Jack Benny: Perhaps the Nicest Guy in Television

Photo: cinema.ucla.edu

We kick off this new year getting to know one of my favorite entertainers, Jack Benny. While many radio stars had a hard time transitioning to television, Jack, along with his best friend George Burns, made it look easy. Jack’s radio show started in 1932. In 1950 he decided to make the leap to tv, and his show would be on the air until 1965 when he decided it was time to quit.

The series produced 258 episodes. Jack tested the water first, appearing randomly on television before settling into a weekly schedule ten years after the first show debuted (From 1955-1960 he was on every other week). George Balzer and Sam Perrin would write for the show for the entire run, given credit for 255 episodes. Ralph Levy, who helped George and Gracie get their show underway, came on board in 1951 and left in 1962. The well-respected Fred De Cordova directed the most episodes, 75.

Photo: thisdaybenny.com 

Jack’s first shows were filmed at Burns’ McCadden Productions studio and later at Universal Television. His opening and closing monologues were done in front of a live audience but a laugh track was inserted for consistency. Jack brought his quirky radio crew with him: Don Wilson, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Dennis Day, Mary Livingstone, and Mel Blanc. Benny’s wife was Sadie Marks. He met her at age 14 in 1919, and they didn’t exactly hit it off. However, in 1927 they realized they were in love and married that year. Benny asked his wife to fill in for a live comedy show to play “Mary Livingstone.” Sadie did and showed her comic persona. She began to appear regularly and later legally changed her name to Mary Livingstone.

Photo: pinterest.com

Benny understood the radio show was so successful because listeners bonded with the characters and considered them friends. Television just added another dimension for viewers to be able to see the characters.

Jack always underplayed his character, often giving the best lines to his cast. He had great timing, knowing when to tell a joke and when to say nothing. It was often said that he did not say funny things, but he said things funny. His catchphrases, “Well” (with a long pause) and “Now, cut that out” are still part of pop culture today.

In the classic age of comedy, sponsors were the key to survival, and Jack was always able to obtain some of the most well-known companies. During his run, he was sponsored by Lucky Strike, Lever Brothers Lux, State Farm Insurance, Lipton Tea, Miles Laboratories, and most memorably, General Foods’ Jell-O. The sponsors never minded that he often made fun of them or their ads. Often, they were some of the funniest moments in the show.

The first show aired in October of 1950. Benny’s first line on that live Sunday night telecast was, “I’d give a million dollars to know what I look like!”

The show’s format didn’t vary much from week to week. Typically, it began with a monologue. The orchestra might play a song or Jack and announcer Don Wilson might have a discussion such as:

DonWilson: I don’t think you know how much it means to me to do the commercial. After all I’m not a funny man. I can’t sing or dance. I don’t lead a band. What are you paying me for?

Jack: Don, you’re hanging yourself.

Photo: oldtimeradiodownloads.com

The cast would discuss a current situation, often referring to Benny’s age or frugality, or Mary would read a letter from her mother. Dennis Day would then sing a song followed by a skit, a mini-play, or a satire of a movie. Before Carol Burnett’s incredible movie satires, Jack Benny’s writers created some humorous shows. One example was a 1952 show. It was based on Gaslight from 1944. Called “Autolight,” it starred Barbara Stanwyck.

Photo: youtube.com

Jack continued to feature special guest stars, was a penny pincher, refused to admit he was over 39 years old, and continued to drive his old Maxwell. Here he is with Marilyn Monroe discussing his age:

Marilyn Monroe: What about the difference in our ages?

Jack: Oh, it’s not that big a difference. You’re twenty-five and I’m thirty-nine.

Marilyn Monroe: I know, Jack. But what about twenty-five years from now when I’m fifty and you’re thirty-nine?

Jack: Gee, I never thought of that.

Photo: worthpoint.com

Jack’s view on saving money: “Any man who would walk five miles through the snow, barefoot, just to return a library book so he could save three cents – that’s my kind of guy.”

Photo: imdb.com

Mel Blanc not only “played” the Maxwell but portrayed a variety of characters. Once Benny made the comment, “There’s only five real people in Hollywood.  Everyone else is Mel Blanc.”

Viewers today criticize the way Rochester was treated on the show, but when comparing Benny’s show to Amos ‘n Andy and other shows during the time period, a stark difference can be seen. Rochester was the first black actor to have a recurring role on a radio show. He called Jack, “Jack” or“Mr. Benny” and quite often got the best of him by outwitting him or pointing out one of his deficiencies.

