Parents must lay down ground rules for their children to help them grow up and to learn responsibility for their actions. They must learn to stand on their own two feet.”
Rae wanted to do more theater and she wanted to travel. When she decided to leave the series, Cloris Leachman replaced her in the role. The two-part finale of the eighth season had Edna Garrett marrying and moving to Africa with her husband to work for the Peace Corps. Her sister Beverly (Rae’s real sister’s name) comes for the wedding and then decides to stay with the girls at school. Cloris Leachman was signed on for two seasons. At the end of her time, she was willing to continue for another season, but cast members Nancy McKeon and Mindy Cohn were ready to end the show and take on new projects. It was not the end of the show, however. In 2001 a television reunion movie aired with much of the original cast. In 2007 the entire cast was invited to the TV Land Awards where they sang their old theme song.
Charlotte took on several other roles after leaving the show. During the eighties and nineties, she appeared on The Love Boat, St. Elsewhere, Murder She Wrote, Sisters, and Alex Mack among others.
She was busy until she passed away, and continued to act throughout the 2000s, including an appearance on King of Queens, and a recurring role on ER. Her last acting credit on television was in 2014’s Girl Meets World.
In 2015, Rae wrote her memoirs with her son Larry. At many of her book signings, adults came to purchase the book and told her over and over that they had been latch-key kids and saw Edna as a second mother to them. A description from Amazon sums up the book: “Charlotte Rae’s career spans more than seventy years, from the golden age of television to Shakespeare in the Park, the New York Cabaret scene of the late 1940s and 50s to her hit series, The Facts of Life and well beyond. Off stage and screen, Charlotte’s life has been one of joy and challenge, raising an autistic son, coming to terms with alcoholism, the heartache of a broken marriage, the revelation of a gay husband and the sudden challenge of facing middle-age with financial and emotional uncertainties–a crisis she ultimately turned into the determination that brought her stardom. The Facts of My Life is the first opportunity for Charlotte’s fans to explore the fascinating story of her extraordinary life: poignant and hilarious, a story of courage and triumph, one that speaks for a generation of women breaking barriers, taking on challenges, overcoming personal tragedy, and paving the way for others.”
Rae suffered from several health issues. In the early seventies, she joined Alcoholics Anonymous which was a critical part of the rest of her life. In 1982, she had a pacemaker implanted. It worked well for thirty years, but then stopped, requiring surgery for another smaller device. She also had open heart surgery to replace her mitral valve. Pancreatic cancer ran in her family, so she was screened often and when she was diagnosed with cancer, it was early so she had six months of chemotherapy and was then declared cancer free. In 2017, she was diagnosed with bone cancer. She died at her home in 2018. Todd Bridges from Diff’rent Strokes, tweeted, “You were loved by everyone on our show.”
Charlotte said she never minded fans coming up to her because she realized that in being a television actor you were in people’s homes. “It was an intimate relationship.”
She said she wanted to be remembered as someone who took people out of themselves into a different world and allowed them to laugh or cry, and that would make her happy because we need as many laughs as we can get.
Thank you, Charlotte for making us cry a little and laugh a lot.
I’m calling this series “The Men of November.” We are taking a look at five actors who contributed to television during the classic decades of the 1940s-1980s. I’ve decided to take them in alphabetical order so we are starting with Bert Convy.
Born in St. Louis in 1933, Convy’s family moved to Los Angeles when he was seven. His focus was athletics, not acting, in school. When he was 17, the Philadelphia Phillies gave him a contract to play in their minor league system which he did from 1951-1952. In 1951 he played for the Klamath Falls Gems (Oregon), and in 1952 he split his time with the Salina Blue Jays (Kansas) and the Miami Eagles (Oklahoma).
Once he realized baseball was not going to be his career, he joined The Cheers, who released a top ten hit called “Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots” in 1955. Convy opted to enroll at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, earning a BA.
Like Ken Berry, he was a performer in the Billy Barnes Revues which was popular in the fifties and sixties. In 1956, he was an usher on Art Linkletter’s popular show House Party. He appeared in several early television series throughout the late fifties, including Those Whiting Girls.
In 1959 he married Anne Anderson. They had three children and were divorced in 1991.
He showed up on the small screen a lot during the sixties, primarily in detective shows including Perry Mason in 1960. His first feature role was in the big screen drama Susan Slade starring Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens in 1961. He also spent a part of this decade on Broadway in ten different productions.
