Any Time Spent with the Cunninghams Are Happy Days

Continuing the theme “Living in the Past: Timeless Comedies,” we find ourselves transported to Milwaukee, WI in the 1950s getting to know the Cunninghams. Beginning September of 1984, Happy Days entertained fans for more than a decade, producing 255 episodes. When the show began, it was set in 1955, and when it went off the air eleven seasons later, it was 1965.

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Garry Marshall developed the pilot which first aired on Love American Style in 1972 as “Love and the Television Set.” 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 experiences.

Richie’s family includes his father Howard (Tom Bosley) who owns a hardware store, and his mother Marion (Marion Ross). Howard is a family man and is also loyal to his lodge. Marion is content to stay at home, except for a brief stint when she gets a job as a waitress at Arnold’s. The cast also includes his younger sister Joanie (Erin Moran) and an older brother Chuck.

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Chuck would not be around long. At the end of the series, Tom Bosley says “he had the joy of raising two wonderful kids and watching them and their friends grow up into wonderful adults.” Poor Chuck. His existence wasn’t even acknowledged in the finale. When a character just disappears without an explanation, it is often referred to as the “Chuck Cunningham Syndrome.”

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Richie’s friends include Potsie Weber (Anson Williams) and Ralph Malph (Donny Most). Potsie, whose real name is Warren, was a singer. When Richie went into the Army so did Ralph. A famous catchphrase from the show was Ralph’s uttering “I still got it!” after he told a joke. Richie’s girlfriend is Lori Beth Allen (Lynda Goodfriend). She and Richie marry later in the series. The friends hung out at Arnold’s and got to know Arnold (Pat Morita) well. They listen to a lot of music at the restaurant; Richie’s favorite song was “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino. One fun fact about the drive-in was that the restrooms were labeled “Guys and Dolls.” Eventually, Arnold sells the restaurant to Al (Al Molinaro).

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The pilot included Ross, Howard, and Williams in their later roles. Harold Gould played the part of Howard and Susan Neher was Joanie. When the show got the go-ahead, Gould was involved in a play abroad and declined, so the role was given to Bosley.

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Robby Benson and Donny Most were both under consideration for the role of Richie. They had appeared in a commercial for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups together. When Howard was given the role, the role of Ralph was created for Most.

There are several references during the show made about Ron Howard’s past acting roles. One of these occurred when the family is leaving a theater where they watched The Music Man in 1962. Marion comments that she thought the little boy in the movie looked just like Richie when he was little. Howard did in fact play the role of Winthrop Paroo in The Music Man in 1962 when he was eight years old.

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There were two primary sets for the show: The Cunningham residence and Arnold’s Drive-In. The real exterior of the house was in Los Angeles. However, Arnold’s found its inspiration in The Milky Way Drive-In located on Port Washington Road in Glendale, WI, more recently Kopp’s Frozen Custard.

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The ratings began to decline during the second season, so Garry Marshall made Fonzie (Henry Winkler) more involved in the show. Fonzie moved into the apartment above the Cunninghams’ garage. Eventually he and Richie become best friends, and Fonzie is a basically a member of the family. Marion is the only person who is allowed to call him Arthur. Fonzie was also fond of Joanie and nicknamed her “Shortcake.” His best-known catchphrase was “Heyyyy!” By 1976 the show was number one.

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In season four, Arnold sells his restaurant to Al (Al Molinaro). That same year, Fonzie’s cousin Chachi (Scott Baio) comes to town. He would eventually fall in love with Joanie. After season nine, Ron Howard left the show, and Howard’s nephew Roger (Ted McGinley) joins the cast as the new phy-ed teacher at the high school.

In season ten, Joanie and Chachi also leave the show; Moran and Baio starred in the spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi, but when the new show failed, both characters returned to Happy Days. Richie’s leaving was explained by him joining the Army. In season 11 he returns briefly to learn his parents have obtained an interview for him with the Milwaukee Journal. Not wanting to hurt their feelings, he eventually admits his wish is to go to California and try his hand at screenwriting.

Photo: happydays.wikia.com

Some of the best-known guest stars include sports star Hank Aaron, singer Frankie Avalon, western star Lorne Greene, Brady kids Maureen McCormick and Christopher Knight, legends Tom Hanks and Danny Thomas, and blonde beauties Morgan Fairchild, Charlene Tilton, and Cheryl Ladd.

The show’s theme song was a new version of an old standard, “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets. The theme was so popular it reached #39 in 1974; in real life, in 1955, the song had been a number one hit.  Beginning in season three, a newer song, “Happy Days” was featured at the beginning of the show.

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Amazingly, the show would be the source for a variety of spinoffs including Laverne & Shirley, Mork and Mindy, Joanie Loves Chachi, Blansky’s Beauties, and Out of the Blue.

Once so many of the main characters began leaving the show, the writing was on the wall. “Jumping the shark” is an expression that was coined when The Fonz actually jumped a shark. It’s a symbol for when a show grasps at straws to increase the ratings. Rarely is that type of exaggeration successful and it was not for Happy Days.

The show was so popular it never left its Tuesday night line-up. It aired at 8 pm EST for the first ten seasons and switched to 8:30 for its final season. However, the show had lost its magic, and the cancellation was inevitable. In fact, the show probably should have ended a season earlier. In addition to actors wanting to move on to new projects, the sixties were a very different time period than the fifties. The warm and fuzzy family themes that carried the show through the fifties and early sixties could not continue as the series had to survive the hippy era and the Vietnam War.

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Although the show was a team effort, there is no denying that Winkler’s portrayal of the Fonz was the most popular character of the decade and one of the most iconic in television history. After the show was cancelled, his leather jacket was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution for the National Museum of American History. A bronze statue of the Fonz was erected in Milwaukee in 2008 along the Milwaukee Riverwalk.

This character warrants a closer look. One of the people who auditioned for the role of Fonzie was Micky Dolenz from The Monkees. He was a lot taller than the other cast members, so he was bypassed while they looked for a shorter actor which ended in Winkler’s hiring. Fonzie’s real name is Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli. His grandmother raised him and his nickname was Skippy. His hero is The Lone Ranger, and he carries a picture of him in his wallet.

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Winkler said he based some of Fonzie’s movements and speech after Sylvester Stallone whom he had worked with in The Lords of Flatbush. The Fonz loved motorcycles, but Winkler decidedly did not, so most scenes were shot with the bike attached to a platform which was pulled by a truck, so Winkler never had to ride it. The cycle was the same model Steve McQueen rode in The Great Escape in 1963.

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This show had a slew of catchphrases, and one of them came from The Fonz whenever he was trying to get someone to answer a question correctly.  When they said the right answer, his response was “correctamundo.”

Fonzie was adored by many kids, especially kids who needed some extra help or attention. Marshall was asked if the show could do something to help kids realize how important reading was. On one of the episodes, The Fonz went to the library and checked out a book, saying “Everybody is allowed to read.” That week, library card registrations increased by 500%. During one day of filming, a call came to Paramount Studios. It was from a teenage boy who was contemplating suicide. He wanted to talk to Fonzie. Winkler picked up the call and gave the boy hope, convincing him not to take his life.

The only negative thing about Fonzie was the result he had on Winkler’s future acting career.  It took a long time before he could shake that image and be considered for other types of acting roles.

Photo: happydays.wikia.com

In 2019, the cast reunited to celebrate the life of Garry Marshall who passed away in 2016. In an article by Gina Vivinetto in Today on November 14, 2019, Donny Most discussed the cast. “We were so good at what we did because we respected each other and loved each other.” He went on to say “we made it look easy and it wasn’t.”

In another article during that same event written by Zach Seemayer November 17, 2019], Williams and Howard both talked about the mentoring they received from Marshall. Williams said, “He really cared about us. More than as actors. He really inspired us to learn because he said [we might] wanna wear many hats.” Howard also learned from his mentor, saying “Garry was a natural teacher and he loved collecting theories and axioms about life but also making a show. They were all hilarious but they all rang true and they were great lessons.”

Both Howard and Winkler told writer Stephanie Nolasco of Fox News how they felt about each other and their time on Happy Days. Winkler had a hard time dealing with his sudden fame, and Howard was able to provide some grounding for him. Winkler described this time, “It’s unnatural—the human condition does not prepare you for stardom. That’s just the way it is. So, you have to hold on to yourself and then you’ve got friends like Ron who doesn’t take it all seriously. I learned from him; he was my teacher. And Garry Marshall never took bad behavior from anybody. He was a father figure. He was very funny and very idiosyncratic, and then he was very strict.”

UNITED STATES – JULY 10: HAPPY DAYS – Gallery – Season Two – 7/10/75 Fonzie (Henry Winkler) Richie (Ron Howard) Potsie (Anson WIlliams) and Ralph (Donny Most) (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

Winkler also discussed his friendship with Howard. “I think people gravitate to the Fonzie/Richie relationship because Ron and I are ten years apart. He was 19 and I was 27. We had a connection that you cannot describe in real life, and it was similar off-camera. He gave me my first mitt; I’d never played baseball before. He’s my brother.”