Here’s a typical conversation between Jack and Rochester:

Jack: What do you think of this card I wrote for Don? “To Don from Jacky, Oh golly, oh shucks. I hope that you like it, it cost forty bucks.”

Rochester: It would’ve been hard to rhyme a dollar ninety-eight.

Jack Benny: We’re a little late, so good night, folks.

Photo: americacomesalive.com

The character interactions and the great skits are what made the show so popular. In Jim Bishop’s book about President John F. Kennedy, A Day in the Life of President Kennedy, he wrote that JFK was too busy to watch television, but he always made time for The Jack Benny Show.

Photo: tvnewfrontier.blogspot.com

Jack passed away in 1974. In real life, he was the opposite of the character he played, very generous and a gifted violin player.

His papers, including television archives of his series and special broadcasts and more than 296 television scripts were given to UCLA.

The Jack Benny Program can currently be seen early mornings Sunday through Thursday on Antenna TV.

It’s The Professor and a Whole Lot of Other People: Russell Johnson and Guest Stars

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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.

 

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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 from Outer Space.

 

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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.

 

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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, Outer Limits, and Big Valley. In 1964 he was offered the role of The Professor on Gilligan’s Island, 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.”

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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, Lou Grant, Bosom Buddies, Dallas, Fame, Newhart, ALF, and Roseanne. He had a recurring role on Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law from 1971-1973.

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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.

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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.

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Mel Blanc could be heard portraying a parrot several times and a frog.

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Hans Conried visited the island twice as Wrongway Feldman, an incompetent pilot who had crashed on the island years before.

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Kurt Russell was a modern-day Tarzan.

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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.

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Zsa Zsa Gabor was a rich socialite who falls in love with the Professor.

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Larry Storch is a robber hiding out on the island and pretending to be a doctor.

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John McGiver was Lord Beasley Waterford, famous butterfly collector.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Today, I Get to Introduce You to One of My Very Favorite People, Blanche Morton, via Bea Benadaret

This week I’m excited to learn more about one of my favorite entertainers—Bea Benardaret. Bea had a long and successful career in radio and television, as well films. Nick-named Busy Bea, she would get credit for making more than 1000 radio and television appearances.

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Born in 1906 in New York City, she was raised in San Francisco. Her first radio appearance occurred when she was 12 years old in Beggar’s Opera.  While still in high school, Bea went to work for radio station KFRC where she acted, sang, wrote, produced, and announced. She went on to the Reginald Travis School of Acting.

 

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She married Jim Bannon in 1938. Their marriage would last until 1950 and produce two children, Maggie and Jack. She later married Gene Twombly in 1958 and remained married until her death.  Jack tells a story about when his mother was very pregnant with his sister. While exiting a cab, she fell and broke her pelvis.  It was so traumatic that her brunette locks turned white. At that time, she began dyeing her hair the blonde color we would all recognize once she transitioned to television.

 

Bea’s son Jack became an actor who has 91 credits for television and movie work. He appeared on Petticoat Junction 15 times, but was best known for his role of Art Donovan on Lou Grant. He was married to Ellen Travolta and passed away in the fall of 2017.

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Bea could probably win the award of most-often misspelled name. You can find her name spelled Benardaret correctly or Benederet or Benadaret. On several episodes of Burns and Allen, you can even find credits spelling her first name “Bee.”

 

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After graduation, she entered the radio business full time. She moved to Hollywood in 1936 and found work on The Jack Benny Show and shortly after with Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater in 1937. She was featured in 36 different radio shows with her most famous roles being Gertrude Gearshift on The Jack Benny Show, Eve Goodwin on The Great Gildersleeve, Millicent Carstairs on Fibber McGee and Molly, Gloria the maid on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and Iris Atterbury on My Favorite Husband. She received a starring role in Granby’s Green Acres, the forerunner of the Green Acres Show.

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In 1943, she became one of the primary voices of Warner Brothers Merrie Melodies and Looney Toons cartoons. She met Mel Blanc during this time and they remained friends for life.

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Bea also received roles in six films including a government clerk in Notorious (1946), one of two women Gene Kelley and Frank Sinatra encounter on the subway in On the Town (1949), and Tender is the Night (1962).