The decade of the seventies found him balancing roles in both detective (Mission Impossible, McMillan and Wife, Police Story and Charlie’s Angels among many others) and comedy shows (including Bewitched, Love American Style, and Karen). He appeared on The Partridge Family as a politician who dates Shirley. You get the distinct impression that they ended up together once the kids were out on their own. He also portrayed one of Mary’s boyfriends on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
He received his first recurring role in 1974, playing Lt. Steve Ostrowski on The Snoop Sisters. The show starred Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as two sisters, one widowed and one never married, who are mystery writers that also get involved in real murders.
Two years later he starred in a short-lived variety show with the convoluted title of The Late Summer Early Fall Bert Convy Show. The title alone probably doubled the advertising budget. When I say short-lived, I mean I could only find one episode of the show which featured Don Knots.
He was offered another permanent role in 1983 on It’s Not Easy. Originally Larry Breeding was given the role and made the pilot, but he passed away after a car accident. This show only lasted for 11 episodes. The plot is that Jack and Sharon have divorced. Sharon has remarried and she and her husband Neal (Convy) have decided to live across the street from Jack so it’s easier for the kids. Jack and Neal do not like each other.
He appeared in a few series during the eighties including Aloha Paradise, Fantasy Island, Murder She Wrote, Hotel, The Love Boat and The People Next Door.
While he would make ten big screen and fifteen made-for-television movies, two of them involved his buddy Burt Reynolds. Convy appeared in Semi-Tough in 1977 and Cannonball Run in 1981. The two friends developed a production company, Burt and Bert Productions.
Convy was probably best known for his game show work. He was a panelist during the sixties and seventies on a variety of shows including What’s My Line, To Tell the Truth, Match Game, and Password. He hosted Tattletales, Super Password and Win, Lose or Draw. His emceeing of Tattletales resulted in an Emmy for Best Game Show Host in 1977.
In April of 1990, Convy collapsed and was diagnosed with cancer. The brain tumor was inoperable, forcing his retirement. His last credit was as himself on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show in 1990. He married his second wife Catherine Hills during the winter of 1991, and he passed away in July of 1991.
Sadly, Convy was never offered that perfect role that made him an icon, but he certainly had a full career. He had a lot of talents: acting, singing, and the personality to host game shows. I think it was his smile that always made him a favorite with me.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I am a big fan of the show Family starring James Broderick and Sada Thompson. Along with Gary Frank and Kristy McNichol, Meredith Baxter played one of their children on the show. As Nancy, she got divorced and moved into a garage apartment with her son Timmy. She went to law school to follow in her father’s footsteps. Today we will learn a bit more about the life Meredith Baxter had off the show.
Baxter was born in 1947 in California. Her mother was Whitney Blake who played Dorothy Baxter on Hazel. Her father was a radio announcer. Her parents divorced when she was 6. She lived with her brothers and her mother who eventually remarried; Meredith’s stepfather was sitcom writer Allan Manings. Manings wrote for a variety of shows, including McHale’s Navy, Laugh-In, Good Times, and both the original and reboot of One Day at a Time.
Baxter went to Hollywood High. She briefly transferred to Interlochen Center for the Arts as a voice major, but returned to Hollywood High to graduate. Shortly afterward she married Robert Lewis Bush and they had two children. They divorced in 1971.
For the next few years, Meredith appeared on a variety of television shows and in several big-screen movies, including The Doris Day Show and The Partridge Family.
The following year, Meredith got her first major acting role: Bridget Loves Bernie. She starred with David Birney. The premise behind this sitcom is that wealthy, Catholic Bridget Fitzgerald marries lower-class, Jewish Bernie Steinberg who drives a cab. Both sets of parents are uncomfortable with their children’s mates.
Although the show only lasted one season, she and Birney lasted a little longer. They married in 1974 and had twins. In 1989 they divorced and don’t have very good things to say about one another.
In the mid-seventies, television kept Meredith very busy with 11 appearances on shows such as Medical Center and McMillan and Wife and 10 made-for-tv movies.
She appeared on the big screen in All the President’s Men in 1976 before taking the role of Nancy Maitland on Family that same year. Family featured the Lawrences. Kate is a stay-at-home mom and a bit distant but obviously loves her children. Warm, friendly Doug is a lawyer and judge. Nancy is in her twenties but much more mature than her brother Willie who can’t decide what to do with his life. Buddy, a tweener, is the youngest in the family.
Critics as well as viewers were devoted to the show. Baxter was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in both 1977 and 1978. She was beat by her “sister” McNichol in 1977 (McNichol was nominated every year the show was on) and by Nancy Marchand for Lou Grant in 1978. For both years, Family was nominated as best show and Sada Thompson as lead actress which she won in 1978 (Thompson was also nominated every year). Gary Frank as Willie won in 1977. James Broderick also received a nomination during those years.