Howard echoed the sentiments. “We were fast friends from the beginning. It continues all these years later. It was exciting for me to work with Henry because he was really a trained actor who attended Yale Drama School; just a trained New York actor. And, I’d grown up sort of through the Hollywood television system, so for me to work with this guy who was so thoughtful, so creative, and yet so hilarious, was really an opportunity for me to learn and grow and we just clicked, you know.”

UNITED STATES – AUGUST 11: HAPPY DAYS – “Get a Job” 2/25/75 Ron Howard, Henry Winkler (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

The entire cast spent a lot of time together and participated in softball events. Marshall put the league together with casts from other television shows partly to help keep actors out of trouble and away from drugs. Winkler described the cast being “very much like a family. I love them, I talk to them, I email them, and I see them.”

Photo: thenewyorktimes.com

For eleven years Happy Days provided all of us with lovely memories of the Cunningham family and their friends. It is one of the best sitcoms of the 1970s and has held up beautifully in syndication. Life in the fifties was a fun and heart-warming time (at least on television), but all good things must come to an end, and Happy Days was no exception. The good news is we can get immersed back into the Cunninghams’ lives whenever we want to. Eleven seasons provides for a lot of binge watching. Better make some extra popcorn.

The Audience Did Not Have a Good Time Watching The Goodtime Girls.

During our blog journey this month, we have gone back in time to Sherwood Forest and then sped forward to the 1860 Wild West. Today, as we continue with “Living in the Past: Timeless Comedies,” we time travel 80 years ahead and land in Washington DC in 1942. When we arrive, we find ourselves in the midst of The Goodtime Girls, a show that debuted in 1980 and was created by Lenora Thuna in association with Garry Marshall’s Henderson Productions and Paramount Television.

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The women, all familiar stereotypes, live together in a small attic apartment. There is dumb-blonde Loretta (Georgia Engel), girl-next-door Betty (Lorna Patterson), level-headed Edith (Annie Potts), and arrogant Camille (Francine Tacker). They must learn to depend on each other and navigate life working in jobs to help aid the war effort.

Rounding out the cast were their landlords, Mr. and Mrs. Coolidge (Marcia Lewis and Merwin Goldsmith), their buddy Frankie (Adrian Zmed) who’s a cab driver, and was rejected from military duty because of his flat feet, and his pal Benny (Peter Scolari). Frankie and Benny lived on another floor of the home.

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Edith, Betty, and Loretta were living in the apartment and already feeling confined and crowded. Camille, a reporter, covering the plight of people dealing with a housing shortage in the capital, is then added by the landlords when she loses her apartment. Camille’s personality didn’t help her earn a warm welcome by the other women. Edith works for the Office of Price Admissions, Betty was at the US Secretary of War’s office, and Loretta worked for General Culpepper (Richard Stahl) at the Pentagon. I was not sure what the Office of Price Admissions was. After a little research, I learned that it began in 1941 and was set up to establish price controls on nonagricultural commodities and rationing essential consumer goods during WWII. One of the first products to receive their ruling on rationing was automobile tires. The Office was disbanded in May of 1947.

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The shortage of consumer goods and men didn’t help the situation the women found themselves in either. Loretta was the only married tenant, but Edith is the one who tended to “mother” the other girls, doling out advice and wisdom. Frankie and Benny often joined the girls’ adventures.

This was one of the few Garry Marshall series that didn’t become a hit. Several guest stars appeared during the season including Happy Days’ Scott Baio as Edith’s brother and Laverne and Shirley’s Michael McKean as a bitter soldier confined to a wheelchair.

The mostly forgotten theme song, “When Everyone Cared” was written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel.

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The show never connected with viewers. It began life on ABC on Tuesday nights following Happy Days which should have ensured its success. It tested very well with audiences. Rather than a fall debut, the show began January 22, 1980. After the February sweeps (older viewers will fondly recall the exciting sweeps month followed by “nothing new in March”), the show went off the air. Its competition was the White Shadow and a show I don’t remember at all, California Fever. (The description on imdb was “Vince and Ross are suburban LA teenagers enjoying disco, surfing, cars, and the rest of the Southern California lifestyle. Musical Vince runs an underground radio station and mechanical Ross is into custom cars.”  It only lasted ten episodes, so I guess I’m not the only one who doesn’t remember it.)

Goodtime Girls returned in April for three weeks on Saturday night and then was pulled again. Although the show was cancelled in May, five of the remaining episodes were aired in August on Friday nights. For some reason, episode 3, “Night and Day” was never shown.

Photo: imdb.com

I’m not sure why the show never caught on. It had a great cast but most viewers didn’t appreciate the comic aspects of the show. Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy could get away with more slapstick routines than many shows airing in the eighties. At this time, M*A*S*H was still going strong, and if you were doing war humor, it would be a hard show to compete with. Maybe this show just seemed too banal and predictable. It was always discussed as being character driven; perhaps the characters were too typecast to be interesting.

As a noteworthy item of information, I don’t think Betty and Camille got along much better after the show ended. Robert Ginty who was married to Francine Tacker for three years later wed Lorna Patterson only fifty days after his divorce became final. However, their marriage only lasted six years.

Unfortunately, the audience was not having as good a time as the cast. I have never seen the show in reruns, and there is no mention of a DVD ever having been released. Learning about so many shows that didn’t make it helps us appreciate those series that became mega-hits. If nothing else, the demise of this show made it possible for Scolari to accept a role on Bosom Buddies.

Don’t Blink: Shows That Received Pink Slips by the Holidays

One thing I have learned doing blogs the past four years is how many shows don’t make it. Although every year has its share of flops, some years are just notorious for having weak programming. The late 1970s was a period of just truly awful shows. Bob Newhart who starred in The Bob Newhart Show decided to quit in 1978. When asked about ending the show, he said, “I could see what was coming in situation comedy, and I didn’t want to be a part of it. If we’d gone another year, they’d have had the guy and two girls living in the apartment above us, a Martian living on the same floor next door to three girl detectives. The floor below us would have been occupied by a fraternity and a sorority.” As bad as that sounds, the shows that the networks put on the air during this time were even worse. Let’s take a look at some of the programming that didn’t make it through a season in the late 1970s.

A Year at the Top

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Note the young Paul Shaffer

Believe it or not, in 1976 Norman Lear teamed up with Don Kirshner of Rock Concert fame for a sitcom about the music business. This show was supposed to begin in January of that year but was delayed until summer with an entirely different cast. Two young pop stars Greg and Paul (Greg Evigan and Paul Shaffer—yes the Paul Shaffer from David Letterman) move to LA for their big break. They meet a potential agent named Hanover (Gabriel Dell) who agrees to sign them if . . . and if you think the concept is weird so far, get this: Hanover is the devil’s son, and they need to sign over their souls to become famous. The pair never actually sign the contract. It might have taken a year to get on the air but it only lasted five weeks.

Quark

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This show’s concept was also a bit of a reach. It took place on Perma 1, a space station in 2222. Adam Quark (Richard Benjamin) had a mission to clean up all the trash in outer space. Quark took orders from a giant disembodied head called, what else, The Head, along with Perma 1’s architect Otto Palindrome (Conrad Janis). If you think this sounds crazy, wait till you learn about Quark’s crew: a part fish/part fowl first officer, a humanoid vegetable named Ficus, clones Betty 1 and Betty 2, and Andy the Robot, a walking junk pile. I was surprised not that it was cancelled after two months, but that it lasted two months. I was also surprised to learn that Buck Henry was the creative force behind this series.

Sanford Arms

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A year later in 1977 we have another interesting set-up. When Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson, the two stars, the only stars, left the show Sanford and Son, Norman Lear was left with a show title only. Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page) had been one of the cast members on Sanford and Son and suddenly she was at the hub of this new show. Phil Wheeler (Theodore Wilson) a widower with teenagers buys the house, the junkyard and Esther’s rooming house and tries to start a residential hotel. A month or so later, before he could even make his first payment, the show was done.

Another Day

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David Groh (who had played Rhoda’s husband) is Don Gardner, a struggling businessman who can’t make ends meet. His wife Ginny (Joan Hackett) has to get a job, and they both had to deal with their introverted son Mark (Al Eisenmann) and their extroverted daughter Kelly (Lisa Lindgren), as well as Don’s mom Olive (Hope Summers who had played Clara on The Andy Griffith Show) who is critical of all of them. Don struggled through a few episodes and was finished.

Apple Pie

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A lonely hairdresser played by Rue McClanahan named Ginger-Nell Hollyhock placed ads in the newspaper for a family. The family that she “found” included a daughter (Caitlin O’Heaney) who tap-danced, a son (Derrel Maury) who wanted to fly like a bird, an elderly grandfather (Jack Gilford), and con-artist Fast Eddie (Dabney Coleman). The show was set in Kansas City in 1933. It took place during the Depression and depression is what anyone watching felt, although the pain was fleeting. After one episode the network decided no one wanted this family.