 

Bea’s first television role was my favorite character—Blanche Morton on the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. Bea had appeared on their radio show and when the duo transitioned into television, she made the move with them. From 1950-1958 she was Gracie’s best friend and long-suffering wife of Harry Morton. Bea credited George Burns for teaching her about comedy. Bea was awarded two Emmy nominations for her portrayal of Blanche.

Not long after she was obligated to play Blanche, Lucille Ball offered her the role of Ethel Mertz on her new show I Love Lucy. Bea had to decline, but she did make an appearance on the show in 1952. Her “husband” on My Favorite Husband and Granby’s Green Acres was Gale Gordon.  He, too, was approached to play Fred Mertz; however, similarly to Bea’s situation, he had already agreed to transition from radio to television on Our Miss Brooks. He too would costar on the show and later he was able to work with Lucille Ball again on her other television shows.

 

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In 1960 Bea accepted the role of the housekeeper on Peter Loves Mary. That same year she agreed to provide the voice for Betty Rubble when The Flintstones debuted on Friday nights. She would provide voices on The Flintstones for 112 episodes.

 

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Paul Henning was one of the writers for Burns and Allen. He and Bea became friends in the 1940s, and in 1962 he created a show called The Beverly Hillbillies. He brought in Bea for the role of Granny, but when Bea saw Irene Ryan’s audition, she told Paul he had definitely found his Granny. He then created the role of Pearl Bodine for Bea. She would appear in 22 episodes. Donna Douglas, who played Elly May, said that “watching her timing is like watching a ballerina. She’s so effortless.”

 

When Henning created a spin-off in Petticoat Junction, the role of Kate Bradley was written specifically for Bea. She appeared in 179 of the episodes of the show that aired from 1963-1969. Henning’s wife’s family ran the Burris Hotel in Eldon, Missouri that catered to salesmen traveling by railroad, and those stories became the basis for Petticoat Junction. Kate, a widow, runs the hotel with help of her Uncle Joe who is often busier trying to avoid work than helping out. She has three daughters Billie Jo, Bobby Jo, and Betty Jo. (During the show’s run, there would be three Billie Jo’s, and two Bobby Jo’s but only one Betty Jo, who was portrayed by Linda Kay Henning, Paul’s daughter.)

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Charley Pratt and Floyd Smoot run the Cannonball, a train that enables the Bradleys to travel to Pixley and Hooterville. Cut off from the main railroad twenty years earlier in a trestle demolition, the train caters to local residents, often stopping to move cows or let someone visit a neighbor between official stops. Sam Drucker runs the general store in Hooterville and is always the center of local society. Though it was never made too obvious, Kate and Sam had a special relationship, and we always assumed that once the girls were grown and gone, and Sam was ready for retirement, he and Bea would end up together. The old-fashioned hotel offers home cooking and a nostalgic feel. Other titles considered were Ozark Widow, Dern Tootin’, and Whistle Stop. When Steve Elliott, the crop duster, came to town, he dated Billie Jo. They made a glamorous couple, but a season or two later, he realized he truly loved Betty Jo, the youngest and the tomboy who helped in repair his plane. They married and had a daughter, Kathy Jo.

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In 1967 Smiley Burnette (Charley) passed away. In 1968 Bea became ill and died that year from lung cancer and pneumonia. Bea’s second husband, Gene Twombly, passed away four days later from a heart attack. June Lockhart was brought on to the show as Dr. Janet Craig to help be a mother figure to the girls. Ratings declined in season 6 with the loss of Bea; however, the network renewed the show for another year so there would be five years of colored episodes for syndication. Ratings increased during the last year, but in 1969 when the new administration cancelled all the rural shows, Petticoat Junction received its walking papers too.

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There were always rumors that there would be a reunion from the show, but that never happened, although the cast did take on both the Brady Bunch and Leave it to Beaver crews on Family Feud in 1983.

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Bea was known for her laugh. By all accounts, she was a kind woman and extremely professional in all her roles. While I enjoy Petticoat Junction, I adore Gracie Allen, and am always happy to indulge myself watching Burns and Allen Show episodes. Bea holds her own on the show and makes a wonderful practical counterpart to Gracie’s illogical logic.

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Today We Take a Peek at the Future by Looking at the Past

Building on the popularity of The Flintstones, in 1962 ABC and Hanna-Barbera decided to debut another new animation show aimed at adults. Instead of the prehistoric past, this show would be set in the far-off future. It aired Sunday nights.  It was also the first show on ABC to air in color. It was The Jetsons. The Flintstones had been recorded in color, but the first two years it aired in black and white. However, it was up to the affiliates to decide if they wanted to broadcast both of these shows in color or black and white. Often they chose black and white because only 3% of the population had color televisions in 1962 which increased to 50% by 1972.