After Family ended, she went back to making made-for-tv movies with 7 during the 1980s and 21 in the 1990s.
The following year, she would land the role that made her the most famous, Elyse Keaton on Family Ties. In this much-beloved show, Elyse and Steven, former hippies, raise their four children who have different values than they did. Alex, the oldest is a conservative interested primarily in money, Mallory cares more about shopping and boys than anything else, Jennifer has a dry sense of humor and is trying to find her spot in the family and the birth of baby Andy doesn’t help her figure that out. The show was on the air for seven seasons.
In 1995, Baxter married actor and screenwriter Michael Blodgett, but their married only lasted five years. (Blodgett wrote for a variety of television shows and several movies.) Shortly before her divorce, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She made a full recovery and has become a spokesperson for treatment and research and developed a skin cream (Signature). A portion of the proceeds is donated for breast cancer prevention.
In 1996, she again attempted a television series, The Faculty. The show wasn’t renewed for a second season. Baxter played the role of a principal who is divorced and a single mother, and features the choices she has to make to balance her busy life. While the critics praised Baxter’s performance, they didn’t find much else to like about the show, and it was cancelled after 13 episodes.
She made several television appearances on various shows or movies but her only recurring role was as Lilly Rush on Cold Case in 2007.
In 2011, Meredith published her memoir, Untied. She talks frankly about her unhappy marriages, including the abusive one with Birney. She also discloses that she was a recovering alcoholic and that she was gay. After coming out, she met Nancy Locke whom she married in 2013.
In 2014 Baxter accepted a role as Maureen, Nicky’s friend, on The Young and the Restless which began and ended that year. Since that time, she has appeared on a variety of television shows and in several movies. She has a couple of movies coming out soon.
Baxter has also done a variety stage work including the two-character play, “Kissing Place” with David Ogden Stiers. Most recently she has appeared in “Women Beyond Borders,” “Angels in America” and “Love Letters.”
Although Meredith has definitely had some trauma and sadness in her life, she has had a varied and long-lasting career. Being cast in three successful television shows is not something that happens for most actors. She seems to have come to a place in her life where she is happy and content and that is something all of us strive for. Join me next week as we look more closely at the show that made her a household name: Family Ties.
My series, “Just a Couple of Characters” continues with Part 3 today. This month, we learn more about actors we recognize but may not know much about. This week Henry Jones and Olan Soule are on the hot seat.
Born in New Jersey in 1912 and raised in Pennsylvania, his grandfather was a first-generation Prussian immigrant who became a Representative. Henry went to St. Joseph’s College, a Jesuit school. He landed his first Broadway show in 1938, playing Reynaldo and a grave digger in “ Hamlet. ” Like many of the actors in the late 30s and early 40s, Henry joined the Army for World War II. He was a private. During his service, he was cast as a singing soldier, Mr. Brown, in Irving Berlin’s “This is the Army.”
When he came back to the US, he married Yvonne Sarah Bernhardt-Buerger in 1942. I think that it took longer for her to sign her name on the marriage certificate than the marriage lasted because ten months later they were divorced. Jones continued his stage roles and began a movie career. He had bit parts in 35 films, including The Bad Seed, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Vertigo, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He won a Supporting Actor Tony in 1958 for his performance of Louis Howe in “Sunrise at Campobello.”
In 1948 he
married Judith Johnson. They had two children (one is actress Jocelyn Jones) but
divorced in 1961.
gap of television and film, he starred in seventeen tv movies as well.
Although his movie career kept him somewhat busy, it was nothing compared to his television work. Jones was credited with 205 acting appearances, meaning he had roles in 153 different television series. Jones was able to tackle a wide range of roles, being believable as a judge, a janitor, a murderer, or a minister. Jones had no illusions about becoming a romantic lead. He once said that “casting directors didn’t know what to do with me. I was never tall enough or good looking enough to play juvenile leads.”
His first television appearance was in drama series, Hands of Mystery, in 1949. His work in the 1950s was primarily in theater shows about dramas. He also appeared in the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show and Father Knows Best.
He continued his drama roles into the 1960s. He also appeared in 3 episodes of The Real McCoys and westerns including Wagon Train, The Big Valley, and Daniel Boone. He showed up on mysteries such as the Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Name of the Game. He also found work on unique shows including Lost in Space, Route 66, and the Alfred Hitchcock Show. Hitchcock liked his work and used him five times. He also appeared in several comedies, Bewitched and That Girl. He starred in Channing in 1963-64. Jones played Fred Baker, a dean who mentors Professor Joe Howe who teaches English at Channing College while he writes his memoir about the Korean War.