Hanging In

This one was so bad they didn’t want any evidence so there are no photos.

Another flop came along with a star who had been another star’s spouse. Bill Macy who played Maude’s long-suffering husband starred in this show as Louis Harper, a former football hero who did not have the right credentials to be a university president. He has a desire to help the underprivileged, but the rest of the faculty is more concerned about raising money. Other cast members included high-pressure dean Maggie Gallager (Barbara Rhoades), PR man Sam Dickey (Dennis Burkley), and housekeeper Pinky Nolan (Nedra Volz). No finals for this series; it was cancelled after a few weeks.

Hizzoner

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David Huddleston plays Mayor Cooper who runs a small Midwestern town. The cast included the mayor’s secretary Ginny (Diana Muldaur), the mayor’s daughter (Kathy Cronkite, yes Walter’s daughter) and several other quirky characters. While the mayor is quite conservative, his children are left-wing liberals. Apparently, the mayor broke out into song at least once an episode. I guess, he was singing the blues because the show was cancelled after 7 episodes.

In the Beginning

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The year 1978 just keeps getting worse for television series. Father Daniel Cleary, played by McLean Stevenson, works in a community center in the heart of Baltimore. Sister Agnes (Priscilla Lopez) works with him. She loves her neighborhood; Father Cleary does not. She is fairly liberal and he is not. It ended almost before it began after seven episodes.

Miss Winslow & Son

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In this one, an unmarried woman (Darleen Carr) who is an art designer, decides rather than marry a man whom she doesn’t love, she will become a single mother after getting pregnant. Her next-door neighbor Mr. Neistadter (Roscoe Lee Browne) hates kids. Her wealthy and snobby parents are divided about her situation; her father (Elliot Reed) is much more sympathetic than her mother (Sarah Marshall). Before the baby had its first check-up, the show was off the air.

13 Queen’s Boulevard

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This show was about “a hilarious group of tenants in a garden complex in Queens, New York.” In the first episode, one of the tenants, Felicia Winters (Eileen Brennan) decides to host a class reunion and invites her best friend and spouse, her ex-husband, the class “sexpot,” Fat Hughie, and the class photographer. I don’t know what could possibly go wrong; however, not much went right since it was gone within two months.

Turnabout

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I get Freaky Friday, but in this series the husband and wife switch places. A magic statue allows them to inhabit each other’s bodies.  Sam Alston (John Schuck) is a sportswriter and his wife Penny (Sharon Gless) is a cosmetics executive. The couple tries to live both their own life and their spouse’s life whenever they switch back and forth. They also must focus on keeping the switch a secret. We never know who is who, and all the audience knew is they didn’t like either one of them, and the show was cancelled after a few weeks.

Waverly Wonders

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NBC decided Joe Namath would be a good person to build a sitcom around. However, he’s not a football player in this show; he’s a former pro basketball player, Joe Casey, who now teaches history at Waverly High in Wisconsin. Linda Harris (Gwynne Gilford) is the principal and Mr. Benton, who they call “Old Prune Face” (Ben Piazza) was the former coach. The only problem is Joe Casey is a bad history teacher and a bad coach. That apparently makes for a bad show because it was cancelled after three episodes aired, although nine were made.

Struck by Lightning

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If you think the concept of some of these shows was weird, wait to you hear about this one. Frank (Jack Elam) is the caretaker of an old inn in Massachusetts. A science teacher, Ted Stein (Jeffrey Kramer) inherits the inn and decides to sell it. Then he realizes that Frank was really a 231-year-old Frankenstein monster. Ted just happens to be the great-great-grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein. So, they decide to run the inn together. Rounding out the cast was Glenn (Bill Erwin) who had been living there forever, Nora (Millie Slavin) who managed the inn before Ted came, Noras son Brian (Jeff Cotler), and real estate agent Walt (Richard Stahl). Apparently, the only thing “great” about the show was Ted’s relationship to Frankenstein because the network canceled it after five episodes.

So, you might be wondering with all these awful shows, what made it on the air more than a couple of months during the late 1970s. In 1977 the only shows that made it to the next season were Three’s Company and Soap. In 1978 Mork and Mindy and Taxi were the “classics” followed by Diff’rent Strokes and WKRP in Cincinnati. Without Robin Williams, Mork and Mindy would probably have been another concept that would have lasted a couple of weeks. In 1979, out of 21 shows that debuted that fall, Facts of Life was the only one that returned for a second season. With the exception of Taxi and WKRP, I would not rate any of these shows true classics, although you could make a good case for Soap. Anyway, the bar was set pretty low for success during the late 1970s.

At least television viewers could go to the movies for a bit of entertainment.  This was the era of Animal House, Annie Hall, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Grease, Kramer vs Kramer, Rocky, Saturday Night Fever, and Smokey and the Bandit. Things stayed pretty glum on the small screen until 1982 when Cheers, Newhart, and Family Ties saved us.

Charles Lane: What a Character!

My blog theme for this month is “What a Character!” I am looking at the careers of four successful and hard-working actors. With 372 acting credits, perhaps there was no more prolific character actor than the beloved Charles Lane. He perfected the grumpy sourpuss always ready and gleeful to make life more complicated for others. His bio on imdb.com captures his type perfectly as the “scrawny, scowling, beady-eyed, beak-nosed killjoy who usually could be found peering disdainfully over a pair of specs, brought out many a comic moment simply by dampening the spirit of his nemesis.”

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However, despite that, we always knew there was more to him, and that his real persona was being covered up by his crotchety outward characteristics. His character Herman Bedloe on Petticoat Junction portrayed this dual-personality perfectly. Bedloe was always trying to shut down the train, but we knew he actually liked the Bradley family, and occasionally you would get a glimpse of the lonely and soft-hearted side of him.

He was born Charles Gerstle Levison in San Francisco in 1905. His family survived the 1906 earthquake. His father was an insurance executive, and Charles would follow in his footsteps for his first career.

Photo: newsfromme.com
The Music Man

A friend, actor Irving Pichel, convinced Lane to try his hand at acting, and Lane joined the Pasadena Playhouse in the late 1920s. His first movie was City Girl in 1930, and his last was Acting on Impulse in 1993. During those six decades he had a successful career in both television and Hollywood. In 1933, Lane became one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). In that year alone he made 23 films. There was an anecdote told about Lane that it was not uncommon for him to go to a movie, see himself on screen, and be surprised because he completely forgot he had been in the film. Starting out at $35 a day, by 1947 he was earning $750 a week.

His longest-running role was husband. In 1931 he married Ruth Covell; the couple had two children and were married until her death in 2002.

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It’s a Wonderful Life

Perhaps most people recognize Lane from his role of rent collector for Henry Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. Capra signed Lane to roles in ten of his movies. Lane was a corrupt attorney in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), an IRS agent in You Can’t Take It with You (1938), a newsman in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), a reporter in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), and Blink Moran in State of the Union (1948). Among his most-cherished possessions was a letter from Capra where he wrote “Well, Charlie, you’ve been my No. 1 crutch.” Other popular films he was in include The Ghost and Mr. Chicken; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; and The Music Man.

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You Can’t Take It with You

During World War II, Lane joined the Coast Guard. When he returned to civilian life, his television career took off. His first role was on Burns and Allen in 1951. During the 1950s, he appeared in more than 30 shows including Topper, The Thin Man, Perry Mason, and The Ann Sothern Show. He was often seen on Lucille Ball shows. He and Lucy had become friends when they both worked for RKO, and he had a great respect for Desi Arnaz’s acting ability.

Photo: imdb2freeforums.net
I Love Lucy

During this decade he was cast on the show Dear Phoebe in 1954. Peter Lawford starred in the show as a former college professor who writes an advice column under the name Miss Phoebe Goodheart. Meanwhile, his romantic interest is Mickey Riley portrayed by Marcia Henderson, the paper’s sports writer. Lane took on the role of Mr. Fosdick, their boss.

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The Andy Griffith Show

The 1960s found him on almost every popular show of that decade. Tuning in to your favorite series, you would spy Lane on Bachelor Father, Pete and Gladys, Mister Ed, The Andy Griffith Show, The Joey Bishop Show, Get Smart, The Bing Crosby Show, The Man from UNCLE, The Donna Reed Show, Green Acres, Bewitched, and The Wild, Wild West, among many others.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com
Gomer Pyle USMC

Lane had recurring roles on five shows during the 1960s. On Dennis the Menace, he was the pharmacist Mr. Finch. He also could be seen on his friend’s series, The Lucy Show as Mr. Barnsdahl, a local banker. The Phyllis Diller Show had a cast that should have made it a hit and from 1966-67, Lane played Maxwell. Although many characters appeared on both The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction, Lane had two different roles on the two series. He appeared in 24 episodes of Petticoat Junction between 1963-1968 as Homer Bedloe, a railroad executive who is always trying to find a reason to shut down the Cannonball. On the Beverly Hillbillies, he portrayed Foster Phinney.