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Hoyt Curtin created the theme song. This show featured the typical 1950s sitcom plots. It was adult oriented and used a laugh track.

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The Jetsons live in Orbit City in the Skypad Apartments, high in the sky. George is a family man.  George is not Fred Flintstone.  However, he does get into many predicaments like Fred, and his boss fires him often.  George works for Spacely Space Sprockets, and his boss is Cosmo Spacely. Their competitor is Mr. Cogswell who runs Cogswell Cogs. Mr. Spacely is easily angered and hard to work for. He and George were childhood friends. George’s work computer was RUDI – Referential Universal Differential Indexer.  He has a human personality. George was voiced by George O’Hanlon. Mr. Spacely was voiced by Mel Blanc.

 

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George is married to Jane, a homemaker like Wilma.  Jane is a member of the Galaxy Women’s Historical Society.  Her favorite store is Mooning Dales.  Penny Singleton, the original Blondie of the movies, plays Jane.

 

They have two children, Judy, a 16-year-old, who attends Orbit High School and Elroy, 6, who attends the Little Dipper School.  Judy likes clothes, boys, and her diary, much like teens in the 1960s.  Elroy is quiet, easy going, and highly intelligent, and he studies space history, astrophysics, and star geometry. Janet Waldo was the voice of Judy, while Daws Butler provided the voices of Elroy and Spencer Cogswell.

 

Rosie is their robot maid and Astro is their dog. Rosie is an outdated robot, but the family loves her. She performs all the housework and does some parenting of Elroy. Surprisingly, Rosie was only in 2 of the 24 episodes that aired in 1962. Astro precedes Scooby Doo but talks like him and looks very much like a gray Scooby. Jean Vander Pyl and Don Messick from The Flintstones take on the voices of Rosie and Astro.

 

Two other characters who make appearances are George’s eccentric grandfather, Montague Jetson voiced by Howard Morris.  Stella/Petunia Spacely, Cosmo’s wife, is overbearing and snobby and she was voiced by Jean Vander Pyl.

 

In 1963, Morey Amsterdam and Pat Carroll sued H-B for breach of contract.  Apparently, they were signed to a 24-episode contract to voice George and Jane.  They were guaranteed $500 per episode. According to the network, they had to be replaced because of sponsor conflicts with their other shows, The Dick Van Dyke Show and Make Room for Daddy. I believe the suit was dropped; however, I couldn’t find proof of that.

 

The show did not get very good ratings.  Part of the problem was that so many people were watching it in black and white. Another problem is that it was up against Car 54, Where Are You and, ironically, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. After the first year, the network moved it to Saturday morning. In 1985, 41 episodes were made and 10 additional shows were created in 1987. It’s hard to believe, but those of us who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s watched the same 24 episodes over and over since new ones weren’t made for 23 years after the debut.

Although it was only on the air in prime time for one year, marketing certainly did not suffer.  Many Jetson toys, games, and figures were sold.

 

The Jetsons endorsed Electrasol, Tums, and Radio Shack. Many comic books were based on the series. Gold Key printed 36 from 1963-1970, Charlton created 20 between 1970-1973, Harvey published 5 in 1992-1993, and Archie Comics produced 17 from 1995-1996.

In addition, two tv films, a tv special, and a movie were created.

The show was on Boomerang from 2000-2014 and again from 2016-2017. It was aired on The Cartoon Network from 1992-2004 and again in 2012. It is available now on Comcast’s video-on-demand service.

 

Many of the inventions the Jetsons used are currently being produced today. A flying car will most likely debut in 2018. There are several start-up companies developing jetpacks to allow people to fly. Robot butlers exist at some hotels (Japan and California). Holograms have existed for a few years. 3-D printers can make food, and our current drones are similar to the pods the Jetsons used. Smart watches were also shown on the series; in one episode a student in Elroy’s class watches a Flintstones episode on his watch instead of paying attention to the teacher. Although The Jetsons was set in 2062, they featured moving walkways and smart homes which we have used for some time.

 

What is so surprising about The Jetsons is its current popularity.  A Jetson big-screen film is in the works and, in August of 2017, ABC ordered a live-action sitcom of The Jetsons. It will be interesting to see if they rely on the same technology used in 1962 on the show or if they project into our future.