During the 1970s, he continued to work on a variety of genre shows. We see him on westerns, The Virginian, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza. We see him in thrillers like The Mod Squad; McMillan and Wife; Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law; and The Six Million Dollar Man, on which he had a recurring role as Dr. Jeffrey, a scientist who built robots. However, comedies continued to be his mainstay, and he appeared in many of them including Nanny and the Professor, the Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Paul Lynde Show, The Doris Day Show, the Partridge Family, and Barney Miller.
In addition to all his guest spots, he was cast in three shows during this decade. In The Girl with Something Extra, he played Owen Metcalf in 1973. The role he was best remembered for was Judge Johnathan Dexter on Phyllis. He was Phyllis’s father-in-law from 1975-1977. As Josh Alden, he appeared on Mrs. Columbo for thirteen episodes.
Recurring roles comprised most of his television appearances in the 1980s. He continued to accept guest roles on such shows as Quincy ME, Cagney and Lacey, Magnum PI, Murder She Wrote, The Love Boat, and Mr. Belvedere. He would make regular appearances on Gun Shy, Code Name: Foxfire, Falcon Crest, and I Married Dora.
Jones continued to appear in shows in the 1990s, including Coach and Empty Nest. In 1999, he passed away after suffering from complications from an injury from a fall.
Olan Soule’s timeline
was similar to Jones. He was born in Illinois in 1909, growing up in Iowa, and
he passed away in 1994. While Jones’ grandfather arrived in America, Soule’s ancestors
included three Mayflower passengers. He began his acting career on the radio.
In 1929 he
married Norma Miller. They would be married until her death in 1992 and they
had two children.
For eleven years, he was part of the cast of the soap, “Bachelor’s Children.” His roles changed when he transitioned to television. On radio, he could play any role, but his 135-pound frame prohibited him from getting many roles he played on radio. He told the Los Angeles Times during an interview that “People can’t get over my skinny build when they meet me in person after hearing me play heroes and lovers on radio.”
certainly was not lacking in roles. Soule is credited with more than 7000 radio
episodes and commercials, 60 films, and 200 television series.
The 1950s found him appearing in many sitcoms, including George Burns and Gracie Allen, I Married Joan, I Love Lucy, December Bride, the Ann Sothern Show, and Dennis the Menace.
He would appear regularly in Dragnet from 1952-59 and in Captain Midnight from 1954-56.
He got even busier in the 1960s, working nonstop. The only show he had a recurring role on was The Andy Griffith Show where he played choir director and hotel clerk John Masters. Other comedies he appeared on included The Jack Benny Show, Pete and Gladys, Bachelor Father, Make Room for Daddy, Mister Ed, My Favorite Martian, The Addams Family, The Monkees, Petticoat Junction, and That Girl. He also took on roles in suspense shows including One Step Beyond, the Alfred Hitchcock Show, and the Twilight Zone. He also specialized in westerns, including Maverick, Stage Coach West, Have Gun Will Travel, The Rifleman, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and The Big Valley.
He started the 1970s continuing to show up on series such as Family Affair, My Three Sons, McMillan and Wife, Cannon, Police Woman, and a recurring role on the comedy Arnie.
In the mid-1970s he began appearing on Battlestar Galactica and Project UFO. Most of his career in the decade was spent providing voiceovers for animated shows, primarily Batman.
Soule died from lung cancer at age 84.
Both Soule and Jones were prolific actors who had long and successful careers. Neither one of them were the leading men type of actors, but they could tackle a wide range of roles. Soule once said, “Because of my build and glasses, I’ve mostly played lab technicians, newscasters, and railroad clerks.” Not a bad life for someone who loves acting. If you watch Antenna or Me Tv, chances are you will see these two characters pop up quite often.
We’ve all experienced that moment we’re at the grocery store and see someone we know, but we can’t remember their name or how we know them. Maybe it was work or school, or their kids were friends with ours. Sometimes we even remember we spent a lot of time with them and like them, but the name and relationship is just not there.
This month we are meeting some of our television friends that we’ve gotten to know, even if we can’t remember their names or what we watched them on. We’ll learn more about eight different character actors. We start off the month learning about Edward Andrews and Herb Edelman.
Edward Andrews from Doris Day and Disney comedies. Anyone who grew up in the
1960s or 1970s will remember this military man with a grandfatherly softness to
Andrews was born in Georgia in 1914. His father was a minister and their family moved a lot; he lived in Pittsburgh; Cleveland; and Wheeling, West Virginia. He had a very small part in a James Gleason production at age 12. He attended college at the University of Virginia. In 1935, he got his first part in a Broadway production, “So Proudly We Hail.” He continued in Broadway for the next twenty years, including a touring production of “I Know My Love” with Lunt and Fontaine. During that time, he took a leave from his career to serve in WWII. He was a Captain and commanding officer of Battery C with the 751st Artillery Battalion of the Army.