Photo: filmstarfacts.com
Petticoat Junction

Lane continued with both his movie and television appearances throughout the 1970s, taking roles on The Doris Day Show, The Odd Couple, Family, Rhoda, Chico and the Man, and he continued his television appearances into the 1980s and 1990s with shows that included Mork and Mindy, St. Elsewhere, LA Law, and Dark Shadows.

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Bewitched

The decade of the seventies would find him cast in two additional series, Karen and Soap. Karen debuted in 1975, starring Karen Valentine as Karen Angelo. Karen works for an advocate group for the common American citizen, Open America, founded by Dale Busch, who was played by Lane. On Soap, Charles took on the role of Judge Petrillo who presided over Jessica Tate’s murder trial; however, because of Jessica’s husband, the judge lost $40,000 in a bad investment.

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Soap

Charles Lane was honored in 2005 when he turned 100. SAG proclaimed January 30 “Charles Lane Day,” and TV Land honored him in March for his long career. After receiving his award, he let it be known “in case anyone’s interested, I’m still available!”

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TV Lands Award March 2005

Despite his being typecast in cranky roles, friends and family described him as funny, kind, and warm-hearted. Lane’s one vice was smoking. In 1990 he was rushed to the hospital when he was having problems breathing. When the doctor asked if he smoked, Lane informed him he had kicked the habit . . . 45 minutes earlier. He never smoked again and he lived another 12 years, dying peacefully in 2007.

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Homer Bedloe

Although it’s tough on actors to be typecast so early in their career, it’s a double-edged sword, because it also provides a lot of opportunities for roles. Lane was an enigma; while he always convinced us that he was just as mean as could be, we also knew if someone would give him a chance, he could be reformed like Scrooge; he just needed the opportunity. It always makes me smile to come across Charles Lane in a move or television episode. It’s like seeing an old friend, or perhaps the neighbor who yelled at you to get off his yard. However, if you looked closely, you would see him watching and wanting to be part of the action. As you watch your favorite older classic shows, keep an eye open for him.

ALF: Amusing, Ludicrous, and Funny

April does begin with April Fool’s Day, so this month we take a look at a few shows I call oddly wonderful. Some of them may be odd, some wonderful and some oddly wonderful. You get to decide. These are shows that were very different but popular hits.

In 1963, My Favorite Martian came to earth to live with a news reporter, Tim O’Hara. In 1978, Mork landed on earth from Ork and lived with Mindy. In 1986, ALF, aka Gordon Shumway, crashed into the Tanners’ garage and moved in with the family. In all three series, the extraterrestrial tries to adapt to earthly ways and causes a lot of complications for the people he lives with.

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ALF aired in September of 1986 on NBC. Producer Bernie Brillstein was asked to catch Paul Fusco’s show with his puppet character. Brillstein had managed Jim Henson, so he knew something about this type of comedy. He thought ALF was hilarious and could be the center of a new sitcom. The company was Alien Productions; Fusco became a co-producer and Tom Patchett helped create the series, wrote the scripts, and directed the episodes. ALF produced 99 episodes (in syndication, it was 102 since there were three one-hour episodes during its time on the air).

ALF was one of the first sitcoms to use Dolby surround sound. The show was one of the most expensive sitcoms to produce because of the technical elements surrounding the puppet and the long tapings that developed. To try to help out with the expenses, ALF was licensed for a variety of toys, foods, and other types of merchandise. One fun fact is that every episode was the name of a song. Some of the shows were named, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, “Stayin’ Alive”, and “Gotta Be Me.”

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ALF (alien life form) was a sarcastic, sometimes overbearing, character from Melmac. The Tanners take him in to protect him after he crashes into their garage. Willie Tanner (Max Wright) is married to Kate (Anne Schedeen) and they had two children, Lynn (Andrea Elson) and Brian (Benji Gregory). The plan is for ALF to repair his spaceship and then leave. Later ALF learns that his planet was destroyed by nuclear war. Eventually he becomes part of the family as he develops affection for them and vice versa.

Of course, ALF causes no end of trouble for the Tanners. In one episode, Brian is building a model of the solar system as we know it. ALF reveals to him that there are two planets past Pluto which Brian includes and then gets in trouble for.

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Like Mork, as ALF becomes closer to the family, he is exposed to several of their friends and family. He is friends with Willie’s brother Neal (Jim Bullock), gets to know a psychologist Larry (Bill Daily), has a love-hate relationship with Kate’s mom, Dorothy (Anne Meara), and builds a relationship with a blind woman, Jody (Andrea Covell), who never realizes that ALF is not human.

ALF meant well and often was trying to help someone else when he caused many of his problems.

When Anne Schedeen became pregnant in real life, a baby was written into the show named Eric. ALF temporarily lives in the laundry room but eventually he and Willie convert the attic into a small apartment.

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ALF often talks about eating cats. On Melmac, cats are raised for food. However, he bonds with the Tanners’ cat Lucky and, when Lucky dies, he becomes very sad. He has one heart that is located in his right ear, and he has eight stomachs. ALF claims he came from a large family, his best friend growing up was Malhar Naik, his girlfriend was Rhonda, he attended high school for 122 years, and was captain of his bouillabaisseball team. The sport was played on ice but used fish parts as bats and balls, requiring nose plugs on warm days. Melmac apparently had blue grass, a green sky, and a purple sun.

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Despite the funny scripts and fond remembrances viewers had, it was a difficult show to work on. The human actors had trouble playing second fiddle to a puppet, and there were a lot of complications trying to film with ALF. The set was on high tension alert all the time. When the final scene was filmed, Max Wright, who had the hardest time adjusting to working with ALF, walked off the set and left without saying good-bye to anyone. Schedeen said “There was no joy on that set . . . it was a technical nightmare—extremely slow, hot and tedious.” A thirty-minute show could take 20-25 hours to shoot. Schedeen said she was fond of her screen children, but some adults on the show had difficult personalities. Later in life, Wright said he found out the show brought a lot of enjoyment to people and felt better about his time portraying Willie.

One of the issues was that the set was built on a four-foot platform with trap doors all over so ALF could appear anywhere. He was operated from underneath the set and the doors and holes could be treacherous. To avoid wear and tear on the real puppet, a stand-in was used to rehearse named RALF (rehearsal alien life form).

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Luckily, none of all the problems behind the scenes leaked out to the public. The show was popular in season one. In season two, it reached number five. It continued to hold its own in season three, with tenth place. However, season four saw a sharp decline and the show came in at 39th. In March of 1990, NBC moved the show from Monday to Saturday, but the ratings continued to decline.

The show had one of the most interesting endings in sitcom history. The production team hoped by having a cliffhanger at the end of season four, they could convince the network to bring it back for a fifth season, but it did not work that way. The Tanners take ALF to a field where an aircraft is going to reclaim him. Suddenly he’s circled by a group of military automatons. No one knew if he would be taken to Area 51 or escape. Viewers were left wondering what happened to ALF. NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff later admitted to Fusco they had cancelled the show prematurely.

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Six years later, ABC aired a movie, Project: ALF. None of the original cast was in the film. The movie was not well received.

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However, the movie was not the end of ALF. The character has had more lives than all the cats he ever ate combined. Marvel Comics developed a series of books in 1987 which ran for four years with 50 issues. An animated cartoon that aired Saturday mornings which was a prequel to the show also ran for a couple of years.

One of the most unexpected outcomes of the show and, in my opinion, one of the funniest, was ALF’s talk show which aired on TV Land. ALF was a talk show host with none other than Ed McMahon as his sidekick. It was on for only seven episodes but featured guests like Drew Carey and Merv Griffin.

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Believe it or not, it didn’t end there. In 1987 while the show was still on the air, ALF appeared on an episode of Matlock. He was in an episode of Blossom when he denies her entrance to heaven in a dream. He was the only extra terrestrial to appear on The Love Boat: The Next Wave. He was a regular on Hollywood Squares. In addition to a bunch of other shows, he appeared on Good Morning America in 2011, on The Simpsons several times, twice on Family Guy, once in Young Sheldon, and a stuffed animal ALF was in a Big Bang Theory show. The guys buy a box at a garage sale after following someone they think could be Adam West. One of the items in the box is the ALF doll.

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In addition to shows, ALF appeared in a variety of commercials including telephones, Delta Airlines, Super Bowl XLV, and Radio Shack.

If all that is not enough, in August of 2018, Variety reported that there was a possible ALF reboot coming from Warner Brothers. One of the rumored ideas is that ALF would emerge from Area 51 into a world that has drastically changed, somewhat like Austin Powers, I guess.

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I’m not sure that it would be a good idea to bring ALF back. The original is a classic and extremely funny if you aren’t aware of all the background tension. I think we’ll let the show speak for itself. Here is a typical example of the conversations that Willie and ALF had around the breakfast table.

Willie: You can’t vote, ALF, you’re not a citizen.

ALF: I’ll apply for a green card.

Willie: That’s only if you want a job.