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While many of the popular shows from the early 1960s are only remembered by baby boomers, The Flintstones and The Jetsons are still well known to kids of every generation. They have truly survived the test of time. By this time next year, The Jetsons could once again be a hit television show. Like the Bewitched-I Dream of Jeannie debate, or the Mary Ann vs Ginger question, most people prefer watching the past or the future.  I am in The Jetsons camp, but enjoy watching Fred and Wilma from time to time also.  Next week we’ll look at my favorite adult animation show, and no, it’s not The Simpsons.

If It’s Friday Night, It’s Time for the Adults to Gather Round and Watch . . . Cartoons?

In September 1960 several iconic shows had their debut including My Three Sons and The Andy Griffith Show. On Friday nights at 8:30 eastern time, a very unusual show also began on ABC that fall:  The Flintstones.  Many viewers don’t realize that The Flintstones began life as a prime-time animated show aimed at adults. Created by Hanna-Barbera (H-B), it continued to run at night until April of 1966, a total of 166 episodes.

H-B went to New York for 8 weeks to pitch the show. After being turned down by every ntework, ABC decided to take a chance on it.  It was the most financially successful animated show for 30 years until The Simpsons was created. Variety described its premier as “a pen and ink disaster,” but the show was nominated for Outstanding Comedy, losing to The Jack Benny Show.

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Set in Bedrock, population 2500, the Flintstones and the Rubbles were neighbors and best friends.  The show’s success had a lot to do with the fact that these Stone Age families participated in the same modern-day activities that families did in the 1960s. They relied on the same technology; it’s just that their technology was powered primarily by animals and rocks.

H-B considered other historical eras for the show.  They researched hillbillies, the Roman Empire, and American Indians before settling on Stone Age characters. The original title was The Flagstones.  It was then changed to The Gladstones, and, finally, The Flintstones. In the first creation, Fred and Wilma had a son — Fred Jr. H-B decided that they wanted both couples to be childless, so Fred Jr. was written out.  A Golden Book which came out in 1960 was released before the show changed its concept, and it features Fred Jr.

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Let’s review the regular characters.

Fred Flintstone works at Slate Rock and Gravel Co. He had a quick temper but was a loving father and husband.  He is tall and broad with black hair. He was on a bowling team and belonged to the Loyal Order of Buffaloes, Lodge No. 26. Alan Reed was the voice of Fred. In one episode, Fred was supposed to yell “Yahoo.” Reed asked if he could say “Yabba Dabba Doo” which he based on a Brylcreem jingle his mother used to say, “A little dab’ll do ya.” That became his catchphrase.  In 1977, when the show was in syndication, Henry Corden took over after Reed passed away. Fred was based on Ralph Kramden. In a 1986 , article Jackie Gleason revealed that his attorney told him he could have easily won a lawsuit and stopped The Flintstones, but he advised against it or Gleason would have been known as the man who destroyed The Flintstones.

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Wilma Flintstone is a practical and level-headed wife. She is a true redhead and loves to shop. She often has to get Fred out of bad situations or is forced to convince him to apologize to Barney or Mr. Slate. Jean Vander Pyl was the voice of Wilma.

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Pebbles Flintstone was born at the end of Season 3.  She wore bones in her hair for bows and was a happy little girl. Vander Pyl also played Pebbles.

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Dino is their purple pet.  He barks and often acts like a dog, but he is officially a prosauropod. The incredible Mel Blanc was the voice of Dino.

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Barney Rubble is Fred’s best friend and next-door neighbor. He and Fred get into spats regularly. Barney is shorter than Fred, easy going, and friendly.  Barney was on Fred’s bowling team and part of the Water Buffaloes. Barney was also voiced by Mel Blanc. After Blanc’s death, several actors played Barney.

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Betty Rubble is Wilma’s best friend.  They often conspire to get their husbands to mend their friendship.  Betty is a brunette. Bea Benaderet was the voice of Betty for seasons 1-4.  After her death, Gerry Johnson took over for seasons 5 and 6.

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Bamm-Bamm is the Rubbles’ adopted son.  He is absurdly strong and says “Bamm-Bamm” a lot. Don Messick was the voice of both Bamm-Bamm and the Rubbles’ pet.

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Hoppy is Rubbles’ pet hopparoo (a cross between a kangaroo and a dinosaur).  He doesn’t appear until Season 5.