In 1955 he married Emily Barnes and they would have three children, remaining together until his death. About the same time, his movie career took off. Andrews looked older than his age which helped him get parts for older roles. He could play a grandfather, then turn around and handle a sleazy businessman or legalistic bureaucrat. He portrayed George Babbitt in Elmer Gantry in 1960. He worked for Disney playing the Defense Secretary in both The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) and Son of Flubber (1963). I remember him fondly in Doris Day’s movies, The Thrill of It All (1963), Send Me No Flowers (1964), and The Glass Bottom Boat (1966). One of his last roles was Grandpa Howard in Sixteen Candles in 1984. His movie credits totaled 46.
Edward also kept busy with television appearances. One of the first actors to guest star on television, in 1950, Andrews was on Mama. As early as 1952, he began acting in the variety of drama shows on television. During the 1950s he would appear in eighteen of these shows including The US Steel Hour, Robert Montgomery Presents, Studio One in Hollywood, and Omnibus.
He showed up in westerns including The Real McCoys, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Rawhide. We saw him on medical and legal dramas such as Ben Casey,The Defenders, The Bold Ones, Ironside, and Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law. Mysteries and crime thrillers also found a place for him. You might remember him from Naked City, The Wild Wild West, The Mod Squad, Hawaii Five-0, McMillan and Wife, and Quincy, ME.
Like his films, he seemed to excel in comedy. Andrews played George Baxter in the pilot for Hazel, but unfortunately when the show went into production, the part was recast with Don DeFore. He would guest star in some of the most popular sitcoms, including The Phil Silvers Show, The Andy Griffith Show, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Paul Lynde Show, Love American Style, The Bob Newhart Show, and Three’s Company.
In 1964 he starred in Broadside. Commander Adrian (Edwards) is not happy when a group of Waves are posted to his station on the South Seas island Ranakai. His men no longer have focus, so he spends the series trying to get the women relocated.
In 1970 he had a recurring role on The Doris Day Show as Colonel Fairburn. He also starred as Harry Flood in the show Supertrain in 1979. Playing on the Love Boat and Hotel themes, the show was about a bullet train that had new passengers each episode.
Perhaps Andrews will be best remembered for his guest starring role on two Twilight Zone episodes, “Third From the Sun” (Andrews plays a company man who thinks a coworker William, a nuclear engineer, and his friend Jerry are going to steal a spaceship to leave Earth) and “You Drive” (Andrews hits a newspaper boy and then flees the scene, trying to hide the crime).
In all, he appeared on 118 different television series as well as made-for-television movies.
Andrews enjoyed playing a character actor. He said it ensured more work and longevity in his career. He was quoted as saying, “What you get are people who speak to you. They know you from somewhere, but they don’t think of you as an actor. They stop and say, ‘Harry, how’s everything in Miami?’ I’ve learned by experience not to argue with them.”
In March of 1985, Andrews had a heart attack and passed away at age 70. With his white hair, and horn-rimmed glasses, Andrews was an adaptable character actor. Whether he was playing a lovable doctor, a nosy coworker, a fun-loving grandfather, or a despicable murderer, he was believable. He truly was a great character.
Another fun actor
everyone will recognize is Herb Edelman. Herb was born in Brooklyn, New York in
1933 in the midst of the Depression. Tall, lanky, and prematurely bald, he
would go on to have a long career in movies and television.
Originally, Edelman wanted to be a veterinarian, and he went to school at Cornell but left after his first year. He served in the Army as an announcer for Armed Forces Radio. After he left the service, he started college again, this time studying acting at Brooklyn College. Once again, he dropped out. He made a living as a hotel manager and a cab driver.
In the mid-1960s he began both his film and television careers. Some of his best-known roles were in the movies. He played Harry Pepper, a wise-cracking telephone operator, in Barefoot in the Park and Murray the Cop in The Odd Couple, as well as Harry Michaels in California Suite.
However, it was television where he received most of his work. In the 1960s, he began his career, appearing on a variety of shows, including That Girl, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., and The Flying Nun. During these years he also dated and married Louise Sorel who he was wed to for six years.
In 1968, he accepted the role of Bert Gamus in The Good Guys. Bert and his friend Rufus (Bob Denver) open a diner, their dream. Bert’s wife Claudia (Joyce Van Patten) helped him serve customers.