ALF: Pass. (After a pause) I know, I’ll marry Lynn, become a citizen, and then drop her like a hot potato.

Willie: ALF . . .

ALF: Sure, it will be hard on her at first. She’ll cry, drink a little too much, join up with a bongo player named Waquine.

Willie: ALF

ALF: You’d like Waquine, he doesn’t like beets.

Willie: Neither you nor Waquine may marry my daughter and you may not vote.

ALF: Fine, I won’t have a voice in government. Waquine will get deported, and they’ll make him eat beets.

Willie: How many cups of coffee have you had today?

ALF: Forty. Why?

“Oh, Millie”: The Career of Ann Morgan Guilbert

Anyone who watched the Dick Van Dyke Show knows that the supporting cast was a big part of the show. While Sally and Buddy helped Rob come up with the perfect jokes at work, Millie and Laura were a great comedy team at home. Ann Guilbert continued to find other great supporting roles after the show ended. She was still fine-tuning those roles when she passed away in 2016. She was then playing a grandmother on Life in Pieces.

Ann Morgan Guilbert was born in Minneapolis, MN in 1928. She was an only child and her father worked for the Veterans’ Administration. He moved the family around for jobs quite often. Growing up, she lived in Tucson, AZ; Asheville, NC; Livermore, CA; and El Paso, TX. The family was in Milwaukee, WI during her high school years.

Until she was 14, Ann wanted to be a nurse, but from that time on, she knew she had the acting bug.

When her father took a job in San Francisco, Ann decided to go with her parents and attended Stanford University where she majored in theater arts. Her first part there was as Topsy in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” She realized that she liked to make people laugh.

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While in school, she met fellow major George Eckstein. They married in 1951. Although they majored in theater arts, George went to law school and Ann worked as a legal secretary. During the summer when George was off, they went to Ashland, Oregon for the Shakespeare Festival where she specialized in playing “nutty” ladies. George was drafted and sent to El Paso; Ann went with him. She was involved in the Little Theater there.

When Ann joined the Screen Actors Guild, there was an actress named Ann Gilbert, so Ann was asked to change her name. She went with her real name, Ann Morgan Guilbert. Morgan was her mother’s maiden name. (Her mother was related to Mayflower passenger William Brewster.)

George practiced law for a short time and decided he wanted to get back into the entertainment business. He got a job producing The Billy Barnes Revue. Ann had a part in the show and Carl Reiner saw her in that performance in two different cities.

Before The Dick Van Dyke Show, Guilbert made three appearances on television on My Three Sons, Hennessey, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Jerry Paris, who played her husband on The Dick Van Dyke Show, had been a friend of her and her husband for a long time. He took Ann in to audition for the role of Millie, his wife. She was hired and was on the show for the entire five years it was on the air. Millie was based on one of Reiner’s neighbors from New York who would do things like take out the garbage on the wrong day or paint herself into a corner of a room. She said she wasn’t given a contract for the first two years. During the third season, Reiner wanted to provide her with one, but she said things had been going along well enough.

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Ann became pregnant early in the first season. She was afraid to tell Reiner, worrying she would be replaced because it was so early in the show’s life. However, he was very happy for her, and they hid her pregnancy behind large tops or props. That baby is actress Hallie Todd, who is best known as Lizzie’s mother on Lizzie McGuire. George and Ann would have another daughter Nora, an acting teacher and writer.

Ann’s favorite part of the show was Thursdays when the cast would sit around the table with the writers to look at the new script. Ann thought their writers were hysterical. Some of them included Reiner, Garry Marshall (who would go on to create The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and Mork and Mindy), as well as Bill Persky and Sam Denoff (who wrote for many shows, including That Girl.) Everyone had a say in the script and could throw out one-liners or make suggestions.

The Dick Van Dyke Show ended in 1966 and that same year George and Ann divorced. George was best known for being the writer and producer of The Fugitive.

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Guilbert said she never watched the reruns much. She recalled, “When I do see them, it seems like it never happened. I just can’t remember it at all.” Once the show ended, Ann, like so many fellow actresses, was typecast as Millie. During the 1970s and 1980s, she would guest star on some of the best sitcoms on the air including The Andy Griffith Show, I Dream of Jeannie, Room 222, The Partridge Family, Love American Style, Barney Miller, Cheers, and Newhart.

In 1969 Ann married character actor Guy Raymond. About that time, she decided to give Broadway a try. Her daughter said Ann loved performing on stage and that is when she felt her career was most important. She appeared in “The Matchmaker,” “Arsenic and Old Lace”, “Waiting for Godot”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Harvey”, “Green Grow the Lilacs”, among others. She won the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Non-Resident Production in 1988 for her role of Alma in “The Immigrant: A Hamilton County Album”.

She also appeared in eight movies during her career including A Guide for the Married Man, Viva Max!, and Grumpier Old Men.

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But Guilbert didn’t give up on television. In 1990, she starred in The Fanelli Boys. Ann played Teresa Fanelli. She is a recent widow living in Brooklyn and heading for Florida to live when her adult boys all move back in. Frankie is a ladies’ man, Ronnie dropped out of school, Dom is a scammer, and Anthony runs the family business, a funeral home which is $25,000 is debt. Teresa’s brother Angelo is a priest who gives advice to the boys, but not always good advice.

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She made several guest appearances in the 1990s but had recurring roles on Empty Nest, Picket Fences, and Seinfeld.

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The role many younger tv fans know her best is Yetta in The Nanny. She would join the cast, appearing in 56 shows between 1993 and 1999. She had fun doing the role. When she met with the wardrobe staff, they decided she would dress outrageously. She was able to wear sequined jackets, jazzy pants, and crazy tops. She also appreciated working with Ray Charles, who played her boyfriend.

During this time, her second husband passed away in 1997.

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Ann would continue guesting on shows into the 2000s, including Grey’s Anatomy in 2015 and Modern Family in 2013. She also was cast in the show Getting On from 2013-2015. This was a dark comedy on HBO that took place in the geriatric wing of a financially failing hospital. Laurie Metcalf of Roseanne and The Big Bang also was part of the cast.

MODERN FAMILY – “ClosetCon ’13” – With some urging from Claire, Jay begrudgingly agrees to return to ClosetCon this year, and things get interesting when Jay is reunited with some old colleagues. Cam takes Mitch and Lily to the Tucker family farm for the first time and is excited to fold them into country life, that is until Grams pays an unexpected visit. And back at home, Phil, Gloria and the kids get into some mischief involving Jay’s very delicate Apollo 13 spacecraft model, on “Modern Family,” WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 20 (9:00-9:31 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Ron Tom) ANN GUILBERT

Her last series was Life in Pieces. She played Gigi, Joan’s mother. She was in two episodes before she passed away in 2016. One of the episodes, “Eyebrow Anonymous Trapped Gem” was dedicated to her memory. In a tribute to her, each of the four stories involve her character.

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Unfortunately, her Yetta character and Ann both refused to give up smoking.

Her doctor had been trying to convince her to give up her several-pack-a-day cigarette habit, but she refused and talked about it often. She died from cancer at age 87.

Cheers to a funny lady who kept us laughing for more than fifty years.

Sheldon Leonard: A True TV Pioneer

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The Depression changed the course of Sheldon Leonard’s life. He was born in Manhattan to Jewish parents. He went to Syracuse University on an athletic scholarship. While there, he was president of the dramatics club. His degree was in finance, and he landed a job at a prestigious brokerage firm. Then the Depression hit, and he was out of a job. He had to fall back on the only other skill he could think of which was acting.

In 1931 he married Frances Bober whom he was married until his death. They would have two children.

Acting was not quick money either though. It took five years until he landed his first major Broadway role in Hotel Alimony in 1934. It did not have a long run, but his next two shows were more successful: Having a Wonderful Time in 1937 and Kiss the Boys Goodbye in 1938.

 

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He then entered film work. He had several very small roles in a couple of movies and a couple of shorts, but in 1939 he was cast in Another Thin Man, the popular movie series with William Powell and Myrna Loy. That began his career as a heavy, often being cast as a gangster. He would appear in To Have and Have Not with Bogie and Bacall in 1944. In 1946 he was cast as the bartender in It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Because it has become a Christmas staple, it has brought Sheldon a lot of recognition. Sheldon would appear in 74 movies during his career, 69 of them by 1952.

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During this time, he also gave radio a try. He was working on both sides of the mic. He sold scripts to several shows including Broadway is My Beat. He also portrayed his stereotyped gangster role on many shows including as Grogan on The Phil Harris, Alice Faye Show. You could hear him on Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Bob Hope, Duffy’s Tavern, the Halls of Ivy, and The Judy Canova Show, among others.

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It was only a matter of time before Sheldon took his talents to television. He appeared in four episodes of Your Jeweler’s Showcase in 1952. In addition, he was listed as producer and director for several of these episodes. He appeared in I Love Lucy in 1953 as vacuum salesman Harry Martin and several I Married Joan episodes in 1952-53. One of my favorites was his role as Johnny Velvet on Burns and Allen when he kidnaps Gracie but takes her back because she drives him crazy. In 1954 he co-starred in The Duke which lasted 13 episodes.  This show featured an artistic boxer who leaves the ring to open a nightclub. Sheldon also directed the pilot as well as some early episodes of Lassie and The Real McCoys.