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More than 100 “guest” characters appear on the show, but several are better known and appear more often, including:

Mr. Slate owns the company where Fred works.  Sometimes Barney works there as well but it doesn’t seem to be consistent. Mr. Slate fires Fred a lot but always takes him back. John Stephenson voiced Mr. Slate.

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Arnold is the Rubbles’ and Flintstones’ paperboy. Fred doesn’t like him because Arnold can outsmart him. Don Messick played Arnold.

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Joe Rockhead is a friend of Fred and Barney’s. He is mentioned in one show as being the chief of the Bedrock Volunteer Fire Department. Irwin Keyes played Joe.

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Pearl Slaghoople is Wilma’s mother.  She is hard to please and has always disapproved of Fred. Verna Felton and Janet Waldo played Pearl.

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Gazoo is an alien who helps Fred and Barney.  He can only be seen by those two, small children, and pets. Harvey Korman was the voice of Gazoo. He appeared during the final season as a way to boost viewership. The show had begun to try to capture younger viewers during the final two seasons.

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Many famous people also showed up on the show. The 6th episode of the 6th season featured Darrin and Samantha Stephenson from Bewitched. H-B produced the animated opening of Bewitched, so there was a tie-in. Other stars included Stony Curtis (Tony Curtis), Ann Margrock (Ann Margaret), and Cary Granite (Cary Grant) as well as the Green Bay Pachyderms.

One strange thing about the show was that the Flintstones home and furniture placement was not consistent.  You can see changes in almost every episode. Their address also changed. It was given as 345 Cave Stone Rd., 1313 Cobblestone Way, and 222 Rocky Way.

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A theme song, “Rise and Shine” was created for the show and used in seasons 1 and 2. The tune was similar to Bugs Bunny’s theme, and in season 3 it was changed to “Meet the Flintstones.” A 22-piece jazz band and a 5-person singing group, the Skip Jacks, recorded it. When the show went into syndication, “Rise and Shine” was replaced with “Meet the Flintstones” for the first two seasons as well. Hoyt Curtin was in charge of the underscores for seasons 1-5 and Ted Nichols took over for season 6.

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Believe it or not, the first two seasons were sponsored by Winston Cigarettes, and there were ads featuring Fred and Barney smoking. These seasons were aired in black and white. Seasons 3-6 would be in color. In season 3, Welch’s became the sponsor for the last four years. They created jelly jars which could be re-used as drinking glasses. At this point, it was decided that the Flintstones would have a baby. A boy was written into the script. A marketing director suggested they change it to a girl because girl dolls sold better. Based on his recommendation, they created Pebbles. Apparently, he was right because during the first few months, they sold 3 million of them. In season 4, Bamm-Bamm was adopted.

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Some of the clever products included an alarm clock that is a bird, a bird car horn, a dinosaur crane, an octopus dishwasher, a pelican garbage can, a porcupine hairbrush, and a swordfish knife. Several famous brands were seen in the stone age such as Stoneway Pianos and Polarrock cameras.

The show was offered in syndication till 1997. Ted Turner purchased H-B in 1992, and The Flintstones ran on TBS, TNT, and the Cartoon Network. In 2000, Boomerang began airing the show where it continued until 2016. Now it’s only available on Boomerang’s subscription video-on-demand service.

The Flintstones had 12 different television series versions and 13 tv specials produced. In addition, there have been 5 tv movies, 6 educational filmstrips and 2 big-screen films.

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Two theme parks exist: Bedrock City in Custer, SD and Valle, AZ. A stage production took place in Universal Studios in Hollywood from 1994-1997. DC Comics produced a 2016 Flintstones comic book. Flintstones collectibles have been produced for almost 60 years.

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Fifty-eight years after the debut of the show, Bedrock characters are still promoting products.  One-a-Day vitamins features Flintstones Chewables and Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles are made by Post.

 

A typical conversation between Fred and Barney is:

Fred: How can you be so stupid?

Barney: Hey, that’s not very nice. Say you’re sorry.

Fred: I’m sorry you’re stupid.

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For the remainder of January, we will continue to look at prime-time animation series.

The Friendship and Careers of Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis

Fred Gwynne was born in New York in July of 1926 and died in Maryland in 1993.  Al Lewis was born in New York in April of 1923 and passed away in New York in February of 2006. At first glance, they don’t seem to have a lot in common, but a closer look reveals why they enjoyed a long friendship.