In the 1970s, his career continued as he appeared in many shows every year. Some of the hit series we saw him on during this decade include Room 222, Bewitched, McMillan and Wife, The Partridge Family, Love AmericanStyle, Maude, Happy Days, Barney Miller, Kojak, and Charlie’s Angels.
In 1976, he was again cast in a show, Big John Little John. Edelman was a middle school teacher who drank out of the fountain of youth on vacation. Afterward, he would randomly turn into a thirteen-year-old and worked to keep the secret from his friends and coworkers. The show was short-lived.
Edelman’s work schedule did not slow down in the 1980s. He would have roles in the cast of five television shows and spent time in between guest starring on other shows such as Trapper John, Highway to Heaven, The LoveBoat, and thirtysomething.
From 1980-81, he was cast as Reggie on Ladies’ Man, about a woman’s magazine with one male journalist. From 1981-82, he appeared as Commissioner Herb Klein on Strike Force. This show followed a strike force team that handles cases too difficult for the mainstream officers. The following year, he was Harry Nussbaum on Nine to Five, the show based on the movie about a group of office workers. From 1984-88, he was cast as Richard Clarendon on St. Elsewhere, a teaching hospital.
Although his roles decreased in the 1990s, he had one of his most memorable roles during those years as Stanley Zbornak, Dorothy’s ex-husband, on Golden Girls; he was nominated twice for his role on the show.
In 1990, he played Sergeant Levine on Knot’s Landing. Knot’s Landing was a night-time soap about the lives of the wealthy who live in a coastal suburb of LA. His last recurring role was Lieutenant Artie Gelber on Murder She Wrote, about a mystery writer who helps solve crimes.
Edelman died much too early in 1996 from emphysema at age 62.
who was unforgettable in his movie and television roles. Whether playing a repairman,
a cop, a teacher, or a ex-husband, he always came through as an authentic
Russell Johnson was born in Pennsylvania in 1924. He had six siblings. His father died from pneumonia when Russ was only 8, and his youngest brother died the following year. He was sent to Girard College, a boarding school for fatherless boys located in Philadelphia. He struggled early in his education, being held back for a year. In high school he made the National Honor Society.
In 1943, he married Edith Cahoon. They would divorce in 1948.
During World War II, Johnson joined the Army Air Corps and received the Purple Heart after his plane was shot down in the Philippines in 1945. Johnson flew 44 combat missions in the Pacific Theater. Once the war was over, Russ used his GI Bill to enroll in the Actors’ Lab in Hollywood to study acting. While there he met Kay Cousins, and they married in 1949 and were married until her death in 1980.
Johnson’s big-screen career began in 1952. He was a friend of Audie Murphy and would appear in three of his films in the early 1950s. He was in a variety of movies throughout the 1950s, mainly westerns and sci fi classics such as It Came fromOuter Space.
Russell began receiving roles on television in 1950. In the 1950s he would be seen on 28 different shows. In 1959 he was offered a role in a western, Black Saddle. Johnson was Marshal Gib Scott. The show was on for one season.
During the 1960s, Russell’s television work increased, and he appeared on 39 series including The Twilight Zone, Route 66, Ben Casey, Laramie, 77 Sunset Strip, OuterLimits, and Big Valley. In 1964 he was offered the role of The Professor on Gilligan’sIsland, replacing John Gabriel who was a teacher in the pilot. Roy Hinkley was a genius who made complex inventions from the simple materials he found on the island. As we have learned, most of the cast of Gilligan’s Island was typecast after the show was cancelled, and they had a hard time getting other roles. Johnson discussed this circumstance in a later interview: “It used to make me upset to be typecast as the Professor . . . but as the years have gone by, I’ve given in. I am the Professor, and that’s the way it is. . . Besides, the show went into syndication and parents are happy to have their children watch the reruns. No one gets hurt. There are no murders, no car crashes. Just good, plain, silly fun. It’s brought a lot of joy to people, and that’s not a bad legacy.”
Although he had trouble at first, he did go on to appear in 45 different shows from 1970-1997, including That Girl, Marcus Welby, Cannon, McMillan and Wife, LouGrant, Bosom Buddies, Dallas, Fame, Newhart, ALF, and Roseanne. He had a recurring role on Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law from 1971-1973.
In 1982, Russell married for a third time. He married Connie Dane, and they were married until his death from kidney failure in 2014.
In 1993, he published his memoirs, Here on Gilligan’s Isle.
Like so many of the tv icons in the 1960s—Barbara Eden, Adam West, Butch Patrick, David Cassidy, Maureen McCormick—Russell struggled with his alter ego, eventually accepting his role as the Professor. While being tied to one character for 50 years makes it tough to get the roles you want, it’s hard to be critical of a personality that gives such pleasure to decades of viewers and makes you a household name for half a century. Being given the chance to portray a character that America loves is a hazard of the business but is certainly better than never receiving a starring role.