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However, the show that made him a household name was his director/producer role on Make Room for Daddy, Danny Thomas’s hit sitcom. The show was in the top ten, and Sheldon even found time to appear on the show 19 times. The show continued from 1953-1964. Leonard had found his sweet spot. During his career, he would direct and produce shows such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle USMC, I Spy.

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Sheldon convinced Carl Reiner to step back from acting as Rob Petrie and produce The Dick Van Dyke Show. That conversation resulted in Dick Van Dyke accepting the role and 158 episodes. If you watch carefully, you will notice Sheldon appearing twice on the show in minor roles. The show was nominated for 25 Emmys and won 15.

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Sheldon also is credited with creating the spinoff. One of Danny Thomas’s episodes was set in North Carolina where he gets picked up for speeding in a rural town and has a run-in with Sheriff Andy Taylor. This episode turned into the long-running The Andy Griffith Show which was on the air from 1960-1968 netting 249 episodes. The show won 6 of the 9 Emmys it was nominated for.

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The spinoff was so successful he did it again, moving Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle from the gas station attendant on The Andy Griffith Show to his own show, Gomer Pyle USMC. That show was on the air for five years (150 episodes), and Sheldon would also make an appearance there as Norman Miles.

Thomas and Leonard (L&T Productions) were also behind the The Joey Bishop Show and The Bill Dana Show. Thomas and Leonard’s shows were notable for emphasizing the characters and relationships over slapstick or situation comedy. You cared about the characters even when they were a little kooky like Gomer Pyle or Barney Fife. They were committed to high-quality scripts. Many of the writers they employed went on to successful shows of their own including Danny Arnold for Barney Miller; Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson for The Odd Couple, Happy Days, and Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy; and Bill Persky and Sam Denoff for That Girl and Kate and Allie. L&T Productions ended in 1965.

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In the mid-1960s Sheldon produced I Spy. He cast Bill Cosby and Robert Culp as secret agents.  This was the first series to star a black actor in a lead role. In a March 7, 2016 Modern Times article, David Fantle and Tom Johnson discussed Sheldon Leonard and I Spy. Leonard said he knew what he was doing. “Race was very much an issue at that time,” he said. “I was intellectually conscious of it, but emotionally unaware of it. When I say emotionally unaware, I mean I was free to think of Cosby as the man to fill the slot I needed. Intellectually I knew the problems I’d have to face to get him on the air.” I Spy was a humorous suspense show and was known for its exotic locations, filming in countries such as Hong Kong, England, Morocco, France, and Greece among others. The critics rewarded Leonard. The show was nominated for Outstanding Dramatic Series Emmy every year of its three-year run and earned Leonard an Emmy nomination for directing in 1965.

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Sheldon was also the producer behind Accidental Family and Good Morning World, both shows debuting in 1967 and ending in 1968 and My World and Welcome to It in 1969. Accidental Family was about a widower  who is a stand-up comedian. He buys a California farm which is managed by Sue Kramer who is also his son’s governess and his love interest. Good Morning World was about morning disc jockeys in LA. One is happily married, and one is a ladies’ man. Goldie Hawn was the next-door neighbor and Billy De Wolfe was their boss. On My World and Welcome To It, John Monroe is a married man with a daughter. He frequently daydreams and fantasizes about life. This show was unusual in that it included some animation along with the live action.

 

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In the Fantle and Johnson article referenced above, Leonard also talked about his favorite sitcom. He said his favorite might be the one that needed the most attention. “My favorite show was cancelled after the first year. My World and Welcome to It, based on the writings of James Thurber and starring William Windom. It won every award, and they cancelled . . . It was satire and above their (the network bosses’) heads. That show and I Spy are my favorites.”

In the early 1970s Sheldon would produce From a Bird’s Eye View and Shirley’s World. From a Bird’s Eye View was a sitcom about two stewardesses, Millie from England and Maggie from America. Millie was always getting into mischief and Maggie bailed her out. Shirley’s World starred Shirley MacLaine as a photographer who travels the world for her London-based magazine. The locales were similar to I Spy.

 

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In 1975 Sheldon starred in a new sitcom, Big Eddy which only lasted for ten episodes. He was Eddie Smith was the owner of the Big E Sports Arena in New York. He was an ex-gambler fighting the impulse to get back into it. He has a bunch of eccentric people in his life including his ex-stripper wife Honey and their granddaughter Ginger.

In the 1980s, Sheldon would continue to show up on various television shows, appearing in Sanford and Son, The Cosby Show, Matlock, Murder She Wrote, and Cheers.

Along with author Mickey Spillane, Leonard was one of the first two people to become a Miller Lite spokesman. In his New York accent, he tells the audience, “I was at first reluctant to try Miller Lite, but then I was persuaded to do so by my friend, Large Louis.”

Sheldon Leonard passed away at the age of 89 in 1997. His wife Frances passed away in 1999.

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Sheldon Leonard is undoubtedly one of the greatest television producers. Most of his shows were consistently in the top ten. They are classic shows still seen today on Me TV and Antenna TV.  Sheldon required scripts that brought characters to life. He created spinoffs when he believed in the characters. He was not afraid to take risks. Besides casting Bill Cosby, he cast Lois Nettleton as divorced Sue Kramer on Accidental Family. This was in the mid-1960s and yet when Mary Tyler Moore’s show aired in 1970, the network refused to allow her to be a divorced character.

In the Mercurie Blogspot from November 10, 2013, Carl Reiner discusses Leonard: “Sheldon has mentored more people in our business than anyone else I know. He knew how to teach what he knew, and what he knew was situation comedy with the three-camera technique. Sheldon was a producing genius who understood comedy. He had four or five shows going, but he would walk in and give his intelligence and his time to every script that was being read for the week. And we always came away with a better script because we would discuss and argue and come to a better situation.”

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Garry Marshall was also quoted in this same article: “Sheldon was a sort of man’s man, yet he had all the creative sensitivity of the artist. No matter what story you were working on, he could help you fix it. He would never put down your idea. If I had to describe Sheldon in one word, it would be gentleman. He was a Renaissance man with a New York accent—and possibly a gun!”

 

The Herb Garden Germination

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As a salute to Leonard, the writers of The Big Bang Theory, named their main characters Sheldon and Leonard in honor of Sheldon Leonard.

 

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Sheldon himself seems to explain his success best. After working on his memoir in 1995, And the Show Goes On: Broadway and Holiday Adventures, he said “I was driven by an urge to survive and being very self-indulgent. I never did anything for very long that I didn’t like or enjoy. I would survive only on my own terms. I had to enjoy what I was doing, and I would have done what I did even if nobody paid me. That’s the secret of success in any business: do it well and enjoy doing it.”

 

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He did it all well, and we all enjoyed it.

A Tribute To The Man Who Created So Many Happy Days For All Of Us

Today we get to honor one of my all-time favorites in the celebrity world – Garry Marshall.  By all accounts, whatever you read, he was hilarious, humble, and hard-working.  He was known as a family man, always putting them first. Let’s learn a little bit about his life.

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His Early Life

Garry Kent Marshall was born in The Bronx, New York on November 13, 1934, the son of Anthony Wallace Marshall, a director and producer of industrial films, and Marjorie Irene, a  teacher who ran a tap dance school. His father changed his last name from Masciarelli to Marshall before Garry was born.

Marshall had a typical childhood which included “the usual bruised knees, runny nose, dead frogs and stolen bases.” But he said his formative years were primarily devoted to discovering girls, making people laugh, and learning to play drums. “When I was growing up, there were three drummers I admired: Gene Krupa, Max Roach, and this little girl drummer in my school who used to blow in my ear after practice.”

His brother is Ronny Marshall Hallin, a television producer; his sister is Penny Marshall, actress and director; and his brother-in-law for ten years was Rob Reiner, actor and director.

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He decided to attend Northwestern University to major in journalism.  After graduation, he was drafted into the Army and sent to Korea as part of the Special Services.  He was able to write and produce shows which set him on a new career path once he returned to the United States. Discussing his service, he said, “The lowest musical experience of my life came when I was in the Army. I was a solo marching snare drummer and kept cadence for my battalion. One day while my battalion was marching, I was playing so badly that the Captain shot a hole through my drum with a .45 revolver.”

Garry moved to New York after the Army and met Fred Freeman.  The two of them began writing together.  To support himself while his writing career got underway, Garry supplemented his income playing drums and writing for the Daily News sports department.

His TV Production Career

Marshall began his career as a joke writer for comedians and became a writer for The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. He eventually secured a staff writing position on The Joey Bishop Show. There he met Jerry Belson in 1961, with whom he would go on to write two feature films, a Broadway play, and episodes for a variety of TV series including The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Lucy Show, and I Spy.