Fred Gwynne

Fred Gwynne grew up in New York and had a very wealthy and advantaged upbringing.  He was a radioman in the Navy during World War II.  When the war was over, Gwynne entered Harvard, studying drawing and dramatics. He became a member of their Hasty Pudding Club, being involved with many theatrical productions. Gwynne graduated in 1951 and went on to work for a Shakespeare repertory company. He was a talented man with a variety of interests and earned his living from several careers.  He was a copywriter, a musician, a book illustrator, and a commercial artist.

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In 1952, he made his Broadway debut, acting with Helen Hayes in “Mrs. McThing.” The play ran for 320 performances.  In 1953, he performed in his second Broadway play, “The Frogs of Spring” which had a much shorter run.  In 1954, he had a small role in On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando.

He also began appearing on television in the 1950s, and most of his roles were on dramas such as Kraft Theater or DuPont Show of the Week.

The one exception was The Phil Silvers Show where he appeared in 1955 and 1956. The producer of this show, Nat Hiken, went on to create a similar show called Car 54 Where Are You? about New York policemen.  He cast Gwynne as one of the leads, Francis Muldoon. The show ran for two seasons and when it was cancelled, Gwynne went back to his theatrical dramas.

In 1964, the creators of Leave It to Beaver, decided on a different concept for a show called The Munsters.  Fred was cast as the lead role.  While this show also ran two years, the part of Herman Munster was much harder to overcome than Francis Muldoon had been.  Gwynne struggled to find new roles, and when he was unsuccessful, he went back to Broadway.  He did make one pilot during these years for a show called Guess What I Did Today, but no network picked it up. His favorite Broadway performance was Big Daddy in 1974 when he starred in “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof.”

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During the 1980s, his cinema career picked up and he ended up with 15 movies to his credit from 1979-1992. Included in this list are The Cotton Club, The Secret of My Success, Fatal Attraction, Ironweed, Pet Sematary, and My Cousin Vinny.

His book writing and illustrating also continued.  His first book, The Best in Show, was published in 1958.  The King Who Rained came out in 1970, and Simon and Schuster published A Chocolate Moose for Dinner in 1976 and A Little Pigeon Toad in 1988.

Throughout most of his career, Gwynne lived a quiet life far from Hollywood. He was married to his first wife Roxy from 1952-1980 and his second wife from 1981 until his death from pancreatic cancer in 1993.

Al Lewis

Al Lewis claimed he was born in 1910 and was a circus performer in the 1920s.  He also said he went to Columbia and graduated with a PhD in child psychology.  After he passed away, his son confirmed that he was born in 1923, and Columbia had no record of him attending school with his given name or his stage name.  His son thought he made himself older to get the role of Grandpa in The Munsters because in real life Yvonne DeCarlo was a year older than he was.

Some of his other jobs included a salesman,  hot dog vendor for the Brooklyn Dodgers, waiter, pool room owner, and store detective.  He was a good basketball player in high school and apparently worked as a basketball scout at some time in his early life. A friend convinced him to join an actor’s workshop in 1949 and that led to a career in vaudeville. In the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in a variety of TV shows including US Steel Hour, Route 66, Lost in Space, and Gomer Pyle.  He too was cast in the Phil Silvers Show which later resulted in his role of Patrolman Leo Schnauzer in Car 54 Where Are You?

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In 1964, he too was offered a role in The Munsters. In 1966 when the show went off the air, he continued making television appearances and starred in cinema movies.  During the 1970s and 1980s, he appeared on Night Gallery, Green Acres, Love American Style, Here’s Lucy, Taxi, and Best of the West.  His career featured 22 films including They Shoot Horses Don’t They, Boatniks, Used Cars, Married to the Mob, and a remake of Car 54 Where Are You?

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Like Gwynne, he was married twice:  to Marge from 1956-1977 and to Karen from 1984 until his death from heart complications in 2006. Lewis also published several children’s books during his acting career.

Midway through his career he opened an Italian restaurant, Grandpa’s Bella Gente, which Gwynne designed the logo for. He also got into radio and was featured on Howard Stern’s Show often.

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It is surprising that both of these stars were in two sitcoms which both lasted only two years. Let’s take a look at the shows that made them household names.

Car 54 Where Are You?