You Never Know Who Might Show Up
With a show like Gilligan’s Island, you would assume it would be almost impossible to have guest stars. After all, they are on a deserted island. Except for the native people who might be living there, where would stars come from? Amazingly, Gilligan’s Island featured many guest stars over the years. Let’s look at a few of them.
Vito Scotti appeared on four different episodes playing Dr. Boris Balinkoff, mad scientist, twice, a Japanese sailor, and a Japanese soldier who does not believe World War II is over.
Mel Blanc could be heard portraying a parrot several times and a frog.
Hans Conried visited the island twice as Wrongway Feldman, an incompetent pilot who had crashed on the island years before.
Kurt Russell was a modern-day Tarzan.
Richard Kiel, a Russian agent, pretended to be a ghost to scare the castaways off the island so he could have the oil rights. When the cast turns the tables and acts like ghosts, he didn’t stick around long.
Zsa Zsa Gabor was a rich socialite who falls in love with the Professor.
Larry Storch is a robber hiding out on the island and pretending to be a doctor.
John McGiver was Lord Beasley Waterford, famous butterfly collector.
Don Rickles is con man Norbert Wiley who is hiding out on the island. He kidnaps Mrs. Howell and later Ginger, planning on getting ransom for each castaway. After the Professor puts him in jail, Ginger convinces them to let him out for a party. Norbert steals jewelry and other items from the castaways and leaves the island.
Phil Silvers crashes onto the island as Herbert Hecuba, arrogant movie producer. He orders everyone around like they’re his servants. He is not impressed with Ginger’s acting ability, so the castaways write and perform a play to show off her talents. In the middle of the night, Hecuba takes off with their play, claiming it as his own back in the US.
Sterling Holloway is an escapee from a prison and the owner of a pigeon. The Professor thinks he can get a message back to the States through the pigeon, but when Birdy finds out he is paroled, he sends the bird off first.
A variety of actors played natives on the show. In all, there were 54 guest stars given credit on the show.
In addition, Bob Denver, Tina Louise, and Jim Backus all had guest starring roles playing people who were look-alikes for Gilligan, Ginger, and Mr. Howell.
I guess it’s a good lesson to always keep up appearances because you never know who might show up when you’re stranded on an island.
We continue our month-long exploration of the actors who appeared on Gilligan’s Island. Today we look at the two biggest stars: Alan Hale Jr. and Bob Denver.
Alan Hale Jr.
Alan Hale Jr. (Alan Hale Mackahan, Jr.) was born in 1921 in Los Angeles, California. He looked exactly like his father, Alan Hale Sr. who was a well-known movie actor acting with legends like Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn. His mother, Gretchen Hartman, was also a silent film star.
Hale’s first screen role was when he was 12 in Wild Boys of the Road.
He appeared in more movies and television series than any of the other Gilligan’sIsland cast. In all he would appear in 92 movies and 123 different tv shows.
In 1943 he married Bettina Reed Doerr. They would be married for twenty years and have four children. During World War II, Hale served in the US Coast Guard.
In the 1950s, he could be seen in many westerns as well as The Loretta YoungShow and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. He had regular roles on two sitcoms in that decade: Biff Baker USA and Casey Jones. Biff Baker is a businessman who becomes involved in espionage. He and his wife travel around the world, working behind the scenes to solve problems. Although it was a serious show, there was some humor in the episodes also. As Casey Jones, Hale drove his train, The Cannonball Express, around the country.
The early 1960s was a prolific time for Alan Hale. The majority of his television credits came during this decade. You can see him in reruns of Jack Benny, The LucyShow, Perry Mason, My Favorite Martian, and The Andy Griffith Show.
The year 1964 was a momentous one for Alan. He married Naomi and remained with her till his death. He also tackled the role he would become famous for.
Sherwood Schwartz said he was having trouble finding the right person to play Jonas Grumby. He auditioned a lot of people, including Carroll O’Connor. One night while having dinner at a local restaurant he saw Hale dressed in a Civil War costume and decided he might be the one. Although the Skipper often became frustrated with Gilligan, they had a father and son relationship. Hale and Denver managed to pull that off. They were close friends in their personal lives as well.
Unlike some of the cast who felt typecast after they left the show, Hale embraced the role he had played. He would later own and manage a popular restaurant in Los Angeles called “Alan Hale’s Lobster Barrel” and could be seen greeting guests as the Skipper. Both he and Jim Backus appeared on Bob Denver’s sitcom Good Guys in 1968.