In 1963, he married Barbara and they would have three children.

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Marshall and Belson’s first television series as creator-producers was Hey, Landlord, which lasted one season (1966–67).

Their next series was more successful. They adapted Neil Simon’s play The Odd Couple for television. Felix Unger and Oscar Madison are total opposites but best friends.  Garry’s sister Penny would play Myrna in the show.

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Marshall continued to borrow from The Odd Couple throughout his career. Over and over again he employed the comic device of coupling two distinctly different characters: the hip and the square on Happy Days, the earthling and the Orkan on Mork and Mindy, the rich and the poor on Angie, and, later, the businessman and the prostitute in the movie Pretty Woman.

Most of his hit television series were created and executive produced by him. Rather than forming his own independent production company, which had become standard procedure for producers at the time, Marshall remained at Paramount to make a succession of hit situation comedies for ABC. By the end of the 1978-79 season, four of the five highest-rated shows of the year were Marshall’s.

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In the Norman Lear era, when series like All in the Family tackled social issues, Marshall focused on younger viewers with lighter, more escapist fare, most of it set in the supposedly simpler past. In an interview reprinted in American Television Genres (1985), Marshall recalled that, after producing the adult-oriented Odd Couple, he had been anxious to make shows “that both kids and their parents could watch.”

His philosophy to get younger viewers: “You have to do something silly to get their attention. Then I like to knock them off their chairs with laughter. I go for the gut. I want them to laugh hard.  I don’t want them quietly staring at a bright, witty show.”

Happy Days debuted as a series in January of 1974, and by the 1976-77 season it was the most popular show on TV. Most people don’t realize this, but the show began as a skit on Love American Style, and I remember watching it when it aired the first time. The show was set in Milwaukee in the 1950s, focusing on a group of high school friends; the Cunningham family; and Fonzie, the cool guy in town.

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Regarding Fonzie, Marshall said, “I knew that if I could get him over the garage, I could get him into the kitchen; he could become a member of the family.”

He worked with a variety of his family members throughout his career. His mother appeared in the Happy Days episode, Happy Days: Beauty Contest as “Mrs. Weiss,” the piano player.

Laverne and Shirley was a spin-off of Happy Days.  Two friends, Brewery workers, get involved in various kinds of trouble.  Marshall explained his idea for the show: “No one else on TV is doing early Lucy.  The other ladies on sitcoms are classy – they’re well off, smart, and they dress well. Laverne and Shirley are definitely not classy. They’re blue collar workers who went to work right after high school.  They’re decent people.”

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Happy Days would produce two more shows in Joanie Loves Chachi that explored the life of Joannie Cunningham and Fonz’s nephew Chachi after high school as they tried to figure out their relationship and Mork and Mindy, a show starring Robin Williams and Pam Dawber about an alien living in Colorado.

In a future blog, we’ll dig a bit deeper into Marshall’s television shows.

His Acting Career

A la Hitchcock, Marshall turns up as an uncredited actor in the background, occasionally appearing in cameos on his own hit TV shows.

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On Dick Van Dyke, he appeared as referee in a 1965 episode and a bartender in a 1966 episode. If you look closely, you will see him as a random man in three Odd Couple episodes. He showed up as a drummer in two Laverne and Shirley shows and on a Happy Days episode.

He had a small re-occurring part on Murphy Brown and provided the voice for two Simpsons shows (“Eight Misbehavin’” and “Homer the Father”).

In 2014, Marshall appeared in a guest star role in a Two and a Half Men.

He continued to show up in comedies until his death, the last one being Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

When he made the switch to movies, he continued to find small roles for himself. He plays a first baseman in  Runaway Bride, an audition director in Beaches, and a bum in Pretty Woman. It seems there was no part too small. He also played his real-life sister’s husband in Hocus Pocus in 1993.

His Directing Career

His career as a film director was just as impressive, yielding several gems and cult classics, from Pretty Woman to Runaway Bride to The Princess Diaries.

In the early 1980s, he met Héctor Elizondo while playing basketball and they became great friends. Marshall was known for his obsession with basketball: his contract often obligated studios to provide a basketball court on his film locations.

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Elizondo appeared in every film that Marshall directed, beginning with his first feature film Young Doctors in Love. Elizondo once noted that he is written into all of Marshall’s contracts whether he wanted to do the film or not.

In the opening credits of Exit to Eden (their eighth film together), Elizondo is credited “As Usual … Hector Elizondo.” In 1984, Marshall had a film hit as the writer and director of The Flamingo Kid. He later produced Nothing in Common with Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason and Overboard with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.

In 1988, he directed the legendary weepie Beaches, starring Barbara Hershey and Bette Midler.

Although he was original choice to direct Sleepless in Seattle, Nora Ephron ended up with the job. His most famous movie as director also won him an Oscar nomination for Pretty Woman in 1990.

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Pretty Woman star Richard Gere said of Marshall in Variety: “He was a mentor and a cheerleader and one of the funniest men who ever lived. He had a heart of the purest gold and a soul full of mischief.”

Some people might be surprised to find out that Garry was the director for The Princess Diaries and The Princess Diaries 2 starring Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews.  Garry considers Julie Andrews one of his favorite actresses because “she could act, she can sing, she’s a lady who can curse with perfect diction.”

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He seemed to be surrounded by family whether at home or work.  In his last movie, Mother’s Day, he re-united with Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, and, of course, Hector Elizondo. His sister Penny provided narration; his son Scott helped direct; and his wife, Barbara, a nurse, played a nurse in the film. (“She has her own costume,” Marshall joked.) There were also a few grandchildren  included in certain scenes.

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Awards

When he gave a speech upon accepting the Lifetime Achievement Prize given at the American Comedy Awards in 1990, Marshall said, “If television is the education of the American people, then I am recess.”

In addition, he received the Valentine Davies Award (1995), the Women in Film Lucy Award in recognition of excellence and innovation in creative works that have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television, the Television Hall of Fame for his contributions to the field of television in 1997, the National Association of Broadcasters’ Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2012, the Laurel Award for TV Writing Achievement in 2014, as well as a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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Conclusion

On the morning of July 19, 2016, Marshall died at a hospital in Burbank, California at the age of 81 due to complications of pneumonia after suffering a stroke.

Robin Williams’s daughter Zelda wrote, “RIP Garry. You forever changed my father’s life, and thus, mine. Thank you for capturing so much joy on film, over and over.”

Henry Winkler tweeted, “Larger than life, funnier than most, wise and the definition of a friend.”

“How could one individual work parts of seven decades in the entertainment industry and make zero enemies?” Ron Howard asked, “Garry achieved that, and it was the result of his absolute integrity as a man and as an artist.”

Garry Marshall was an amazing and talented man.  He was a family man above all else.  He was an actor with 84 credits, a writer with 40 credits, a producer with 31 credits, and a director with 30 credits.  He was a drummer and a journalist.  His career covered more than six decades and his star was shining bright when he left show business.

He will be remembered for creating television shows that touched viewers and drew them into the world their characters inhabited.  We rooted for all of them and looked forward to spending time with them each week.  He created some of the most memorable characters on television. He also provided many lovable movies for our DVD collections with Pretty Woman at the top of the list.

HAPPY DAYS, from left: Penny Marshall, Robin Williams, Henry Winkler, 1974-84.

He wrote My Happy Days in Hollywood in 2012.  This is one of my all-time favorite classic television era autobiographies.  On one of our vacations we listened to Garry read the audio book version.  He not only discusses his successes but admits to all his screw ups and mistakes as well.  It’s a refreshingly honest account by a down-to-earth and humble man.  It’s one of the best ways to get to know this fascinating guy and is a wonderful tribute to a man who quietly influenced generations of actors and actresses. Here are a few of the reviews written by those people.

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“Garry Marshall is walking entertainment. He is smart, insightful, funny…and so is his book.” ―Henry Winkler

“Even though he speaks slowly with a distinctive New Yorkese Bronx accent, he has managed to quickly create, write, and produce a raft of beloved television series that speak ‘American’. I am happy that he gifted us with a witty memoir (about his Happy Days in Hollywood).” ―Carl Reiner

“Thanks to my brother I have a life.  I’m sorry I almost ruined his during Laverne & Shirley.” ―Penny Marshall

“I never thought my fairy godmother would look―or sound―like Garry. He is a gift of a human being, and this book is wicked sweet.” ―Anne Hathaway
 
“Garry Marshall is one of the most beloved and talented people I know…and maybe the most normal guy in the business. This wonderful biography will allow readers to discover for themselves the decent and kind man who writes and directs with such a huge heart—all grounded from humble beginnings in The Bronx. This is a must-read book.” —Julie Andrews
 
“Garry Marshall is quite simply one of my favorite people. He is loving, loyal, and hilarious! Having made movies with Garry when I was 20, 30, and 40…I guess you could say Garry and Barbara have raised me! In a time where people have lost touch with things to laugh about, this book is sure to be a cure.” —Julia Roberts

 

 

 

 

Shelly Fabares: A Life Spent in the Entertainment Industry

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Michele Ann Marie (Shelly) Fabares was born in 1944 in California.  She began acting at 3 and at age 10 she appeared in her first television show. Her aunt was the actress Nanette Fabray who also began acting as a child, and then went on to musical theater.