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This sitcom, set in the 53rd precinct in Brooklyn was an early Barney Miller. Gwynne played Francis Muldoon.  His partner, Gunther Toody, was his exact opposite.  While Muldoon was a bachelor, an intellectual, calm and quiet, Toody was married, naïve, excitable, and talkative. In one show, when the precinct is debating splitting up the two men, Muldoon says “I guess most of the men are smarter than Gunther and less trouble than Gunther, but  . . . well, I’m so used to Gunther.  When he chatters away, the days just fly by.  I’d just be lost without Gunther.” Gunther concurs, “You mean ride around with someone next to me that’s not Muldoon? Francis is a quiet man. He doesn’t say a word. He just sits there all day thinking. It’s very comforting for a man like me to know there’s someone next to him doing the thinking for both of us.” Of course, they split them up only to partner them up again because no one else could take the silence or constant chatter.

Al Lewis played Officer Leo Schnauzer, appearing in every episode.

Policemen were split on their view of the show.  Some took offense and felt they were portrayed in a negative light, while others enjoyed it and identified with some of the comedic elements. It was filmed in The Bronx at Biograph Studio.  There was a large sign out front identifying it as the 53rd precinct till a woman came in pleading to save her from her abusive husband and the sign was quickly taken down.

Originally titled Snow Whites, the show aired at 8:30 eastern time Sunday nights between The Wide World of Disney and Bonanza.  The only clue I could find for the original name was that the show was sponsored by Proctor and Gamble who made several detergents for clothing. It was filmed in black and white, but the police cars were red and white so they would show up better on black and white film. The show also starred Beatrice Pons, Charlotte Rae, Nipsey Russell, Alice Ghostley, and Larry Storch.

Perhaps what the show is best remembered for was its catchy theme song.  Anyone who viewed an episode or two can probably remember the fun lyrics:

There’s a hold up in the Bronx, Brooklyn’s broken out in fights.

There’s a traffic jam in Harlem that’s backed up to Jackson Heights.

There’s a scout troop short a child; Kruschev’s due at Idlewild . . .

Car 54, where are you?

 

The Munsters

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In 1964, the creators of Leave It to Beaver decided to feature another “wholesome” family who just happens to live at 1313 Mockingbird Lane in Mockingbird Heights. The family consists of Grandpa who is always experimenting in his lab; Herman who is the funeral director at Gateman, Goodbury, and Graves; his wife Lilly, a vampire; their son Eddie who is a werewolf; and their beautiful black-sheep Marilyn.  Marilyn was beautiful but they viewed her as odd looking and she seemed to get a lot of dates but when she brings them home, they never ask her out again. The family also owns two pets – Spot, a prehistoric animal Grandpa rescued and Igor, a bat.  They lived a somewhat normal life but drank bat milk and cooked in a cauldron. On the hour, a cuckoo clock chimed and a raven, voiced by Mel Blanc, appeared and said “Nevermore.”

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All the actors had to endure a two-hour make-up session, but Gwynne had the worst time because he had to wear 40-50 pounds of padding.  One day he lost 10 pounds filming under the lights.  They gave him gallons of lemonade between takes and later rigged a way to blow cool air on him underneath the material.

The entire family could have been played by different actors.  John Carradine was offered the role of Herman. The pilot featured Joan Marshall as the wife and instead of Lilly, her name was Phoebe. Marilyn was played by Beverly Owens for 13 episodes and then Pat Priest took over for the rest of the show’s run. Eddie was first offered to Bill Mumy, Will Robinson from Lost in Space, and Grandpa to Bert Lahr from The Wizard of Oz.

After the show was cancelled, the Munster mobile often traveled to memorabilia shows.  There was also a Dragula built with purple silk upholstery and chrome pipes for the exhaust. Although the show was only on the air for two years, there were a lot of collectibles such as board games, lunch boxes, paper dolls, and coloring books.

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In 2001, the McKee family of Waxahachie, Texas was such a huge fan of the show that the family built their 5000+ square foot house to exactly resemble the Munsters’ home including the crooked weather vane and grand staircase that lifted up to feed Spot.

Both Gwynne and Lewis were born in New York.  They both appeared on the show Brenner early in their careers. Both were tapped from their roles in The Phil Silvers Show to play roles on Car 54 Where Are You? They both went on to star in The Munsters.  Neither of them ever had another series.  They both chose to live on the east coast. They both wrote children’s books.  They were each married twice and married to their second spouse for the rest of their lives. They both had a lot of success in the movies as well as television. They were both men with fascinating careers before they ever entered acting.  I learned a lot about these interesting friends.  Happy Birthday to Fred Gwynne would have been 91.