After Gilligan, Hale’s career did not slow down. Until his death he would continue to appear in a variety of series including Batman, Green Acres, The Flying Nun, TheWild, Wild West, Here’s Lucy, Marcus Welby, The Doris Day Show, Gunsmoke, McMillan and Wife, Simon and Simon, Growing Pains, The Love Boat, and MagnumPI.
In addition to acting and his restaurant business, Alan enjoyed fishing, golfing, cooking, traveling, storytelling, spending time with his family, and philanthropy. In 1990, Hale died after suffering from thymus cancer at the young age of 68.
Alan Hale had a long and prosperous career. From all accounts, he liked acting and enjoyed life. Perhaps we should leave the last word to his costars who knew him best.
Bob Denver said, “He was a big, lovable man who made everyone feel good. He had a great time with his life.”
Dawn Wells described him: “What a dear man . . . what a dear, dear man . . I never saw him disgruntled, having a temper tantrum or depressed. He was so jovial and so sweet and so strong. . . He was a nice man.”
Bob Denver was born in New York in 1935. He went to college at Loyola University in Los Angeles, majoring in political science. He worked as a mailman and a teacher before deciding to go into acting full time. His first appearance was on SilentService in 1957.
While Alan Hale was in more shows and movies than any of the other crew members, Bob Denver was easily in the fewest. While he appeared in seven movies, he was only in 21 television shows, and on six of them he had regular roles.
His sister suggested him for the part of Maynard G. Krebs on The Many Loves ofDobie Gillis. His role as Dobie Gillis’s best friend propelled him into stardom. DobieGillis was on the air for four years, producing 144 shows.
In the 1960s he would appear on Dr. Kildare, The Farmer’s Daughter, The AndyGriffith Show, Make Room for Daddy, and I Dream of Jeannie. In the mid-1960s, Bob was offered the role of Gilligan on a new show, Gilligan’s Island. In 1966 he married Maggie Ryan. They would have two children during the six years before they divorced.
Schwartz wanted to cast Jerry Van Dyke in the role who turned it down to play Dave Crabtree in My Mother the Car. Denver was perfect in the role of the inept Gilligan who caused many mishaps on the island but was the center of affection of the rest of the castaways, especially the Skipper.
The same year Gilligan was cancelled, Denver remarried. Like many sitcoms, the relationship with Jean Webber lasted three years before the couple cancelled it.
Although Denver was given a lead role in three more sitcoms, most of his work after 1967 cashed in on his character of Gilligan. In 1968, he starred in Good Guys. He played the role of Rufus Butterworth who opens a diner with his best friend from childhood. The show only lasted for 42 episodes. Like Gilligan’s Island, Sherwood Schwartz produced this show. In an interview in 1994 with Peter Anthony Holder on Montreal radio station CJAD 800 AM, Denver discussed Schwartz. “Oh yeah, sure. Sherwood, as a producer, he was one of the best writer producers. It’s amazing. That man was just amazing. We never knew there were any problems when we were shooting. He kept all the network craziness away from us. He was writing scripts literally four months in advance, so that special effects and props always got them in plenty of time. . . you just memorized your words and went down there and had a great time. It wasn’t until afterwards when I left that I realized that not everybody was in the same situation. So every time I had a chance to work with him I did.”
At this time, Bob was also involved with Broadway and dinner theater plays after 1970.
In 1972 Denver tried marriage a third time. He and Carole Abrahams made it three years and produced one child before divorcing. In 1973, he took the lead on Dusty’sTrail. As Dusty, he manages to get a wagon and stage separated from the rest of the wagon train heading west, and the lost group of travelers try to catch up with the rest of their party. This one only lasted 26 shows.
In 1975, Denver appeared in his weirdest sitcom yet, Far Out Space Nuts. Lasting only 12 episodes, Denver played a maintenance man in a space company who is accidentally launched into space with a co-worker. Apparently, television producers decided Denver looked like someone who was always lost.
In 1979, Bob tried the marriage ride one more time. This time he would stay married to Dreama Perry until his death. The couple would have a child, making a total of four children for him.
Like many of the other castaways, Denver published a book of memoirs. It was called Gilligan, Maynard, & Me.
In 2005, Denver passed away from complications following throat cancer surgery, leaving Dawn Wells and Tina Louise as the only surviving actors from the show.
While Denver is obviously the most-recognized character from Gilligan’s Island, he also had the most difficult situation to work with in being typecast. He was never able to shake the traits that were part of Gilligan to explore other roles. He mentioned he would have liked to be in Northern Exposure. I wonder if he would have been happier being a teacher or if he enjoyed his career.
Next week we will discover more about our last regular member of the show, Russell Johnson.