During the 1950s, Shelly appeared in several television shows including Annie Oakley, The Loretta Young Show, and the Twilight Zone, in addition to 8 others. She was part of the cast of Annette in 1958, playing Moselle Corey.  The star of the show was Annette Funicello.  She is an orphan who grew up in the country and now lives with her wealthy aunt and uncle, not fitting into the snobby community. The show was cancelled after 19 episodes. Annette was a life-long friend of Shelly’s. They met in seventh grade, and Shelly was at her bedside when she passed away from multiple sclerosis in 2013.

Later that year she was offered the part of Mary Stone on The Donna Reed Show. The show was on the air seven years. Shelly left the show in 1963 to pursue a film career but stayed close to the cast, especially Donna Reed who was a second mother to her. Paul Petersen and Fabares both described how amazing Donna Reed and Carl Betz were during their time on the show.  Realizing how tough the industry can be for young kids, they protected them and loved them as second parents. Both Shelly and Petersen pursued their music interests on the Donna Reed Show. In 1962, she recorded “Johnny Angel” which went to number 1 on the Billboard 100.

Shelly appeared in 13 films in the 1950s and 1960s, including three with Elvis Presley—Girl Happy in 1965, Spinout in 1966, and Clambake in 1967. She also appeared on television on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Daniel Boone, Lancer, and Bracken’s World. Shelly married Lou Adler in 1964.

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Her acting career continued to skyrocket in the 1970s.  She appeared as Joy Piccolo in Brian’s Song in 1971. She appeared in 26 television shows, three of them regular series. The Brian Keith Show was on the air from 1972-74. Keith was Dr. Sean Jamison and Shelly played his daughter, Dr. Ann Jamison.  The two of them ran a free pediatric clinic in Hawaii financed by a wealthy patron. Sticking with the medical theme, she joined the cast of The Practice in 1976-77 working with Danny Thomas. She played Jenny Bedford, the daughter of Dr. Jules Bedford. At the end of the decade she tried another sitcom, Highcliff Manor, which only lasted 6 episodes. I don’t remember this sitcom, but it seems an odd one: the manor, owned by Fabares’ character, Helen Blacke, was home to the Blacke Foundation, a research institute staffed by an eclectic group of eccentric characters. It sounds a bit like Scorpion, maybe just a couple decades’ too early.

She continued working on television in the 1980s, appearing on Fantasy Island, Mork and Mindy, Matt Houston, The Love Boat, Newhart, and Murder She Wrote.  She joined the cast of One Day at a Time, playing Francine Webster between 1978-1984. She also made the movie Hot Pursuit in 1987. The description of the movie is that young Danny is following his rich girlfriend’s family to the Caribbean. But suddenly he simply must take a chemistry test and cannot go with them. After they have left, he gets a leave from his professor and takes a plane to find them. But he is not quite sure where they are, and meets smugglers, crazy captains, and murderers. Fabares’ marriage to Lou Adler legally ended in 1980, although they had been separated since 1966. In 1984, she married M*A*S*H star Mike Farrell.

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Entering her 5th decade of acting, she made her last film, Love or Money in 1990. She continued her television work appearing in A Whole New Ballgame and the Justice League.  She also had a regular gig providing the voice for Martha Kent in Superman from 1996-99. In addition to the Donna Reed Show, the show that Fabares is best known for was Coach which ran throughout most of the 90s, from 1989-1997. As Christine Armstrong, she is the girlfriend, and later, wife of Coach Hayden Fox, played by Craig T. Nelson.  The show revolves around the football team that Fox coaches.  He lives for sports while Christine is not the least interested.  This causes a bit of friction and miscommunication in their relationship.

Fabares had a long and full career.  While her career kept her busy, she had to deal with several major life situations:

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Donna Reed, her second mother, passed away in 1986 from pancreatic cancer.  Shelly adored Donna, and Donna’s final words were to make sure Shelly’s birthday gift was wrapped and delivered.

At the same time Reed was dying, Fabares’ mother was suffering from Alzheimers.

In 2000, Shelly needed a liver transplant because she had autoimmune hepatitis.

She had to deal with the death of her life-long friend Annette Funicello in 2013.

Few actors can begin acting as a child, transition into teen parts, transition into movie roles, and then continue acting as an adult in sitcom series, but she did that beautifully. Hopefully she and hubby Mike Farrell continue to enjoy a long and well-deserved retirement.

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Married . . . with Children

The title is the only reference I’ll be making to that 1980s show.  In honor of our 29th anniversary today, I thought I would look at sitcoms dealing primarily with marriage.  Surprisingly, there have not been as many as one would think.  It’s amazing how many sitcoms are about single parents, families, friends, or co-workers.  If there are any similarities between our married life and Al and Peg Bundy’s life, I really don’t want to know about them.  So, let’s look at a few sitcoms that did focus on blessed unions.

The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show – George Burns and Gracie Allen filmed 120 episodes for their television series.  They were married in real life, and the set design for the show was based on their real-life home. Gracie was zany, but her literal perspective of the way life worked made uncanny sense.  George loved Gracie and knew that she was the center of his marriage and career. George was very generous and made numerous gifts to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center which is at the intersection of George Burns Road and Gracie Allen Drive. I love looking at marriage that way – it’s an intersection found at the center of a very diverse couple.

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I Love Lucy – In 1953, I Love Lucy joined the Monday night line-up with The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. Lucy and Ricky (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) are probably the most famous married couple. For six years, they took ordinary situations and exaggerated them. Lucy’s hare-brained schemes created an endless source of comedy. However, the problems with couple faced were believable, and they were the same problems other young couples were facing the first couple years of marriage like how to pay the rent, buying a new dress, and dealing with in-laws.

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Pete and Gladys – Starring Harry Morgan and Cara Williams, this was one of, if not the first, spinoff.  Pete Porter was a neighbor featured on December Bride for six years.  When the show went off the air, we finally met Gladys, his wife.  He was an affectionate and caring husband and she was a very nice homemaker.  Unfortunately, the show only lasted two seasons, although Harry Morgan went on to star in many television shows.

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The Dick Van Dyke Show – Dick and Laura Petrie (Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore) showed us an intimate side of married life for five years.  They were funny and had an interesting life.  Sometimes they even watched a bit of television at night.  They were a couple who admitted they were a bit insecure about parenting.  They worked through their problems with humor and logic. Although Dick was a writer and Laura a stay-at-home mom, they were equal intellectuals and that was the basis of their relationship.

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The Bob Newhart Show – Bob and Emily Hartley (Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette) were another couple who were intellectual equals.  They were funny, understanding, and warm.  They argued about real issues, and they made up.  Both the characters had very definite identities, and they did not always see eye to eye, but they respected each other and loved each other deeply.

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Mork and MindyMork and Mindy was a sitcom about an alien and the girl next door (Robin Williams and Pam Dawber). If most American couples think they have some impossible issues to work through, they should watch a few episodes of Mork and Mindy. The show lived on for four years, primarily because of Robin Williams’ wild improvisations and Pam Dawber’s believable love for Mork. Mork and Mindy was not only a spinoff from Happy Days, but it was actually inspired by a Dick Van Dyke Show episode “It May Look Like a Walnut.” Director Jerry Paris created the idea when Garry Marshall mentioned that his son would like to see a spaceman on television. Paris, who played Jerry Helper on the Dick Van Dyke Show, remembered that episode and invented Mork.  In season four, Mork laid an egg, in more ways than one, and the show was cancelled.

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Dharma and Greg – When free spirit Dharma and lawyer Greg (Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson) get married on their first date, the show was born.  They have conflicting views on everything except how much they love each other.  These views lead to comical situations – imagine a Republican and Democrat married in today’s political climate! Dharma overshares all her views and feelings, while Greg was raised to not talk about such things.  I think a lot of us can relate to that.

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Mad About You – Paul and Jamie Buchman (Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt) are newlyweds who cope with life as a recently married couple.  They point out the gentle humor of everyday life situations. One description of the show said that this show starts after a party when the husband and wife are alone in the car discussing the evening. For seven seasons, they tackled the issues so when the series was over, there was no “seven-year itch” to worry about.

A fun fact, Carl Reiner reprised his Alan Brady role from the Dick Van Dyke Show on Mad About You.  The episode made several references to the classic sitcom, including Jamie saying “Oh Paul,” an aside to Laura Petrie’s famous “Oh Rob.”

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These were several of the couples we watched during our life who indirectly influenced the way we viewed marriage. Each of the couples has something to teach us about successful marriages. One review of Burns and Allen concluded that “the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show exuded excellence, with a unique format, interesting plots, a great cast, and virtually non-stop comedy featuring the unparalleled zany wit of Gracie.”  I would consider it a compliment if that was a review for our marriage as well.